In 2003, the musician Eminem won the Oscar for best original song from his movie 8 Mile. When the winner was announced, the rapper was back home in Detroit believing that there was, “a snowballs chance in hell.” That he would win. Seventeen years later, at the 2020 Oscar ceremony he performed it live in front a surprised and grateful Oscar audience, who gave him a extended standing ovation, a bravo for the ages eliciting an extended display of mutual gratitude. On April 20th of 2021 Marshall Mathers III, aka Eminem, celebrated 13 years of sobriety.
A clip from the movie Deliverance was used to set up that Oscar performance. It showed a young Burt Reynolds smiling down from above blithefully saying “Sometimes you have to lose yourself, ‘fore you can find anything.” That aspect of losing oneself is not a hard thought to bring about in recovery, it’s almost a reflection of… It’s a fitting description of the last few months of my personal growth, when something like the tornado from the Wizard of Oz and simultaneously being drunk on the Promises leaves you far away, standing in a desert of change. The impetus to move is involuntary, but the direction in which to move cannot be definitively found. A constant search for self will lead to a consistent state of discovery, of change, of growth. So when the recent epiphanies, insights, and working on a better way of thinking decided to arrive at my synapses in the manner it did; It left behind a very different person. One with a new set of mechanisms to use to make sense of the world. In recovery there have been many times when a new sense is opened up, a new way of thinking has engaged. In this most recent shift the opening of the doors became exponential, the knots of an unaware psyche unwinding and allowing the person, myself, to go farther than ever before. To get lost.
That aspect of losing oneself is a theme found in great thinkers throughout history. From ancient philosophers to modern day psychologists, the construct, or deconstruct, is a fairly common occurrence, almost a prerequisite. From Diogenes to Tolle, to Dabrowski and Jung, the great breaks, the great changes in their thinking came about after losing their apparent selves. Often conceived of as a “dark night of the soul.” As I have written before, after the insanity of alcoholism’s untreated maladies had been addressed, there was plenty of other aspects of personal self that needed clarification. In the discovery of my story I’ve found that the difficulty in finding answers to self, and clarifications about life and whatnot is not in finding said answers; But in finding the questions you want answered to begin with? When, if you find the questions you want answered, the next question is… Will you ask them? Because you may not like the answer that you come to find, it may ruin your inner construct, tell an unflattering truth, or change your beliefs? The last few years, and even more so the last months have been filled with a grace of understanding, an acceptance of the thinking behind my thinking, and a new easer of fears and anxieties. Having asked the questions, the answers were not necessarily kind, but they were informative. As much as I believed I must have been losing my mind, I was, in retrospect, training myself even more for better thinking.
In researching those dark nights of the soul, I am reminded that Tolle used the analogy “the collapsing of the perceived meaning of life,” to describe it. The lack of self involvement in thoughts is complete, simply being a witness while looking at possible outcomes is not necessarily something we are attuned to do though, it is counterintuitive to many, along the lines of ignorance is bliss. It does have its advantages though. We cannot unlearn something we know is truth, is anchoring, we can’t undo our knowledge. We either use it and apply it, or we choose to ignore it and quantify it into something else, playing in the clay of our beliefs. That is ignoring it, changing it, or boxing it in, that is not unlearning it. When finding the questions you desire an answer to, whether you ask them or not is not always as straightforward as we may think. That choice may have already been made for us too, neuroscience tells us that not everyone is willing to look for the possible bad outcomes. My inner voice was not afraid to ask those questions, my preset is to go over all the possible outcomes, my outer self usually acts out similarly. Seemingly simple questions come out, looking for reassuring answers, anxiety and nerves bust at the seams, or is it seems? There is always in my line of thought, the worst case scenarios acted out again, and again with all of their variables. The better possibilities were not seen as better, just the less swollen end of the worst cases imagined. Constantly looking for answers while believing that at some point there would be a tidy summation, an answer to it all that would tie all of me together… That I would find myself. After the masks of alcoholism and addiction had fallen away, I had little to go on though, but I also had a lot to pick from in always trying to find that elusive idea of self, an answer to that question of just what, and who I was? Over the years I had convinced myself that there was something to find, some place to be, a model to become. That there was a place called normal, a location for self, and a equation to purpose. What these last few months have brought about was a different lens at which to look at my story with, to look at my questions with. Of course with a greater understanding of myself, a greater understanding and acceptance of others comes about. It’s certain I had my hang ups, real mental disorders, and a lot of dysfunctionality, but time had decidedly proven others did as well. I have had my traumas, my repairs, and applied efficient laziness to my laurels that goes along with a little work in one area or another. Recovery has allowed me to learn much about myself, what prompts to alter, which better thinking to engage in. What it has left is a long list of things to be aware of, to stop doing, to start doing, and mostly just a slightly less overwhelming stack of answers for me to pull my head out of my ass with.
I am guilty, guilty of being an overthinker. Even in recovery the thinking didn’t stop or slow down, it just changed direction. Overthinking is one of the great causes of anxiety and stress, and it’s one of the automatic protection mechanisms that spring to life in my story after traumas and hurtful events. After emotionally embarrassing moments, or feelings of inadequacy and self esteem. Over the last few months though the effects of those anxieties, those stresses have changed. Life slowed down just a bit more, not just life, but the world seemed to a bit as well. That insipid desire and thirst to find and to define my defects of character, the things wrong with me that didn’t allow normal a place to stand… started disappearing. During this time I must have been presented with the word stoic, or stoicism, at least a dozen times before I prompted myself to delve into its meanings. In doing so I was alighted to the sense that my thinking was not so broken, not so outside the norm. It’s here that I come back to that whole part of, if I were better educated, or read, I probably would have known about all of this already. I’m not better educated because I had graduated to the philosophical barstools of thought, and wore the beer bottle glasses of myopic malfeasance. As I have taken apart my malfunctions, my character defects, and my emotional sobriety over the years, what developed was a rational thinker, a nod to the ancient Greek and Roman stoic philosophers. What also ran into all of this was a realization that there is no there, that I’ve been looking for.
Not that this is some egoic assertation of the better thinking abilities that sobriety has afforded me, but it is a nod to the purpose that has also been elusive during this search for self. Fear knows all the inroads, like water it seeks the lowest levels, and pours in buckets from the highest clouds. I realized the anxieties that held so much control over my thinking were based on fanciful and idealistic thoughts of what and where I was supposed to be going to? To be turning into? The fears of failures of both the past, and future were holding me down like a wrestler on the mat. All of it constructed and deconstructed in the overthinking mind that seemed to think that the next open door would solve something, would change me, would allow me find that place called normal, or finally meet that man in the mirror. As I came to the understanding that there was no place like that, that there wasn’t some land of Oz for me to find… Is when it all, as Tolle said, that the collapsing began, the “meanings (in) my life” started crumbling. This was no dark night moment though, but rather a sunrise moment, because that dark night was the insipid searching, the egoic, and selfish searching for something, for me, to find someone bigger than myself waiting for me when I got there. It was then that the rationality of the stoicism kicked in and I realized I had found just that. The breakdown programming and meditations that afforded me all of these insights and outlooks on things had left a better me waiting right at that “place” that I was searching for. Reminded again that a constant search for self will lead to a consistent state of discovery, of change, of growth… and of self.
That thing that I was looking for was more fluid than I had imagined, carried more fears than I thought I had left laying around. That searching for purpose started to flake away like some old paint on a wind blown barn built on a dry prairie. The searching for normalcy was beginning to become as absurd as looking for a place to call self, to hole up in and shut out the rest of the world. In fearing what the world would think of my story, my way of thinking, I began to block it all out, to make it something else. There was no need for me to share, to endeavor to mash these things out, it was just some unnecessary input in an already input heavy world. It was though my truth, part of my unlearnable anchor, and I was ignoring it and making it into something else. The manner in which I learned to come to all of these insights and deconstructions is because someone else allowed me to see something I couldn’t see before, or couldn’t understand until I did. Those insights that allow us to see things are not part of some equation, they come when they come in the manner in which they do. It is as subjective as our species is, as our “selves” are, and as our constructs allow. The easing of fears, the collapsing of the perceived world, and the change that inevitably finds you when you least expect it are a testament to the promises we speak of in the program. The chains of self imposed anxieties and fears are heavy, and with them they carve out the ruts that we follow on the road of happiness. Learning to ditch the chains altogether is a difficult task, but the lightening of the links can be found in the practicing of better thinking. There are many questions left over after the disease of alcoholism and addictions are dealt with in a healthy manner. A question of self may be one of them, an answer or two needed to fill in the blanks. It’s here that I go back to Mr. Reynolds and his scripted line. “Sometimes you have to lose yourself, ‘fore you can find anything.” Because it is certainly true that I couldn’t find myself after all of this time if I didn’t find that the script was telling me to “lose yourself.”