I will never forget that fateful, late August afternoon when I smoked my first joint in a dorm room with my suitemates from college.
For the first time in my entire life, I stopped worrying about whether or not I was ugly, I stopped obsessing over the fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I stopped looking at my peers with disdain and envy. Amidst the giddy laughter and general silliness, I was completely washed over with a feeling that was foreign and beautiful, and I was convinced that I finally achieved a state of mind that normal, healthy people experience every single day.
We all adjourned outside in the dusky summer heat, and I noticed things I’d never realized before. Birds flying from branch to branch, the buzzing of cicadas, how lovely cold water tasted—all these components of life that were always there, but utterly without my knowledge.
I vowed quietly to myself in that moment that this was how I was going to travel through the rest of my life. I finally knew what it was like to be comfortable in my own skin. And so began a 20-year struggle with addiction.
In retrospect, I almost wish the older version of myself had the opportunity to sit down with younger me and explain a few things that would’ve saved me from decades of hardship and tragedy. Realistically, though, this would be something I would need to reconcile with time.
I went through all the various stages of numbing out my existential pain with substances, then dealing with the discomfort head on in early recovery, and finally learning how to achieve that tranquility without chemicals as I stayed sober over the years.
I’ve encapsulated these hard-earned lessons into four easy steps that, I believe, most people will be able to wrap their heads around. One of my biggest epiphanies with regard to this challenge was when I sincerely became aware of the fact that this cannot be done intellectually.
You certainly can’t think your way into better living—however, conversely, it is plausible to live your way into better thinking. Like most maladies related to the human condition, it needs to be addressed on a spiritual level for it to be effective.
- Don’t believe everything you think. It has been proven that our collective experience in this world is based primarily on the story we keep looping in our minds. In my experience, a lot of the unease associated with not feeling comfortable in my skin was related to this narrative that I tried to force myself to believe – this incessant feeling that my worth was determined by who I was dating or how popular my friends were.
This was terribly destructive in various ways, because not only was I torturing myself with a set of standards I could never live up to, but the energy that was coming off me due to these negative practices was helping to reinforce them over and over again. It was one of those self-perpetuating nightmares so many low-energy people are subject to for no other reason than simply not understanding how profoundly they are hurting themselves.
So, instead of just blindly listening to “the devil in our heads,” we need to stop and ask, “Is any of this really true?” Oftentimes, it will serve us just to assume that none of it is.
- Let go of the past. A lot of us have grown up in less-than-perfect family situations where we are subject to some really skewed opinions about who we are as people. Unfortunately, this can have a lot of influence on the aforementioned tape-loop we continually run in our minds.
Here, again, it’s very valuable to ask yourself if any of it is really true. Begin to try to define yourself based on what you are doing right now in this moment and not by a series of less-than-flattering events that have been with you since pre-pubescence. Steps one and two actually work in tandem to re-track a lot of our problematic patterns.
- Set goals and work toward their achievement. Nothing helps our self-esteem more than having a purpose. I can only share my first-hand experience, but I know that things began to change for me when I was focused on a single-minded purpose of putting together the best band I could and rehearsing all the time.
I found that once my restless brain was given a set of instructions and a map, it tended to drop the more pessimistic and detrimental pathways in search of a more productive destination. I would wholly recommend suspending your world-weary cynicism and giving this step a lot of energy because the positive results are generally two-fold. First, the attainment of the goal you are pursuing – and second, the vibe that emits from you as you are on this journey. It tends to be extraordinarily attractive to those around you.
- Do for others. The biggest advantages to steps three and four are simply that they require us to step outside of ourselves for a little while. Unfortunately, a lot of not feeling comfortable in our own skin is related entirely to an unhealthy self-absorption. One thing this world has no shortage of is people who could really use our help.
I know for myself it came in the form of an old friend struck with an early onset of dementia who was languishing in a sad and old flophouse on the edge of town. It began with just one visit, and before long, I found myself buying him an inexpensive boom-box and a bunch of used CDs. It was a seemingly small gesture, but for someone living in a stark room with no intellectual stimulation of any kind, it was life changing. The time I spent trying to brainstorm ways to make life better for him was time I was not focusing on my own reality. This kind of respite serves us so well.
What happened in that dorm room on that fateful summer day was not magic. Marijuana is a mind-altering substance – and, for better or worse, my mind was in dire need of being altered.
What I have come to realize over the years and years of terror that substance abuse afforded me was that there could’ve been more desirable ways to change my perceptions and begin a richer and more satisfying life. Drugs, of course, have the advantage of being nearly effortless and instantly gratifying, but it doesn’t take long that one finds themselves paying a premium for those results.
What’s more, the spiritual attainment of these four steps to an unrestricted state of mind is far more authentic and permanent. Give it a try!