Letting Go of the Nuts

I’m listening to a podcast series on a topic entirely unrelated to the general subject matter of this blog.  Or at least, it should be unrelated.  But like so many lessons I’ve learned in life, the application has a wide net:

In order to bring your dreams to fruition, you must first clean the slate

Anyone who has ever had a bit of sober time before relapsing can appreciate the real estate that regret takes up in the brain.  I remember once having garnered a small amount of sober time, then relapsing on and off for a few months.  During my sober time, I became friendly with another member of my 12-step program, but since relapsing had lost track of her.  I was running errands one day when I saw her across the parking lot.  I virtually dove behind a car to avoid her and having to either lie or admit the awful truth.  While I managed to dodge the person and the inevitable dilemma, I did not dodge the mental torment:

“If you had done what you were supposed to do, you would have 6 months of sobriety”

“Look how happy she looks, you could look and feel like that if you would just do what you’re supposed to do”

“You’re worthless and you’ll never get your act together”

I can look back on that incident and clearly see how those thoughts were nothing but damaging.  They did not motivate me to get sober, I remained in active addiction for another 3 months!  All those thoughts did was keep me in a shame spiral that led to more depression, which led to more hopelessness, which led to more relapses.

That negative spiral relates to more than sobriety.  Without going into repetitive details, because I have used up my time on this blog talking about diet and exercise, I can easily see the regret over attempts and failures to lose weight morph into feelings of frustration, which morphs into feelings of hopelessness, and the end result is simply a relapse of a different sort.

Interpersonal situations follow this cycle all the time.  I am frustrated with the behavior of another, I know the answer is to constructively communicate the frustration, but I project the answers I will receive, which leads to further frustration, which leads to hopeless and the decision not to communicate because, “why bother?”  The issue never gets addressed, and thus will recur time and again.

So if living in regret is not the answer, then how exactly does one “clean the slate?”  Even though I know that it does no good to wallow in the mistakes of the past, why do I continue to do so and how do I make it stop?

I think the answer here is two-fold.  The first is to become aware of the thoughts in the first place.  This is an area where I’m just beginning to make some progress.  Often I will be deep into self-recrimination before I even realize what I’m doing.  So developing an awareness of the thoughts that I’m having, how often I’m having them, is a crucial first step.

Next I have been told by multiple very wise people:  Shut It Down.  As soon as I know what I’m doing, stop allowing myself to indulge in these negative thoughts.   Talk back, yell back, get up and move around, go help somebody else, but cut the thought process off immediately.  Though I have no proof, I am told by repeating this two-step process I will decrease both the frequency and the intensity of the negative thoughts.

Here’s where this whole lesson comes full-circle.  Regular readers might remember from my last post a woman worried that she needs her painful memories in order not to relapse.  If she forgives herself for the pain she caused others, might she then forget how devastating picking up a drink would be?

The title of this post represents a saying that’s been used by the women in my extended family for years.  My basic understanding, because of the context in which it’s been said to me, is to stop holding on to anger and resentments.  Like a lot of family traditions, I never thought too deeply about the saying itself.  Possibly because when it’s being said to me I am full of anger and resentment, and thus don’t give a crap about its origins.

But as I was typing this post, it popped into my head.  Curious, I googled the expression, and up popped a whole bunch of links that had to do with catching spider monkeys.  Since I always assumed this whole expression had to do with squirrels, I was already delighted.

As the story goes (and believe me, it is only a story, I did not come across any actual proof of its validity), a very simple device is used to catch spider monkeys.  Place a nut that spider monkeys like to eat in a heavy, narrow-necked bottle and leave it nearby.  The spider monkey will smell the nut, and reach in to grab it.  Because the neck of the bottle is narrow, he will not be able to remove the nut because his clenched fist will not fit.  Because the bottle is heavy, he will not be able to take it with him.  As the story goes, it is then a simple matter of walking up to the monkey and grabbing him, because his desire to have that nut will override his desire for freedom.

So if I know that self-negativity is damaging to the psyche and inconsistent with a peaceful sober existence, but I continue to hold on to the regrets, and the shame, then I am a spider monkey just waiting to be captured.   Which just made me laugh out loud, so if nothing else, I’ve amused myself with this analogy!

I guess it’s time to let go of some nuts.

Today’s Miracle:

Waking up after a night where everyone in the house slept all the way through, the gift that will keep on giving all day long!

Posted on May 21, 2015, in Recovery, Self-Care and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I’ve dealt with “the voice” in a few ways.
    I’ve talked back very successfully.
    Then I imagined the voice a gremlin in a cage rattling the bars. I just nodded to him and refused to listen.
    Finally, I now see it as my inner child – full of fear and lack of attention. I have wrapped her up in a blankets d given her a soother. I recognize she mostly gets loud when I am not treating myself kindly. Perhaps she is trying to help me in a confusing way….

    Anyway, I think a clean slate is vital. Letting go of the nuts is the smart choice. Holding a stick over your head (or self flagellation, even worse) is bound to fail.
    Love is the most powerful force. And, like I commented on your last post, forgiveness is an act of love.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so very much for sharing. I can certainly relate to what you write about. On the one hand, I agree that it is important not to keep beating myself up over the past. On the other, for me, the “wiping the slate clean” perspective can also be a set-up for failure. I say that because in recovery I believe in progress not perfection, and a process not an event. So, is it more a matter of “wiping” the slate clean as an active process, and maintaining the cleaned areas that have been wiped away.

    I have thought about this in another way. I am always impressed that really young kids don’t lie, are horribly truthful, but then learn to lie as they grow. So, it is not that I am going to wipe the slate clean and never tell a lie again, but rather, when I catch myself in telling a lie, not simply to resolve that I will start fresh tomorrow, but to think through why I lied, address that specific issue so that I can clean up that part of the slate. I see this more as a discovery of “true self” as we were born before we chose addiction as a coping mechanism for not being able to live life on life’s terms. In this way, the process is ongoing.

    When you speak about overeating and weight loss, I have wiped the slate clean so many times that the slate seems just about worn away. I know that in the Overeaters Anonymous program the general line is that diets don’t work – but, then, to my way of thinking, folks go on to talk about their abstinence and food plan, which to me basically comes down to a diet. To me, the important difference between Weightwatchers and OA is working a 12-step program along with whatever form of “diet” or food plan is used. For the last while I have been journaling about why I overeat, as it relates to all of my “isms” in recovery – that seems very helpful. When I do not overeat in a day, why? If I do, why? That is the same routine I learned in dealing with my alcohol and drug addiction many years ago. Ditto tobacco addiction now some 15 years ago. In so doing, yes, I am losing weight, but more, I am not beating myself up over another overeating binge and another need to wipe the slate clean. Rather, I am coming to understand being able to treat my food addiction in the same way I treat alcohol and drugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holy mackerel, Robert, you have just given me so much to think about, I feel like I need to copy and past this comment so I can continue to reference. Which, come to think of it, I am going to do!

      Although I suppose I have heard this before, something in the way you write it really had the light bulb going on in my head. And since you know that I am currently talking more about the eating than the alcoholism (I didn’t want that to be the focus in the actual post, but what the heck, this is just a comment!), I am really going to give your suggestion a try: the next time I make a food choice I feel badly about, try not to beat myself up, and stop with the “tomorrow is another day” attitude, but figure out why it happened so that I don’t repeat the experience tomorrow.

      Which, I am imagining, is a heck of a lot easier said than done, but it’s not going to hurt to try! I will say that while I can see how the two issues parallel one another, I can’t readily see the why’s relating. Then again, I haven’t really tried, and now that I have a new way of looking at this, I am excited.

      Thanks so much for this comment, Robert, I will let you know what I come up with!


  3. Love this analogy! I can just see myself, holding that nut, getting stuck and then looking around in horror to see if anyone noticed my dilemma! Just drop the nut and walk away. I can do that.


  4. Whoa…you were right. This WAS a doozy!


    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t believe how many times over the past couple of days I’ve happened across the theme of wiping the slate clean. I’m amazed that I opened my mind to answers and they seem to be coming my way. Thank you for sharing this story…I think I have hoarded a whole stockpile of nuts LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jenn, thanks for the comment, and: you and me both! It’s come up no less than half a dozen time for me this week alone, and so I felt compelled to write. Let’s drop those damn nuts together… ready? One, two, three… DROP!


  6. Hello old friend. (I’m jumping to this post as I am too behind at this point.) You touch on something I too struggle with: That cycle of first thought and second thought. I sometimes linger with the first thought too long; let it get under my skin, consume me, drive me in unhealthy ways. Lately, my mantra: The only way to stop is to————- stop! I must catch myself (un-clench my fist and run) before I have a big long dialogue with an ego driven idiot. I want to slip into second thought a little faster. Ahhh, good, good thoughts my friend. You always bring good, healing thougts. Hugs, Me

    Liked by 1 person

    • LISA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      So excellent to see a comment from you. I think of you often, old friend, and hope you are well!

      Love that mantra, and I’m putting that one in my FRONT POCKET (just said in my last post putting something in my back pocket, but yours is even better ;)). I will think of you each and every time I use it!

      Be well, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Untipsyteacher

    Dear TMIATC,
    I love nuts! I couldn’t drop it either!!
    For me it’s about self-talk related to how tired and sick I am.
    I defeat myself before I even start!
    I hate that!
    I have to catch myself saying the negative.
    It’s hard sometimes, that’s for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. THIS!
    I’m sorry that I’ve been gone for so long and am feeling selfish for coming here today. Your words were exactly what I needed to read. Augh! The nuts!!
    I love your two-step process and hearing you speak about it validates a theory I have. When I have negative thoughts, I ‘yell’ at myself to move on and have been surprised to note how effective it is. I just need to recognize and yell sooner 🙂
    I hope you’re doing well, Josie. I think about you all of the time!! xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm… I like to beat myself us as good as the next gal, but feeling selfish for reading a blog is a new one, even for me 🙂

      So glad to hear from you , Michelle, and it always humbles me to hear that someone benefits from any of my crazy thoughts.

      For the record, I do actually yell at myself, usually in the car, rather than at Target. And I almost always laugh afterwards, so that’s something I guess.

      This one is going to be a long haul for me, and I thank you for the comment, because the last 48 hours I did not yell enough at the monkeys. Sigh. Progress not perfection.

      But your comment brought me back to center, and I am always, always, always, so happy to see your smiling Gravatar!

      Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous Spring!


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