Previous studies have shown that adhering to the five precepts of Buddhism, which include not killing, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, telling lies, or using intoxicants, can improve the well-being and quality of life for both serious and non-serious followers. However, it was not clear until now if these precepts could also alleviate depressive symptoms for those at a higher risk.
I’ve been journaling for going on sixty years, off and on. During that time I’ve filled up ledgers, spiral notebooks, diaries, the back pages of pilot logbooks, and several megabytes of disk space. My current drug of choice is the pocket-sized Moleskine notebook with the graph paper pages, or a similar one sold by Target for about half the price. Over the past few years I’ve started putting everything in it: shopping lists, notes to self, jotted addresses and phone numbers, the better to create a true daily record.
I say “drug of choice” because journaling has become an ingrained habit with me, if not actually an addiction. (Writing, on the other hand, qualifies fully, including withdrawal symptoms.) I’ve lost most of the journals I kept in my youth and through the years of my addiction; a shame, really, since if I had those I could actually write a book, although I can’t help thinking that the embarrassment factor might be seriously off-putting. Anyway, that doesn’t matter.
I do have my jottings for virtually all of the years I’ve been in recovery, and it has been highly instructive to go back and check out the cringe factor in those. When I read something and find it makes me squirm, I become aware of one more way that I’ve changed — or not changed — and it shows me a lot about my successes and also the areas where I need more work.
I consider my journals an integral and essential part of my recovery. For a couple of years I tried keyboarding, and it just wasn’t the same. I have to put pen to paper and actually write things down. My-wife-the-shrink informs me that physically writing things engages different parts of the brain, and the inability to make changes easily causes us to think more deeply and carefully about what we’re recording. I agree with that. I find that my handwritten musings have far more gut-level effect when I re-read them, so I have to assume that I’m digging deeper to begin with.
I require those I sponsor to journal, as well — those who know how to read and write. (The others go to literacy classes.) I give them each a notebook, so they’ll have no excuse for procrastinating. I don’t demand to read them, but when we meet I expect them to show me that they have been writing. Those who have remained sober and in contact often mention that they have continued to do so, and remark how much they get out of looking back at who they were early on. Some have remarked how much it helped them when they got serious about a 4th Step.
Try it. You may not like it, but you’ll benefit. The rules are simple: use the same book, use ink (no erasing), and write something every day — even if it’s just the date. No one but you will be reading it, so you have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Sobriety requires more than just getting sober. It requires improvement and growth. Otherwise, you turn into someone who WAS sober.
Many of us concentrate on what we want, instead of what we have. Our Western society is based on consumerism — manufactured desires for the next great thing. Many billions of dollars are spent supporting the frame of mind that keeps us wanting, and spending, and wanting again. The same is true of other parts of life. Popular entertainment and society combine to make us believe that certain things mean success and that we need those things to be happy. Along those lines, it is worth noting that people in Third World countries tend to report that they are generally happy more often than people in the US, despite their much lower standards of living.
We may have been allowed to grow up believing that only a certain amount of effort is needed in life, and after that we’re entitled to reap the benefits—regardless of reality. This is guaranteed to make us bitter when the rest of the world doesn’t see things that way. Or we may have been led to believe that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be good enough. This often leads to a feeling of defeat that pretty much guarantees the prediction will prove to be true.
Some people spend many years searching for more, more, more, in the hope that the spotlight, more power, more money, more prestige, more “stuff” will overcome their feelings that they are just not good enough. Fortunately, it is possible to learn that isn’t the case, and that those things never will be the answer.
We can often improve our mood, demeanor and serenity by bringing our thoughts back to the fact that we may or may not be responsible for the ideas that have been poured into our heads, but that we are responsible for how we choose to deal with them.
Sitting down with pen and paper, and concentrating on writing a list of things that we’re grateful for can offset the idea that happiness is dependent on things outside of ourselves—that we can buy happiness, or that someone else can fill us with it. It can help us to appreciate what we already have, and also to decide what’s really important and what isn’t. In my life, I can choose to have an “attitude of gratitude,” or I can let my demons drag me around by my wants. It’s up to me.
I was at a meeting on Saturday (online, of course). We had a discussion of the good things that have come from the pandemic. I’m not going to mention specific things that were brought up, because I don’t want to do your thinking for you. However, I challenge you — and perhaps your group — to consider the matter in some detail.
It’s easy to bitch, moan, and complain. “It’s not fair!”, “Someone should…”, “Why me?”, and similar laments are the default setting for us addicts and codependents, and stresses like we’re suffering these days — so alien to so-called normal behavior for most of us — can bring them out in abundance. One of our default behaviors is to automatically look for the worst scenario and then fixate on it. The pressures of confinement, especially close confinement with family and partners, money worries and the other things that plague most of us these days are guaranteed to challenge our sobriety and strain our sanity (in the sense spoken of in Step Two).
So let’s pull our minds out of the mud for a few minutes and really consider carefully the possible things we’ve gained or have the potential to gain from our current circumstances. I’ll bet if we actually stop and think about it mindfully, we’ll discover that things could certainly be worse and that some things may even be better.