Years ago I used to run for exercise.
And I remember reading a little book about running which reduced the process of training to three simple rules:
Push meant stretching myself, working to increase my strength and stamina by gradually running farther or faster or longer.
Rest meant pausing between workouts, giving my body time to recuperate and build new muscle.
And Listen meant paying attention to what my body was telling me in order to decide whether I needed to be Pushing or Resting.
Eventually I decided I was too neurotic to be a runner. I just couldn’t follow all three rules. I was able to Push just fine, but Resting made me uncomfortable — anxious and guilty. And Listening? Deaf as a post.
So what’s my running history have to do with anything?
This: These same rules apply to recovery.
I don’t care what you’re recovering from — addiction, depression, emotional trauma, physical illness, whatever. There will be times when you need to push, times you need to rest, and times you need to listen.
For me, as a recovering control addict,
~ Push means stretching beyond my comfort zone by doing the opposite of whatever I usually do.
This means different things on different days. It might mean expressing a feeling I’d rather stuff, telling a truth I’d rather ignore, tackling a chore I’d rather avoid, or starting a project I’d prefer to forget entirely.
Pushing often feels like cutting my way through jungle with a machete. The jungle is all those years of tangled fears, scared projections and bad habits that keep me stuck, feeling like a kid in an adult’s body.
Pushing can be hard work.
But there’s no recovery without it.
~ Rest means the opposite of Pushing.
You know, to take a break.
To actually breathe.
Or maybe nap. Walk on a beach. Eat a candy bar. Read a mystery. Draw or paint something. Watch the sun set. Reflect. Regroup.
Easy and pleasant, right?
Like most control addicts I tend towards workaholism, a compulsion to keep planning and moving and doing. It allows me to stay in my head and avoid feelings.
So there are times when it takes a real effort — even courage — to stop playing Energizer Bunny and let myself feel whatever’s happening inside.
Which means Resting can be difficult. Sometimes it feels like just another sort of Pushing.
But there’s no recovery without it.
~ Listen means to change channels — to say “Shut up” to my own mind and tune into my body instead.
By mind, of course, I mean monkey mind, that whispering, worrying, scolding and mocking voice that keeps me permanently on guard against life.
Mind also means Dog, that self-critical part whose sole mission in life is to chew endlessly on the sore ankle of my self-esteem.
Neither of these parts wants me to Listen to my body. They want me listening only to them.
Which I usually do.
Which can be pretty damned risky.
Because mind tends to be, well, crazy. It absolutely believes in the illusion of control and spends all its time trying to grab more. Behind this control-seeking are all the bad memories, scared projections, and false truths it’s absorbed and held onto since I was a baby.
In short, mind is full of shit.
But my body tells me the truth if I let it.
Listening to what my body says is the only reliable way I know to figure out what I really need: when I need to pee, or rest, or eat, or take a walk, or take a hot bath, or meditate, or sit and talk with my wife.
I admit it. I have to really work at Listening.
Like Resting, it takes practice, and more than a little guts.
But I don’t have much choice about whether I practice or not.
Because there’s no recovery without it.