I tell my friend about my broken water heater and how for a week I’ve been bathing in the sink.
“Why don’t you take a cold shower?” he asks.
I smile, thinking
Because I’m not batshit crazy.
Later, though, when I recall the conversation, I realize that a more honest answer to his suggestion would have been
Because I’m a big fat baby.
As I age I notice I get more and more attached to comfort. It becomes harder to exercise, harder to diet, harder to skip meals or sit down on a cold toilet seat.
Sure, I still slip occasionally into workaholic overdrive (like ten-hour writing sessions). But mostly I seek out the easy way, the path of least resistance.
After five decades of chronic guilt and codependent self-criticism, I kind of like this way of doing life.
And I kind of don’t.
The reason I don’t is that I have a theory about why we do things that sees a craving for comfort as problematic. The theory holds that we’re all addicted to control, that this addiction causes most (maybe all) of our emotional problems, and that all our controlling is driven by wanting to control how we feel.
Which means, in practice, that the less discomfort I am able to tolerate, the more compulsively controlling I become.
I’m writing a book about this now. It’s about how we hate discomfort, how in avoiding it we walk into emotional traps, and how one way to escape is to develop more tolerance for discomfort, which I call an emotional shock absorber .
Since life is full of discomforts, a life without this shock absorber would be essentially unlivable. You’d be horribly vulnerable to everything from an empty belly to a full bladder, from traffic jams to heat waves to crying babies — never mind big stuff like abuse, illness, disability, unemployment or loss of a loved one. You’d simply go mad.*
This vulnerability is what I don’t like about my craving for comfort.
So I decide to take a cold shower.
I approach it in stages.
Stage 1: Like any good codependent, I start by seeking support for my decision.
I pray to the Great God Google.
Are cold showers healthy? I type.
God answers my prayer with a cluster of articles, one of which informs me that there are multiple health benefits to cold showers — strengthened circulation, immunity, metabolism, breathing and mood. Who knew?
But this is what sells me:
Big goals require discomfort to achieve. The difference between making a good impression, standing your ground, and being successful could be altered by getting used to discomfort….
Conditioning your brain to accept, survive, and embrace discomfort is one of the practices that can greatly impact the rest of your life. It isn’t about the cold water. It’s about the discomfort associated with cold showers, which you can overcome every day towards greater goal in life.*
Stage 2: I meditate. Well, it’s not really meditating, because all I can think about is the shower I plan. I picture it in my mind: undressing, crouching in the tub with my hand on the faucet, turning the faucet, the water hitting my back, counting one two three before shutting off the tap. I picture this over and over, hoping to fan my tiny ember of courage into a flame.
Finally I’m ready. I go to the bathroom, trying hard to think of nothing at all.
I follow the procedure I rehearsed. I strip, crouch, turn, wait.
Holy Mother of Christ Jesus.
Afterwards I feel wonderful. Not just strangely proud of myself (though there’s that) but physically exhilarated, as if the cold water triggered some chemical change in my body, some delicious flood of endorphines or dopamine or something.
It feels almost spiritual.
I go to work and babble happily to my therapy group about my cold shower. They look at me oddly.
I don’t care. I feel childlike, giggly.
That was three days ago.
I’ve showered coldly each day since then.
I can count up to ten now.
* Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: 51 Ways We Self-Sabotage, due in 2017.
** “7 reasons to take colder showers and 1 that really matters,” by Mansal Denton, writing for The Hacked Mind (http://www.thehackedmind.com/7-reasons-to-take-cold-showers-and-1-that-really-matters/)