A few months ago, my friend Steve emailed in response to a blog I wrote (the one where I got chased by coyotes), and we got to talking about how we can trust our intuition – and how to know if what we're hearing is our intuition in the first place?
Steve had studied this extensively in regards to addiction – first, with his own addictions, and then in his graduate work, and now as a counselor. His insights were so profound and applicable to all areas of life that I had to share them with you. Here's his story…
I work with many clients who have lost their ability to trust their intuition. Many use their substance just to feel normal each day. Addictions, including alcoholism, affect the brain by overriding the executive function. That's why people will choose to use a substance against their better judgment, knowing there will be negative consequences. In other words, an addicted person's intuition doesn’t stand a chance. (In the addiction field we call this “the hijacked brain." Dr. Kevin McCauley coined this phrase – check out his video Memo to Self to learn more on this topic.)
I too have dealt with “a hijacked brain” since my early teens. It began when I was 10 after my parents divorced. Reflecting back on that time – 40 years ago now – I now see that I there was no healthy outlet to process my feelings of loss, sadness and grief. Without any coping skills and or access to therapy, I began to self-medicate through what was available: food. And the roots of addiction began to take hold.
I began drinking at age 12 on the bleachers of my High School football field. From the very first sip, I loved how it felt. For a while, it would replace food as my go-to coping mechanism. Just like in a relationship, alcohol became the most important connection in my life and it began to speak louder than the voice of intuition. This word connection is vital to my recovery today – but in this sense, the connection to alcohol became destructive. The more I drank, the more my intuition grew silent.
At age 21 I went to my first rehab for alcohol and drug dependence. I completed the 28-day program and began my recovery journey in a 12-step program. Thanks to my higher power’s grace and some hard work, my life got better, my relationships began to heal. I began to hear the voice of intuition more consistently. However, I am not a “1st time winner.” In 1993, after a series of difficult transitions and disappointments, I began to do something an alcoholic can ill afford to do: isolate.
For a year, I let my healthy connections (to people, my friends, my mentors) fade, and as I did, my cravings to escape my reality surfaced. I was in pain and I did what I knew to cope: drink. It wasn't until fifteen years later, January 6th, 2009, with many more scars and wounds, that I walked back into my support group meeting and opened myself to heal through connection again.
For the past 10 years I have been rooted in support groups, a relationship with a higher power I choose to call God, mentors, sponsors, therapists and recovery friends. My life source is abundant. I have so many blessings – God’s grace, a loving and supportive spouse and partner, supportive families (recovery and family of origin) a new relationship with my daughter, close recovery friends, a career that I have been molded for and – last but not least, my health.
Recovery does not have a destination, only milestones. I continue to learn how to love on deeper levels through joy and pain. I work just as hard today on my recovery as I did that first week. I have not perfected it – life, that is – and I never will. Since I am an imperfect human being, there still are growing pains (times when I don’t listen to my intuition) and it is at those times I have the choice to “lean in” to the pain or fear (like the inspirational writer and one of my spiritual mentors Mark Nepo shares in his work), or hide and forget who I really am. And when I do hide, my hope is that I will continue to listen to my intuition and “be seen” again. Like it says in our program of recovery, “just keep coming back” and return to who you are at the core: compassionate and loving.
I’d like to share my wife’s (Missy, a fellow therapist) reflections on intuition:
How do I know the difference between my intuition and all the other “voices” speaking to me, such as fear, frustration, expectation, criticism, or judgement?
Intuition is birthed in the present moment – everything else has a foothold in our past and our trauma. Tap into the present moment by simply being aware of your breath.
Pause. Be still.
In that moment of stillness, a path is created for your innate wisdom to bubble to the surface. A small, still, yet powerful voice speaking in your heart. That's your intuition.
Any final thoughts?
Ever since beginning my journey of awakening through recovery 30 years ago, I have been blessed to come across many spiritual teachers that have helped me get back in touch with my authentic self and my intuition. Many insights have come from those courageous and loving souls, to which I am grateful.
When I heard Steve's story, I was bowled over. I had been there on those bleachers with him – he was part of my core group of friends – and yet I had no idea what he was going through, or how much wisdom he had inside him.
I think we've all had the feeling that our brains have been hijacked. When you feel that way, here are some tools you can do to free yourself and hear your intuition:
Those things are true for every single person, whether or not you're struggling with addiction. I encourage you to use them anytime you need help. If you're making a decision in your business, working to overcoming a relationship difficulty, struggling with a career move, anything – these tools are always available to guide you.
Your body has the answers.
Go out and shine.
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