“Let’s Talk” – How to Keep a Healthy Mind

Here’s a pro tip: some of the best people to talk to about your troubles are ones who don’t know you or anybody around you at all. When I stopped drinking five years ago, I started to go to a weekly meeting called SMART (Self-Management And Recovery Training). Every Saturday morning, 8:30am for an hour and a half. It’s a bit like AA, but without any of the steps, higher powers, sponsors or chanting. Ok, it’s nothing like AA! But it’s a bunch of people who usually started doing something to excess because they found it soothing at first, but then it became a problem that was causing them difficulty in their lives. Mostly booze, some drugs (heroin, meth, cocaine, marijuana, pills), more and more now trying to reduce the amount of sugar they eat. We even had one great guy who never drank or smoked, but his procrastination had reached debilitating levels. Bulimics, gamblers, social media addicts, people who self-harm, everything. You quickly realize that the substance or behavior is fairly irrelevant, it is the same set of battles that everybody is fighting, and that the maladaptive ‘behavior of choice’ just serves as a distraction.

It’s very intimidating walking into a room full of strangers for the first time at what is usually for most people one of the worst times of their lives. But the welcome you get from people who don’t judge you is terrific, as they have been exactly where you are, and nothing you say as you tell your story surprises them in the least. There’s really only one rule at these meetings: whatever is said in the room, stays in the room. And because nobody knows you or anybody in your life, at home or at work, you’re free to talk about anything without having to worry that you’re putting the people listening in a bind or that it might make its way back to the person you’re talking about. And while you might start talking about other people in your life to begin with, the group usually has enough life experience to get you talking about the person who is really bothering you the most – the voice inside your head.

It’s exhilarating when you realize that everybody else has the same constant chatter going on in their heads, that stupid voice that gives you all sorts of bad advice and makes things out to be way worse than they really are, coming up with the most unhelpful theories for why somebody said or did something and what their ulterior motives might be. The good news is that you learn that this voice is not you, and that you don’t have to listen to it. Which us just as well, because like I said, the advice you get from it is absolutely terrible!

Eventually, that group of strangers becomes an important set of allies you go back to where you can safely sort out all the stuff that’s been rattling around in your head. It’s about a 20-minute drive each way for me, and many’s a time I’ve thought on the way there, “everything is grand at the moment, there’s not really much point in going this week”. But listening to others and having time to take stock of what I have been juggling, I invariably end up having something to say that’s been bothering me, and without fail, I leave that room feeling better than I did going into it. We know we have to exercise regularly or our body falls apart. The mind is no different. That couple of hours each Saturday morning is the mental workout I have found keeps me in touch with little changes, and if I don’t recognize them early enough, they can easily snowball and overwhelm me. And that can lead to trouble. So I keep showing up each week so I can nip them in the bud.

Sometimes there are only four or five of us, there’s usually about a dozen, and sometimes there’s as many as 20. Lawyers, doctors, economists, labourers, musicians, TV producers, electricians, journalists, students, stay-at-home Moms, stay-at-home Dads, the unemployed, surgeons, retirees – men and women, young and old. I’ve been sharing the facilitation duties now for the last three years with a guy who has been going every week for ten years. We call it the social highlight of our week. We chip in $2 each to cover the $30 the church charges for the room. If you have $2. It’s not mandatory. Nobody is counting.

I wish somebody had told me about places like this when I was younger. I wish somebody had told me that rehab isn’t some $20k a week Malibu getaway where Hollywood elites go to dry out. Rehab is about as glitzy as a physiotherapist’s office, a place you drop into on your way home after work for a couple of hours for a few weeks to give yourself a chance to make some changes. And your health insurance covers it.

So, long story short: everybody is fighting a battle. You’re not alone. There are lots of people who would love the chance to help. Just like you will be happy to help others for the rest of your life when you see them for the first time on the worst day of their life. There’s nothing you’re going through that is too embarrassing or shameful to tell others. They’ve probably already heard it before. You’re not a bad person. Every problem can be solved. It gets better. It really does. And that voice inside your head is an asshole!

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