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My Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me

It's one thing to realize that you have a self-destructive brain. It's quite another to learn how to not react to it.

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By Carlos Herrera

02/10/13

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The song I listen to most often when I’m alone is Geto Boy’s “My Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me.” As an alcoholic, I can relate to the idea of looking over my shoulder and peeping around corners; after all, I’ve got a delusional and self-destructive brain.

Of course, someone who has no problem drinking alcohol and has no signs of substance abuse or addiction can still be self-destructive and believe themselves when they think that they're pieces of shit or that their life is horrible when it's not. The difference between the alcoholic and the so-called normal person is, I believe, the reaction to these thoughts—the alcoholic reaction being "giving in" or "believing" such a thing. Believing what your brain is telling you is not a "crazy" thing, it's simply a "normal" thing. Why wouldn't you believe what's going in your head? It's gotten you this far. Why stop now?

When I walked into my first, oh I don't know, couple hundred meetings, I thought I was the smartest guy in the room and the dumbest at the same time. This is called a crazy thought: one that doesn't make sense and is even harder to write. But here it is. My mind's dialogue was telling me how much more handsome, intelligent, sharp and funny I was than everyone in the room while also telling me, between the lines, that I was uglier, dumber and duller. The game of tug-o-war was getting rough between my ears. I was tired of listening to it but felt like I had no choice. It had been over two decades of this nonsense and why would it end now? My brain is all I've got. This thinking made me a non-present person, which is ironic since my brain was working overtime to try and make me present. I would sit in meetings, or anywhere, and stare at the wall, building high-rises of resentments in minutes. 

I'm a fucking alcoholic with no hope for a magic pill that cures it. If there was one, I'd snort it, soak it in water and drip it into my eyes.

This kind of thinking drove me mad. It made me a less present person and made looking at people in traffic, at the gym, at work, in meetings or at the gas station a marathon-style exhaustion for my thought process. My head was over-worked and heated like a furnace except that it was getting everything wrong. My alcoholism had slowed down dramatically because of the lack of drugs and alcohol in my system so, I believe, it focused on other things: everything else. When I drank, this kind of thinking was drowning in booze. When I did drugs, it was suffocating with no air under an avalanche of white powder. It had no way of popping up. The fact is that this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde bullshit had no defense against Devin's bad coke and the liquor store at 20th and Pico's stolen beer. 

What I’ve discovered since putting down the bad coke and the stolen beer—and all other chemicals—is that my brain is a better liar than I am. And it’s taken me years and years of practice and honesty to be able to shut it the fuck up. I have to use whatever I can: I even listen to talk radio in my car or on my headphones while riding a motorcycle most of the time so that I won't go into a ridiculous fantasy thinking spell of insane scenarios where I'm shooting 3's over my enemies and taking out bad guys with a sniper rifle next to Playboy models. 

The best example of my alcoholic mind playing tricks on me is right now. My life is fine. I have my own place, a car, friends, things to do and caffeine coursing through my veins. I'm hitting an 8 out of 10 on things I want that don't include gold helicopters and Twizzler or fruit roll-up freeway lanes. So it's very safe to say that I should be happy and that my life is good. Wrong. Horrible buzzer sound. My brain is telling me I'm a piece of shit, that I should wake up after noon exclusively and that my taste in anything is terrible. So what do I do now? I tell it to go fuck itself. Which I know is a little like telling me to go fuck myself but sometimes being a little crazy is how you kill the crazy. I'm a fucking alcoholic with no hope for a magic pill that cures it. If there was one, I'd snort it, soak it in water and drip it into my eyes but there's not, so this is my plan. To tell my brain is be cool and continue with my day and only read facts so that I can be a present person and not act like a such a dick to everyone constantly. 

My mind telling me I'm better and worse than everyone is the carpool lane to being a doormat. It's the easiest way to go places without being there. It's lame and counter-productive and by living that way, there's no point in doing anything. So why would do I give in? Why does anyone take this crap seriously? Because it's easy. It’s the same reason I do anything. At this point in time, I have the ability (whether I choose to do it or not) to separate my brain from my alcoholism. I can react from a third place and look down on myself engaging in this process. This is called my spiritual experience and I’ve come to find out that this is why I got sober. Turns out I didn’t clean up to avoid legal charges or to please my parents but to be able to make decisions from a healthy place, a place that wants to be a human who gives to society and not one that reacts and thinks it's being screwed over by it because its laws don't allow for binge-snorting narcotics. In other words, by not listening—but most importantly not reacting—to my alcoholic thinking, I can be your friend.

Carlos Herrera is a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian and writer. A former entertainment assistant from the the age of 19, he has performed at The Hollywood Improv and The Comedy Store, amongst others. He just wrapped a docu-comedy pilot for MTV and can be seen late night (in the back) at comedy clubs in Hollywood. He has written about seduction and pink clouds, among other topics, for The Fix.

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