I’ve Got My Brains Back, Now What?

By Kiki Baxter 09/11/15

What to do with the stuff between your ears now that you're sober.

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I've got my brains back, now what?
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There’s a woman sitting at a table kitty-corner from me with a glass of white wine. It is 3:24 on a Tuesday afternoon. The glass is frosty cold. She takes a sip. I can taste it. It has characteristics of not enough, going down too fast, and where’s the coke? I am five years sober and apparently, I’ve gotten my brains back. That’s what they say in AA anyway. At five years, you get your brains back and at 10, you realize you don’t need them anymore. I guess that’s because you are mainlining HP 100% by then. My spiritual connection is spotty. “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? I’ll shoot you a text.” I text my favorite prayer: Help me. 

Baby Elephants

My 5-year-old brains remind me of a baby elephant. Baby elephants are born not really knowing what to do with their ears or trunks. They flail them about, sometimes knocking themselves over in the process. That is me in the morning. I wake up and my metaphorical trunk and ears are flailing. Flailing on money. Flailing on relationships. Flailing on anxiety, regret and impending doom. And it’s powerful enough to spiritually knock me over. In my first four years, yes, the brain was troublesome, but comparatively, it was like a baby sleeping in the womb. Now, at five years, the baby elephant has been birthed from the mama elephant’s vagina. 

So I meditate. Or try. I’ve started listening to Tara Brach’s guided meditation because lately, meditating on my own feels like an episode of Breaking Bad, but with Tara, it’s different. Tara Brach is a western teacher of Buddhist meditation who speaks in a soft, soothing voice. The first meditation I did was called “The Sky-Like Mind.” After taking some deep breaths, she suggests I view the mind as more expansive than the crowded darkness between my two pierced ears. She tells me that my mind is open and vast, like the sky; my thoughts are clouds that pass quietly, not leaving a trace. Being the sky scares me, so I decide to put myself in the ocean, floating on my back, looking up at sky-mind. The clouds are beautiful—whether they are puffy white or heavy and grey.  

This is nice but then a thought crosses my sky and it is not a beautiful cloud. It is a jacked-up El Camino à la Breaking Bad: pitched forward in a ditch, its engine seizing. It’s full of lost friends, jobs, boyfriends—metaphorical corpses leaving a trail of blood and dismemberment. Then Tara rings a bell: Ding! Back to sky-like mind. I’m floating again. I forget about the El Camino full of "Did he love me?" and "Is he f*cking someone new?" and "What am I doing with my life?"—Ding! Expansive mind. I am not my thoughts. This is me working with a 5-year-old mind in meditation.

I’ve also decided to go on a 21-day diet. It’s not a food diet; it’s a mental diet, created by an old-school motivational speaker named Brian Tracy. For 21 days, Brian says to wake up 1 to 2 hours before you have to be anywhere. I like to wake up at 7:30, which means 5:30. Then, in those two hours— what Brian calls the “Golden Hours”—you are supposed to do some things which will CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE. 

First, spend 30-60 minutes reading something educational or inspirational (i.e., the Big Book, Emmet Fox, Investing for Dummies—probably not Pornhub), then take a notebook and write down 10-15 goals. (It can be your goals for the year or a lifetime—doesn’t matter.) Write your goals in the present tense as though you have already achieved them. Write them every day for 21 days without referring back to what you wrote previously. Don’t worry about forgetting what you wrote the day before. That’s the point; to see what comes up; what changes; and what stays the same. One of the things I’ve noticed is that having a loving partner seems to come last on my list (and I can’t seem to write husband—sounds weird). I’ve also noticed that I tend to write career goals first, and material goals second. Sometimes, big ticket items like A BRAND NEW CAR! will get switched out for “solvency” (a UA and DA tool of not debting one day at a time), or “stability.” Stability, for me, is the new sexy. I’m all about it this week. 

So, after the reading and goal-writing, now what? Time to eat some frog.

Frog For Breakfast

Brian describes the "frog" as basically the yuckiest thing you have to do that day. The thing you so totally want to procrastinate on. The idea is that if you do that thing, that thing you dread and have been putting off, you will be so pumped, so full of endorphins (aka free high), that everything else you need to do that day will be a breeze.

It’s helpful to know that the frog should be the thing that relates directly to your #1 goal. What’s your #1 goal? You can determine that in a couple of ways. First, it’s the one goal on your list that if you met it, it would have the most positive impact on your life and, if that doesn’t clarify things, ask yourself this question: If you were going out of town for a month, what is the one thing that must get done—and do that. 

Finally, to help the baby elephant pick up the peanut and actually eat it, I use a tool borrowed from UA called Time Recording. Time Recording is described as “a written record to increase awareness and support our focus on goals and the actions required to achieve them.” Grab a small notebook (I use a brightly colored Moleskine) and write down what time it is and what you’re doing. When you finish that task, write down the time, and the next task or activity you’re going to do. Continue doing this throughout the day. It really does increase awareness. For example, if I write down “9am: write Fix essay” and find myself looking up Brian Tracy on Linkedin for a bio: all good. Then, if I happen to see that my ex has endorsed me for some skillz and find myself cyberstalking him, stuffing potato chips and cookies down my throat, clicking through porn sites, masturbating, and taking a nap (aka rocking in a fetal position under the coffee table): not so good. Basically, I am more likely to stay on task when I have to write it all down. Awareness breeds clarity which is the antidote to vagueness or “what happens in vagueness stays in vagueness.” No bueno!

Does this really work? Hells to the yes! I have found that within the first week of doing this, my concentration is improving; I feel more confident; and I am getting more done in less time. Muy bueno! In other words, multitasking is for the birds. As the NYC Dharma Punx meditation teacher Josh Korda told me, “studies have found that people who frequently multitask perform miserably. The constant jumping around disables our ability to filter out irrelevant information and, as a result, we fail to prioritize our thoughts, and weed out worthless behaviors correctly. The stress of multitasking, often concurrent with the brain being flooded with cortisol and epinephrine, leads to a mind-state where we're prone to rushed, fear-driven tactics. As stress builds, people tend to make graver and graver errors. When we attempt multitasking, we are invariably less productive than those who focus on a single task a time.”  

Now, truth be told, I can get a little high off a nice jolt of multitasking-induced epinephrine with a chaser of cortisol. I know more than a few folks inside and outside of recovery that do, but if what goes up must come down, and stability is my new sexy, I am willing to learn a new way. As B to the T says, “Almost any skill worth having is learnable,” or as my friend who has 17 years of sobriety says, “Healing happens.” 

So, in addition to all that, I take care of my baby elephant by eating, not only frogs, but also food. Three times a day. I include meetings. I include friends. I exercise six days a week (which means three). I go to bed at 10:30 (11:30 - 1:30). I shower. Usually. And I get some nature. Specifically, the East River. I take in the salt water air, and run (walk) a few miles (singular), or do sit-ups on the grass (lie down), watch the sun set, the moon rise, and listen to the cicadas sing (for realz) until finally, finally, this five-year-old brain can hear the quiet. Can be the quiet. And then I text my HP my other favorite prayer: Thank you.

Kiki Baxter is the pseudonym for a freelance writer and playwright based in New York.

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