Growing up I was always pessimist-leaning, and I mean come on, when you grow up watching the news everyday and hearing about how terrible the world is it’s kinda hard not to be.
No but really, I’ve had that trait for a good period of my life, for many reasons.
Why should I be excited about anything if it all ends up falling apart anyways?
...or doesn’t turn out how I planned?
...or I’m embarrassed at how it ends?
When I decided to go about changing this quality of mine, I then struggled with how to do so. The opposite is optimism, right? But what if I don’t genuinely believe things are going to go completely different, perfect, or even just well? What if it's not really comfortable to go to the other extreme end of things?
And having a partner with addiction issues just adds to this.
I would spend many a day obsessing over the thoughts of how things were going to continue like this forever, how we would always be a second away from disaster, how hard it would be to move forward in life, etc. And all that did was make me feel worse and keep me in my own destructive cycles of thought.
So, how exactly do we get out of this?
Well, for me at least, it starts in your mind. Sure we all want our outside lives and environment to change first so that we can feel comfortable in how we think and feel, but it doesn’t always go that way.
When I first met my partner, he was in active addiction and towards the point of looking for a way out and a start to recovery. I took it upon myself to do something about that, and so put all of my energy into helping him find a rehab and doing whatever I could do to help. I thought that this would be it, I was what he needed to succeed, and his addiction would be a thing of the past.
I mean he was sober for awhile, but it didn’t take long for things to go back to the way they were.
Through the years this cycle continued, with the usage and recovery bringing their own respective beliefs and thoughts with them:
Active addiction brought the pessimistic thoughts, the ones where I felt that the world was terrible and there was no hope of a better way.
Recovery brought the optimistic thoughts, the ones where I felt that this was it, things were going to get better and maybe we’d have a shot now.
But, over time, the optimism faded away, and I was in a constant state of expecting the worst at any given time again.
And that’s a sad place to be.
I even see it in groups sometimes, where peers say “you can’t expect anything too soon” and “if they aren’t clean for at least 6 months then it means nothing”. Or, “this is just how life is with an addict, you can never have financial stability and you’ll always be anxious”. I even saw one that said we shouldn’t feel guilty leaving because they bring nothing but trouble.
Now, I’m not bashing anyone’s experience, and for some people, these experiences are very true. But, it’s not really helpful to tell anyone that, least of all ourselves.
So where do we go then, when we are trying to find our footing when going from negativity to positivity, and that space in-between?
Well, instead, why not just try a variation of optimism?
And by optimism, I don’t mean toxic positivity or the kind of optimism that is painfully fake to put on. Realistic optimism is more comfortable, at least for me, and it’s one that has served me well.
I realized that sitting in my sorrows 24/7 just made me feel awful, and when I was always expecting the worst, I would actively set out to look for it and find it every single time. I would pick everything apart and continue to find more things that would keep me in this mindset that did nothing but hurt me and those around me, even my partner.
So I decided to make the change.
I started finding the joy in the little things, like a fun day with my daughter or getting a coffee that I enjoy. I started finding the little wins in my life, like waking up happy or laughing more in my day-to-day life. I started looking for excitement in the future, like writing my end of day thoughts and dreams in my new journal or planning a visit to my parents' house.
And while it wasn’t a flip-of-a-switch ordeal that did take some time, it was something that I could actually experience as I worked on it.
Really, I actually felt a little better and more confident in myself everyday.
Even when he was in the worst run of active addiction I had ever seen him in. Even when there were times I thought he literally wouldn’t make it.
Slowly but surely, I got stronger, and I was able to feel better and better. And as I was doing that for myself, he slowly started doing the same for himself (although if he didn’t, the benefits of what I was doing was enough for me to continue on).
And while I am doing much better than I ever have been, I won't go so far as to say I am completely cured. I still have moments where I think that things are going too well and I get that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not even drug-related sometimes, but just a feeling that something bad will happen in any kind of way.
But when those times strike, I do my best to redirect my focus and find where I may be neglecting myself as I did so many times before, and realize that no matter what happens I am doing just fine, I will continue to do well no matter what, and enjoy the fact that right now, in this moment, all is as well as it can be.
And that's the key. It's all a culmination of the little moments where you redirect your thoughts, you find the good in the experience, and you make the decision to keep doing so because you know that it's the better way to live.
No one ever gets to a place where they are perfect, and to think that you have perfection to strive for just makes things more difficult and daunting. We should always remember we are human, and just use these moments to acknowledge how far we have come, and to learn from them to continue moving forward.
We don’t have to put on a front of any kind just to get through each day, and the answer to feeling negative isn’t a fake attempt at being positive.
Instead, we should aim for the type that works for us, whether it’s realistic or completely and wholeheartedly hopeful. As long as it’s healthy and what works for us, that’s what is most important and what matters the most.
I think we all deserve a chance at happiness and fulfillment, and really, it’s not so much of a “chance” as we were all made to believe.
It doesn’t matter what stories other people give us. It doesn’t matter what the statistics say. It doesn’t matter how terrible things feel now.
All that truly matters is how we want to feel.