I’m not sure what it is, but at some point in our lives, we believed that we’re always supposed to be comfortable. When you think about our fears associated with trying something new or dealing with social anxiety, it’s all about discomfort. Why don’t we want to do certain things? Because it’s uncomfortable, and not being comfortable sucks. We have this delusion that life is supposed to be one big snuggly blanket on a cold winter day, but that’s not how this thing works. Once we learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we open ourselves up to a slew of possibilities.
The Real Reason I did Drugs
Any drug addict being honest with themselves will admit that there are a million reasons we used drugs. Sad? Do drugs. Happy? Do drugs. Bored? Do drugs. Nervous? Do drugs. The list goes on and on and on and on. Like you, I over complicate things, and that can get overwhelming. If I think about all of these different reasons, it seems like a mountain of a task to overcome each one, so it can be beneficial to find a common denominator to focus on.
So what’s the real reason I did drugs? Because I don’t like being uncomfortable.
You might not be a drug addict, but there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you have some type of behavior that is throwing a monkey wrench in your life. Maybe you binge eat or compulsively buy things on Amazon. You might be someone who struggles with self-harm, or you have a lot of promiscuous sex that leaves you feeling empty.
Why do we do these things that harm ourselves or harm the people we love the most? Because we don’t like being uncomfortable.
We think, often on a subconscious level, that the worst thing that can possibly happen is that we’re uncomfortable. If we just sit there with our thoughts and emotions, it feels like a death sentence. You’re not alone in feeling this way either. They’ve done studies where people had the option to sit alone with their thoughts or electrically shock themselves, and most people decided to shock themselves.
Yeah. We’d rather experience physical pain than the discomfort of our own thoughts and emotions. How insane is that?
Crippling Social Anxiety
The best example of my maximum discomfort was my social anxiety. Anyone who meets me today and finds out I used to have social anxiety thinks I’m full of shit. I’m a public speaker, I have a YouTube channel, and I have no problem having conversations with people I just meet. This wasn’t always the case though.
To this day, I have a mind that never stops going, but when I had wicked social anxiety, it was filled with awful thoughts and fears. I’d constantly be worrying about what other people were thinking of me as I spoke, which caused me to get so nervous that I’d fumble over my words and look dumb. One of my other biggest fears was an awkward silence. OH GOD did I fear awkward silence.
Thank god for texting because it gave me an excellent excuse not to talk on the phone and experience that nightmare of awkward silence.
The discomfort of social anxiety is actually why I fell in love with alcohol (and later drugs). The first time I got drunk was at a party at the end of my senior year, and once the alcohol hit me, all of the discomforts left my system. I went from sitting alone and being quiet to becoming this social butterfly. I immediately equated getting rid of uncomfortable feelings with getting fucked up (and by now, you know how that didn’t last very long).
Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
After almost dying, I had to get sober, but now I had no way of dealing with these uncomfortable feelings. Not only did my social anxiety come back, but so did all of those other emotions. I was sitting in a sober living with 18 strangers, and I had no clue what to do or say without my substances, but then something was pounded into my head that forever changed my life, and I hope it changes yours as well.
I kept hearing over and over again that I needed to learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I was pissed when I first started hearing it because it sounded like they were making it way too simple. I’m just supposed to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? How the fuck was I supposed to do that? Well, one of the reasons that idea sounded so insane is because for most of my life, my mind told me that being uncomfortable was a fate worse than death, and this is what we call a “cognitive distortion”.
You think your ex was the biggest liar you’ve ever met. Nah. It’s your own silly ass brain.
So, I started forcing myself to do things that made me extremely uncomfortable, and it started out by going to as many social gatherings as possible. When I thought about it, nobody has ever died from being uncomfortable and awkward, so I doubted I was going to be the first one, and I don’t think you will be either.
I went to this 12-step meeting on Fridays where everyone would go meet up for Starbucks after. I love Starbucks, but I don’t love being around a bunch of people I don’t know, so I always made an excuse to get out of it. Finally, when I decided to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, I started saying “yes.”
Not surprisingly, it was the most uncomfortable experience of my life. I was surrounded by all these people who knew each other and were having great conversations. They were smiling and laughing while I was standing there awkwardly like a complete douchebag. Sometimes, out of kindness or pity, someone would come to talk to me. I’d fumble over my words for a bit, and then they’d go talk to someone else. I was so paralyzed with the discomfort that I could barely even talk to my friends who I went with.
But then something amazing happened. Eventually, the discomfort started to become less and less. That feeling that felt like it was going to kill me started to disappear as I continued to go each Friday night. Each week, after we hung out, I recognized that the discomfort didn’t kill me, so I could probably do it again, and I did. Even the awkward silence didn’t kill me!
I went out with them every week when they invited me, and that eventually gave me the balls to start doing all sorts of other things. I became Jim Carrey from that movie Yes Man. I just started agreeing to do anything and everything I was invited to do or asked to do no matter how uncomfortable it made me. So, years later when I was hired to work at a rehab and run groups in front of 50–60 people, I had trained myself to just do it despite my fears.
Later, when I became a nerd about psychology and mental health, I realized I’ had been doing something called exposure therapy. This is a form of therapy that challenges you to face your fears and do what makes you uncomfortable over and over again. You eventually build up a tolerance to those situations and feelings. How does this work? Well, the emotional part of your brain is the Limbic System, and more specifically, a lot of your negative emotions like fear and anxiety come from the amygdala. Science has proven that exposure therapy actually changes the amygdala, so it’s not such a sensitive bitch to situations that aren’t going to kill you.
If you can afford therapy, do it. As you learned from my story, you don’t need therapy to start practicing your own exposure therapy and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. The next best suggestion I have is to pick up a mindfulness meditation practice. While a lot of meditation has to do with observing your thoughts, one of the biggest benefits I’ve got from it is riding out my uncomfortable emotions. I am now at a place where I recognize what it feels like to be uncomfortable, and I’m able to ride it like a wave rather than getting thrashed by it like I’m in a storm.
The reality is that we’re all going to be uncomfortable, and that’s never going to change. Learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable helps us manage difficult emotions and embrace difficult situations. How many times do we avoid conversations that we need to have just because we know they’ll be uncomfortable? Well, once you start riding those feelings of discomfort, those conversations will come much easier, and you’ll see that the sky’s the limit.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on December 1, 2019.