Day 17: The (Un)controllable Adult Imagination

The cutting had taken its toll on me. It was Friday night and I had been without purposeful consumption of sugar, refined carbs, caffeine, and alcohol for two weeks. Social media intake had been chopped into many halves, folded into many more halves, and only unfolded for brief periods of time.

Everywhere I looked, someone seemed to be enjoying a frosty beer, a rich ice cream, a perfectly assembled sandwich, or a steaming hot cup of coffee. People posed for selfies in every conceivable nook of the sidewalk, blocking walkways to get the best angle for Instagram.

At one point, I wanted to stop in the middle of the street and jam an ice cream bar into my face as if committing ascetic harikari. Instead, I ordered a chopped salad and hung out with myself, carefully hearing out my own concerns, reading, and sleeping.

(Yes, cutting all of life’s goodies out has made me as exciting as you think it has.)

Hanging out with myself is something I’ve done much of my life. I was an only child who learned how to utilize an imagination very early in my time. At one point, my name was unofficially “Mario,” my profession was super hero, and I was a masterful piano player, banging out beautiful tunes with closed fists and a cape.

Despite the popular belief that work life is devoid of creativity, imagination carries over into adult life in more ways than we may know. After all, there is a seemingly limitless number of things to think, write, read about or listen to in life, especially once the mind has come to accept the world’s dark realities of death, life, and love. There are an even greater number of things for which two or more minds can think to entertain themselves.

But during one lone walk down Clark Street, I realized that it had been a while since I had this much time to myself completely clear of mind. Now is the first time, perhaps since I was a child in high school, where there was no boredom killer option available. No caffeine to speed me up, no carbs or sweets to floor my brain with endorphins, no mind or body altering drug to make me feel different. It’s just me.

(Somehow, herbal tea doesn’t quite fill the boredom hole. I get about three-fourths of a way through a cup and think: Man, this tepid tea doesn’t really need to be inside of me for any particular reason, now does it?)

My imagination was unclouded for the first time in years. The only comparison I could think of was a deaf person receiving a hearing aid and listening to life’s clanging cacophony for the first time in decades. I was a bit stunned how beautiful and ugly everything seemed all at once, myself included.

Extra time with yourself has plenty of advantages. As I noted in previous post on this cessation experiment, my days feel much longer. There are minutes that feel like they could have been hours. My thoughts are no longer rushed.

There are other benefits too:

I fall asleep easier than I ever have in my entire life.

As I’ve started sleeping earlier and more, the thoughts are more easily collected and sorted.

The feelings of sluggishness from withdrawal seem to be creeping back into the hell they came from, leaving me energized, attentive, and less anxious than I’ve been in years.

When I wake up after a good night of sleep, I’m wide awake and have what feels like leisurely hours instead of adrenaline-fueled moments before work begins.

But there’s also the dark side of why any of us Americans seem to use coffee, alcohol, social media, and caffeine for: To throw away the thoughts and feelings that we aren’t quite ready to confront, ridding ourselves of the nagging, conspicuous thoughts, fears, and feelings that bubble up when we’d least care for their presence.

Thoughts that I imagined were banished to Consciousness Hell have once again started knocking on the mind’s door. For example, a special reminder that I’m not good enough gave a quick two knocks and slinks in, telling me there will always be someone better and someone who works harder, someone who has an easier time with people and is luckier in love. The surprise of thinking and feeling this again gave me pause, but the pause wasn’t filled with the usual “Oh, who gives a fuck?” Instead, it was filled with the withdrawal-laden wonder: “Is that true? If so, why do I even bother?”

The imagination of an adult, left unkempt, becomes an untamed mane that grows out and forms into a dreadlock of thought. We know where this is all going in the end, we know what might happen before we get there, and we tend to focus on only the nastiest of all possibilities – but these are all imagined alternate realities. We’re narrative animals, a rare beast who thinks itself out of contention for life’s sustenance and dwells on past failures, drawing a straight line from past to future with no thought of any interrupting factors in between.

In short: We humans get lost in thought and it totally fucks our shit up.

Having these feelings detached from even the slightest flicker of anxiety is a bit dissociative, as it feels incredibly benign to think my worst fear to its logical conclusion while clear of mind. What’s the harm? I think to myself. The worst case scenario is I see something bad coming and work to avoid the bad thing. But insidious thoughts are… well, insidious. One moment of lost-in-thought thinking about what may go wrong and why you’ll fuck up easily build into a day of one awful thought piling upon the next, ending with the mental version of a 12-car pileup.

All the energy once gained from cutting out draining drinks and cudgeling carbs seems to evaporate with a single stream of thoughts.

After a sleepless Friday night, one the chopped salad couldn’t quite satiate, I decided to do a better job incorporating a careful mindfulness into my journey. Why worry about the past or fret about the future when the flowers are blooming? There is time to plan, and that time should be kept in its own packages of time, sealed off, and saved for a later return.

Clear thought comes in short bursts and should be cherished. Cloudy thoughts comes as readily available as chalky white mints and should be saved for tired, verge-of-sleep moments.

One thing I take from these last two weeks: Having time to live gives me time to think. Time to think must be delicately broken into pieces and used correctly.

Lost-in-thought, emotional, and reckless thinking seem to lead to the mind’s demise. Writing sessions, allowing myself to feel what bubbles up, and challenging bad ideas that come from both should fit into every day. I must also have time to simply exist. No screen, no past-or-future thoughts, and no worries. Instead, simple moments of following thoughts down paths while avoiding the pot hole-ridden paths that seem to infest moments of mindlessness.

I’m not sure whether this a moment of growth or simply a sober realization that the un-dulled, oiled-up mind is more powerful than any of us can possibly realize, but I quite enjoy the unclouded ability to see, think, and arrange thoughts in real time, not allowing one to get too far ahead of of behind the next.

The imagination is a powerful beast. Perhaps I’ve found a better, more clear to make it heel.

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