03/15/2011 08:58 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Do You Have an Emotional Traffic Jam in Your Brain? 6 Ways to Unsnarl It

Life is complicated. The daily pressures of meeting deadlines, paying bills and keeping house -- with or without a spouse or children -- can often times be daunting. Sometimes one can be exhausted before getting out of bed in the morning. Life on life's terms. Suiting up and showing up can be a great effort, and it's twice as difficult if your loved one is struggling with substance abuse issues.

So, before your day gets going and when the morning is still in a quiet hum, here are some concepts that I have suggested to my clients and that I call upon before things might spin out of control:

A Quick Gratitude Checklist

We have all heard how important it is to acknowledge and be grateful for the things in our life. We've heard it so much that it's almost annoying, and becoming long in the tooth of its repetitive coolness. However, if it's not broken, don't fix it -- which is why good ideas will forever be good ideas. I steer clear of the obvious (though never taking for granted my health and the health of my family), and go for the small and even silly -- for example, the pleasure I get from watching birds bathing in my fountain, or that my dogs are such wonderful companions. Sometimes keeping things simple and obvious can really bring a smile to your face.


Think about the physical and emotional footwork you have to do for the day. Keep it uncomplicated and straightforward. Use a mental road map that will get you from Point A to Point B. Take some good, healthy, deep breaths to pump that oxygen fuel into your bloodstream. I have found that conscientious breathing can clear away some unsettling cobwebs and make our thinking calmer, gentler and more obtainable.

Staying Out Of The Outcome

This is the tough one. We all want to control our own lives -- and for the most part, we do. I am a strong believer in a "higher power," and that he knows what's best for me, and I am exactly where I should be at this time. Since so many of us have greater issues in our life than what to wear or have for lunch (especially if we are dealing with a loved one's substance abuse issues), I feel it is important to do the best we can with the tools we have at hand (footwork) and stay out of the outcome -- trusting the results of our efforts.

Accepting The Results

Going hand in hand with the difficulty of staying out of the outcome is accepting the results. Self will is very powerful, and often times we don't like what has transpired, so we have great difficulty accepting the results -- especially if this is exactly the opposite of what we think we are entitled to. "No, no, no. It's not fair, this is not OK," is our hue and cry. Please understand that just because you accept the results doesn't mean you give up or throw in the towel. It may only mean that you need to re-group, re-think or consider other options.


How many times have we heard that attitude is everything? Some days it's a Herculean effort to put a smile on your face or have a good attitude. I have found the slightest navigational change of attitude can prove very successful in a happier and more productive day.


This is the icing on the cake. If we are able to incorporate the 5 concepts above, we can have a better opportunity at serenity -- a calm, peaceful state of being. Take a few minutes for quiet meditation in which you can be attentive to your own inner core. You never know -- five minutes of serenity could one day turn into 5 hours.

If this sounds like a three act play and will take substantially longer than you have time for, here is a sample of my dialogue in about 45 seconds:

Good morning, God (or whatever spiritual being you are comfortable with). I feel physically good today. Thank you for that, and for the health of my loved ones. I'm grateful that that little bird is enjoying a bath right outside my door, and that my golden retrievers have given me my daily tongue bath. Please help me to do the best foot work I can today -- mentally, physically and emotionally -- and maybe help others along the way. Let the game or the results of today's effort come to me as they do. And above all else, help me to accept them, keeping my own self will out of the results! Along the way, help me to possess a good attitude and positive outlook, and through all these efforts, a sense of peace and serenity. Thank you!

All of these concepts take practice, and you may find that you are more successful with some, or that some are easier to grasp than others. No one is testing you, clocking you or judging you. But with all of our lives being in a constant state of flux, we need something to help unlock that emotional traffic jam. And, if you can be focused on your own personal needs with patience, kindness and tenderness, then I promise you will be more available to help your loved ones as they are struggle with the disease of substance abuse.


If I can be of service, please visit my website: I invite you to explore my new book, "Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict."