Highway to the (Dis)comfort Zone

OK.  I’ll concede the title is reaching a bit, but I really wanted to make this Kenny Loggins reference.


Just look at that ’80s beard in all its majesty.

Actually now that I’m thinking about it, here is a hilariously relevant clip of Quentin Tarantino’s take on “Top Gun” to tie this whole post together:

Excerpt from the ’94 rom-com “Sleep With Me.” This may upset you if you are a particularly big fan of “Top Gun” and its surface machismo.

The overarching theme I’m getting at here is that to perpetuate a successful life-long recovery from substance abuse, there is no getting around it: you’re gonna have to step outside of your comfort zone.  We experience this discomfort and unease almost immediately – we now have to learn to deal with the everyday challenges and major events of life without our substance of choice, which was once our crutch, our shield, our diffuser.  Without it, we become lost, anxious, fearful, apprehensive, confused.

This (huge) initial adjustment takes a lot of courage, but the reward is well worth it.  For me, talking about my long history and love affair with alcohol was extremely harrowing territory.  I myself had only just admitted that it existed at all; to share the intimate details of my story with complete strangers in rehab elicited sheer terror in my mind.

But by putting it all out in the open, I felt the oppressive weight of loneliness and self-isolation lifted from my aching shoulders.  Sharing with honesty facilitates liberation of the soul – essentially why I choose to be so frank and candid with my writings here.

blow the universe

Hold on to this feeling.

Staying ‘comfortable’ can also mean becoming ‘complacent’ – dangerous thinking in a mind that will never be cured of its ailment.  As Steve Jobs put it: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”  In this context, of course, foolish does not mean a lapse in judgment; rather, a willingness to pursue greater heights.  Even just in small, simple ways: some days my brain feedback will spark a reminder that my senses are not as sharp of late, and I’ll snap to the right instead of shuffling to the left like I normally would.

I’m always amused when I notice the tendency toward the familiar in others.  One of my favorite examples is demonstrated by the reaction of adults to the potentially “threatening”new environment of a large-group setting, such as a classroom or lecture.  In the first session, individuals often choose their seats arbitrarily, having no point of reference for what areas may be better than others.  But upon returning to that same environment a second or third time, the individual is most likely to return to the “original” seat they had claimed; this is comfortable and reassuring for them, returning to familiarity.

I like to trace this somewhat-subconscious reaction back to grade school conditioning, via “assigned seats.”  We are no longer children and thus we are free to organize ourselves as we please, but years of adhering to the concept of a “territorial” seat have made us prone to follow the pattern.

Test the theory out for yourself if you’d like.  Taking it a step further, I will sometimes choose to disrupt the flow of the established pattern by taking the “claimed” seat of another, for myself.  The reaction I get when the individual discovers I have invaded their territory is often one of fleeting alarm and sometimes even anxiety.  Fascinating.  As much as I try to push my own boundaries, I make equal efforts to shake the foundation, keeping human nature on its toes, startling the status quo just a little.  After all, where’s the fun in life if it all becomes so anticlimactically predictable?

“Let’s irritate the comfortable, and give comfort to the irritated.” – D.J.S.


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