In 1980, singer Grace Jones released her version of the song, “Love is the Drug" and it soon became a hit on the disco circuit. It's true: though we don't always think about it in those terms, love is a very potent drug. Who doesn't love being high on love? To be sure, though, it's not the only drug that successful men (and women) get themselves involved in. Work gives love a run for its money almost any day. After all, it's a lot easier to get hooked on work, and it's a lot harder to build up a tolerance to it. Then, of course, we mustn't forget exercise and sports (both playing and watching) and, while we're on the subject, TV and the internet, too. You've got to face it: the life of a successful man can be a trip from one high to the next, day after day.
Once you add to this mix caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, prescription and illegal drugs (whether they're used occasionally or not-so-occasionally), the picture of the guy you see in the mirror may be fogging up a little. “But wait!" you may say. “How dare you put love, work, exercise, and entertainment in the same category as all these other things?" I'll be more than happy to give you two simple reasons for my decision: 1) you can easily develop a dependency on any one or all of these things; and 2) they can all be used to serve the exact same purpose - to keep you from really feeling your feelings.
When you look at it that way, what's your ‘drug of choice'? Which of these do you run to to ‘relax’ when things start getting out of hand? If you really want to find out the truth about yourself (and you've read along this far, so why not?), make yourself a written list of the things you use to ‘escape’ from the times you find your life wearing you down. One of these items on your list is probably your ‘drug of choice', but how will you know for sure? Look at your list. Now ask yourself, if you were forced to give up one of these drugs, which one would hurt you the most? Think to yourself, “how would I feel if I could never do this thing again?" To be honest with you, this exercise has only a 50-50% chance of showing you the truth. That's the case because, if you're really badly addicted to something, you'll most likely lie to yourself saying, “I could give this up any time I chose to; I just don't choose to right now. "
Whether you know what your ‘drug(s) of choice’ is or not becomes a moot question when you enter fully into the midlife transition. You'll know that this is happening because your drugs will stop working and those pesky emotions will start to seep through into your consciousness. The more you try to escape (and you may wind up trying multiple escape routes), the less effect your efforts will have on your feelings. At some point, if you're capable of being really honest with yourself, you'll look at yourself in the mirror (if you can still do that) and say, “I hate the person I've become; I hate what I'm doing; this isn't working for me anymore. " If and when you embrace that experience fully, one day you'll look back at that moment and realize that that's when your transition really happened. That's when your third (and ultimate) stage of life began.
The transition from being an adult (a child without parental constraints) to being a mature human being means quitting all the drugs and letting all the emotions (no matter how nasty they may feel) come through. Don't worry: on the other side of the transition, you'll still get a lot of enjoyment out of all the things you love to do; you just won't have to do them any more. Before that can happen, though, you not only need to have the experience of seeing yourself in the mirror as the man you truly are, but you also need to feel what it's like to be the man you've become. That's why I call midlife the ‘antidote’. It invites you take that giant step out of the fog of senseless self-delusion and into the cold, but crisp and clear, air of the real world.
I want to stress here that midlife can only present you with an invitation. Nobody can force you to step outside of your drug-induced hallucinations. Regardless of how painful withdrawal from these ‘medications’ may be, you're always free to run and find a new ‘drug of choice’ that can replace the ones that aren't working for you anymore - however temporary those new escapes may be. You always have that choice, nobody can take it away from you ('fix’ you) and nobody can do it for you. In this case, you're very much on your own.
What's at stake here? If you don't mind the use of the term, it's nothing short of your soul. Define that any way you choose. By ‘soul’ I mean (at the very least) the person you were destined to become and the contribution you were put here to make. It's the core purpose behind every breath that you draw. To run away from your core purpose means nothing short of denying your own personal essence and, therefore, emptying your life of any meaning it could have (and should have) had.
No doubt, you'll find me a powerful advocate for that mature, dedicated, purposeful, contented man inside you who's struggling to get out. Every step you take down the road of Midlife Mastery brings you closer to him. Every drug you let go of makes him more real: more present. Yet, you have a much stronger advocate than I right in front of you. I can't tell you what to do, but I can point your spirit guide out to you (and I think that's my most powerful role). Your primary advocate through the pain of your midlife transition is none other than your future self. If you were to project yourself 20 years into the future and look back on the you of today, what would you tell him? What advice would you give him? What would you scold him about? What would you be most proud of him for? What would you be most disappointed in him about?
Someday - way sooner than you may like to imagine - you will be that man. The choices you make today . . . right now . . . will determine how you you're going to feel about yourself when that day comes. That future you is a very, very important person with a very significant contribution to make to this world of ours. You have a choice. Don't let him down.
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
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