Back in the late 1980s, I was newly sober, living in Chicago, going to meetings pretty much every day of the week. Meetings on the Near North side were crammed with burned out brokers from the downtown trading floors in the Loop. Two things will date this story: First, live humans were still trading (ok, they were scream-waiving) face-to-face in pits. Second, smoking was pretty much continuous during meetings.

Lou had all the trappings of a newly-sober broker – feathered hair, a perma-tan, white linen shirt, conspicuously expensive loafers, and stone-washed jeans. His voice was a monotone whisper from years of screaming “bond rally” in the S&P lead month futures pit. He was recounting what his sponsor said to him after he bitched about some tiff he had with his girlfriend.

“Lou, he said, one day you’re gonna hear a loud popping noise. That’s the sound of your head comin’ out of yer ass.”I always knew I would need that story.

Well, this morning, I heard the pop.

Maybe not THE pop. But A pop nonetheless.

I wonder what if anything I could do for my best friend, whose mood was really low last time we talked. I don’t think it would be effective to just call him and say “Hey, dude, I’m worried about you. What can I do that would help you?” I think it might require me actually shutting up for a while and thinking about it. I came up with a few ideas, but I am going to sleep on them.

This is how I started my morning journaling today. I immediately thought that it was perhaps a lifetime first. Pursued since before I remember by fears I really didn’t know how to name, I’ve been stuck on what I call Planet Me. I didn’t even know that’s where I was stuck till about a year ago. Since that realization, I have been working every day to follow my ADHD treatment plan, and to build my own recovery program.

Months have gone by with no noticeable improvements in my daily experience, or my life situation. Relationships continued to be difficult, and life necessities like work, earning enough money, and balancing work and family life have continued to be mystifying. I knew I was fundamentally stuck inside my own feelings, unable to truly empathize with others in a meaningful way. I felt like a dad who drove his kids to school every day but usually forgot to put on their seat belts. Sometimes I got it right, but so rarely that I had scant hope.

But gradually, my ADHD symptoms have become more manageable. And my life results have straightened out. And with greater consistency in work, I’ve been able to add more diversity to the way I earn, so some of the pressure is reducing.

Along the way, I have begun to notice positive results in my relationships. Because I write notes about it every morning, I am noticing my interactions with my kids and my wife are improving. And along the way, as I gain some traction on the most troublesome ADHD symptoms, my confidence has gradually returned. I think of this as a follow-on effect of ADHD, the erosion of confidence from dropping so many balls at work and at home.

But ADHD is only about half the equation for my recovery program. The other half of how I answer the question Why are you like this? is about the fact that I have a really high ACE score. This is a simple measurement of a certain set of adverse experiences that disrupt critical developmental period from birth to 18 years of age.

Since the beginning of lockdown, March 2020, I’ve been spending an hour first thing in the morning alone, doing some journaling, a little copying, and a short breathing exercise, I’ve improved my mood, memory, and focus throughout the days.

The goal was to do the morning practice as a way to work on the executive functioning skills I had allowed to atrophy for years. (Part of the double-whammy of my own particular ADHD manifestation is that when I am weak on a particular skill, like time management, I sometimes slink away exactly when I should be working even harder to improve.) This morning practice has given me time to set goals for working on skills like prioritization, time estimation, and even do some work on memorization.

But an unexpected benefit has been some insights into the ACE score side of the house. Even if the idea of being stuck on Planet Me had occurred to me in some other period in my life, I was able to retain it, contemplate it, and integrate it into my thinking because I had set aside time every day for exactly this kind of thinking.

Even though sobriety saved my life, giving up drugs and alcohol was just the beginning. The diagnosis and proper treatment of ADHD, combined with the realization that a high ACE score gives me even more stuff to work on, has enabled me to get traction and begin to grow in new ways.

Spending time in productive solitude every day has given me hope that I can really improve my ability to think of others in a natural way. That treating my ADHD symptoms over time has also begun to heal some of the stunted parts of my personality. This is especially welcome because I often worry that I have to truly know which challenges come from ADHD and which from trauma.

Maybe it matters a little less than I thought.

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