About a year back I went through an intensely rough period. There were days when I would get up and wonder if this was indeed my life or if I had somehow landed into the midst of the script of a horror movie. To add to my dilemma, I had also chosen to be discreet about the details of the ‘horror’ that had descended into my world. So I could not really take ‘off’ from work or other responsibilities. With a young son and a full-time job, this meant that I still had to get up and show up for work, show up as a responsible mother, basically show up for life – no matter what was going on inside of me. There were days I would be so torn, confused and shattered of hope that I felt like I was a collection of rags that had been somehow stitched together to last one more day. Just getting through everyday stuff and chores seemed like a herculean task. Worse, I was plagued with guilt and shame because I had also played a role in creating the ‘horror’ that was now consuming me. On many mornings, all I wanted to do was lie in my bed and cry.
I knew however, that if would just lie in bed and cry, my to-do list would only grow longer and my already chaotic schedule would get even more out of control. This was a time when getting through life using my rational mind was an impossibility. Somehow, I landed up steering myself through this period, by using a combination of ‘faith’ and ‘placebo daaru’. I have written earlier about how ‘faith’ can be a life-saver in any situation. In this post however, I want to tell you about the other very effective saviour I stumbled upon – ‘placebo daaru!’.
On days when I wished I could just run away from my life, when I felt too intimidated by the pile of things lined up for the day to even walk out of my home, I started imagining that I was taking a drink of an imaginary daaru (alcoholic drink). I would allow myself to feel all heady and intoxicated, and then get the courage to get out of my home and walk to work. With the first gulp of the ‘placebo daaru’, I would forget all the ‘horror’ and ‘problems’ in my life. With the second gulp my list of pressing chores and ‘work’ would automatically become less significant. By the third gulp I would sense that my thoughts were now less intense and less rigid versions of what they had originally been. By the fourth gulp my emotions had become more fluid and they came freely into my awareness (instead of staying suppressed). By the fifth gulp, I had lightness in my steps and had reached a sense of playful abandon with which I could receive everything and everyone with whom I would come into contact that day.
‘Placebo daaru’, literally helped me get up and face the people and tasks that I otherwise wanted to shirk or hide away from. I might not have been as productive in those days as I would have been normally, but I was at least able to get up and keep functioning through my day and through my worldly commitments.
Today, the storm that had seemed out of the horror movie has mostly passed and I am in a much happier and safer place (both psychologically and physically). I seldom feel a need for placebo daaru anymore, but yet sometimes I use it just for the fun of it. I also use it if I suddenly find myself in an overwhelming situation or having to face a person that I’d otherwise not want to engage with. For me placebo daaru, works wonders by giving me courage and also allowing me to face any situation with a sense of lightness, acceptance and abandon.
Since I like de-constructing mind tools and practices to understand why and how they work, here is my theory behind ‘placebo daaru’. I think the impact and effectiveness of placebo daaru will be person-specific because it will depend on what the ‘daaru effect’ means to each person. Each one of us can create our own versions of ‘placebo daaru’, ‘placebo marijuana’, or ‘placebo whatever’ to help us cope through tough and stormy times. However it would be doubly empowering to use these ‘placebo fixes’ with the underlying awareness that in actuality, what we are doing is just flipping a switch in our own ‘mental-emotional-physiological’ state. By flipping this switch we create access to (and can then operate from) literally a different state and that different state allows us to be more courageous, light, accepting, or whatever it is that we’d rather be.
As I deconstructed the effects of placebo daaru on my own inner states here is what I found as the shifts that typically occurred for me. A shift from worry and fear into lightness and abandon. A shift from over thinking and ‘thoughts that repeated in relentless loops’ to a feeling of space in the mind and spaciousness between thoughts. A shift from being a victim of the internal ‘voice of judgement’ to a state of openness and acceptance.
Apart from these shifts I also realized that taking a few swigs of placebo daaru was akin to giving myself the permission to just be ‘me’. Because of the daaru, I was now allowed to say what I want. Because of the daaru, it was okay to not hear or understand what I did not want to. Because of the daaru, I could only do things at a pace that worked for me. Because of the daaru, I didn’t have the capacity to think or plan into the future and I could just pick the one thing that was immediately due and work on it.
In hindsight, I have realized that the most precious gift that placebo daaru gave me during those months was the permission to be imperfect. Since I was ‘drunk’, I did not have to be my best and brightest self. In a drunk state, making mistakes and omissions was completely understandable. This relieving of the ‘pressure to be perfect’ actually helped me to be brave enough to keep doing things no matter how uphill life seemed.
I have since realized that I do not need to drink imaginary ‘daaru’ to give myself the permission to be imperfect. I can do that even without the daaru by just making a choice to accept myself – flaws and errors included. Placebo daaru was just providing a convenient way out because if I did not do things perfectly I could blame it on the daaru. What would happen however if I decided to approve of myself no matter what? What if I stopped judging myself altogether and just approved of myself with all my faults and shortcomings? In a world where imperfections and mistakes was not taboo, would I still have need for my daaru?