What Does It Mean To Be Present?

If we look at time as a continuum, most of us will agree that the concept of time has been divided. The past, the present, and the future. Of those, the time that we have that is real is “now,” the present moment. Yes, these are concepts and one can argue that everything we perceive is the result of our mind, true, but the present moment is the most palpable place of interaction with the world and those around us. The past and the future tend to live solely in our minds, both times which are not real in comparison. Being mentally present is a key to being mindful. It is hard to live in the present moment and be mindful all the time, especially when we are often consumed by our busy lives. As we grow from the clean slate of infancy, we experience good and bad along the way as we maneuver the path of life. We develop coping skills to deal with these experiences. Having good coping skills and developing resilience is a key component to staying healthy, both in the mental sense and the physical sense. Healthy living is not simply being present, but living in the present.

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How Drugs And Alcohol Cause The Absence Of Presence

When we use drugs or alcohol to cope with things going on in the “now”, they remove us from that real present moment. We are under the influence of a mind-altering substance. While intoxicated, we often lie, cheat, steal, fight, get depressed, anxious, manic, or psychotic, as well as potential other behaviors or emotions that could occur. We are being influenced by a substance we abuse. If we look at it, we could say the substance is really abusing us. When this substance use develops into addiction, the effect on someone truly capable of living in the present moment is significantly compromised, as addiction is not a momentary situation.  With addiction, we are no longer living in the now, but a cycle of craving, intoxication, emotional deregulation, withdrawal, and the inability to abstain for the most part.

When the substance we are abusing does wear off, it drops us back into reality. In the moment we start to become clear and lucid, our minds tend to take us back, making attempts to recall what may have transpired while intoxicated, what now has become the past. It is human nature to try and focus on what we have done wrong in an attempt to course correct. We start to question ourselves and create doubt, asking ourselves if we did indeed lie, steal, cheat, fight, or whatever else. Feelings of remorse, regret, and depression set in. The next place our mind takes us is the future. What will we have to face? Job loss, marital discord, legal consequences, physical withdrawal? We start to feel anxious, apprehensive, and fearful about what will become. As this process is going on, withdrawal could be setting in, causing tremendous physical and psychological pain and dysphoria.

The irony of this whole thing is that drugs and alcohol remove us from the only time that is real, the present, to drop us back off and live in 2 times that are not real, the past and the future, in our minds. We disconnect, we detach, we isolate, we abandon, and we pursue the drugs or alcohol again. As this cycle of abuse and withdrawal sets in, it conditions us to associate the momentary glimpses of present time, the sober moments, as an uncomfortable place to live, both mentally and physically, constantly thinking of yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s consequences. We are consumed with our thoughts. We no longer seek presence, but an escape from the present, as time spent substance free is too depressing and too anxiety provoking. We have conditioned the only time that is real, the present sober moments, to be an uncomfortable place to live. So, we repeat our cycle of addiction, which renders us absent from the present.

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Dr. Ashish Bhatt

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  • Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO is an accomplished physician, addiction medicine specialist, and psychiatrist with over 20 years of medical and administrative leadership.

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