The crucible of willingness
“What? Are you too afraid to be happy?” It was my brother’s voice, and his question that kept repeating in my thoughts. I had just come home from the E.R. after having myself checked out. I had been awakened the night before with a huge bout of anxiety, air hungry and difficult to breathe. That sense of something wrong didn’t leave me for the entire day, and I was not going to go into another night with that anxiety, with that unknown feeling of how you really are. Let’s face it, doctors are doctors, but you know when you don’t feel right, when your internal alarms are just not quieting down. Everything was fine as far as medically speaking, my blood pressure was elevated a bit for me personally, but no other obvious signs of anything else. Speaking with the doctor, it appears I am not the only one with heightened anxiety, stresses, and other various mental pressures. Even trying to be aware of my mental state, and through recovery practices, these things built up to dangerous levels without my awareness.
The warning signs were already happening but they were separated by time, so I naturally just forgot, and by the variety of ways they presented themselves that didn’t click either. There was the snippy, snapping back at the wife about the oddest assortment of things, the dips into petty areas of thought. Sure, I suffer from depression and anxiety as much as anyone, but this was being pulled from somewhere else. The apologies were instantaneous, but the need for them was what grew like the odd hair above the regular behaviors to note that something was different. I kept returning to the introvert angle, that since my wife and I have been constantly together for months, that I could not regenerate, could not charge my batteries. As much as that may be a part of the problem, in examining the emotions, that is just a small part in the bigger mind of things.
When you have depression and anxiety, when you know that you are a work in progress, these insights can offer life changing assistance, they can lead to some areas of work requiring more attention, and bigger battles of mind and body. It is a part of recovery that is sometimes unnoticed as the years add up and the places where we are in that recovery changes. Some folks develop checks and balances, while I have seemed to have developed checks on my imbalances. That is where a doozy showed itself, became apparent. Even before the years of recovery I knew that my thinking went to the worst place possible often. In psychology speak it is something called catastrophizing, and it is a more common problem than some may realize. Even in the healthier minds this behavior/protection mechanism can trigger on almost any subject. While those like myself tend to go there most of the time, leaving a healthy dose of extra work and thinking being taken on unnecessarily.
Of course catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion, a lie that the brain tells to you. The only thing is, the amygdala, which plays an important part in emotion and behavior doesn’t know the difference between the imaginary emotional traumas and real world traumas. So my addict like behavior in this cognitive distortion, this self protective destruction, constitutes a good portion of my emotional backwash. That part of the thinking that comes up with thoughts such as, I don’t like myself, so nobody else really does either. The sky is falling routines that always seem to push forward to the front. Who would want to be around that thinking? Or the behavior it prompts? Fear based neuroticism, distrust, and self pity. The introverted nature disguising a grander anxiety of esteem and ego. The change that has occurred is that now I have the willingness, and the mindfulness that is needed to see these things. Something I told my sponsor years ago, that if I could be willing to see the problems, Then I could become willing to do something about them.
As I have said before; the ability for an individual’s mind to be willing to accept another point of view is quantitative to the weight, the depths of the subject. Basically, folks don’t like to work hard in the thinking department by nature. I am grateful that I have the ability to “get this” recovery messaging. The ability to grow from it and with it, and continue the practicing. Not all people are able, or willing to accept another set of circumstances, another history to examine. My sister died eleven years ago after fifteen treatment centers and various methods. Over a twenty year period I witnessed my strong and creative sister, wither into a health challenged, and alcohol dependant waif. She died a week after her 46th birthday, I was four years her junior. The reason why that sets itself as important is the original anxiety attack itself. The lifelong friend that I thought had somehow come to harm was nowhere to be located. It took over a week to find out that he was indeed alive, but then he called me out of the blue.
I haven’t spoken to, or seen this friend for years, since I had to ask him to leave my house. He was, and either still is, or effected heavily by drugs like Meth, and who knows what else. In his call there wasn’t a sentence that came out of his mouth except “Love You man,” that wasn’t blaming someone or something else. In the week that preceded this call I found his mug shot from a few years ago, available to the public. He tried to say he didn’t know anything about it, or the nine month sentence applied to it. His constant refrain of everybody lies about him just resonated too much to keep listening. Making up an excuse to get off the phone I was just numb. I thought about my past behavior and how his was much worse, or was it? The gift of willingness gets overlooked in the big scheme of all things recovery, when sometimes it is the very crucible to everything else.
Willingness though is not something easily adopted or applied, it is not something we are educated or nurtured to take part in. It is tied at the hip to our belief systems, our house of cards emotions and experiences that make up our bigger psyche. Willingness to accept another viewpoint is a weight considered by some to be too heavy to try to add it to the multi leveled constructs. Even that willingness is chopped up into different depths of pondering, different stopping points for various avenues of empathy and understanding. Totally willing to change the entirety of thought on one area, while sealing off other areas to nuclear blast types of damage. Those types of so called protection mechanisms are the very things that create cognitive distortions to begin with, another lie to work through. Having witnessed by my own actions the cognitive distortions of sobriety highlighted the ones I carried when I was a raging alcoholic. The lies that my mind told me back then look so obvious and clear that I must have been considered seriously mentally challenged for not seeing them before. Cue the best friend, cue the wanting to help, but knowing he has to become willing on his own. The parallels to my own history one of those deep reminders that this is serious business, this is life.
There is an acronym used called H.A.L.T., it is a checklist of its own. It reminds us to check if we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. It is the manner in which we become willing to examine ourselves. In that checking of our internal environment, we are giving pause to the automatic first thoughts, and find a way to give rise to the second or third, more thought out statements and decisions. The longer you go in this, the more the basics come back around, the willingness wanes, the automatic thinking returns to those places not kept in touch with. Those same automatics that bring about relapses because of what I describe as that other definition of H.A.L.T., as half assed lazy thinking. That brings this back around to happiness though, and whether I am afraid to be so. This rise in anxiety, this out of sorts is not something I necessarily blame on myself, or lack of a program. There is no blame except lack of experience, these are unprecedented times, and the different avenues that we are trying to mentally normalize the abnormal is a difficult synapses to adjust.
It does wring out the larger, and longer playing pieces that have always been there, somewhat hidden behind the everyday components. The lies that are laying around, the fears, and protections that are not even known, or thought of in that manner. Yes, these are not normal times, the conditions are ripe for misinterpretations, and imagination. My tendencies to go to the last resort, the Pluto of inclusive thought, and the we’re never going to make it mentality have left me cautious, planning, and also an overthinker of the 99th percentile. It reveals fears from angles that have eluded me so far, and an ability to extinguish them. I have a belief that if I am happy, then something terrible will happen. I then shade myself from all the bad by creating it first in my mind and believing I am thickening my soul with all of the possibilities played out emotionally already. It is a recipe for a fear based life, and a mistrust or apathy developed towards enjoying that life. I lie to myself, that is my greatest defect of character, my biggest secret in sobriety. These are not done intentionally though, they are the ones, like alcohol, that tell me they are something else. Through mindfulness and willingness I am able to see them more readily today. Even though they bring back the thought of shouldn’t I be farther along by now? At least I have the gratitude to know that I am better than I was. Along the way realizing that maybe the biggest lie I ever told was that I was not afraid to be happy