I don’t know how this is all supposed to work?…
When I was a kid, I would collect all manner of non functional electrical items, stereos, and cassette players. They all fascinated me and I was always taking them apart thinking that I may be able to fix them. I was successful about one time in twenty and the rest were hidden away, stuffed into a closet with out of sight, out of mind, clearly stamped on them. I would be recognized as smart for fixing something, but I knew inside about the twenty other things I failed at, screwed up more than they already were. As the years went on I found that no matter what I was working on, I would count my mistakes as the marker of intelligence, my successes looked upon as lucky, a fluke, because look at the mistakes I made… As school and groups started to form though, the mistakes took on different forms, social interactions, miscues, embarrassments, and judging inquiry, it left me on the outside of acceptance, I didn’t fit… I was weird. Uneasy with being even the slightest bit confrontational, and being a bigger kid physically than the others, I made it all my fault. I could take the punishment, the teasing, I was used to that too, I had been traumatized already with the things that thickened the skin. I hunched over, I made myself smaller, unimposing. The years that followed from there had me accepting the fault, all of the blame, for a long list of things that I had no control over, and a longer list of imaginary incidents that never happened. I believed that I was being strong, and absorbing the blame, the brunt of the emotions. “Can’t you see how responsible that is?” That thought that I was doing this to spread the peace and serenity, the unconfrontational grace, the way to better communications, may have been the intention, but it was hardly the end result.
“I’m sick of my crap too!” I said out loud. I was speaking to my brother in his workshop, grateful that he let me use a corner of it for my projects. It wasn’t in anger, but in a resolve that I saw it too after all these years sober. I wished I knew what to do to change it all like magic. I had remembered that interaction the other night as I had an discovery moment in targeting my ridiculously over the top anxiety and fear that lately has been drowning me. When I remembered that moment it was like all of the dominoes lining up, all of the doors open, and I could look down the length of it and see the pieces working. My anxieties and neuroses were getting out of hand and had been there for months. Even though I knew what caused them, I knew ways to alleviate them, they had gotten the best of me again. As they rolled on I couldn’t figure out why my best work wasn’t working. The old lines about quicksand kept coming to mind, and there was simply nothing to grasp ahold of. All of this was nothing new, as I have gone through it at least a dozen times in recent years. So much so that I even avoided my sponsor in order to save him from having to hear it all again. All of those times left me when I got some great insight into my life, or a better thinking mantra arrived. Dabrowski would call this positive disintegration at its finest. But the pattern still persisted and the layers of practice and work wasn’t getting through this time. Little could I have known then what was happening because, like anyone else, I haven’t been here before. I couldn’t see some old thinking that was poisoning the whole effort, and I found it hiding among the most innocent of thoughts, amongst the defenses, among the peace making. “It’s all my fault,” is something I have plastered on my psyche for years as I recovered from drugs and alcohol. With alcoholic thinking I blamed everyone else for the things that happened, in recovery I had once again opened up that other extreme, placing everything at my feet again. I thought it was a productive measure, to see what my part was in things. But I discovered there was more to it as I lifted up the hood and checked out the way this was working in my life. That peek opened the doors, lined up the dominoes, and put a lot more of my story in order.
The cost of thought
I have often noted, there is the another side, another use for the tools we use to cope, and get through life and recovery with. In recovery we are shown how alcohol and drugs manipulate our thinking as they dictate our behaviors. We are shown and given some basic suggestions, and some basic tools for disrupting those thoughts from repeating their destructive ways. The thing that is not often shared or discussed is the opposite end of the tools we use. We can come to think we are applying acceptance, when we are simply applying apathy. We can believe that we are being tolerant, when we are in reality just tolerating something. In my case I had to understand what pieces made up this spiraling anxiety. When the list of parts came into focus though, it shocked and elated me at the same time, because the list wasn’t full of fears and situations. The list of parts that came out at the end consisted of manipulations, avoiding responsibility, and traumas, all of them wrapped up into a little ball of fault and guilt, all shredding my inner garden even as I planted some of the best seeds. I had taken the notion of seeing my part in things to the extreme, one that created an all my fault attitude again. Thinking that this was a positive process, one that avoids confrontation, allows others to have a point of blame, taking one for the team, wasn’t at all what was going on. I was avoiding recovery, avoiding growth, and stifling others around me. The laughing irony comes from the fact that it is all my fault, I just didn’t know where it was until now. I researched anxiety and found all of the standard descriptions and remedies. As I was going through the various sources though the part about everything being other (people/things/the way it is,) fault kept on coming up. I had the the opposite problem, the one with self blame. What I found was like a thud over the head with a big club of truth. I wasn’t being strong by taking on the blame, I wasn’t taking on a responsible stance, I was mostly avoiding, hiding, and closing myself off to life.
Self blame is what it is more commonly called, and in my case, I have genetic and environmental dispositions to take things to imaginative extremes. Self blame is an unconscious mechanism to avoid things and situations I may believe could hurt me, a way to avoid the responsibilities of everyday life, and a way to manipulate others in the process. It’s the reason I have had such a hard time forgiving myself, and the self loathing that brings on the oceans of depression and anxiety that come with that avoidance. That same avoidance that leads to poor health and the attached mental health aspects of it all. When I took apart the self blame, and saw how it resonated throughout my life, and recovery I had to wonder if I had any real program at all? Was I just unconsciously avoiding recovery? In the past I used to have suicidal thinking as my go to thought process to clear my head, to make all of the self loathing and guilt to stop. I am wondering if that self loathing somehow lightened up into a manner of deeply set self blame? The reason I say this is because it is my go to thought to clear my mind, to make all of the conflicts stop. Stopping conflicts, stopping all other examination of what is going on… next? It was another way of avoiding pieces of life, a coping method that closed other people off in the process and shuts out their input into things. I could see the whole little ball of it all as I used it, and it used me in my story. Self blame is also a destructive tool, a form of self harm, and I could see that maybe my self destructive mindset from my addictive thinking could have lightened up into a form of harm hiding away behind a once innocent thought. In lifting the hood and seeing this self combustion engine, my story changed again.
The reason I am this way is that I am conditioned to think this way, it is a core belief that starts in childhood. In speaking with my brother on the subject, the inroads to creating this core belief was seen as probably family wide, and also generationally driven as well. Genetically speaking I am an H.S.P. Highly Sensitive Person, and an I.N.F.J. on the Myers-Briggs indicator, which in turn promotes an asymmetrical learning pattern highlighting my cognizance and sensitivities, while flattening my behavioral and social adjustment abilities. Coming from a large and modestly disfunctional family, the propensity for trauma, neuroses, poor coping habits, and misunderstandings were numerous. Having taken the position of being always in the wrong, and taking the blame for things, this was seen as a form of responsibility when I was younger, a form of leadership. My heightened creativity was then tasked with being the one to find a solution, with that came attention. When everything would fail again, it was again all my fault, and I would either do it again differently with the same end result, or quit altogether. As an INFJ I needed my alone time to recharge, that introverted aspect left me adverse to being held accountable to others on their time, always leading to a one sided dynamic. That constant feeling of never being good enough, and thus everything was my fault continued to grow and change in my subconscious mind into manipulative passive aggressive mannerisms. That leaves a poor ability to set and form boundaries with people, lack of trust, and placing them into an uncomfortable corner. All of this leaves me unable to process emotions properly and skews attempts at better thinking because that core belief is so engrained. Then in response I try to set unrealistic goals for myself, and practice high standards because inside, if I do it right, then nobody will be able to find fault, find the wrong in it all. That whole process had continued unabated for years, until it became a chronic self feeding ball of destruction.
In my story this low self esteem and self blame has much to do with the difficulties that I find in myself in when dealing with life. It was a constant build up, tear down process, that never did change when so many other things did when I got sober. Because at the very heart of it all, I wasn’t worth anything, I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t matter. Recovery felt like I was polishing a rock, only to find that it was actually just dried dung. I never got past that part, because I couldn’t see this piece subconsciously working away at me. Even if I did see it or was made aware of it, the information couldn’t even scratch that core belief, that harder than a diamond nutshell. I thought that if I could find my true “self” that I could at least be honest to that ideal no matter what it was. In finding that self and community are more closely connected than what is commonly believed, I realized my search for self was trying to find a place that didn’t really exist as I expected. That whole search left me more alone, isolated, and missing the community that I craved for, which compounded the anxieties, depression, and drove the self loathing and self blame to greater heights. The only way to build myself up became to set unrealistic goals and standards for myself and others too, when those didn’t work or became too difficult, I would regress again, climb further into my blame box, and cut off any power for things to effect me, traumatize me. When that is taken to the extremes as I am prone to go to, the overachieving high standards, the chronic nature of it all, it cuts life down to just eating and sleeping, dread during the conscious hours, and nonsensical thoughts when sleeping. That allows that little ball of blame, self esteem, and anxiety, to lower life down to the same size. Life playing down to the level of its opponent so to speak.
Like I stated at the beginning, I don’t know how all of this is supposed to work? The different stages of life and recovery and life in recovery are as subjective and individual as we are. I knew I had a lot of work to do on matters of self when I started my recovery. The parts of self and the behaviors that came along with active alcoholism were made aware to me, the manner in which to change that thinking were too. Here in this part of recovery, that of repairing the person that remains has a lot of extra components to it in my story. I could never really pin the reason why I drank on any one thing, it was more like an everything kind of feeling. In finding that my self blame, and worth departments were doing some uncontracted work, I found a whole new part of me that needs new tools made, adjusting the ones that are being used, and finding a way to better organize the whole toolbox to begin with. I found the connections to things and behaviors that had infuriated my inner self, and already the repair work has begun, the anxiety and outlook changing, better thinking taking the place of the less than productive background noise. Unwinding a core belief is difficult, but it can be done. Unwinding the damage already done in life can be even more difficult, the pain and fears are all still waiting for me, waiting for me to stop avoiding people, situations, and life. In all of this I saw the connections to those even scarier places of psychopathy and narcissism, parts of the psyche that psychologists call the Dark Triad of thoughts. It was relieving to see that I fall very low on the tests for that seemingly dangerous area of mental health. Seeing the connections of these thoughts to my other beliefs, my behaviors, my building of sense that I expected of the world is ongoing. This, as with much of my insights are places to start, places to explore, and places to understand better some of the things that come while trying to navigate life and recovery.
The availability of professional mental health therapy is limited, and very overwhelmed in these times of societal change. In looking into my story I am going to have to find those core beliefs that make me do this to myself. I am going to have to work harder at engaging with the world, people, and responsibilities. The standards which have built themselves up are going to have to be right sized, and allow myself some way to relax. I also have to recognize that these thoughts carry their own addictiveness, that the snap back of this thinking is just like relapsing from drugs and alcohol, it wants you to think it’s your best friend and will fight to stay there. In recovery I found a way to correct my thinking, change my outlook, and with it my life. What I didn’t see was the tiny little bits I had not been able to discover until I did. This core belief of my value, my worth, and my esteem, never really changed, it just took on a new form, a different inroad to do the same damages. With a laundry list of things I have found about myself over this time and a collection of good tools feeling really incomplete at the moment, the work has just begun again. With a better understanding of the engines that run me, the core beliefs, or lack of them that I hold, I can imagine another round of step-work in the future. It may be there within those core beliefs as to why recovery works for some and not for others. I could see the intellectual and social benefits of recovery and I used my ability to change all the thinking that I could. I don’t know how that would work out though if core beliefs and their background processes were unconsciously doing more damage than I could take. In finding the fault, the guilt, and the destruction they have caused throughout my life, not only in recovery, I can see the work needed on my very foundation. It is just another piece of the workings, and there will certainly be more. But in getting to the core beliefs, the responsibilities that I have to myself and to life itself have become much clearer. I may succeed, I may fall short, but I will set my expectations within reach as I change, and end the unconscious efforts I use to keep avoiding recovery.