Today is the final day of my month-long celebration of my sober anniversary. For my final celebration post I thought I would swing for the fences… I’ve made quite a few references to the “committee” that used to run rough-shod in my melon (usually depicted as the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other) over the last month but a friend of mine reminded me of another favorite topic that I hadn’t hit on yet this month.
Self-doubt, self-sabotage and eventually self-destruction… This is the other side of the coin to the committee, or what I do with the committee report. I’ve written about this once before, here and went into great specificity about the notion. The basic gist is this: “The tape” is what I play back, specifically thoughts, in response to an external stimulus. In other words, the thoughts I use to throw at life. If the thoughts turn dark, or negative, there is work to be done because it’s impossible to live a happy life stuck in that.
Negativity is easy, and sometimes can even be warranted, especially if I’m not taking care of my responsibilities and my life is spinning out of control. I usually refer to this as “keeping my side of the street clean”. If my side of the street is messy, due to procrastination or laziness or some other reason, a little negativity is useful if it spurs me to act… The reality is that negativity, if used as a motivator, is not always a bad thing. But there’s another name for this: “honesty”. We must be able to honestly assess ourselves if we are to grow and be happy. Without that, we’re lost because as a response, every problem must become someone else’s fault by nature. We become a victim of a nameless, faceless “society”. Being a victim may be OK for you, but I have no patience for that in my own life. It may play well for the crowd but in the end, being a victim and having a dollar will get you a cup of coffee and that’s about it.
Beyond honesty lies the baron wasteland of self-doubt, self-sabotage and self-destruction. Practicing alcoholics live there. Malcontents find a home as well. Depression thrives. How often have you thought to yourself that you don’t deserve to be happy? Have you ever thought to yourself that a joyous and free life is just not in the cards for you? Have you ever thought that you are not worth saving? That you’re somehow evil? That you don’t deserve to be happy, joyous or free? Have you ever looked at someone else and thought that it wasn’t fair that they appear to have “it all together”, while you struggle just to keep your head above water? Have you wondered if you are incapable of making decisions that turn out well? Have you ever thought to yourself that you’re just “not doing this life thing right”? Have you ever wondered if you are worth loving? These are the tapes that must be changed. These thoughts are fleeting. They occur so quickly that they are almost imperceptible, and they are utterly devastating.
Those thoughts are controllable. Malleable. Repairable. There is hope. All is not lost. You don’t have to live like that anymore. I know this to be true, I used to have a three-story mansion built right in the middle of the wasteland of self-destruction and with some help, patience and work I tore that bitch down and built it back up where the grass really is greener. I changed the tape. I changed my thought pattern and continue to maintain the positivity needed to enjoy the life that I was given. I’ve seen it work in countless others and I will do my best to pass it on, because it is not in success that I find happiness. True joy is in passing on what was freely given to me by someone else.
In looking at replacing a negative thought pattern, it would seem that the worse off one is, the harder it will be to come back. To an extent, this is true – the work will be more rigorous, but to an extent, it isn’t… The more glaring the defect, the easier it is to recognize it when it rears its ugly head. Look at it this way, if you’ve got a thorn in your thumb, it’ll be pretty easy to locate and remove… If it’s one of those tiny metal slivers, it can be days before you locate the actual sliver – then you have to figure out how to remove what you can’t even see (try sandpaper by the way – 80 to 12o grit, go with the grain of the sliver it should come right out – with the grain means opposite the way it hurts when you rub it).
To keep this simple, I can break this down into a few simple steps:
1. Recognize that there is indeed a problem and remove (for men) or accept (for women) the emotion.
2. Learn to recognize when that problem is present.
3. Change it. Act immediately, don’t ever put it off “for a better time”. We’re not talking about a yoga class here.
Changing the tape.
The easiest way to change a self-destructive thought pattern is through action. I’ve rarely met a person who can be depressed and actively involved in bettering their life at the same time, but action is only half of the equation – and not the half that will fix the habit of slipping into the self-destructive thought pattern in the first place. What is the cause of my self-sabotaging thought pattern? What am I leaving undone? What must I address? What part of my “street” needs a street sweeper when it comes to how I think?
Changing the thought pattern itself is a little more involved and it takes a lot of practice. Also we will, in times of stress, fall back on the old behavior – it’s what we’re used to – so in order to maintain our happy, joyous and free life, eternal vigilance is required. Specifically, here’s my experience on how this works: I encounter an external stimulus, the small things are actually a lot harder by the way, for the same reason as the sliver… I’ve come across a good example just last week that would have sent me into a drunken tailspin 20 years ago. We had a drain water backup in our kitchen under the concrete slab. Even though I did everything right in the situation, the insurance company found a loophole through which they believe they can avoid coverage. We’re talking about major repairs – too much for me to afford. This was a rough year for my company too, so I don’t have a whole lot of disposable cash that I can pull out of the company to complete the repairs. I had to spend a portion of the money I have set aside to pay this quarter’s taxes just to get the plumbing fixed. Thoughts of being a bleak Christmas for my girls and a torn up house for the next several months while I piecemeal the repairs as we can afford them start to creep in… Now, this is a natural reaction to a disaster so far. We’re not hurricane Sandy status, but it’s not good. My thought process from this point will dictate how this situation ultimately turns out. The old me would have sat in despair over the “unfairness” of the situation, after all, if I had chosen to cut my guy’s pay a little more (I choose to pay better than most in my industry), if I’d been a little more frugal, I would be OK right now. From there, the thoughts would turn ugly, I’m a failure, I’m going to lose everything, etc. Procrastination would follow and everything I feared would ultimately come to pass. Of this, I have no doubt.
Instead, because I know that path all too well, I took action. I shifted some cash around the company, rolled up my sleeves and got to work. With some help I should have the repairs completed some time in the next two weeks, just before Christmas and we’ll have enough to give the girls a decent present or two. I was able to take action though, because long ago, I learned to change the tape – the thought pattern that would have led me to inaction. Before the negativity had a chance to fester, to become malignant and to devour my spirit, I thought better. “I will get through this. I will do the best I can, sobeit I still lose everything. I’ll have my wife and kids, I’ll have my work and my bikes and running shoes”… “What can I do to get this ball rolling”?
That’s an example. The abstract looks like this: Just because a thought enters my head, whether I blame that thought on “the committee” or not, I have the ultimate say in whether that thought has validity. I can, and do, change the manner in which those thoughts flow and how much validity I place on them. Let’s look at the “I’ll lose everything” thought, because it did enter into the fray. I recognized that thought every time it entered my conscience and discarded it as useless just as fast as it entered. I have that choice. As a result, instead of stewing on that, I took the next right action. Doing this often enough will result in the project being accomplished and my not “losing everything”. The trick was recognizing those thoughts and deciding which needed to be relegated to the scrap heap and which needed action. This is what took practice. 20 years ago, this situation would have taken weeks or even months to play out because it took time to see the pattern emerging. It took mental pain to be able to work through the issues as they crept up. Only with practice did taking control of my thoughts quicken. Only with practice did I learn to master changing the tape that I allow to play in my head.
Let’s look at some of the other questions I posed at the beginning of this post:
How often have you thought to yourself that you don’t deserve to be happy? Have you ever thought to yourself that a joyous and free life is just not in the cards for you? Have you ever thought that you are not worth saving? That you’re somehow evil? That you don’t deserve to be happy, joyous or free? Have you ever looked at someone else and thought that it wasn’t fair that they appear to have “it all together”, while you struggle just to keep your head above water? Have you wondered if you are incapable of making decisions that turn out well? Have you ever thought to yourself that you’re just “not doing this life thing right”? Have you ever wondered if you are worth loving?
What is your normal thought pattern for each of those questions? Have you’ve pondered one or more at some point or another? If it doesn’t start out with “F*CK YOU”, you may want to work on that a bit.
I wrote a post about maintaining confidence the other day… That whole post, if you read between the lines, is about changing the tape to maintain confidence. It works if you work it. Good luck.