Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obsessive Thinking

One question I've heard repeatedly from sponsees, is, "How do I stop thinking about this stuff? It's driving me crazy, I go around and around and around and just get more and more upset, but I don't know how to stop!"

It makes me shudder, to remember just how out of control my thinking was, when I was new to 12-step. I could start out in a relatively pleasant mood, then a stray thought would wander across my mental landscape, and I'd be off in pursuit like a pack of hounds after a fox. And chase it I would, over the proverbial hill and dale, through forests, streams, thickets, wheatfields, across four-lane highways, back into the fields, staggering down the valley on legs shaking from exhaustion, still drawn inexorably to follow, by my own compulsive nature.

I would wake up thinking about something, chase it all day long, then collapse into bed at night, still on that same subject. It was an appalling way to live.

I've developed several ways to deal with this aspect of myself, and as I've slowly gained some control, I find it becomes less of a struggle, most times, to get myself off one subject and onto another.

First, I had to become aware of my internal dialogue. The parental tapes that stop and start, the voices chiding me for my imperfections, my own voice yarping away about what someone else is doing/not doing. A friend calls it "the stories I'm telling myself." I love that. My stories used to be great sweeping dramas along the lines of "Gone With The Wind" - now they tend to be more in the "3-page, ironically-rueful-commentary-on-human-silliness" category.

So, ok, now I'm more aware of my internal dialogue, now what?
Practise what was taught to me as, "thought-stopping." This means that the minute the fox comes out from his burrow, and looks like he's going to start trotting away, I turn myself ruthlessly in the opposite direction, and begin to admire cloud formation, and the treeline. I don't check back over my shoulder with quick glances "just to see what he's doing," I don't pretend that I'm not going to run, all the while retying my shoelaces "just in case."

I force myself to think of something different. I love gardening - all righty then, I start planning what I'm going to do when the too-many plants I've got ordered start arriving.

Where should I put that plant? I could put it beside the delphiniums, but they get so tall they might shade it, so I could put it in the other garden beside the rudbeckia, but they reseed like crazy, and could choke it out...

My thinking may be just as obsessive, but I'm obsessing over a topic that doesn't cause me pain and suffering; on the contrary, it gives me hours of pleasure. (Mad gardeners are more socially acceptable than foxhunters, anyway. Marginally.)

I may have to force myself off the one topic, onto the other, a dozen times before I'm eventually successful in rerouting my thinking, but I've learned to just keep at it, and eventually, I will realise I've been lost in happy delirium over my garden for half an hour, the fox has disappeared, and I'm safe once more.

Thought-stopping - it works, I promise. It will most likely feel awkward and foolish the first few times you try it, but like most things in life, if we just keep at it, we start to gain some measure of skill, our self-esteem rises, and we like ourselves more. And that's always a good thing.

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