‘Worry is like a revolving chair – it keeps you busy but gets you nowhere.’

which is all very well. but how are we supposed to get off the damn chair?

I wanted to write about this because I have been facing up to the worry in the last ten days while working on my dreaded paperwork. and it has been varyingly hard. at times I have been deliberately treading that line between fine and notfineatall. staring over the line into the eyes of my fear.

a caveat, to start: what I am saying is not intended to refer to anyone suffering from deep rooted stress, anxiety, or depression. indeed it will not necessarily apply to anyone else in the world except me! it helps me to thrash these thoughts out here so it is terribly kind of anyone else to read them 😉

that being understood: worry and fear arise, I believe, not just because we are faced with particular circumstances, but also because we do not know how to deal with uncomfortable feelings.

perhaps we have been given little practice at it as children. perhaps we were never given the opportunity to fail safely. so that our image of failure is so extreme as to be unbearable. we lock it away, terrified of it. so that it begins to eat us up from the inside.

or perhaps this has been a lifelong coping strategy we have invented all by ourselves. to deal with discomfort by giving it a bar of chocolate, a glass or a bottle of wine. and instead of leaving us alone, it grows stronger and more relentless, as you would expect of any creature which finds a place where it is fed and nourished. until discomfort evolves into fear, a creature of our own making.

and then we are worried and afraid. and this is the difficult thing to grasp: under certain circumstances there are advantages to us in being worried and afraid. and this was something I really struggled to accept when I first heard Belle talking about it. because why would I induce this worry and fear in myself? because it is agonising – it would be like self-inducing seasickness. for two reasons – the first is from Belle, the second from me:

firstly, because it gives us permission to return to the behaviour we are trying to change. because life is so painful, there is no alternative. like a straying husband justifying his infidelity because the marriage has ‘broken down’ – unbeknownst to his wife, who stammers blankly, “But…everything was fine!”

secondly – and this is not rocket science, but it is my take on the rocket – because it gives us permission to avoid dealing with the discomfort. because when we are whirling round and round there is no way we can be expected to deal with the clutter, or the finances, or the relationship, or the career. because we are too busy. busy spinning.

dealing with this fear in the short term sometimes means putting it down, and walking away. there was a point on Sunday morning when I could almost see the Dementors rising from a stack of paperwork. and at that point I stopped. knowing when it is too much is important. because being sober is still my first priority and anything that undermines me too much has to give precedence.

we cannot always put it down and walk away. sometimes it is something like a trip to the dentist which is scheduled and definite. other times it is something which comes upon you suddenly, over which you have no control.

I still use on an almost daily basis RoS’s sage advice in her comment on this post: if you think you are over an abyss, either call for help, or look down and you may find the drop is not as big as you thought.

did you see thirstystill’s great post on riding out tough times while being kind to yourself? she says:

More and more I see that, having stopped drinking, I don’t look for the easy way out of tough stuff. Instead, I’m getting better at facing it, and breaking it into smaller bits that aren’t quite so threatening. And I’m being kind to myself as I do it. That’s the big one. It’s taken me almost five decades to start learning that, but man, is it worth it.’

she also asks an interesting question – whether being able to do this is a skill, or an attitude?

so, I’ve been thinking about how I have been building my skills at doing what she is describing:

  • by telling myself I can do this for 15 minutes. because, usually, I can. and then after that I can stop, if it is still too painful. or carry on, if I am ok.
  • by trying to identify what I am really worrying about. writing it down. telling someone else, perhaps, but not necessarily. have done this on a couple of occasions recently and just framing the thought made me realise how unlikely it was.
  • after the event, by writing down how it went and how it made me feel. and the more times I do this the more I can see for myself that I can get through the discomfort. because I have evidence that I have done so before. like when we blog about how it went at our first sober whateveritis.

and there are some changes in attitude, or environment, I have been making, too:

firstly, firing the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee who used to run the inside of my head. by around the five month sober mark, disengaging with the Wolfie negative voice gave me the power to kick the rest of the negative voices out, too. they may come and bang on the door sometimes but I do pretty well at not letting them in.

secondly, having a really strong support network. I am constantly amazed by the wonderful sober blogging community. it is fantastic to have got to know so many people in the last months. by now it feels more like group therapy than anything else. we are all so different, but we are learning from each other and being inspired by one another. priceless.

thirdly, having a ‘something else’. and this will vary depending upon the person. whatever it is, it needs to be the third strand. do you know this verse from Ecclesiastes?

…and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.’

you, your support network, and – what? a Higher Power? running? meditation? yoga? making music, taking long walks in the wilderness, or working in your garden? for me it is running. it could be whatever enables us to transcend the limitations of self, letting light and fresh air into our dark places. enabling us:

‘…to see, no longer blinded by our eyes.’ *

and last of all, sometimes it takes a great loss, in our own lives or in the lives of someone close to us, to give us a true perspective on the comparatively small worries that loom so large in our day to day lives. unfortunately, that perspective often fades as the immediate agony and shock recedes. but if we can hold onto it then we can find wisdom in the halls of sorrow. like Pandora, we can discover Hope when all the evils of the world have fled.

sorry, quite a long post but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking! well done for getting this far 🙂

so, carrying on. still sober. oh, look. it’s my ten month anniversary today!

at ten months, then – I am learning to sit still.

the paintings in this post are by the British artist Michael Taylor.

* from a sonnet by Rupert Brooke.

61 days to go to one year.