“what am I worrying about today?” because there will be something, of course. there always is… that bit from Anne Lamott in Mishedup’s comment on my last post about doing the Native American war-chant at breakfast? SO me…

interestingly compared to last Christmas I am mostly worried about other people’s reaction to me not drinking. not about not drinking myself. which, if you look at it that way, is a step forward.

because let’s face it, talking to other people at Christmas can be like trying to communicate in a war-zone. except the bullets are thoughtless remarks and the landmines are expectations…

“phew, that was a close one… kids’ table manners, I think…”

in my counselling session yesterday my therapist gave me two big helpful thoughts I’ve been pondering and would like to pass on to you as sober Christmas presents. possibly badly wrapped… never get the hospital corners right on my packages…

firstly, the difference between reacting and responding.

reacting is usually a defensive mechanism. it is self-protective. responding requires an initial pause, followed by more thought, and is usually better at addressing the motive behind the remark. a great article here on it, quoting my old buddy Rick Hanson and describing which parts of the brain are involved. when we are responding, our brain is in responsive mode, rather than reactive mode. as Rick says,

‘Each time you rest in your brain’s responsive mode, it gets easier to come home to it again.  That’s because “neurons that fire together, wire together”: stimulating the neural substrates of calm, contentment, and caring strengthens them.  This also makes it harder to be driven from home; it’s like lengthening the keel of your mental sailboat so that no matter how hard the winds of life blow, you stay upright, not capsized, and keep on heading towards the lighthouse of your dreams.’

I will be working on the ten second pause referred to in the article and will let you know how I get on!

the second useful concept is that of anticipatory anxiety. which explains so well the tangle I get myself into looking forward to events.

me, multi-tasking…

big long article here. the main take-aways from which are as follows:

‘First, anticipatory anxiety is not a true predictor of how much anxiety we will feel in the actual situation.  Although it is impossible to predict with total accuracy, the fact is that 95% of the time, anticipatory anxiety is much greater than the anxiety we experience when we actually make contact with what frightens us.’

so if you are worrying, AS I DO, about how you will behave or feel in a certain situation, then it is an enormous relief to me to understand that.

he gives a fantastic example of a man who had a phobia about being trapped in traffic on a bridge:

‘We practiced by repeatedly driving across a major bridge that connected Manhattan to other parts of New York City.  Two things were very fortunate for us that day.  First, the traffic on the bridge was extremely heavy in BOTH directions.  My patient was driving and I sat next to him.  The traffic was so heavy that he had to drive a few feet, stop for a minute, then pull up another few feet when the car ahead of him moved up.  It was literally bumper to bumper.  It was a cloudy, overcast day, and we could see a sea of red brake lights ahead of us crossing the bridge span.  Although I was pleased about the chance to practice anxiety management techniques, my patient was horrified.  He said  to me, “Well, you may be happy, but I’m freaking out here.”  So the word “fortunate” needs to be looked at in the context of creating a great opportunity to practice.

The second fortunate aspect was that the span of this particular bridge is curved in such a way so that you can see the entire row of cars coming at you as you drive over the span.  Remember that there was stop and go traffic in both directions.  So here is the picture:  we are going over the bridge span bumper to bumper, looking at the sea of red brake lights in front of us.  And, by shifting the view a little to our left, we can simultaneously witness the mass of bright headlights coming over the bridge towards us.  Red lights ahead of us leaving Manhattan.  Headlights to the left of us, entering Manhattan.

In the middle of the span, my patient said to me, “Marty, I’m really shocked.  This stop and go traffic is my worst nightmare.  I thought I would be totally freaked out, but my anxiety really isn’t that bad–maybe a 2 or a 3.  I can’t believe it.”   Then there was a silence and my patient continued, “Now you’re going to think I’m really crazy.  I told you when I look at the traffic ahead of us, my level is maybe a 2 or a 3.  But–listen to this–when I look at the traffic coming back into Manhattan, and I think to myself that pretty soon I’ll be part of that line of cars, my anxiety level goes up to a 7 or an 8.  How weird is it that? I’m much more frightened of thinking about what I have to do, even though I’m doing that exact same thing right this minute!”

so if you’re worrying now about something in the future: which way are you driving on the bridge? are you at a 7 or 8 when the actual event will be a 2 or a 3?

I am not worrying AT ALL about not drinking over Christmas. I am worrying about other people’s reactions to that. as I said to a sober penpal recently – I feel as if I have achieved an amicable divorce from that complete and utter bastard, Wolfie. unfortunately he and I have joint custody of all my family and friends…

I hope that these two tactics will help me achieve a happy, restful and joyous sober Christmas. wishing that for you, too!

thank you all for being my sober lighthouse – this year, and always.

Prim xxx

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