Negative thoughts destroy only myself.
My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.
This is a tough one for me, but at least it’s one I can say I’ve been working on for some time. I can be the Queen of Negativity at times. If you want the worst case scenario, just ask me. Give me 100 compliments, and one put down, and I’ll latch onto the putdown with an iron grip. Compliments are hard to hear, and I have trouble accepting them. I sometimes feel like I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
A few years ago, I read Seligman’s “Learned Optimism”, since I felt I could use some help in that department. At the end of the book there’s a quiz, which rates your optimism vs pessimism beliefs on a number of axis. I don’t remember the exact scoring, but if you scored between zero and something you were on the far end of the pessimist spectrum. I scored -17. This made me think that maybe I had a problem.
I drank for a lot of reasons, excuses really, but fundamentally it was because I didn’t like myself. I thought I was broken, damaged, and if you ever got to know the “real” me, you’d run screaming into the night. I thought I was completely unlovable.
And so I threw myself into a number of roles: star student, successful business person, accountant. I chased degrees, certifications, and promotions. But all the time I was growing more miserable, and my drinking was getting worse, until I was trapped in a hellish cycle of workaholism/alcoholism, and the more I drank, the worse I felt, and the more I hated myself, so I had to drink more to numb out those feelings until it became a vicious cycle of 24/7 drinking until I realized that I had to stop or I’d be dead in 6 months and I asked for help.
What I didn’t expect that was by asking for help, the way I did, led to the complete implosion of my life, and my failure to remain sober after my first treatment, led to job loss, multiple trips through rehab, bankruptcy, loosing my housing and winding up in transitional housing, and mostly unemployment.
The last 7.5 years has been the weirdest, scariest, depressing, frustrating, exhausting, yet strangely ok thing I’ve experienced in my life.
I’ve had long sober periods, punctuated with violent relapses. I also stopped a lifetime of cutting in this period. I dabbled briefly with codeine and discovered the joys of deliberate overdosing.
I also slowly started working on learning to like myself, and to move the switch from automatically negative, to at least consider the positive.
I can say today that I honestly believe that I am likeable. There was simply too much evidence for me to ignore it. Still working on lovable. Got a ways to go there.
Learning mindfulness has helped, learning CBT has helped, doing positive affirmations has helped, all the amazing therapy I’ve gotten has helped. Meds have helped to an extent although I still struggle with low grade dysthymia most of the time. My emotional default tends towards sad rather than happy.
But recently, like in the last 6 months or so, I’ve begun to experience happiness and even joy, although it is fleeting. I sometimes spontaneously have songs come into my head. I’m doing stuff I like: going to my harp lesson; playing with Maureen’s dogs; knitting; reading; writing; listening to music; seeing friends; going to social stuff because I usually have a fun time, once I get there, even if I dread going.
Part of letting go of negativity for me, also means letting go of my past. It’s history, it sucked for a long time, it defined most of my adult life, and in some ways it still drives my fears and instincts. But I can’t live there anymore. I need to focus on the now, and on the future. When I stay in the now, I’m ok. When I get too far into the future I panic, catastrophize, and then have to do a reality check that it won’t be that bad. I need to treat myself the way I treat my friends. I need to act like I like myself, which I still only partially believe.
I’ve learned to notice negative thoughts, and use thought records to challenge them, and hopefully change them.
My drinking was fueled by negative thoughts and in turn fueled more negative thoughts. In my sober life, I am trying to fill it with positive activities, as well as trying to change my thought patterns. I try mostly to do stuff that makes me feel good.
I will never be a Pollyanna, but I do feel like I’ve come a long way, even though I know that fighting negative automatic thoughts will probably always be a struggle.
But I’m up for the fight.