Recovery Share: Thoughts On Catastrophizing

One of the amazing things about how my mind works, or doesn’t, is its ability to catastrophize.

I don’t know how common that word is outside of recovery circles, so I’ll explain briefly. This month I had a $150 expense which I forgot to account for, so a couple days ago when I thought I had $170 in the bank, I actually had $20. Now, in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t a big difference. But it also isn’t much money to have in the bank, and under the circumstances it caused a brief and minor hassle.

But in my head, there was a lot more going on: I am flat broke, and therefore I suck at money, and anyway I can’t even keep my books right, and my business is a failure, which means I am failure, and I should probably just burn down my whole life and go be a vagabond somewhere, since I’ll die alone and broke anyway.

Being all alone: the ultimate fear.
Being all alone: the ultimate fear.

Overstatement? Sure, if the bank balance was all that’s going on. But I’m in the middle of a trip I really can’t afford, which I compulsively went on, anyway. And my business really is a mess. So is my financial situation: lots of debt and not enough revenue. And I have some frustrations right now in regards to how this trip is going, the project it’s related to, my relationship, my health … all of these things are real, as well.

But put all that together, and my mind takes it all out to the negative extreme, triggering self-loathing and despair. This is catastrophizing. I can only guess that its purpose is to hold me back, out of fear.

Fear is the ultimate ball-and-chain.
Fear is the ultimate ball-and-chain.

So, what to do about it? I laugh at the very question, honestly, because there’s what I actually do about it, what I tell myself I should do about it, and then there’s the healthy thing to do. Let’s discuss.

What I actually do: wallow in despair, get really uncomfortable, then treat the discomfort, usually with immediate gratification (food or compulsive spending) or fantasy (imagined future wealth or pornography). Then, satiated for the moment, I slip back into either denial or avoidance, or go to Plan B.

Plan B is what I tell myself I should do, which is basically quit fucking around and get serious. And I love to tell myself that that’s exactly what I’m going to do. This is what I call the might and majesty of next week, and it allows me to not change anything today, because tomorrow I’m going to kick ass, so it’s okay to just jerk off today. Of course, this is only a recipe for never doing anything but jerk off, since it’s never tomorrow, but the allure of Plan B is really amazing. Sometimes I actually witness myself making the choice to believe in it, even as I know it’s bullshit.

As for the healthy thing … well, that’s harder, for a couple of reasons. One is I don’t even know what it is, though I suspect it lies in the world of step work, meditation, prayer, and self-care. It probably also includes a dose of rational thinking, since sometimes a financial and work situation really does call for a financial and work solution.

I don't have time to relax ... or change.
I don’t have time to relax … or change.

But here’s where my mind comes back into play: I see a money problem, and somebody tells me to meditate or “feel my feelings,” and I think, “Shit, I don’t have time for that – I’m broke! Praying don’t pay the rent.” The wisest thing I’ve heard about this is that yes, work problems need work solutions, but without prayer and meditation to center us in the loving light of our higher power, and without the honesty and vulnerability we need to reach out for any kind of help, what kind of planning and working are we likely to come up with? Without a healthy spiritual condition, won’t my “solution” just be another ego trip, another expression of self-will, and probably more of the two crazy solutions I do now?

Meanwhile, I am left with my bank account, my career, my health, and myself. I have short-term work to do (money) and long-term work to do (spiritual condition), but both need to be attended to now. One of my sponsors liked to say that we can always excel in the next moment, so with that in mind, what am I going to do right now? I have written about this, perhaps in a way that’s helpful to others, and for me this is a bit like sharing it in a meeting.

Some steps are scarier than others ... but they're all just steps.
Some steps are scarier than others … but they’re all just steps.

But what about this next moment? Will it be meditation? Denial? Avoidance? Work? Planning? And whatever it is, can I, in the next moment, practice gratitude and acceptance … and then excel in the next moment?

One thing I have learned is that what I do in each moment sets me up for the next, and for better or worse, changes my perspective on the bigger situation. So I feel anxious about money and respond by eating a cupcake, that sends me down one path. If I respond by taking a look at a spreadsheet, that sends me down another. If I sit in meditation, yet another.

Can I take the next step on a healthy path? Or will I continue to wallow, paralyzed by my catastrophizing mind?

Thanks for reading.

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