As far as I know, my copy editor, Julia, is not a clinician and is not in recovery. However, her astute wordsmithing triggered a realization about the “Dammit” relapse , which contrasts it with wishful thinking. The bonus is to see how elegantly the serenity prayer prevents both when practiced by anyone who is tired of falling into these two traps. Julia pointed out that the person saying “Dammit!” and picking up that first drink/drug is “abandoning control.” Having been obsessed with such moments of relapse since 1978, I was surprised to be surprised by this characterization. However, once I got past that I was able to see the truth. Not just that the”dammit” relapse abandons control we do have, but that wishful thinking claims control we do not have. The person saying “dammit” and picking up the first drink or drug always has the choice of using their control for an infinite number of coping tools, starting with the serenity prayer itself. The person deluding themselves they will have just one, on the other hand, is refusing to accept the loss of control that defines addiction. Either person applying the principle expressed so elegantly in those three lines to the decision itself, would be greatly empowered to make a very different choice. It seems so simple. The problem of ”relapse prevention” is to avoid either of the two ways of deciding to pick up the first drink. The solution is contained in a short, practical prayer which blocks both of them. Not so simple— to get a real person with a real disease to a place where they can apply this.
Archive for the ‘Ponderings’ Category
The universe has provided me with two perspectives on procrastination lately, thought I would share them both as best I can. The first was a tape by recovering psychiatrist Garret O., speaking to an AA conference. The second was Wallace Wilkins, Ph.D, speaking to a group of psychotherapists working in the Employee Assistance Program field in Seattle.
Dr. O. started with the question for his audience, “Who here has found in recovery that procrastination is a serious problem in your life, not just an occasional headache?” This audience responded as all his previous recovering audiences. About 80%. He then developed the theme that procrastination is mostly about shame. By avoiding a project until there is little or no time, we avoid facing how well we might have done. If we had only used all the time. The lack of time becomes a self-created excuse for not testing our true ability. From my point of view, he could as easily have used terms like “inadequacy” or even “performance anxiety,” which seem to be implied.
Dr. Wilkins started from a surprisingly similar place. He has come to see procrastination as an “over-arching” problem in most of his clients, not just alcoholics. The avoidance is not a personality trait, because it is usually specific to certain issues or situations. Dr. Wilkins is a practitioner of rational-emotive therapy and deliberate optimism. He sees coming to therapy itself as procrastination, waiting for the therapist to “fix” me in order to do what needs to be done. The Twelve Steps can also be used to delay change rather than facilitate it. As for Motivational Interviewing and the Stages of Change, anything less than the “Nike” approach – “Just do it!” – is seen as procrastination. Working with “the voice” that tells us otherwise, Dr. Wallace coaches people, in effect, to stop thinking and start acting. To base action on goal rather than mood, feeling, or motivation. He offers a number of tools and anecdotal evidence of effectiveness. One of the best things I heard, for those of you looking to validate your procrastination, was “The second mouse gets the cheese!”
For my part, I heard some truth in both. Dr. O. seems a bit locked in to one “cause.” Dr. W. seems to gloss over some basic realities, one of them being the need for maintenance even after I “just do it.” The latter, by the way, has a website, is an energetic and entertaining speaker. (Google him yourself!)
It came up as a question in my workshop at Bellevue College on March 7.
I had apparently been discoursing on “wishful thinking” and the rejection of reality.
“What is the difference between ‘wishful thinking’ and ‘denial?’
My answer was, “None.”
I realized later that this may not be tecnically true. As a long-ago client said, “Denial is when you say what is, isn’t.” He might have added that “what ‘is’ is some sort of reality or fact.
What I would now say about wishful thinking is, ” ‘Wishful thinking’ is when you say what isn’t, is.” In other words, they are flip sides of the same coin. The person in denial says “One won’t hurt.” S/he is denying an objective reality, having an addiction that will lead to loss of control and a world of ‘hurt.’ Inseparable from this in-your-face denial is a tacit affirmation that what isn’t, is. Namely, that the person is ‘normal,’ a ‘social drinker/user.’
Now that I think of it, the “wish” is so inseparable from the denial which defends it, I am not going to go back and rewrite my book to clarify which one I am talkiing about at any given moment. In workshops, on the other hand, I may be more precise.
Read first entry, below, first!
“Sarah” came back a week later and said she had signed up for her long procrastinated sewing class. After what she had expressed the week before, it was just as crucial to identify what enabled her to act THIS time.
We went over the externals – money available, time, intention, opportunity. All of them had been present at other times. The first time she used the word “control” she reported, “I wanted to show my kids that I am in control of myself.” Seems she had told them of her plan, knew they were old enough to remember.
In essence, Sarah decided it was better to be controlled by (her own desire to be a good role model for) her kids, than by (her own phobia for) not being controlled by ANYONE.
Ownership. Accountability. Such dreary words for getting out of the prison of procrastination.
I warned “Sarah” she will be quoted, in writing, in workshops, and here on this blog. What she expressed is too precious.
We were looking at yet another decision to NOT do something she wanted to do, would feel good about doing, was looking forward to and,MOST important, she had TIME to do, but did not. Signing up for an advanced sewing class.
As we had her relive the moment of deciding NOT to do something she had time and opportunity to do, exploring the nuances of the experience, she pronounced: “I don’t want to be controlled by anyone, least of all me!”
Of all the procrstinators I have worked with, including myself, no one has ever said it better. The paradox is, that we are relentlessly controlled by this phobia – or is it a taboo? – for BEING controlled. Who was it that said “Freedom is the ability to choose a good master?” Whoever it was, I doubt many of us would say that the Contol Phobia is a good master.
This segment develops the concept and necessity for each member of a couple to take ownership of their own reactions.
We use the analogy of a person who goes to a picnic, not knowing s/he has an allergy to strawberries. Of course, everyone has strawberries, and no one else gets hives. Yet the allergy victim wants to blame the strawberries. “Bad batch!” Couples upset in their own homes do not have the advantage of seeing someone to their left or right who is having no such reaction. It seems obvious that my reaction is “caused” by my mate. As long as I fail to perceive the inner “allergies” that drive my reactions, frequently present long before I met my mate, I will continue to blame him/her. And we will not communicate.
Speaking as a psychotherapist, the speaker shares that clients often make the mistake of telling him they “realize” something. He then inflicts this mini-lecture on them. Pointing to an imaginary table, he develops the analogy of what would happen if he did not realize it was there. For instance, he would trip over it when he got up to answer the phone. Then he spells out the difference when he does finally realize it is there. Reality does not necessarily change, but we do. And when we live in a reality that is new to us, we have new choices, choices that were not possible beforehand.