I have an internal conflict that I need to settle, and what better place than this blog to hash it out? The question that is on my mind and in my heart today is: how does one appropriately handle negative judgment from others?
First, let me clarify what I mean by negative judgment. Once upon a time, negative judgment could have been just about anything. I believe I have come a long way in this department, but it’s clear to me that I have quite a bit further to go, because it is a topic with which I am struggling. In the past, an unreturned phone call, a strange look on someone’s face, a car passing me on a freeway could have all constituted negative judgment. Because, in my paranoid heyday, I could spin tales in my head that the dog walking down the street was thinking negatively of me.
I have come miles and miles from that starting point, and I believe my recovery plays a huge role in this progress. I am definitely more at peace with myself, much, much better at catching myself when projecting thoughts and feelings onto others, and even realizing that the opinions and feelings of others do not have to affect my opinions and feelings.
But, still, there are times…
Judgment can take so many different forms, and the struggles with judgment are certainly not the sole property of alcoholics and addicts. But, to give a few examples of what I mean, I’ll start with recovery. There are those who don’t understand recovery and will wonder aloud, “why can’t you just have one?” Or, “you’ve been doing this for a while now, do you still need to go to meetings?” Or, judgment can take the opposite approach: “it seems like you are not as involved in your 12-step program as you once were, are you sure you’re still doing it right?”
Judgment can affect any other part of my life. I once had a very close family member actually utter the following words to me, as we were talking about my decision to stay home and raise my children: “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your education?” Yikes.
Hopefully I have illustrated my point on negative judgments. So the question on the table is how to handle when I am feeling judged. And when I say handle, I mean both internally and externally.
Currently, my external approach will vary depending upon who is “launching the attack,” and how sensitive I feel about the subject matter. Internally, my approach is the same: I feel crushed, defeated, which usually quickly translates into anger and resentment that I am feeling attacked.
Since I’ve come far enough along to know that I alone am in control of my thoughts and feelings, I realize that I need to make changes within myself to make this recurring problem go away. But I’ve got to say, as far along as I’ve come, I’m not there yet. If someone accuses me of something, even if my logical mind knows that it is untrue, and probably has more to do with their own problems and insecurities, I still haven’t been able to fully internalize that their shit doesn’t have to become my shit (excuse the vulgarity, it is just the best word I can come up with!).
So the next way I can figure to solve this problem is to look at the alternatives. If I am feeling judged, and obviously for the sake of this discussion the judgment is unfair, then what are my options? As I see it, there are a few:
- I can argue ad infinitum to convince the person that he or she is wrong in this judgment. People reading this who know me personally are laughing right now, because that has been my modus operandi for as long as I can remember. I can say, from repeated personal experience, this option almost never works. I am rarely able to get a concession that satisfies me, and usually I wind up feeling aggravated on top of everything else.
- I can walk away. This alternative can work in some situations, but not all. Certainly not in cases where you live with the “judge,” or where there are actual issues involved that need to be resolved. Walking away has never really sat well with me (see #1 above for more on that), as I usually wind up walking away, stewing about it, and thinking of all the different ways I can return to the scene of the crime and argue my point.
- I can retaliate. I can give as good as I get. If someone is questioning my character, I can fire off similar questions about theirs. This is the option that is almost irresistible when I am in the middle of a skirmish. The problem with this option is that the thrill is very short-lived, and is followed by a lot of guilt and remorse (sounds a lot like addiction, doesn’t it?). Also, as a person in recovery, I am trained to avoid situations where I will have to go back and make amends, so my minds puts a warning signal out the minute I start crafting my zingers.
- This fourth option should be the most well-balanced and reasonable approach, but I’m not sure I’ve got it. Certainly the external would be to avoid options 1, 2 and 3, respond reasonably to whatever needs a response, and possibly to communicate that I am feeling hurt by my perceived judgment. Internally, I guess the best approach is to let it go. Just as my feelings aren’t facts, neither are anyone else’s, so if I am good with myself, then it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If I’m being honest, that sounds like a pipe dream to me.
But maybe this is one of those things in life that I have to work towards a perceived ideal, while realizing that I will never fully attain it? I don’t know, but I do know this… just writing this out has helped center me, so I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to feel better!
Reading back through this post, the miracle today is recognizing the progress I’ve made on this issue. I may have a ways to go, but I’ve come a long way, baby!
Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. –Carl Jung
Okay, I just accidentally hit publish as I started typing this post. If you received something incomplete, disregard, I am starting over…
I had written that I wanted to give up on this process the past three days, because it is tough revisiting the past, tough trying to concisely sum it up, tough putting myself out there. But since I’ve started, I need to just get it done.
So now I’m trying to paint the picture of my experience in rehab. How to sum up 21 days of being in an alternate universe? The days leading up to admission were a time of complete detachment for me, it was the only way I could get through it. And while the ride down to the facility, the admission process, and the tour of the place is crystal clear in my mind, it was like some kind of out-of-body experience, that’s how surreal it felt.
The pro’s of my time there: since I am the type of person to thrive in any kind of educational setting, I was able to get a lot of good information from all the sessions I attended. I shared a lot in my group settings, I made some meaningful connections with my fellow “inmates,” and I was inspired by many of the professionals who worked there. As I became more comfortable and settled in, there was also a pleasant feeling of insulation… I felt protected, from my disease, from the absolute disaster of a life waiting for me when I got out, and from simple daily routine. As my time grew shorter there, the anxiety built, but still, I want to list the good stuff as well as the bad.
The con’s of my time there: probably the biggest detraction of rehab for me personally was a total lack of relatability. I can only say this now, after reflection. In the moment I bonded the best way I knew how, and I really did make connections. But in looking back, absolutely no one was like me, and that hurt my ability to process the information I received. Most of the people were much younger, it was far from their first experience (one friend I made was not yet 21, and this had been her 8th stay), and their stories with addiction were not anything that made sense to me in my frame of mind. Again, this is a 20/20 hindsight observation, at the time I was just trying to do the best I could with the hand I was dealt. Another major con: I made absolutely no plans to change anything in my life once I got out. I did not think about it, and therefore did not anticipate any issues I may encounter. All I knew was that I had an incredibly angry husband to deal with, kids who I had to put up a falsely positive front, and a group of friends and relatives who only found out about any of this mess once I went away (that’s right, most of the major people in my life knew nothing about these problems, at my insistence). So I chose not to make any post-rehab plans in my mind, because thinking about it was simply too painful.
I remember having a fleeting thought of being able to resume my addiction while I was in rehab. When I say fleeting, I mean it probably lasted all of 10 seconds… it popped into my head, and my response to that thought was, “don’t worry about it, you are safe.” I did not share the thought, and I did not revisit it for the remainder of the time I was there. That 10-second thought came back the very first day I was home, and now that I am “back to normal life,” it came back with a vengeance. I could not shake it, and very quickly it became an obsession that I could not ignore. Again, in retrospect, it is all so easy to see where I went wrong, but at that point in time, I simply could not connect the dots. And while I learned in a rhetorical way all of the tools I needed to stay sober, I had not practiced a single one, so when that obsession came over me, I did not have a choice… I had to act on it. And, well, addicts at this point know the rest… once you act once, once you take that first drink, first anything, you are right back where you started. And so the cycle continued, almost immediately after rehab.
Okay, deep breath, here’s the next bottom (as if resuming addiction post-rehab isn’t bad enough). As I have been told many times, the progression of addiction is undeniable, the lengths an addict will go to become more and more extreme, and I was no exception. In order to feed my particular addiction, I wrote yesterday that I had gotten creative, specifically with the medical profession. Eventually these lies caught up with me in a legal way, and in early December 2011 I received a phone call from the police… bottom line, they had me dead to rights, and now, in addition to the myriad of other consequences, I have legal ones. At this time (December) I don’t know what they are, only that they are a certainty.
Today’s story should stop there, right? No, it does not. In order to do this timeline justice, I need to write this next part, it should speak to the sensibilities of every addict reading this, while horrifying those who do not struggle with this disease. Early on in the process, I met with a lawyer to discuss the next steps. At this meeting the lawyer said something to the effect that once I am officially charged with an act, then I could never in my lifetime do it again without incredibly serious repercussions. Due to a weird set of circumstances that would take too long to explain, I had not yet been charged with anything, and so, with the addicted mind I had (have), I really, truly, consciously drew the following conclusion: if I could never do it again in my lifetime, then why not take advantage of the lag time between now (December) and the time I am charged? God help me, that is how my mind worked, and that I exactly how I proceeded, for the following month.
Tomorrow, praise God, will be the final chapter in this saga.
In this moment, the miracle is that tomorrow, praise God, is the final chapter, and I can then get back to happier posts.
You are Braver than you Believe, Smarter than you Seem, and Stronger than you Think. -Winnie the Pooh
This month I have taken a service commitment at one of my regular meetings. For those not in recovery, a service commitment is a self-explanatory expression… it means committing to a job during the meeting for an entire month. In my case it means I have agreed to be the October Chair. In other words, I am the leader of the meeting for the month of October. This particular group holds a topic meeting, which means, as the Chair, I pick a topic, discuss what it means to me, and then I open the meeting up for discussion.
I have chaired multiple meetings in the past 252 days, but I have never chaired a topic meeting before this past weekend. Here is a glimpse into my mind: I pick a topic that I believe is meaningful. In this case, I picked something that I think about regularly, which is defining the basics, what they are for me, and how they have evolved over the past 8+ months. After I pick the topic, I go over in my head how I can expound on it. I then spend the next several days telling myself why no one will get it, why they won’t appreciate it, why I won’t be able to communicate my thoughts effectively, and I project how the room will sit and stare at me in silence for the remainder of the hour. I toss around multiple other topic ideas, then reject them in the exact same way. Finally, I get so sick of my thinking, that I give up, and decide that my original topic is going to have to do, and that God put it there for a reason, so just do it, and stop with all the nonsense!
So I go to the meeting with all these negative thoughts rolling around in my head, sit down in the front of the room, and like so many other tasks before this one, I just do it. Can you guess what happens next? The first person that raises his hand after I open the meeting up for discussion says, “I can’t believe you spoke on this subject, I woke up this morning thinking about exactly what I need to do on a daily basis to keep sober!” He then talks about his basics, which opens up even more discussion, and then more people raise their hands, and more great ideas are tossed around, and by the end I got exactly what I needed out of that meeting, and I’d like to think the rest of the room did as well.
Why do I still constantly second guess myself? Why do I still struggle with the thought that I have something to contribute? I get so frustrated, and yet, as I reflect, there was a time not so long ago that I wouldn’t even raise my hand at a meeting, and now I am leading a group, so I guess it’s once again about the progress, and not perfection…
One of the character defects on which I have to work is obsessing about others’ opinions of me. I have wasted an inordinate amount of my lifetime trying to guess what other people are thinking, assuming I know what they are thinking, and, in general, projecting my feelings onto others.
In recovery, I have, as much as possible, put those thoughts to the side. In the very early days, I simply did not have the mental energy to waste. Now, at 142 days, as life has become so much more peaceful, it actually takes a bit more effort to manage this defect.
When life is completely chaotic, fear takes up the bulk of mental space. But when life becomes more “normal,” it can be easy to slide into old mental habits, such as monitoring the tone of someone’s voice, or the look on their face, and then deciding I know exactly what they are thinking, and then oh-my-God-what-I am-going to-do-about-this, what are they saying to others… you get the idea.
So now, when I experience this backslide into old ways of thinking, I must, first, realize that this is what I am doing. The realization alone is a huge improvement for me, but it is not enough. The next step, after the realization, is to use the tools I have gained from recovery, and apply them to my unproductive thought processes.
First, I must remind myself that everyone’s thoughts, emotions, and attitudes do not revolve around me. So to assume that someone’s bad mood, or odd tone of voice has to do with me, is completely self-centered and in all probability false.
Second, if someone is not coming to me with a problem they are having, then what they are thinking is none of my business. This is proving to be a hard lesson for me to learn, but life is about progress, not perfection, and all I can do is try my best.
Because, at the end of the day, what people are feeling and thinking is completely out of my control… they are going to choose their thoughts and feelings, the same way I am going to choose mine. If I choose to let go of the worry about others, I will feel more serene, and their thoughts will still be theirs.
For the last decade or so, I have been obsessed with finding coincidences and blabbing about them to anyone who will listen. I have made (lighthearted) plans to publish a book detailing all of the stories I have come to learn about amazing things that have happened to people. When new coincidences have popped up, my friends and I have created a catch phrase, “log it!” to make a note of a new “entry” in the Book of Coincidences.
So now the subtitle of this blog is “There are no coincidences.” Ironic? Not really. Because, through recovery, I have come to realize that all of these amazing but seemingly random events actually happen for a reason. We may not know or understand the reason, especially in the moment, but in time, and with an open mind, all usually gets revealed.
I am writing on this subject because, as it turns out, there is a term for this. Last night, while browsing through the internet vaguely searching for recovery-related topics, I discovered that Carl Jung, an eminent psychiatrist, coined the following word in the 1920’s:
an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are causally unrelated
Is it synchronicity that I learned the meaning of the word synchronicity (other than being an excellent Police album)? Yes, and I believe that once you open your mind to this concept, amazing things start to happen around you. Start tuning in to the synchronicity in your life, and watch what happens!