I Will Not Allow My Life to Fall Apart

A couple of weeks ago I added a post on here (Yesterday Was a Bad Day for Me) where I mentioned some worries that I’ve been dealing with recently. I ended this description of my current situation on a positive note – the belief in my ability to always land on my feet. This confident attitude managed to override my natural tendency towards excessive worry. I even felt a bit excited because in the past these tumultuous periods have tended to herald a new positive direction in my life. I managed to hold onto this optimism right up until three days ago, but then things started to fall apart.

Lowest Point Since Giving Up the Booze

I sort of feel a bit guilty for claiming that my recent troubles have brought me to the lowest point since getting sober. My father died a couple of years ago and surely that should be more deserving of such a dubious honor. The truth is that while my dad’s death was terrible, it just wasn’t as tough on me as current events. It didn’t involve the same ongoing worry because it was completely out of my hands. There was nothing that I could do to fix that situation, but this is not the case here – I have full responsibility for handling my writing career.

The worst thing about these recent events is that some of my core beliefs are under assault. I operate in the world with the understanding that if I do the right things the right things will happen most of the time. I also view challenges in life as just that – things that have been sent my way to test me and make me stronger. But what if I’m wrong? Maybe shit really does just happen and there is no guarantee that the tide will come back. What if my efforts to be the best person I possibly can actually makes no difference at all? If these things are true it would rob my life of all purpose. It would mean that my thinking as a drunk was closer to the truth than the ideas that allowed me to recover from that life. I can’t believe this, and I won’t believe it. Life may continue to give these core beliefs a pounding, but I won’t give them up because to do so would mean ripping too much of value from my life.

Reliving My Worst Nightmare

My lowest rock bottom as a drunk happened when I was 25 years old. There were actually some very positive things going on in my life at the time. I had left school at sixteen with no qualifications, but in my twenties I returned to education and managed to study enough during my sober moments to gain some A-levels. I was living in England at the time. On the day that I began my descent to rock bottom I should have been overjoyed because I’d just received a letter to say that I’d been accepted into university. Instead of being excited by this news my life fell apart. I talk about this episode in my book Dead Drunk, but I’ve left out some important details – this was not a deliberate omission, but it is just that my current woes have stirred up these memories.

The real reason for why my life fell apart 18 years ago was excessive worry mixed with alcohol. I’d returned to college the previous year to complete an Access to Social Science Course, but in order to do this I had to move from full-time to part-time bar work. The fact that I was only working a few hours a week meant that my finances were a mess. I worried about money all the time and my means of coping was alcohol, but this led to further financial difficulties and reduced my ability to function. My stress levels escalated and my symptoms became worse. I couldn’t sleep at night and found it difficult to concentrate during the day. I had this feeling of impending doom, and it felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack all the time. I drank more to try to manage the symptoms but then the booze stopped working – no more blessed oblivion. I reached a point where I could no longer function. I stopped going to work and instead of going to university I ended up begging on the streets. I no longer drink alcohol but for the last three days I’ve had to deal with similar symptoms.

Perfect Storm for a Natural Worrier

I’m a natural worrier. I’ve worked hard since becoming sober to overcome this propensity but recent events have demonstrated to me just how far I’ve still to go. I no longer get so worked up over the small things, but major life challenges continue to turn me into a quivering wreck. I’ve become a bit spoiled and haven’t had too many major challenges to deal with – maybe one major challenge per year since giving up alcohol. It’s sort of felt like I’ve been benefiting from the golden touch because things have been going so well. I’ve had some amazing successes. That’s probably what makes my current situation so much more difficult to handle – suddenly it is like everything I touch is turning to shit.

Up until a few weeks ago my problem was too many work opportunities and not enough time. I turned down offers of writing projects at least a couple of times a month. Now that I need some more work coming in it is like all these opportunities have vanished. I even started a Google Adwords campaign and lowered my rates but still no response. My initially positive attitude meant that I felt certain that the offers would come flooding to my inbox but two weeks of silence has chipped away at this certainty. I spend my days scouring the internet for any viable work, but it is like all the doors have closed to me. This has led to me questioning my own abilities as a writer and my belief that the tide always comes back.

Sometimes Things Fall Apart

The effects of my heighted stress levels became more obvious to me three days ago. It started off with tightness in my stomach – a familiar sign that something is amiss. I then got hit by a torrent of negativity. I managed to keep things together in front of my wife and son, but it really did feel like my world was falling apart. My positive attitude had been preventing my fears from taking hold of me, but the situation had now reached critical mass – my fears engulfed me. I felt on the verge of panic, and I wasn’t able to sleep – this led to deterioration in my concentration levels. This is exactly how I felt that time before when my life fell apart, and I ended up losing everything.

The Need to Face My Fear

I used to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. When I became sober this time I decided to follow a different path, but I still have a good deal of respect for the fellowship. I picked up some valuable lessons during my time with them. I remember at one meeting there was a woman speaker who described how everything bad that happened to her as a drunk was repeated in recovery. This woman needed to overcome some horrendous obstacles in life both as a drunk and as a sober person. She firmly believed though, that the reason these bad things repeated was so she could get an opportunity to deal with them properly. I think this is what may be happening to me here. I’m being forced to face an old enemy who has beaten me before so that this time I can redeem myself.

The reason why I lost to my nemesis last time was that I tried to hide from it. I attempted to crawl inside a beer bottle, but that didn’t help me at all – it only made things worse. My current work situation is cause for concern, but I don’t believe that it is the real problem here. I can’t accept that pure randomness in the universe would mean that we can move from having the golden touch to having manure touch just like that. My enemy is inside me – it is my own fears. I have to do things differently this time, and this means tackling these fears head on. Crumbling in the face of this adversity is not an option for me this time. I’ve come too far for that, and I’ve got more responsibilities these days. I also want to be an example to inspire other people to give up their addiction – a living example of how doing the right things creates good results. If I fail to win this battle I will no longer be able to make that claim.

Turning My Attention to my Stomach

I’m done with spending the day fixated on my email inbox and constantly refreshing the Google Adwords page to see if anyone has clicked on my link. That isn’t working for me. I need to put my focus on where the real problem is – in my stomach. The stress of the last couple of weeks has caused so much internal tension that it feels like there is a huge lump of coal around my abdomen area. I spent a few hours last night just focusing my attention on this. I imagine that I’m massaging it and creating space for it. I believe that this tension has reached such a state because of my resistance. I’ve now stopped resisting it, and I’m just feeling it.

When I worked as a nurse we used a measurement called a ‘pain scale’ to determine the patient’s levels of discomfort – 1 signifying no pain and 10 signifying unbearable pain. I’m using a modified version of this measuring device to keep track of the tension in my stomach. Last night I judged the tension in this area to be at around an 8. I focused my attention on this almost solid mass in my stomach for two hours (not all the time but on and off) and managed to bring the tension down to what I perceived as a 2. I did this before bed, and it meant that I was able to sleep well last night.

Despite my recent trip to the dark side I continue to believe that things are going to be fine. In fact by dealing with the real problem it is going to be more than fine. If I can overcome my fears it will open up my world even more. This will not only be good for me but also for those who depend on me. Writing about how I feel is far more effective than the booze – the thought of drinking alcohol hasn’t entered my head even once during this whole episode. I do feel hesitant about putting this post on my blog, but I’m going to do it anyway. I want people to know that in life we have to deal with both the crunchy and the smooth.

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18 thoughts on “I Will Not Allow My Life to Fall Apart

  1. Powerful, powerful post, Paul. Good on you for putting it on the blog. You might consider using a focus state to communicate with your Higher Self and set some intentions around your anxiety and the behaviors you wrote about that have been accelerating it. Rather than analyzing your focus experiences, you might try to be more totally in the experience and available to even subtle guidance you may experience. Hang in there. And again, excellent post. I think sharing the way you worked with a physical manifestation of your fear and extreme anxiety will be helpful to many. It’s a very hard thing to do when you’re in the grips of it all. But you did it!

    1. Thanks Mary, you must be able to read my mind. I was just thinking about using a focus state to sit with these feelings. I worry that people that don’t believe in this type of stuff might dismiss such work as time wasting, that I should just concentrate on finding work, but if I allow my fears to take hold I won’t be able to function at all.

  2. A wise person once said that pessimism + imagination = the worst of all possibilities because it enables our worst anxieties and fears to completely take over, with no regard for rationality or time. Our own imaginations can destroy us. Dealing with our own anxieties is a constant battle.

    I cannot tell you how often I have the same feelings – of impending doom, that life and success and happiness are just leaving me behind. I very much sympathized with your post since I am also a compulsive worrier, driven by my two twin engines of depression and anxiety, and I am also going through a tough time with my financial and employment situation.

    If I might offer two thoughts: First, try and do something about your situation to rectify or address the problem. It sounds to me like you ARE doing something positive already (i.e. getting aggressive with your job search). Even though you are not out of the woods by any means, by simply doing something positive you can at least have the satisfaction that you are trying to do what you can to make things better.

    Secondly, please realize that you are not just worrying. You are actually committing psychological and emotional violence against yourself by letting your imagination bombard, attack, and hurt you. And that violence will ultimately reflect on your relationships with your loved ones if it hasn’t already. That good, positive side of you has to argue and FIGHT back against that rotten, pessimistic imagination. It may take days or weeks, or months or even years, but you have to fight that battle, and live for the good days.

    I hope and pray that things get better for you Paul. You deserve what is good and right in this world.

    1. Thanks Tan, I never heard that saying before, but it makes perfect sense. My imagination has taken the ball with this one and really run with it. I thought that I’d left symptoms of depression behind with my drinking so I’m disappointed to find that I’ve returned so close to them again. I’m trying my best to put on a good face in front of my wife and son, but it is a struggle. My natural inclination is to hide in my office and (as you say) commit psychological and emotional violence against myself. I just expected to be above all this nonsense, but I’ve obviously still a long way to go.

  3. I really resonate with this part of Tan’s comment:” Secondly, please realize that you are not just worrying. You are actually committing psychological and emotional violence against yourself by letting your imagination bombard, attack, and hurt you.”

    So, so true.

    And catastrophizing! That is such a hard one to turn around when anxiety drives it. But it is so important to realize that that is what is going on.

    I have no doubt you’re going to come through to the other side of this Paul. But, it may be a substantial period of challenge,calling for quite a bit of navigation, improvisation and adaptation.

    What you have is this moment, today.

    And even though at times your anxiety may push you to believe it, the sky is NOT falling!

    Hang in there.

    1. Thanks Mary, it is scary how these things can get out of control. You are right of course – everything that I’m worrying about is in the future. I’ve still got enough work to keep me going at the moment and other aspects of my life are going perfectly well. It is a battle though to stop this anxiety affecting other parts of my life. I live in a beautiful part of the world, but everything looked so grey this morning as I drove my son to school. It is raining a lot recently, but I know that most of this greyness is in my head.

  4. A very honest story Paul,
    Your finances are currently under threat and that is certainly a thing to worry about and act upon. I do not believe this is your faith or it is a test in life to see if you really are able to quit alcohol. The simplest explanation would be that the economy just isn’t that good right now, but I don’t know if that is a valid reason within your field of expertise. Anyway shit just happens.
    I guess similarly to the self-destructive behaviour of abusing alcohol, anxiety is working counterproductive by paralysing one’s spirit.
    Both behaviours are likely enhanced by an underlying feeling of being unworthy to live a happy life.
    It would nice if there was some temple where one could take a vow never to allow any further anxiety to pop up.
    I cannot speak for you, but personally I tend to find comfort in ridiculing my own worries if they reach unhealthy levels since the seriousness which causes the anxiety is very relative.
    At the same time I guess I’m slowly coming to the insight that when I shift my focus towards objectives that are for a higher cause, i.e. beyond myself, it has to be a kind of win-win situation, since the selfish part in unselfishness may lead to a true-er conception of (well) being.
    I hope that as an ex-nurse and a writer of an ever-inspiring blog you may relate to this.

    1. Thanks I-nomad, I can relate to what you are saying here. I just don’t sit well with the idea that shit just happens – that is the direction my negative thinking wants to take me now, but I won’t allow it to. It was because of my loss of faith in a meaningful universe that I fell into addiction in the first place – my reasoning then was that if life has no real meaning there is no point in trying. The monks at Thamkrabok helped restore my faith in some higher purpose, and it is this that has given me the ability to enjoy things in my sober life. My old way of thinking was that there was no real point in enjoying anything because it was all ultimately pointless, and the only real solution was to become numb to life. I agree with you that it is by shifting things beyond ourselves where true happiness lies.

  5. Same here, Paul. Everyone here has given you some wonderful advice and insight.

    Let me give you a strategy we use in our home to ease future situations like this from happening again. My husband works as a freelance translator and he gets jobs much the same way you get your writing gigs.

    Summers are exceptionally slow, so slow that in the past we’ve had to dip into savings to pay for our monthly expenses. This was always stressful, as we want to get ahead in life, not just tread water and slide backwards.

    So to take out the stress of summer months, we’ve worked hard to save up 6 months worth of expenses, so that if and when dry months happen, we will have the cushion to do so and we’ve prevented the feelings of stress you’re having right now.

    I’ve felt that awful feeling in my stomach before, but not with the added challenges you face. Once work picks up again, make your savings cushion your #1 priority so that this awful, terrible stress does not come to you again.

    I hope this helps, and I’m sending positive energy your way. “May your next big writing gig happen NOW.”

    1. Hi Amy, that does help – it is excellent advice. I never want to be in this position again. A six months cushion would make a huge difference. As soon as I get out of this current downturn that will become my priority with my finances.

  6. Hey there champ, ever read the ‘Happiness Trap’. If you haven’t then I am sure you will like it. It could just be something to pass the time. I did a 12 week course last year on the subject and it is an alternative cognitive therapy treatment that uses the emotions as well as our thoughts and does this around ideas of mindfulness. I found both the book and the course well worthy of recommending, not that I’m into recommending usually, but I also know you are a bit of a sponge and so it just felt right to mention it after reading this post.

    It helped me understand the processes of my anxiety better which in turn helped me cope with my development. I found that along with the nine months of cognitive therapy I did, it added an extra dimension. I learned something new ;o)

    Usually I don’t find you so soft and fluffy, I think this post showed some of that soft under belly you have when you are not being so hard on yourself with your mission, whatever that is? All the best mate.

    Ooh, I’ve started Aikido with the wife. I’m doing a 3 month research project on it for my anthropology major. I graduate in October. Still sober, still loving life because of it.

    1. Hi Paul, I’m sorry for taking so long to comment. It slipped my mind. I will check out that book you mentioned. Akido sounds good – I heard that it is a bit like Tai Chi and there is a spiritual component to it. Maybe that is something I need to look into as well one day.

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