""I spent most of my life doing the
Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things
over which I had no control - other people and life events mostly - and
taking no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own
internal process - over which I can have some degree of control.
Having some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or
somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional. It
was very important for me to start learning how to recognize the boundaries
of where I ended and other people began, and to start realizing that I can
have some control over my internal process in ways that are not shaming
and judgmental - that I can stop being the victim of myself."
(All quotes in this color are from
Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
One of the most ridiculous forms that obsession used to take for
me, would involve me actually writing out the script of a conversation
with a woman who was unavailable to me in some way. I would write
pages and pages. I would say this, and then she would say that, and
then I would say, etc., etc. This conversation would build to a the
climax where I would say just the right words and suddenly she would understand.
She would see the light and rush into my arms in overwhelming gratitude as
she awakened to how good I was for her and how much I loved her.
And then we would live happily ever after.
The trouble was, she never had the same script I did.
Looking back, it is both silly and sad to remember the amount
of time and energy I would put into figuring out just the right words to
say to get the other person to see how much she needed me.
Obsessive thinking for me was always about trying to fill the
hole within. I would focus on a person or the outcome of a situation
as the thing that would fix me. Or I would obsess about getting the
substance that I needed to temporarily fill the hole within until I got the
person or outcome that I thought I needed.
The delusion was that once I got the relationship, or the money,
or the job, or whatever, then I could really start to live. That
person or outcome was the missing ingredient in my life that would make
me happy and whole - that would fix me.
All codependents have some obsessive tendencies. Some of
the flavors of obsessive thinking are: the alcoholic who starts thinking
about where he/she is going for a drink after work, while eating breakfast;
the drug addict who starts feeling some panic when the prescription bottle
or the baggy is almost empty and starts urgently focusing on replenishing
the supply; the person whose relationship has ended who focuses on
the good times and ignores the bad, or who focuses on what an awful villain
the other person is - and keeps trying to find allies to support that view
by telling horror stories to friends (who will then be baffled and confused
when the person jumps at the chance to go back into the relationship);
the person who is always focused on eating, or dieting; the person who
is constantly thinking about money, or the lack of it, and projecting fantasies
of grandiose jackpots or homeless ruination; the person who obsessively
cleans house because their fear of the unknown drives them to focus on that
which they can control; etc., etc.
Someone told me as some point in my recovery, that what I focused
my mind on was what I was worshiping. I didn't want to hear that,
but I came to see that there was Truth in it.
Obsessive thinking is about focusing externally in order to escape
from our self, from the fear and shame we feel at the core of our being.
When we obsess on another person, thing, or outcome of a situation as our
savior, as the magical ingredient that is going to fix us, as the prince
/ princess / success that is going to get us to "happily ever after," we
are making that external source our higher power, our god. The opposite
extreme is, of course, when we focus on either our self, or another person,
thing, or situation as the villain who has destroyed our lives.
To paraphrase something I said in my March article here - Letting
Go of Unavailable People - what is so important, is to stop focusing
on an external source as the cause of, or solution to, our problems.
It is vital to start focusing on what we do have some control over instead
of things which we cannot control.
One of the most powerful tools in my recovery from the beginning
has been The Serenity Prayer. The Serenity Prayer is a very simple
formula, a template, for how to live life in a way that works. Accept
the things I cannot change - change the things I can.
Focusing my time and energy on trying to change another person,
or on controlling the outcome of a situation is a dysfunctional way to
live life because it is not really living. Living happens in the
moment - not in the future or the past.
One of the most important things I learned to do to counteract
obsessive thinking was to pull myself back into the moment. Take
some deep breaths and get into my body in the moment. Look around
me and see where I am and what is happening now. And then take some
I cannot force myself to stop obsessing. Shaming myself,
"should"ing on myself, threatening myself, will not stop me from obsessing.
It is not possible to stop obsessing by obsessing about the obsession.
It was very valuable for me in recovery to realize that I cannot
force myself out of an emotional place - I can't force my process.
I learned that I needed to accept where ever I was emotionally - no matter
how uncomfortable. Once I accept where I am at, then I can take some
action that will be helpful in moving me to a different emotional place.
One of the things I have control over, that I have the power to
change, is what I am doing in the moment. I have the power to force
myself to take an action. Not because I "should" - because it is
the kind thing to do for me.
Allowing myself to be in my head wallowing in the agony of the
trauma drama that is obsession is not a kind thing to do for myself.
Getting up and getting in motion is a good thing.
I take the deep breaths to get into the moment. I look around
and see that the sink is full of dirty dishes. So I do the dishes.
Then as I am drying my hands I look around and notice what a beautiful day
it is outside. So, I go out and take a walk.
It was vital for me to learn to take action in alignment with
my recovery. Working the third step in the twelve step program - "Made
a decision to turn my will and life over to the care" of a Higher Power
as I understand him/her/it - is a step of action. It is not enough
to have faith - we need to take action based upon that belief.
Love, like faith, is not just a theoretical concept. Love
requires action. Loving ourselves means taking actions that are good
for us, that are kind and Loving. I will talk some more in my next
article here about applying the Serenity Prayer in our lives - learning
to take responsibility for the things I can change as a way of being Loving
to my self.