Overcoming Obsessive Thinking

The word obsess comes from the Latin word obsidere, one meaning of which is “to besiege.” Being someone who has, at times, obsessed over something, I can say that if we’re not careful, thoughts can besiege our minds, take us out of the present moment, and rob us of any enjoyment we might otherwise experience. In my drinking days, I often obsessed about one thing or another, and depending on what it was, I could find myself filled with such emotions as resentment, anger, self-pity, or anxiety. This was always wasted time on my part; I never looked for solutions if there was a problem. And nothing I obsessed over was ever as bad as I originally thought it was. But mostly, I simply could not stop thinking about something once it became ingrained in my thought processes.

Fortunately, I learned how to turn these types of thoughts around, so to speak. Whatever it was I started to obsess about, with practice, I was able to keep it to a minimum and eventually stop thinking about it altogether. The practice I speak of was to literally redirect my thoughts to something else, something fun, or telling myself how pointless it was to keep thinking about it. And I often talked to someone about whatever I was obsessing over. It took time to break free of obsessive thinking, but it was never as bad as the days when all I could think about was getting drunk. That obsessiveness almost always led to the same conclusion: my mind besieged with worry, distress, and often hopelessness after a night out drinking.

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Maybe Our Dreams Do Come True?

I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety this month. I went from calling myself a high bottom alcoholic, to a recovered alcoholic, and at some point I called myself a self-proclaimed alcoholic. But eventually it no longer mattered what I called myself. The bottom line is that I was a problem drinker who needed to be something I wasn’t, full of fears and insecurities that made me unhappy, and I was often quite lonely and sad.

Thankfully that all changed after waking up hung over on April 27th, 1996, sick to my stomach and afraid that the argument I started with my wife the night before had cost me my family. Fortunately, it somehow didn’t, and the rest is history as they say. But I’ll add that it was hard and scary along the way at times.

I didn’t drink every day, and I was far from the stereotypes one sees in movies and on TV, bottoming out and losing everything. But I had bottomed out emotionally and spiritually, and at the time I only knew of one place I could go to get help—Alcoholics Anonymous.

I wrote about my experience there in my book, and how the Twelve Steps helped me to love myself and be happy in life. And I wrote about some of the answers I found outside the rooms of AA that helped me find even greater happiness. But this post isn’t about AA or my book. It’s about the two answers I didn’t find.

It frightens me some days that there may not be something after we die. And I’m still not sure what my true purpose is in life.

Yes I have a book and a blog. Yes I help people with substance use problems. And yes I currently work helping people with mental illnesses. But I have to wonder why my prayers of being able to financially support myself while writing more books and helping more people haven’t been answered?

One might say that vanity has something to do with it. If I get a swelled head and begin to think I’m more important than what I am, I could end up drinking again, right? But I’ve ruled this out. A lot of things have contributed to my growth and my happiness, and I know drinking would rob me of that. Plus I have never been more humble in my life. I don’t have a lot of money, an expensive car, or a big home. And I’m aware that I still have a lot more growing to do, both spiritually and as a person.

So what is it then? Why haven’t I achieved my dream yet? No god? Not my purpose to help the many people suffering from what has become better known as a chronic, progressive disease of the brain? Maybe I’m just not qualified? Maybe a book and blog doesn’t make me an expert on addiction and helping others? And if there is a god of some kind. Maybe I’m not supposed to be famous or well-known in the field of addiction?

I’m not sure if the answer as to whether or not there’s a god will ever be answered. And I can only hope that the term “when preparation meets opportunity” becomes a reality for me. But I can honestly say that there have been some signs that I’m on the right path in life.

I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety this month. I went from calling myself an alcoholic, to a recovered alcoholic, and at some point a self-proclaimed alcoholic. But it no longer matters what I call myself. I don’t need to be something I’m not, and I’ve learned how to overcome my fears and insecurities. I’m no longer lonely. And although I feel sad on some days, finally being happy with who I am sustains me during those times and the sadness never lasts.

So I guess I’ll simply keep trying to believe that something created life and the universe for a reason and that we do have a purpose while we’re here. And not worry about the answers.

If my sobriety has taught me anything, it’s that we can create our own happiness, and that living in the present moment is one of the best ways to achieve it.

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My Ego Is Just Fine Thank You

I enjoy helping others. It makes me feel good about myself, and gives me a sense of achievement.

The definitions listed below are why I think most people’s troubles come from insecurity, and not ego like many spiritual gurus state. The third definition of ego comes from insecurity. It is a false sense of ego used to overlook our fears and insecurities, and help us feel better about ourselves. I should know. I had a false ego all through my life—even into my early sobriety. It was in my sobriety, however, that I was able to become more self-confident and grow to love myself. I also found greater happiness in life. Especially after finally becoming happy with who I was.

It is those things that I want for others. It’s why I do what I do to help people. Not because of ego. And not because of insecurity. But because of who I’ve become.

ego: 1. A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. 2. The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. 3. An overly high opinion of oneself

insecurity: 1. Uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence.

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Love Can Be Both Easy And Hard

It wells up inside of you. An emotional pain that’s hard to describe but easy to feel when someone you tried to help is suddenly gone. Especially when it was a special person who was easy to love.

You go from feeling shocked and sad to just feeling deep sadness. The question changes from “Why?” To. “Could I have done more to help?” You cry. You get angry. You talk to someone about how you’re feeling—then you cry some more. But nothing takes the deep sadness away.

You know nothing can change what happened. More questions arise. You ask yourself. “What could I have done differently?” “What could I have said differently?” More feelings of anger emerge. And then you just feel numb.

You look at pictures of this wonderful person. You read how so many other people are feeling, and then it wells up inside of you.

An emotional pain that’s hard to describe but easy to feel.

Not because you tried to help this person. But because like so many others, you’re simply mourning the loss of a special person who was easy love.

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I Should Video Tape This

I recently watched several old VHS tapes with recordings of family on them, and cried more than a few times as memories of moments gone by came rushing back.

Some of these recordings were from the family vacations my wife and I took our son and daughter on, while others showed us doing different activities with them. And some were of the kid’s birthday parties and family get-togethers my wife loved to have.

I saw happy people laughing and having fun, while being the camera man and making comments that I thought were funny, but I’m sure some people didn’t. And I saw myself in the videos as well.

The recordings were from an 8 mm camcorder I bought in 1993, and even with poor picture quality due to time and other factors, they were still fun to watch. Well mostly fun to watch.

The recordings on ten VHS tapes show moments from September of 1993 to New Year’s Day 2000. But the first two and half years are from my drinking days. Vacations where I was clearly buzzed on the boardwalk. Stuff I did with the kids, like making funny videos, where drinking beer was also involved. (Just me, not the kids.) And the birthday parties and family get-together my wife loved, where I made sure alcohol was on hand for the adults.

One of these videos, recorded in January of 1996, stuck out though, because it involves my children and was recorded just four months before I quit drinking for good.

I had been drinking for over 18 years and was very unhappy at that time, plus I didn’t have a clue what life was about. But there the answer was being recorded yet again, as I drank instead of truly enjoying moments like this with my kids.

I cried at times while watching it. And it made me wish I had quit drinking much sooner.

Although the video shows a mix of fun, happiness, laughter, and togetherness, it also shows the behaviors of a man who thinks he’s being a good dad, but sadly, like life, doesn’t have a clue what being one is about.

Besides my obvious drinking in it. (I take a few sips of beer on film, and make a joke about it each time.) The fun we were having, while not bad in any way, clearly demonstrates the sometimes subtle and hidden dysfunction within a family that a non-stereotypical drunk like myself, can create. (I didn’t drink every day. Still had a job, a home, and some money in the bank.)

What the video doesn’t show, however, is what contributed to the dysfunction, and to my drinking. The fears and insecurities I had all my life.

Here I am in this video, 36 years old, and you would think I was more of a funny friend than a father to my children. My immature behaviors and sometimes unfiltered words are anything but role model quality. And although no one would shudder or think what they saw was awful. I saw a lack of emotional growth in myself, and someone who used alcohol to face their fears and insecurities.

I don’t beat myself up over my past anymore, and even through my tears I knew I was at least trying to be a good father back then. But I simply was not capable of being a better one. (Thankfully they had a wonderful mother who knew how to be a parent.)

I wrote about my childhood in my book, which was far worse than anything my kids ever experienced. But I know my mom and dad tried to be good parents, and I watched them change for the better through the years. Which brings me to the video recordings after I quit drinking.

Watching those tapes, I can honestly say I slowly improved as a father, and as a husband. I wish I had tapes of family recordings up to now. I know they would show my continual improvement as a father and husband. And perhaps more importantly, continual improvement in myself.

As I remained sober, first through Alcoholics Anonymous and then on my own, improving on myself contributed to becoming a better parent and spouse, and certainly my long-term sobriety.

Actually there is another video that stands out that was recorded in August of 1996. It’s the first family vacation we went on after I stopped drinking. Like the other one, it shows a mix of fun, happiness, laughter, and togetherness, but doesn’t show the fears and insecurities I had.

What’s different, though, is that in this one, I was ready to face life sober, and finally become the person, father, and husband I never knew how to be.

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That’s A Good Sign

I’m not religious. But I do ask for signs that something created life and the universe for a reason when I need too.

They may not come right away, and some signs are more subtle than others. But they sustain me in times when my old enemy fear shows up, and causes unhappiness in my life.

Some say there isn’t a god of any kind.  Maybe god is the wrong word to use. If all the signs I’ve received in my sobriety so far tell me anything, it’s to keep trying to believe in more than just this world. Doing so has helped me to love myself, which is a miracle considering how I felt about myself when I was drinking.

Despite the occasional fears I have. I’m no longer a frightened little boy inside. I believe in myself and I know things will be all right, even when they’re not. Because I know I can be all right even when I’m not. It may take what some people call prayer on some days. But I know I can eventually stop feeling worried and afraid and return to my former state of happiness.

Actually, my happiness never fully goes away, because I’m happy with who I am.

Being happy with who I am also sustains me in times when my old enemy fear shows up. And perhaps that is an even bigger miracle, considering who I was when I was drinking.

Some say there isn’t a god of any kind. Maybe god is the wrong word to use.

If all the signs I’ve received in my sobriety so far have proven anything, it’s that I have the ability to create my happiness.

I just need a little help now and then.

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