By Robert Burney
"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."
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 action.
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.