Thinking is Not a Tool

People like me who are recovering from addiction and an underlying mental disorder rely on a set of tools to live better, more useful lives. A food plan is one of them. Twelve-step meetings are another. Some people think thinking is a tool, but it’s really just another insidious bastard that robs us of sanity.

Mood music:

Overthinking is something I have experience with. One of the most painful parts of OCD out of control is that your mind spins out of control with thought. I’ve heard it described accurately as worry out of control. The mind spins like a record and doesn’t stop. You can slow it down momentarily by binging on booze, drugs or food, but that’s a fake solace that doesn’t last.

I was reminded of all this during a recent OA meeting. During the part where everyone can get up and share, me and two others focused on this peculiarity of our condition.

One woman shared about how she thought her brother had been badly hurt all these years over an incident where she smeared blueberries across his face when they were kids. She’s worried about it all these years, and recently told him she was sorry. He chuckled and reminded her that he smeared something on her first. She didn’t remember that.

Another woman shared that on the night of her senior prom, she was so full of insecurity that she took off without even saying goodbye to her date. Surely, she thought all these years, the incident must have devastated the poor guy. She recently contacted him to apologize, and he didn’t remember being hurt. All he remembered was that the senior prom was one of the best nights of his life.

As addicts, we have a very exaggerated perception of how people look at us. But, as this woman noted, “We’re just another bozo on the bus.”

I spent many years assuming that Sean Marley‘s widow hated me over something I did right after his death. A couple months ago we reconnected on Facebook and I sent her a note about how sorry I was. She sent a note back. I won’t share the contents, but let’s just say she hasn’t hated me all these years.

Thinking is like anything else in life: The right amount is good. Too much of it will kill you.

When it came to my health, I’d make myself sick for real by fixating too hard on what MIGHT happen. That’s when the anxiety attacks would come. In 1991, after a colonoscopy to monitor the Crohn’s Disease, I was informed that my colon was covered with hundreds of polyps — more scar tissue than polyps, but something that had to be kept an eye on. I was advised to get a colonoscopy every year to ensure it didn’t morph into colon cancer unnoticed. Good advice. So I let more than eight years pass before a bout of bleeding forced me to get one. Until then, I wasted a lot of time in fear that every stomach cramp, however small, was colon cancer. I’d spin it in my head repeatedly, rationalizing why I shouldn’t get the test. Just following doctor’s orders in the first place would have saved me a lot of over-thinking. That was clear when I had the test and found out everything was fine.

I had a friend in the early 1990s who weighed well over 400 pounds. To comfort his mind and gloss over the medical problem he had to deal with, he rationalized that he was a great thinker, and that was all he needed to make it in life.

He never made it out of his 30s.

I’ve learned something in my recovery from OCD and the related binge eating addiction: When you learn to stop over-thinking, a lot of things that used to be daunting become a lot easier. You also find yourself in a lot of precious moments that were always there. But you didn’t notice them because you were sick with worry.

I’m a lot happier now that I quickly file an article right after writing it. I move on to the next item on the agenda more quickly and am a lot more productive at work as a result. Does that mean my stories need more editing? Not that I’ve noticed. But that’s what editors are for anyway.

By making doctor appointments and just getting the next blood test or colonoscopy, I do away with a lot of physical pain that worrying used to cause me.

That doesn’t mean I never worry or think about anything. What’s the use of having a brain if you never think about things? There are also a lot of people out there who don’t do nearly as much thinking about their lives as they should.

But there’s a fine line between useful thought and white noise, and my challenge has been to keep myself on the right side of that line. I’ve learned to pick my mental battles more carefully.

If you’re a chronic worrier and someone tells you not to worry you want to punch that person in the face, right? I did. When the worry is rushing out of every corner, you can’t even begin to figure out how to shut the valves.

I eventually did it by getting years ofintense psychotherapy. I had to peel back each layer of worry and figure out how it all got there. It sucked. A lot. Every painful memory of childhood came to the surface and I had to deal with it head on. Prozac definitely helped. Without getting all the therapy first I don’t think the medicine would have worked as well as it has. In the end, all the Prozac did was fix the flow of my brain chemistry, which was hopelessly out of whack from years of self-abuse.

Delving into the 12 steps through OA was huge, too. Eliminating flour and sugar from my diet cleared out my head in ways I never thought possible. Sugar and flour consumed in massive quantities gummed up my mental gearsas bad as any bottle of whiskey would have done.

Letting God into my life was the most important move of all. [See “The Better Angels of My Nature“]

Yeah, I still worry about things. But not like I used to.

It feels better that way.


5 thoughts on “Thinking is Not a Tool

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