Do you occasionally suffer from What-if Syndrome?

What-if syndrome is that gnawing, nagging, often unnecessary feeling that, if left to run wild, can turn into a raging torrent of fear paralyzing us from action. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have all experienced it at some point.

For me, it usually comes up around money issues. What if I don’t close that deal? What If I don’t make that goal? Then what?  Will I have more money than month? How will I pay the mortgage? The car payment? The credit card bill?

Deeper than that though, what-if syndrome may lead to feelings of inadequacy that cause us to doubt and question our worth— Will I fail? Am I good enough? Or feelings of pride— What will others think if I don’t get my kids new clothes for this school year? How will my kids feel if they have to go to a different school?

 In a word, what-if syndrome is worry. At its root, worry is a form of fear tied to our belief system and lack of trust.

Peanuts

I have lived through my share of worry over the years and have pushed through it with faith and effort to keep it at bay. It was not easy, but when it came to my addiction to drugs and alcohol, it was a matter of life and death to overcome it. I had a big enough reason why to motivate me to do something about it.

Like many things in life, it takes diligence and practice to:

a) Recognize worry or a problem when it comes up and
b) Become willing to learn some new skills to address our problems so we don’t stay stuck in them for too long.

I’ll be honest. Right now, I am wallowing in a little self-pity. For the past two and a half years, I have been riding a high from my efforts and blessings at work. I have managed to triple the sales volume for my territory in less than three years. I have written and published a book and managed to make time to work with other recovering alcoholics as a sponsor and mentor volunteer leaders at my local church.  Life has been good.

Currently, however, I am facing a less than ideal sales month and fighting worry while also trying to find the desire to complete my next book on goal setting.  I am dealing with the very challenges I want to write about overcoming.

Is this an accident? I think not. I believe that this is a wake-up call. In a sick twisted way, I am having to practice what I want to talk about.

I am grateful that I now recognize what is going on and how I feel but that, by itself doesn’t change anything. I have to change. So what do I do?

Over the years, I have acquired tools, primarily through AA, on how to cope with and conquer worry and fear. The basics consist of three steps:

1) Identify the problem.
2) Ask for God’s help. (Surrender)
3) Pray for the willingness to allow God to help me.

The short version, which, to outsiders may sound like a cop-out is, I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.

But, it doesn’t stop there. I have to do my part, which usually requires work. In most cases that work includes changing my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about my current situation. This process takes time.  It starts with humility and honesty and taking a deep personal inventory of what is bothering me. I need to look at my part—what I can and cannot control. That is but a beginning. I don’t have the space to do a deep dive into this right now. I talk about it more in my book, Beyond Recovery A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness. And I will unpack it even more as one of the blocks in my upcoming book on goal setting. If you want immediate answers or help, there are countless coaches, mentors and counselors well qualified to help.

For now let me give you a personal example of how worry has come up in my life and how I have processed and overcame it.

In very early sobriety, my biggest worry was whether I could go twenty-four hours without a drink. I had tried on my own countless times, with no lasting success.

Then, after several months of practicing the program of AA, drinking was no longer an issue. Instead, I had to face the feelings beneath the surface that I was running away from with drugs and alcohol. Without booze or drugs, I needed to find a new set of tools in order to cope with my feelings.

I found help in the twelve steps of AA. I was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober, one-day-at-a-time and quickly realized that when I worked the steps daily, my days got better.

Yet some things continued to come up—usually feelings around scarcity. I believe these were tied to my belief about not having enough and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin as a teenager.

I was raised in a middle class family until my dad left when I was thirteen. Through my first two years of my high school I had to deal with having very little, money was tight.  I recall my freshman year wearing red Toughskin jeans and a hand-me-down shirt from my older cousin. I was mortified. I felt so out of place. All I wanted to do was belong.  

Adding  to my anxiety was the fact that I went from a small class of forty students to a high school with over twelve-hundred, I was out of my comfort zone.

My solution then was to pour myself into schoolwork and making money. I soon had a job to earn money for new shoes, pants, and shirts I liked. I received praise and recognition from teachers and peers for being smart. In other words, my entire sense of self, how I felt, was dependent on external things—money, clothes, grades, recognition.

I am now realizing how much of my identity is still attached to external factors and how much more work I still have to do to find peace within; to tap into my higher power and be willing to walk through temporary fear, worry, doubt, and insecurity.

I have a feeling that I am not alone. I am sure many of my recovery peers can relate to some of this, perhaps others as well. I know I must overcome this mental block so I may confidently speak about it in a goal-setting book. My guess is that is exactly why I am facing this right here, right now.

I have a higher power. I have faith. God has never let me down before, but I have noticed that sometimes he gives me a challenge as a wake-up call for something he wants to work on in me. So what do I do?

Experience has shown me that what I need is willingness and courage. Along with that, I need to trust that He will show me a way out—He always does, sometimes though, it takes awhile for me to see it. The other thing I need to bring to the table is vulnerability. I need to be humble enough to ask for help, from others and from God. Before any of that though, and most important, I need to know what the problem is—my negative beliefs and what I have bought into, and become willing to develop a new way of thinking to overcome them. What results is greater confidence for the next time I have to face a difficult situation. With practice, I learn to not stay in self-pity so long and more quickly focus on the solution. Sometimes though, I need to sit with it for a bit to look harder at what is beneath the surface so I can better get at the heart of the problem.

In short, I need to do the work, and leave the results up to God. That principle was taught to me in early recovery and it still holds true today. To conquer worry and fear requires faith and effort.

There is no quick fix, and it will not magically disappear. The good news is that we can overcome worry when we apply faith and effort.

Thank you for listening to what I am struggling with in this moment and how I am dealing with it. I know this too shall pass.  I know I am not alone. I hope that some of you have found this post helpful.

If you want to learn more about my story, please pick up a copy of Beyond Recovery, A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness on Amazon or at any bookstore or smashwords.

Also, if you’d like to be kept up to date on blogs, events, or one of the first to read my next book, please sign up on my email list or follow this blog.

Thank you all for being a part of this journey.

Love,

Shawn

P.S.

If any of this has hit a chord, here is a promise—one of never being let down or alone which has been around for over 2,000 years.

Over the next few days God (your higher power) is going to show you how your worry can be replaced with confidence.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

Matthew 6:25-32 NIV
http://bible.com/111/mat.6.25-32.niv

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 NIV
http://bible.com/111/isa.41.10.niv

 

 

Made a decision…

Everyday we make hundreds of decisions – choices. In fact, according to various sources on the internet we make an average of 35,000 decisions EVERY Day; over 276 involve food. Not all require a grand analysis. Many are routine like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. These simple choices have become so automatic they require little, if any thought, for most. Others, like deciding which is the fastest way to get to work, or where you would like to take your next vacation, require some analysis, planning, and weighing of pros and cons.

When it comes to recovery, the road map for many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts is laid out in the first 164 pages of the AA big book. There are 12 steps to follow.

Like many important decisions it wise to seek counsel and/or feed back from someone with experience regarding the choices and actions that need to be made. In AA that counselor is called a sponsor. A sponsor in AA is someone to  guide your through the 12- step program of recovery. Yet even with resources and support at our side, many stubbornly declare, “I can do it on my own.” My response is, yeah you could, we have have the freedom of choice, but the odds are slim to nil that you will stay sober if you don’t seek help, not only from a sponsor, but also from a higher power.

As it says in the preamble of the Big book, Chapter 5 “How it Works”:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of be­ing honest with themselves…”
In recovery, being honest can be the difference between life or death. Can I be blunt? If you want to get sober, follow and work the steps,preferably with a sponsor. Don’t bullshit yourself thinking you can do it alone. Half measures  will avail you nothing.

In my previous two blogs of this series, I discussed steps one and two:

1-Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

2-Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Now, I address step three:

3-Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

What does this mean “a God of my understanding?” It means a power greater than yourself. Something that is not a derivative of your self will.

Why not be more specific? Because the founders of AA wanted to be as all encompassing as they possibly could with respect to varied religious and spiritual leanings. One thing they found to be true was that lasting sobriety required reliance upon a “power grater than ourselves.” In the Big Book they devoted several chapters to  a deeper explanation of this topic.

How does one do this in AA? That is, how do you make a decision to turn your will and life over to something can’t see? That is a fair question and one I struggled with in early recovery.

In my memoir, Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace , Love and Forgiveness
I talk about the fear I had at my first meeting. During the reading of the steps I heard the word God and it scared me. I didn’t really have any frame of reference or reason to fear it, yet my own conception of what I thought it meant was enough to scare me away and back to the bottle.

Eventually I found my way home, back to the rooms that eventually became an integral part of saving my life.

It’s funny but it’s also sad how much we fear things we really don’t fully understand. In the early days of recovery there was an old-timer named Maxine who used to say for the benefit of the newcomers in the room, “If the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will frighten you right back.” In the first 120 days of recovery those words saved me on more than one occasion.

Even though I was doing everything that was suggested: I went to ninety meetings in ninety days (as an over achiever full of fear, I actually went to 180.), I had a sponsor, I read the Big Book, had commitments at meetings and, most importantly, I was not drinking between meetings, even though I still thought about alcohol all the time. i heard others in meetings tell how they were sober; how the obsession  was lifted from them. I was impatient. I wanted to be free from that demon so bad. I longed for the  obsession to be removed from me. There were occasions where I lay on my back at night shouting in my head, sometimes out loud to take it away. I was still operating under self will. My knuckles were white from hanging on so tightly.

Finally the day came when I was ready to do my third step with my sponsor.

The weight of all that I thought I had drank over for so many years; my dad leaving and the multitude of anger and resentment, which I would later discover was just another form of self-centered fear, was weighing me down so heavily I worried if I would make it.

It was a sunny day and my sponsor had suggested we meet on the dusty hillside behind Mt. Carmel church in Mill Valley. I had done the first two steps to the best of my ability but was not confident that I would experience any grand miracle by just becoming willing to believe in this so-called “higher power.” But, honestly, I had no other choice.

Earlier we had read how it works and page 60 of “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Now in the bright sun my sponsor and I walked along the small path behind the church. He told me what we were going to do,”See this garbage can?”  He asked, lifting the lid to the steel can.

I nodded.

“I want you to take all that anger, fear, hurt and resentment you’ve been carrying around like a sack of rocks, and imagine yourself dumping it into this can. Then we’re going to get on our knees, hold hands, and say the third step prayer out loud. Afterward the compulsion to drink will be lifted from you.” He offered with compassionate certitude.

Despite being briefly distracted with worry over what passers by may say or think if they spied two men kneeling  in the dirt holding hands under the summer sun, I did as he suggested. My sobriety was more important. We said this prayer:

The Third Step Prayer
from page 63 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Amen
I spoke the words and let go.
As we stood  I felt a peace wash over me. I had “dropped the rock.”
I felt protected, even if I didn’t fully understand what had just happened.
Being willing to let go was the cornerstone upon which I was able to continue along the path of recovery. That is not to say that the thought to drink was completely removed. That day though, I was given a reprieve from the mental obsession over alcohol.
It stuck. I have gone back to that hillside in my mind many times throughout my life. It symbolizes a safe place of letting go.
The next step would require more than just willingness, it would require deep introspection, faith, courage and work.
I was now at step four, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Stay tuned for step four.