Tag Archives: unconscious

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

***

I love that poem. It’s from There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk by Portia Nelson. I feel like each chapter represents a stage of my recovery.

Chapter 1 encompasses my middle school and high school years, when social anxiety began to develop. I started avoiding social interaction by ending friendships and isolating myself; developing powerful, yet irrational beliefs and attitudes; and reinforcing those same beliefs and attitudes with my thoughts and actions–all while being unaware.

The years (early college) which make up Chapter 2 are even harder than the previous years, as I’m in denial. I know that I am an introvert and highly sensitive, yet I know there’s much more to it than that. That is, I know there’s some deeper issues. I avoided them by locking myself in sexual relationships, avoiding friendships, and abusing alcohol. I was absolutely miserable, yet I put up a happy, normal facade. I hid my problems well, and that’s the only way I knew how to cope–because I didn’t know what was wrong or where to seek help.

Chapter 3 represents my latter college years and the year I spent in New York after graduation. By that point I knew I suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder. I knew I kept people at a distance because I was afraid of what they may see inside. And I knew I needed to seek professional help, but I didn’t. Again, I coped by drinking and denying; however, those tactics began to lose their power because I knew there was a deeper issue.

Today, I’m somewhere after chapter three but before five. (I don’t want to say I am in Chapter 4 because sometimes I feel like I’m beyond it and sometimes I feel like I’m not even there yet). I am seeking professional help. I am aware of my thought processes and where they can take me. I know not everybody is a fan of CBT–or its wording and metaphors–but it has greatly helped me. I know, for instance, that certain thoughts will lead me down familiar roads, and I know at the end of those roads, there is nothing good there. I know that if I continue to take those roads, I will continue to feel a certain way. I haven’t totally changed my habits, but I am getting closer. I think Chapter 5 is in sight.

Now, for those who are at an earlier stage, there is no shame, because how you are feeling is not your fault. You are not explicitly choosing to feel anxious or depressed. We’re all at different stages, and we’re all in this together. What’s more, recovery is not linear. You don’t go from bad to good to better to best. Sometimes I’m in Chapter 4; other times I move back to Chapter 2–but, in the end, I am moving forward. More and more of my time is spent in the latter Chapters.

Time and Perfectionism

Time, or lack there of, fuels my perfectionism. We’re conditioned to believe we have less and less of it, which is driven into us over and over again by advertisements. I don’t own a TV because, frankly, advertisements make me feel like crap–and that’s the point. I avoid advertisements anyway I can, but this subtle reminder–that time is decreasing–is all around me.

For example, on my way to the library today, to work on schoolwork, I saw a delivery truck for McDonald’s, a man typing on his blackberry in the elevator, cars speeding everywhere–all reminders that I need to do more with less. Instead of wasting time cooking a meal, I should just pick up something quick at a fast-food restaurant. Instead of trying to relax on my commute, I should be sending an email or text or something from my blackberry. Instead of biking–a longer, more enjoyable form of commuting–I should get a car so I can get from point A to point B quicker.

All this is happening in my unconsciousness; I’m not consciously telling myself I should forfeit a healthy meal for a crappy one, in other words. But when I start craving lunch and all I can think about is grabbing something quick so I can get right back to work, it’s pretty clear to me how the actions and choices that we (society) make as a whole affect me, negatively.

What’s more, the people who are highly-revered in our society are those who do more with less. Those who make efficient decisions, sacrificing themselves and the world around them.

And it’s the people who try to live consciously who really suffer. I want to have time to make a healthy, home-cooked meal; I want leisure time; I want to commute to places responsibly. And yet, somewhere inside I’m telling myself that unless I work 60 hours a week and make $80K (so I can buy crap I don’t want or need) I’m inferior. Unless I sacrifice my ideals and beliefs for cultural norms, I’m a failure. No matter where I go or how much I try to shield myself from advertising and consumerism, it’s still there, all around me–and I have to be a part of it, even though I really don’t want to.

***

I went downtown the other day to people watch. I sat in the same spot for about an hour, watching the business professionals go about their day. It was stressful for me because everyone looked stressed–never quick enough, never good enough, never smart enough plastered on their faces. I felt sorry for them (in the same way that I feel sorry for myself).

At one point two men came out of an office and lit up cigarettes. They smoked in silence for awhile until a bum passed by and sat down next to them. The men moved away as the bum snickered at them. I could see them laughing at the bum–or what I perceived as laughter, at least. Anyway, right there in front of me were two extremes: the business professionals conformed to cultural norms while the bum rejected them; the business professionals educated, the bum not (presumably), etc. But how different are they?

I’m not convinced there is that much difference, but I’m positive that I don’t want to be either of them.

on binging

I haven’t felt well the past few days. I’ve experience several ups and downs, including one period of depression where I thought I’d have to binge in order to bring myself back up again. Fortunately, I kept control and didn’t binge, and eventually my mood brightened and I began to function again.

It’s really strange that something so destructive (my binges) can make me feel whole again. I like to call it a release while my therapist calls it avoidance or suppression … regardless, I feel so much better after I binge. Actually, I want to step back: I want look a little closer at what happens before, during, and after a binge (because I just love breaking things down into tiny, manageable pieces). Without going into too much detail, before a binge I’m low–really low, obviously. My body, my mind, everything aches. There’s tension, there’s stress, there’s negative thoughts. Usually, I’ve stirred up some feelings or memories that I haven’t touched in a while. My brain feels mushy; there’s no other way to describe it.

When the actual decision is made (most of the time I feel like it’s already made for me beforehand) to go out to get food or alcohol–whatever I’m feeling like at the time, depending on the time of day (I never drink during the day, except maybe on the weekends or some holidays … ), etc–shame and guilt hit me. Before I even go to get the food, there’s guilt for what I’m about to do. But not enough guilt to stop me from doing it in the first place. At the store, when I’m picking up the ice cream or burrito or beer, the shame only increases. I feel like the cashiers know me by now. When they’re all together at some bar after work, they talk about me, referring to me as the “binger” or “loser”, that sort of thing. They know exactly how sad and depressed I am, because I wear my feelings on the outside. Everybody knows, for that matter.

After the food is obtained, my heart starts racing and my mood begins to lift. I have to get home as soon as possible. I race back, running up the stairs two at a time, and then consume … and consume … and consume. In all, it probably takes me less than thirty minutes to eat a burrito and a pint or quart of ice cream (my staples). If I’m drinking, though, I like to spread out six beers over a period of three or four hours. I hate getting drunk. My only goal is to get rid of the feelings.

The actual consuming is all done unconsciously. I usually plop myself in front of my computer, watching an episode of Star Trek or Seinfeld while shoving the food down my throat. There are no thoughts, the feelings disperse. Sometimes I’ll catch my reflection in the computer screen which causes me to pull back a little and assess the situation. I begin to feel shame, regret, remorse, anxiety … but before the feelings can take a hold of me I return to the food, unconscious once again.

When I’m done, the feelings begin to return little by little, but they’re different. Less tangible, and more abstract. They’re probably deeper in my body, too. Then, they start to grow again and I feel worse and worse, but, again, they’re still different. I’m not depressed or hopeless, but I just feel so much shame and regret. Eventually, those feelings disperse and I’m left with just a sense of contention. What’s done is done, my mind says. Pull yourself together. You have a future, you have worth. It’s like I have to hit some sort of rock bottom to see things clearly. When you’re down, the only place to go is up.

On Thursday I really felt giving into the temptation. The triggers were there, the environment was just right. But rather than giving in, I pushed through using a combination of awareness and cognitive techniques. I caught the thoughts before they could take control of me. I then distracted myself, and, finally, I replaced my negative thoughts with positive one’s.

It was a minor victory, but I learned something extremely valuable–I learned how to take back control. In the end, though, it’s not about controlling my thoughts or feelings or urges, because they may always be there; instead, it’s about not letting them control me.