Outward and Upward
I am sitting in a coffee shop wondering how I got so self-absorbed. Yes, it’s ridiculous. I’m obsessed with my self-obsession. I overanalyze everything and everyone, including myself. A softer way to put it is I am introspective.
The dictionary defines introspection as “the act or process of looking into one’s self.” Since childhood, I have looked inside for answers to life’s major questions—what is my purpose in life, how do I find happiness—and also minor questions like why does that person not like me? What did I do to offend him? Why wasn’t I included?
There are three problems with this approach: 1) I don’t have the answers 2) thinking about myself means I am not thinking about others and 3) analyzing is insular and passive. While I’m in deep-thinking mode, I’m not doing anything. I believe the third problem is the most troublesome for my recovery, because AA is an action program. Thinking about it is not going to get me there; I have to actually work the steps.
My tendency to overanalyze reminds me of a guy I used to work with, who I will call Cliff. He was an intellectual type who spoke in long sentences with semi-colons. He used words like “self-actualized” and left a lot of raised eyebrows in his wake. He was highly educated and ambitious, so before long he was promoted to a management position. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that Cliff was a thinker, not a doer. He would meticulously research, study and interpret data at a deliberate pace before completing a task.
Cliff’s exhaustive approach frustrated his coworkers and direct reports. Decisions and projects were delayed. I remember asking him multiple times for an update on a simple worksheet that should have taken a few weeks. Months later, he was still – as he put it – “refining” it. Cliff would have been a fine professor, but he was a poor manager.
In some ways, I am like Cliff. If a friend doesn’t return my call, someone doesn’t respond to my greeting or (shudder) I am left off a group invitation, I can spend half the day trapped in thought. The difference is whereas Cliff’s thoughts were rational, mine are often irrational—like a cluster of matted hair on a wet dog. They are not linear but are a tangled mess of interpretations and impressions. I will evaluate a person’s tone, body language and motives without having any solid information to support my assumptions.
Several months ago I ran into a friend who asked me if I was going to a group bowling night that weekend. “Bowling night?” I said. She hesitated, looking uncomfortable. Great, I thought. I’m not invited. I wonder which of those women doesn’t like me? It didn’t matter that I had no idea of the reason I wasn’t invited. I just assumed it had to be a snub. I later learned that the organizer had left several women off the group text simply because she didn’t have their numbers and assumed others would pass on the message.
This scenario was distressing because I wasted energy getting upset over nothing. Even worse, I accomplished nothing. I was guilty of the same thing as Cliff: analysis paralysis. Trapped in the loop of my fertile mind, I was stagnant. I didn’t pray. I didn’t contact a friend, go to a meeting or read my Big Book. I didn’t call my sponsor. Instead, I got sucked into a vortex of blackness, thoughts turned inward and spit out as self-pity. Thoughts that led me nowhere but down into a deep, dank pit.
I don’t want to go there. When I’m in the pit, I wear my sweats all day and stare listlessly at the TV. I ignore calls and texts. I sleep to pass the time. I huddle and snivel and wallow.
It will take work, but I have to condition my mind to think differently, outward instead of inward. Thinking of others will take me out of myself. It will take me up, not down.