I’m going to sound incredibly stereotypical in writing this, but there are some days when I just wish so hard that I could shut my stupid brain off. Or find an on-off switch for the inner monologue that won’t stop. Or something. Anything. I just want a moment of peace in my mind, so badly that sometimes I wonder if there’s actually something wrong with me.
That’s a huge reason I found such comfort in booze, even if it was only temporary – I could “settle in” with a glass of whatever and less than an hour later, whatever the fuck I was going on about in my head would just be gone. Poof. No more. I know logically that the booze merely masked the problems I was experiencing, rather than allowing me the room to try to tackle them head-on. Now that I’m not drinking, I’m struggling with finding peace in the present, and allowing my life to unfold before me without worrying about what’s going to happen miles down the road.
Without booze, I have a really hard time wrestling the unproductive thoughts into submission. They run wild and I run with them. These thoughts and feelings typically ramp up around my “time of the month”, with my anger and sadness and restlessness hugely amplified in the day or two before my period arrives. I know a lot of these things can be directly caused by the hormonal fluctuations that occur around the end of the month, but that doesn’t exactly help me feel any better when I’m in the throes of nonsensical anger toward anyone or anything in my way – including myself.
These days I’m stuck trying to use mindfulness, logic, self-soothing and distraction. I’m constantly trying to shut that voice in my head up for even a SECOND… just for a second, so I don’t keep going over the same thing in my head for hours at a time. Usually it has something to do with the following:
- what’s happening in my relationship, or what I think should happen in my relationship
- my job, or wondering how long I’m going to be able to keep up the professional facade
- my homework assignments, or school in general
- trying to figure out what I’m going to do a year from now when my internships start
- wondering if I’m actually going in the right direction with my life
- trying to decide what direction I even think I want to take
- wondering if I’m running out of time to get married again – wondering if I even WANT to get married again
- wondering if it’s really so bad to just pick up my life and start all over again somewhere new
- wondering WHY I always want to pick up my life and start all over again somewhere new
All of this is made so much more frustrating when I look at people like my boyfriend, whose mental and emotional states are pretty much right down the middle, most of the time. As far as I know and can tell, he doesn’t struggle with depression, or anxiety, or restlessness, or grass-is-greener syndrome. He doesn’t ruminate himself into a death spiral. He doesn’t struggle with alcohol. Multiple times I’ve seen him leave half a beer on the table and forget about it until hours later, or even the next day. It baffles me. And I just think… how?
How does anyone live life in a way that seems so uncomplicated? How do they manage to get to a place where they can think about “nothing” or have no deeper sense of urgency to their lives? How does one come to a place of mental peace, where they aren’t stuck analyzing past, present and future all at the same time?
This post – and my writing – feels rushed and scattered today. I feel angry, sad, irritable and numb at the same time. Is that possible?
My weekend in Chicago was lovely for the most part, but there were multiple times when I caught myself longing for the opportunity to add a beer to the journey. Why?
On the 6-hour drive home today, the boyfriend and I didn’t really talk at all. We chatted a bit, sure, but no real talking. We listened to a 3-hour long podcast and then spent the other 3 hours listening to music. My muscles were tense and my jaw was tight toward the end. And after I dropped him off, all I wanted was to consume comfort food – a big, cheesy quesadilla and then some Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins for good measure. And I still felt a small twinge of desire for a beer. I keep going over and over and over the same things in my mind. I want it to stop. It’s like I’m addicted to thinking and I can’t get it under control.
Turns out, there may be some truth to that idea.
On Thursday morning at work, I came across an article and a TED Talk by a man named Guy Winch. He writes the Squeaky Wheel blog for Psychology Today, and his article about brooding and rumination stuck a nerve with me.
In it, he writes:
It is natural to reflect on painful experiences or worries. By going over such scenes in our minds, we hope to reach new insights or understandings that will reduce our distress and allow us to move on. But this natural process of self-reflection often goes awry such that instead of attaining an emotional release, we simply play the same distressing scenes in our head over and over again, feeling even sadder, angrier, or more agitated, every time we do.
Ruminating is considered a maladaptive form of self-reflection because it offers few new insights and it only intensifies the emotional and psychological distress we already feel.
I do this quite often. I know I do. Not only do I ruminate about past experiences, but I get caught up in repetitive thought cycles about current dilemmas, and even future events that haven’t even happened yet.
Here are a few other things Winch points out in his article:
The urge to ruminate can feel truly addictive such that the more we ruminate, the more compelled we feel to continue doing so.
This is very true for me. I can often see myself getting caught in the spiral, yet I feel compelled to just go with it, instead of trying to find a way out of the cycle.
Rumination can increase our likelihood of becoming depressed, and it can prolong the duration of depressive episodes when we do have them.
Though I haven’t been clinically diagnosed with depression, I’ve had multiple therapists and one uninterested doctor suggest that I have depressive symptoms. Of course, drinking never helped that, only made it worse.
Rumination is associated with a greater risk of alcohol abuse. We often drink to take the edge of the consistent irritability and sadness that result from our constant brooding.
Ah, yep, there we go.
Rumination is also associated with a greater risk of eating disorders. Many of us begin using food to manage the distressing feelings our ruminations elicit.
Mmmhmm, that applies as well. I stopped engaging in my eating disorder behaviors before I turned 20, but from the comfort-eating days my youth, to the binge-purge years in high school, all the way through just this last year, I feel like my relationship to food has never been really stable or healthy. I’m still working on using food as fuel, rather than fearing it or making so many rules around it. But I feel more confident in my relationship with food than I have in years, so hey, at least there’s something.
So, what’s a rumination-addicted girl to do? Well, according to Winch, one of the best things you can do to break the addictive cycle is to treat rumination & brooding as you would any other addictive substance or process: just… quit. Go cold turkey. Refuse – absolutely refuse – to engage in negative brooding or repetitive rumination.
That technique seems eerily familiar. In fact, I’ve done just that – gone cold turkey – with a number of harmful addictions/people/situations in my life.
When I was enduring my eating disorder, I binged & purged for 3 years until one day, I knew I had to stop. I just had to. I feared the damage I was going to my body, and I feared someone would find out. So, I just… stopped doing it. I never allowed myself to get so close to that self-harm again.
I started smoking at 17 and never once felt truly “okay” with it. After my grandfather died of lung cancer, I felt anxious and dreadful taking drags from my cigarettes, yet it took me 9 years to truly quit. I had many attempts but allowed myself to be drawn back in by a boyfriend, or friends, or drinking. But one night last winter, I was just done. I went completely cold turkey with cigarettes a year ago, and refused to entertain the thought of ever smoking again.
Similar story with drinking. I tried many times to stop or cut down, but never really succeeded. I wasn’t truly ready. But this summer, at 12:30am on July 9th, I drunkenly turned to my boyfriend as we lay in bed and told him I was going to take a break from drinking, at least for a little while. And the next morning, I woke up with the secret knowledge that I wasn’t going to drink ever again – that I couldn’t ever drink again, no matter what – because I had a problem that wasn’t going to get fixed by adding fuel to the flames. And even though I’m still fresh in my sobriety, and despite my little cravings for a cold beer at the end of the day, I know I’m done. In my heart and soul, I’m done. No more.
So the same has to be done with this ruminative thinking business. It’s just as addictive as cigarettes or booze, but it’s not as easily identified by those around me, because nobody can really see me thinking. I can’t stand the idea of being a prisoner to my thoughts. So it has to be yet another true effort on my part to break the cycle of addiction that I’ve once again found myself stuck in: the addiction of thinking, thinking, thinking.
Here’s what Winch suggests:
…we must try to catch ourselves ruminating as quickly as we can each time, and find ways to distract ourselves so that we occupy our minds with something other than the focus of our ruminations. And to be clear—anything else will do. Whether it’s watching a movie, working out, doing a crossword puzzle, or playing Angry Birds, anything that requires us to concentrate will force us to stop ruminating. Over time, by preventing the rumination from playing out and by not reinforcing its allure, the urge to revisit it will diminish.
I know for a fact that reading, exercise, blogging (except when I go down the self-pity rabbit hole), watching Netflix, creating poetry, and chatting with friends helps me get out of my ruminative state. Just like any other addiction, it’ll take some work to catch myself and effectively find a distraction before it gets too bad.
I guess it’s time to break out the mindfulness and meditation app again 🙂