Peak Stress Level.
As I’ve written many times recently, I have good problems today. But they’re still problems. My ex-wife was trained as a therapist, and she often talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Now, I know next to nothing about this field. But what I remember of her discussion of MHN was that no matter where you are on the triangle, your problems feel like real problems to you. So, someone who is struggling deeply with say, confidence and achievement might feel as though their problems are just as impactful as someone struggling with health and property. I’m going to round back on that point in a minute.
Until yesterday two major stressors: finishing a bunch of major projects at work, and buying a house. While these are listed at a fairly low-level on the pyramid, they’re still kind of luxury problems. I have a good employer that, while (reasonably) demanding, appreciates my work and values me. Buying a home is a luxury problem for anyone, really. Especially considering I already have a perfectly good place I can afford. So while these don’t really represent serious problems, they feel as though they are urgently mortal.
Yesterday, a third stressor was added. My preceptor at work is getting a promotion. He’ll be leaving my project. I don’t know who is going to replace him. It might be me. I don’t want to replace him. I’m not confident I can do his job, especially while doing my own. If my projects founder because I don’t have the right person driving them, that could end up putting this job I love at risk. That does start to strike at the base of the pyramid. That maybe starts to fall into problems that are real problems, not luxury problems.
So I’m operating in a very high-stress mode right now. Some of it will drop off in two days when, one way or another, the house is either purchased or walked-away-from. Some of it will drop off in a couple of days when I finish the simulation I’m currently writing, which is almost done. But some of it is just the general stress of living. Which feels real to me. It feels incredibly big and stressful and problematic.
So, now let’s round back to the point above. I don’t have any problems. I have a back-up plan if I lose my job. I have a home if I can’t buy this house. And I don’t have any of the things that cause people to have other serious stresses in their lives, like health problems or children. Or children with health problems.
Maintaining perspective is crucial for me. And I think generally for alcoholics. If I start to live in a world of stress, it becomes easy for me to pity myself. If I feel self-pity, I start to think I deserve to have it addressed. I start to think the world owes me something. I can fall into toxic entitlement pretty easily if I let myself. So I need to regularly look back at that pyramid and examine how well all of those things are addressed at every level. I have to remember the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, and know, who can’t say that.
And I have to remember my gratitude. I’m an alcoholic. Every day I don’t get up in a puddle of vomit with a splitting hangover is a good day. Every day I don’t look at myself in the mirror, hateful, resentful, and down a shot of vodka is a good day. Every night I go to bed sober is a good night. So, while my problems may feel vexing to me, those are just feelings. I need to separate myself from how things feel and look objectively at how I’m progressing in my sobriety and in my life.
For all the discussion of spirituality in AA, the program also emphasizes being strongly rational about our problems, and our solution. Do the things today that will improve your life today. Do them every today. And your life will improve. Focus on the reality of your situation and address that. Don’t cower under the weight of your difficulty. Find people who have good lives, and who have been through what you’re going through, and do what they did to get where they are. A program of action and accountability.
And let go of the rest. Because the house will happen or not. My employer will like what I do or not. Most things in life are beyond my control. I’m doing reasonably well (but not perfectly) at the things that are within my control. And when it comes to stress, yes, I get to own my stress and it’s alright that I feel it. I’m allowed to feel my feelings. I don’t have to denigrate them because objectively, many others have it far, far harder. But it’s worth recognizing, and internalizing, that my problems are, objectively, not lethal.