Imagining the Worst
This idea comes from cognitive therapy– with a twist of behavioral therapy.
Here’s how it goes.
Me: I am afraid I cannot write the novel.
Therapist: What happens if that’s true?
Me: I will never find what I am supposed to be doing in life, that I will be miserable because I won’t be able to do what I most want to do, what I think I am called to do.
Therapist: So you would end up working at something that meant nothing to you.
Me: Yes, like my father and both brothers. It’s a family theme and I am scared to death that it will come true in my life as well.
Therapist: What did your father do?
Me: He owned a delicatessen and felt inferior to all his customers.
Therapist: I want you to see yourself working in that deli for the rest of your working life.
Therapist: How much anxiety do you feel?
Me: It’s about a forty because I am involved in other activities, like creating this site, that also give me meaning, along with the other service work I do in recovery programs.
Therapist: Sit with the 40 anxiety.
Me: It just became a 70–80 fear when I focus on it. Yes, 75 is about it.
Therapist: Stay with it.
Me: It’s hard for me to stay still when I feel uncomfortable.
Therapist: You can do this.
Me: OK. I am working in the store. It dropped to 50 because I liked the customers and serving them sturgeon and caviar was fun. It’s still a 40. It would mean that I’d failed, that all the therapy and meditation and working on myself and writing and recovery had all failed and I was back where I started when I was 12.
Therapist: So the fear is that you would have failed completely and ended up where you started.
Can you stay with that now? How scary is it?
Me: 90. And I can stay with it. It’s a 40– I admit to my friends that I have failed. I accepted that I felt grief stricken. Then shame came up and swept through me. It’s now all a 5.
Therapist: Stay with it a little longer and see what happens.
Me: What’s true for me is that I will simply write another novel. I am learning. I am willing to write six novels to become professional. So if I am learning then I am not failing. Also the poetry and the service work also means I haven’t failed. My incredible experiences throughout life– all of it. So I never will go back to the beginning. But if I did and had to it is about a 3– and I think that’s as low as it is going to go right now.
Me: Writing the novel now seems much less frightening.