When you love someone who struggles with addiction, it is easy to get caught up in worrying about them. Where are they? What are they doing? Are they OK? More often than not this worrying does not stop when they are in recovery from drugs, alcohol, or other addictions, because you are so used to being on edge. For this series I am going to talk about when worrying becomes a hobby, how worrying can provide a distraction to the rest of your life, our mistaken beliefs about what worrying accomplishes, and how to move beyond worrying to optimism.
When Worrying Becomes A Hobby
Some Canadians are natural worriers. This is often a propensity passed down in families. You may find that your propensity to worry is fed by loving someone who is impulsive and often makes poor decisions. Worrying may become so normal in your relationship with them that you forget that you even have a choice in the matter.
The difficulty with worrying is that sometimes people need the space to stumble in life so that they can find their own direction, develop a strong self-identity, and then learn from their mistakes. With our constant worrying over others, we interrupt this process. Now, this seems easier said than done especially if we are living in a relationship with someone who has an addiction or who may be new in recovery. There may even be times when it seems like that person with the addiction is taking one step forward and then three steps back. We are helpless to get them to change, so instead, we worry.
Now, for a moment, consider what it is like to be on the receiving side of all that worry. When we worry, we are sending messages to others like “I don’t think you know what you are doing”, “You constantly make mistakes”, or “I am just waiting for you to make another mistake.” In essence, when we constantly worry we are sending negative energy as well as messages to the people we love who are struggling with addictions. These people have enough to manage as they find their way in recovery without now having to carry all of their worries. Now may be the time to place our worry hobby into a box for storage as we find a new hobby to preoccupy our time within life.
- Do you worry about your loved one in addiction? What about in recovery?
- Did, or do, your mother and father worry about you?
- How does it feel when someone else worries about you?
Worrying As A Distraction to Our Own Life
When we worry, we become absorbed in the issues of other people around us. We worry for them. Over time worrying can become a distraction because we lose focus from our own lives and our own emotional issues. If I am distracted by the problems of someone else’s life, then I do not have to focus on the dissatisfaction that I am experiencing in my own life. Instead, I can worry about someone else.
Worry is a common distraction. The problem is that I begin burning out my adrenal glands because I am firing all this adrenaline into my system. I am poised for some type of impending crisis in someone else’s life while ignoring my own health needs. Sometimes the reality is that I cannot do anything and I am powerless. The feeling of worry seems helpful because I can pretend that I can do something or that my thoughts of worry somehow impact events.
The end result of course is that I cannot impact events with my worry and I only get sore adrenal glands in the process. This is without mentioning the pressure I place on my stomach in terms of ulcers and other health ailments I can endure by absorbing such negative thoughts and stress into my system on a daily basis.
The short-term distraction of worrying does not outweigh the long-term cost to emotional and physical health. Not to mention the loss of time and energy I would otherwise have to contribute to my own meaning and purpose. Worrying is like trying to be the author of someone else’s life, and we all know that doesn’t work!
- Do you lose sleep over worrying about things you cannot impact in that moment?
- Upon reflection, do you think you have ever distracted yourself from your own emotional problems by worrying about someone else?
- Do you notice any negative health impacts from your worrying?
Our Misunderstanding About What Worrying Accomplishes
When we worry it can feel like we are actually doing something because it takes both our time and energy. With this false sense of having accomplished something we somehow think that we are making a difference in the situation, but we are not.
Some people rationalize their incessant worrying by telling themselves that they are just preparing for the worst, that way if something bad happens they will not be caught off guard. While this argument is not totally devoid of logic, it is still problematic in several ways. Always preparing for the worst takes away from our enjoyment of life, promotes a generally cynical or suspicious nature, and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I am in no way suggesting you become an ostrich and stick your head in the sand, rather I am encouraging you to be more present in your life and with your loved ones. Being optimistic can help you avoid worrying, and join me next episode where I will talk more about this.
- How much time do you spend worrying? Do you end up feeling better or worse after?
- Have you ever rationalized your worrying as preparing for the worst?
- How would assess your general outlook? Positive? Negative?
How to Move Beyond Worrying to Optimism
An alternative to worrying is optimism. All experiences in life, particularly difficult situations, are learning lessons in disguise. Worry and guilt are often useless emotions because we cannot change the past and we do not know what will happen in the future. The only control we have is over our present moment in our own life. Therefore, when we use the gift of the present to worry about other people, then we contribute to our own emotional burn-out. We become exhausted because we are trying to lead our own lives while carrying the issues of other people on our backs at the same time.
We do not know the outcome of many events in the future, so why not be optimistic? The problem is that many of us do not want to be caught off guard. This means that we will often anticipate the worst so that we will not be surprised. The difficulty is the emotional toll this negativity takes on us. Instead of worrying, we can be optimistic and then learn valuable lessons in life. This way we can take retirement from our role as the worrier and be happier healthier people.
- Does optimism come easily to you, or do you have to talk yourself into it?
- Have you used “failures” as learning opportunities?
- Looking back on your life, are there tough times that you are glad you went through because they helped shape who you are today?
As one of the top drug rehab and alcohol treatment programs in British Columbia in particular and Canada in general, we work with clients at our Powell River, BC, Centre. That said, we also have drug rehab and alcohol treatment offices in the larger cities such as Vancouver, Victoria, and even Edmonton or Calgary, Alberta. If you or a loved one are searching for a treatment program, please reach out for a confidential consultation.