Recently, when I was helping my brothers, their wives and my parents clean my parents' windows and yard in anticipation of winter, my dog Cassie became obsessed with the rain spout. Yes, the rainspout, the gutter-that big piece of pipe coming off the eaves of the house that funnels rain so that it soaks the grass, instead of the roof.
It seems like an unlikely thing for Cassie to obsess over. I mean, it's a rain spout-who cares? It doesn't squeak like her favorite soft toys. It doesn't taste good. It isn't something she could carry around in her mouth, although she DID try. It is huge-at least, in Cassie terms. And it seemed to have absolutely nothing in common with a small toy poodle.
But she did try to pick it up and carry it around. She barked, yowled, begged, panted and pleaded, her little poodle voice getting almost hoarse. She pounced at the gutter and she worried at it with her soft, little mouth until I pulled her back from its sharp aluminum.
She just would not let it go. It was an obsession for her.
It occurs to me that I have had obsessions like that. Well, not quite like that-I mean, not obsessions over inanimate objects like gutters. But I have had memories I will not let go of, that I worry to death about, over and over in my mind. I have had hurts that I think about and talk about until you'd think the memory of that pain would wear thin. I have not let these things go.
And yet life has gone on. People who have hurt me live their lives, not really affected by the pain that I hold so close and that affects me so much. I can sometimes beat myself up remembering these and people, but they seem not to reflect, as I do, with obsessive worry.
They remain untouched, unharmed. Kind of like the gutter.
So, what's the point of all that angst over the gutter? Why did Cassie do that to herself? And why do I do that to myself? I suppose it all comes down to the meaning we give to the gutter.
You see, for Cassie, the rainspout is the place all the chipmunks head for when she races around the house, chasing them. I imagine she thinks that the rainspout is chock full of chipmunks that she can't get to, no matter how much she growls. Things don't always go as she wants when Cassie squares off with the chipmunks. And the gutter is the sign and symbol of those failures.
Which brings me right back to, well, me. Are those remembered failures and hurts just symbols I use to beat myself up with? Symbols of things that haven't gone the way I thought they should go?
We talk a lot about negative self-talk in the recovery movement. Here are a few examples of negative self-talk that Cassie and I apparently have to work on:
Filtering: You see and hear only the things you've selected to see and hear. Your attention is triggered only by particular kinds of information-loss, rejection, unfairness and so on. You have blind spots that obscure evidence of your worth as a human being. It's as though you only let in the information that matches the way you feel about yourself.
Overgeneralization: This is a distortion that plagues a lot of us. It has to do with taking one isolated fact or event and making a general rule out of it. For example, you have one date with an ice skater that doesn't go well, so you decide that all ice skaters will find you boring. Clues to overgeneralization are words like never, always, all, every, none, everyone, nobody, etc. When you hear these words in your self-talk, listen up!
Otherwise, as in Cassie's case, "once there is a chipmunk in the rainspout there will always be a chipmunk in the rain spout."
How do you deal with your "chipmunk in the rain spout?" Any suggestions? Tips?
Published On: October 16, 2007
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