I walked with a friend last week and we talked about compartmentalizing. A subject near and dear to my sober heart. In the past few years, I have learned to carpe diem like a trooper. I learned there is absolutely no joy in catastrophic thinking. Rome may be burning (and it’s a bit too cavalier to fiddle), but there is no point in worrying incessantly about what will happen if the wind picks up. Or for that matter, to wish for rain. Some things are better left to the hand of God.
The God Box
My brother used to call this tendency to over-think a problem, “God questions”. For example, my mother would ask my dad worriedly, “Is the sun going to shine today, Stan?” Or on the occasion when he had us tossing stem to stern in a storm surge, on the Great Lakes in his trawler, “Are we going to die Stan?” Questions my father tried to answer (“Yes,” and “No,” respectively), but was unqualified to do so. Questions my mother asked (usually on vacation) in a surfeit of unhelpful, catastrophic thinking, while my brother and I got out the rain slickers and battened the hatches.
My friend said the best thing to do when circumstances get tough, is to compartmentalize – put the things outside of your control in the “God Box”. She was talking about some family members’ behaviors she could not change. I was intrigued. She didn’t mean she was putting her head in the sand (something we both did when we drank). She meant she was taking care of the things she could take care of and forgetting about the rest. Easier said than done, right?
Here’s what I do to compartmentalize…
And I’m good at this, since I got sober. Compartmentalizing is about control and letting go. Let’s use my mother on vacation, on a stormy sea, for example. I know exactly what she was thinking. Here we go again. I do not feel comfortable with Stan driving this boat in fourteen foot waves. I don’t work all year for this. I can’t swim. If we go down I will drown. Who will save me? No one will help me! And why are we in the situation again? Doesn’t anyone look at the weather map? HHHHHEEEEELP!!! I’m going to die!
Catastrophic thinking. When you compartmentalize properly, you take responsibility for the things you can do and set aside those you can’t do. Before another SS Minnow trip with my dad, my mother could have asked to look at the weather map with him and review his plans for the trip. And she could have asked for his contingency plan if the weather went tits up (as it always seemed to do). Without anger or panic.
When the inevitable tempest happened, she could put on a life-jacket (conveniently stored beneath her bench seat). She could even help her children tie down those things that threatened to blow away. And because she had anticipated the potential problems and knew the escape plan she would not have to extrapolate her watery death. As to how long the storm would last – she could leave it to God and get out the Monopoly board…
This method can be applied to almost any situation.
Where Does God Come In?
In early recovery, we are taught to surrender to a Higher Power and admit that we are impotent when it comes to our substance of choice. I am a rebel about most rules, but this is a concept I have never fought. Why else did all this happen to me if not to, somehow, follow God’s plan. It certainly would not have been my plan to center my life around the next bottle of plonk.
Or to have to suffer my way back to sobriety. But there must be a reason, tucked away in my “God Box”. These days, I actually do take it one day at a time. I plan for the future, but I don’t live in the future or the past. And I don’t try to strong-arm a problem, or get myself into situations where I am answering the “God questions”.
Control what you can, compartmentalize and leave the rest to your Higher Power … and get out the Monopoly board.
E2E You are in our God Box for now…
Today I’m not drinking because my bottle of chard is in the God Box…
How come you’re not drinking?