Meet my inner critic. A shadowy creature that had me bouncing around my room with anxiety this morning.
That’s okay…because I can see it now. See it, and crush it.
I was supposed to get cracking on some work I was offered today. I say “work” because it’s not pleasure, but it’s nothing I’m getting paid to do. I’ve been asked to contribute some notes for a textbook – WHICH IS PRETTY FREAKING COOL – and I happily obliged.
Except, I haven’t even been able to get started on it.
For the last four years, my real-life career has been one of a freelance writer. It sounds glamorous but believe me, I turned the situation into anything but.
Writing about myself and my recovery is relatively easy because it’s primarily a very selfish pursuit. I’m not trying to get other people to read my blog (but thank you for doing so) and I don’t care much about the final result, only the process.
Writing for money is different: my writing is first evaluated by an editor and then gets read by people. Lots of people.
Before I got sober, I had failed to recognise my extreme procrastination as fear. I had failed to realise that knowing other people will read my work fills me with anxiety, because I perpetually feel like I’m not good enough.
For four years, I drank on those feelings. “I need a drink so I can write”, I’d say. A drink would help me focus, I thought.
This was technically true. A drink took the anxiety away and somewhere between the first (which would be anywhere from 100ml-200ml of vodka, or between four and eight actual drinks) and the second drink I would easily crank out 250 words. Because I had drowned my inner critic in vodka. Temporarily.
Unsurprisingly, that was usually all I could coherently muster in a day. Not a great tactic when I was generally leaving 2,000 word features to the last minute.
The result was that my work was perpetually late and/or relied heavily on long-winded quotes from other people with a sentence or two or original content in between. Lazy stuff, but better than a blank page (though I did bail on quite a few assignments at the last minute towards the end of my drinking).
The whole time I was working as a writer, I thought the anxiety and procrastination meant I actually hated writing. Now I’m not so sure.
Today I woke up and decided today was the day to start tackling the textbook. Then it happened: those same old feelings of anxiety crept in.
After playing games on my iPad for an hour or so, I started to get annoyed.
I know I can do this, so what the hell is my problem?!
For some reason, I remembered printing out an article about journalists, their inner critic and procrastination. I had pasted it into my journal, but because I was still drinking that’s all I did about it.
Why I remembered this today I can’t tell you, but I found it, read it, and then suddenly everything clicked.
Is it any wonder that someone who doesn’t feel good enough would get anxious putting something out into the world – in a damn textbook, of all things?
Of course that would freak me out. Of course writing in general freaks me out.
And that’s when I finally saw my inner critic for what it is.
I didn’t hallucinate or have some kind of vision or anything. As a further act of procrastination I thought it would be good to draw my inner critic, but the exercise did have a point.
As with all my problems, I turned to Google for the answer. I didn’t have the luxury of time to make a thorough search, so the first result – this article on silencing your inner critic from Tiny Buddha – was going to have to be good enough.
And it was.
Five simple questions to ask my inner critic when it tries to keep me from doing work I know I can do, summarised as follows: Why should I give a shit what you say?
So why did I draw my inner critic? I thought it would help to tell it off right to its ugly face. I enjoy a good confrontation…and winning said confrontation. I may print some so I can tear it to pieces as well. It’s a bit mad, but if it works then why not?
The truth is, whether it’s writing, making cappuccino’s or answering phone calls as a customer service agent, I have always been anxious about my work because I have never felt like it was good enough. Some jobs got easier over time – the ones with no creativity or evaluation involved (aka the boring, soul-sucking jobs).
Writing is different in that the assignments are always different and the evaluation is always there. I need to learn shut that critic up and write. I may still hate it, but I won’t know until I can sit down and do it confidently…and without a drink.
I don’t suspect the anxiety is just going to disappear overnight (though I wish it would, my textbook contribution is due Monday), but at least now I can do something productive about it – like telling off my drawing – instead of avoiding my feelings by playing games on my iPad.
Let me tell you, this is very empowering. I’ve identified the problem, and now I have a way of tackling it.
Hell YES I love sobriety!
Inner critic, prepare to be crushed.