My friend Martin, a long time recovering alcoholic, was telling me, during a recent recording of the podcast we run together, about how he invented aerophobia (fear of flying).
Being stuck on a plane for hours is a nightmare for an alcoholic with even the most accommodating of cabin crew, so having an excuse to go crazy at the bar in the departure lounge was a necessity. The terror of flying was a perfect cover.
He even used to tell me that he didn’t like flying, and that was after he’d stopped drinking, so convinced was he that the fear was real.
During our conversation, he asked me if I’d ever invented any fears.
“Possibly, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head,” I told him.
Discussing the subject of dependent clients with colleagues this week I was saying that some people keep coming for treatment even if they’re better because they don’t want to be better.
Our pains and neuroses often help us out. They give us an excuse to avoid things we don’t want to do without us having to simply say, “No thanks, I don’t fancy it”.
Our pains and neuroses also keep us noticed and cared for by the people we love and then we sometimes wonder, “If I were OK, would anyone bother about me anymore?” Reason enough to stay not OK.
Of course, when I started to really think about it although I may not have invented an ailment in quite such a flamboyant way as Martin, I have often attempted to use dysfunction to my own advantage.
After I had eye surgery last year I got used to people making allowances for all the things I was unable to do. I couldn’t drive anywhere, lift anything or generally exert myself in any significant way, but as I got better people would ask, “Are you OK to do that with your eye?” Something in me would feel a tiny bit bereaved at having to say “Yes, I’m fine.”
But by far my most ridiculous and infuriating habit was buying tickets for things I didn’t end up going to see.
I did it for years. Seeing a show or a gig I wanted to attend, buying the tickets, looking forward to it and then, as the date approached, feeling my enthusiasm for it wane.
In the end, it became so predictable that even weeks before I was due to go anywhere I would listen to my own inner dialogue talking me out of going and justifying it by saying “That’s just your anxiety, Graham”.
Maybe it was, but most destructive of all is that the more I did it the more true it became. I built a level of anxiety about going out which, before I started this strange behaviour had not been there. I had, essentially, invented it.
“The problem is,” I said to Martin, “that when you tell yourself you’re afraid of something you give away control of it. Much better to just say, ‘I don’t want to'”
“Yes, but when you’re in the chaos of addiction you’re in denial about everything and you don’t want to take any responsibility,” he replied.
Later he sent me a message. “There’s an interesting looking play at the Marlowe called, “The Political History Of Smack & Crack”, do you fancy going?”
“I’ll check my diary and get back to you”, I said.