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The Twelve Steps


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The Enemy Within

"You will never conquer this phobia without the greatest diligence and determination." "No pain, no gain." "The greater the suffering, the greater the reward." Therapists and self-help books recite these words like mantras.

And I hear them, again, and again, and do....nothing about it. The literature is full of strategies to conquer social phobia: relaxation exercises, controlled breathing, self-hypnosis, cognitive restructuring, directed exposure, systemic desensitization. I devour reams of texts on each of these. I know the jargon, memorize the buzzwords, recite the catch-phrases.

Garbage in, garbage out.

What action happens? None. Even the tiniest of steps continue to not be taken. Always there is an excuse: I feel too down today to make the attempt, I am not happy enough to force more than a weary half-smile. Always the imprisonment stays the same: I am too weary, from being alone and isolated, to do anything except stay alone.

How hard can it be to smile at people, to say hello to people, to join a volunteer group or social circle, to hunt down old acquaintances? I have a mouth, and a tongue, and a working set of vocal cords. Little enough use do I make of them.

Not even the most mean and tactless of rejections from a woman could possibly be worse than the terror of night after night of empty loneliness, the long hours of desperate craving and longing. But this knowledge is not enough for me to seize bull by horns and make the attempt, or even prepare for an attempt.

Thus do I deprive myself of what I want most in life. And for each action there is a reaction. I feel building within me a rage, a brutal rage, a vicious rage, bloodcurdling in its cruelty. I know how bitterly I have grown to hate and despise myself for my near-total lack of motivation.

More and more inside my head I feel the howl of vultures crying out for blood, the clamour of icy, inexorable anger. I become numbed to all other feeling, an actor on the outside, a shell that hides this real self behind a facade. I go to work, do the job with bloodless efficiency, bask in the boss' praise, and head home to my self-imposed private hell. None are the wiser. Or, perhaps, all are the wiser and it is I who am the fool.

All this would evaporate if I made even one of the cliched baby steps. Success is irrelevant. Yet not even this is sufficient to motivate me.

Thoughts and emotions swirl like locusts around me, but action eludes.

Soc-phob, Nov. 12, 1998.