Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

The Ten-Minute Rule

Please don’t say you have something really important to tell me but can’t right now.  I don’t handle open-ended comments like that very well.  I will spend the time between your tease and actually hearing the full story conjuring up all kinds of scenarios based on nothing but assumption.  By the time you share what you need to tell me, I’ll be completely worked up about something entirely different.

That’s what I do.  I’m wired to obsess.

This isn’t new behavior for me.  I have always been this way.  I take a small comment or situation and focus on it so intensely I start inventing all kinds of angles and deviations.  Ultimately this results in reacting to something which is a great distance from the truth.

Such is the path I took while in active addiction.  Upon hearing or experiencing something which made me feel uneasy, instead of asking questions or voicing my concern, I’d silently assume the information I need and hear the unsaid words.

I spent an inordinate amount of time being absolutely sure I was smart enough to think my way through things without needing any outside influence.  The only exception being the influence of alcohol combined with little or no food in my system.  In that state of mental escape I used to come up with rather exaggerated ways things might play out.  Not one of which led me to feel assured all would be well.  Instead I’d usually find myself depressed, scared and lonely.

Being locked inside the prison of addiction I never thought very highly of myself.  Therefore whatever I imagined as the truth always put me in a disparaging light.  The insane act of twisting and turning a singular comment or situation over and over in my head always ended up with me as a loser.

In the early days of recovery I’d talk with my sponsor on a daily basis.  Within the first few weeks she identified how I spent way too much time lamenting over things based on little or no facts.  As she questioned me about my train of thought, it became clear to her I needed to be corralled.  She did this by way of implementing the “Ten-Minute Rule”.

I was allowed only ten minutes to think about something.  If I felt the need to stay consumed in thought about that subject a moment longer, I had to call her.

I don’t think she knew how far I’d take that invitation.  In those early years I had to call her a lot.  I found ten minutes was never enough time to sufficiently analyze whatever rolled through my head.

The shift from over thinking everything to simply acknowledging something and moving on, was extraordinarily difficult for me.  However as I have learned in the years since, foundational change is never easy and always requires practice.

The point of living by this “rule” was so I could learn how obsession limited my ability to think about anything else; particularly the things I really needed to focus on.  As an alcoholic, I spent countless hours thinking, planning, scheming and anticipating my next drink.  As an anorexic I’d to the exact same relative to seeing another ½ pound tick off the bathroom scale.  I obsessively focused on these things to avoid thinking about what was really going on in my life until I almost lost my life.

I’ve been walking alongside my recovery sponsor for over 11 years now.  To this day if a little time lapses between our soul-touching conversations, the moment I tell her I’ve been contemplating something, her first question is always, “How long have you been thinking about this?”  If my answer is anything beyond a short period of time, she’ll give me a firm warning that I’m one step away from having the”Ten-Minute Rule” reinstituted.

So if you have something really important to share, please don’t tease me, just tell me now.  I really don’t want to have to tell my sponsor about how I handled the wait.


Have you ever found yourself in need of living by the “10 Minute Rule”?  Please share your experience by leaving a reply comment below.

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2 thoughts on “The Ten-Minute Rule

  1. Claudia Donohue on said:

    Thank you, Alison. You are so good for my soul and sobriety. Love you.

  2. Alison,
    I have spent an entire week stressed about something I have no control of. At least not now. That was time wasted. Time that could have been well spent paying more attention to my own recovery and my life.
    Funny though, I have been doing very well, yet these are the things that can set me back.
    I will remember the 10 minute rule. It may take a bit of time to achieve it, but it is now a new goal.
    Thank you so much for your words of encouragement.
    xoxo, Laura

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