Posts tagged recovery; sobriety
Posts tagged recovery; sobriety
I was having one of those incredible days, the kind where I was taken somewhere that was geographically close to home and yet in every other way, miles from ordinary. It felt like such a jarring violation of context that I found myself staring at everyday objects, seeing their absurdity for the first time. A friend had invited me over to his mother’s apartment for roast beef and at the moment my fascination peaked I was starring at a bowl containing eight carrots, although I was having trouble reconciling the word carrot at that particular moment. They were those little gentrified ones that look like they have been turned on a lathe, or left over night in a rock polisher. What is the deal with those little carrot stubs? How are they made? And more importantly, why had it taken me twenty nine years to ask such a fundamental question?
Surely the answer to that last question rested, at least partially, in the venue that night. My friend’s mother was an interesting lady, very nice, let’s get that out of the way right at the get go. She was a very warm, sweet woman who clearly loves her son to the ends of the earth. She also possessed a peculiar way of looking at me; she had a wide eyed stare where one eye seemed to grow gradually bigger then the other. Along with her disarming gaze, her voice would change volume while she spoke, actually when I think about it now, it was more like someone had bumped the dial in between songs. She would be talking and her candor would lead to a break in the conversation. Then when she started back up again it was as if the person she was trying to reach had moved into a different room. Her place was very orderly and cluttered if those two words can be used in the same sentence. Family portraits covered the walls and when wall space had come to and end she started to stand them on the end tables so that one might leaf through them like a vinyl collection. Soft pastels ruled the walls behind the framed photos and all accompanying decorations were in corresponding shades of Easter mauves and dusty pinks. On her coffee table were fanned a stack of the two religious magazines that are popular among Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Watchtower and Awake.
I sat there at this doily clad dinner table, a table unaccustomed to a second guest, helping myself to seconds and fending off threats of store bought desert. It was an evening to give thanks for the only method of self discovery I have ever known, the kind brought about by contextual beatings. In my life I have been loath to question things that I consider to be true about myself or the world at large and more often than not I have needed to be dunked into an environment so far from my own landscape as to be considered fanciful before I am willing to examine my mental topography. I will cling to what I hold to be true so tightly that enhanced interrogation is required before I will call into question the beliefs I have constructed to make sense of the world around me and my place in it. I remember that I considered myself not to be a judgmental person, who surrounded himself with equally open minded people, until the day came when I dated a girl who was prudent enough to point out that we were all lobbing criticism at anyone we thought to be closed minded. I took many useful things from that relationship and among them was the realization that I was walking around with a whole set of hippy ideals that no more reflected the way I was walking through the world than a funhouse mirror.
Discomfort is the only harbinger of change in my life. I will never look at those carrots in a new light unless I am slapped out of my delusion that my upbringing is normal. In much the same way, I am unlikely to be the figurehead for reform in my life unless I have exhausted all avenues of suffering and discomfort. I did not find myself in treatment four times in four years because I had a bunch of opportunities elsewhere.
I have had a bit of a rough week in some ways. For two of the four days that I worked I managed to bend myself well out of shape, hating my job and preaching an internal monologue from a rickety stack of soapboxes. Luckily, I have built into my weekly schedule, a guaranteed dollop of good feelings. Nothing forces gratitude on me more effectively than walking out of the three metal gates that pen in the prison I go to every Sunday night. The time spent with the inmates is hugely rewarding in and of itself but, the cherry on that every Sunday is definitely hearing the magnetic locks clang behind me on the way out. I never had much of a run in with the law –one night in the drunk tank—but that is only because I never got caught doing one of the many things that could have landed me there. It is also very reasonable to assume that I could have ended up there in time if it wasn’t for the consistent (to the point of being unhealthy) second chances from my family and loved ones. When I first went, I remember sitting outside my old treatment center waiting for a ride. I was getting pretty nervous and had the chance to say as much to a counselor that happened to be walking by. I wondered out load what I really had to offer to a bunch of inmates considering that I had never been one myself. Counselor Jeff looked at me with his usual twisted sardonic smile and said “They know how to be in prison, talk to them about how you get by in life”. There’s this guy in there called well, lets say Dan. Dan is up for parole this month and hearing him share about it really brought home the reality of what these guys are living with every day. At some point in November, he will be told if he is going home to his fiancé and newborn baby, or staying in for the rest of his term something like six more months, double what he has done already. One of the major tenants of recovery is, of course, learning to distinguish between the things one can and can not control. With the idea in mind to work on the thing we can and make peace with the rest. This man is in the most tangible black and white opportunity for learning about this that I have come across and the truly incredible thing about it is, he is actually trying to apply that philosophy to his circumstance. Now, by comparison, I started to feel like a fair weather spiritually principled kind of guy. If this man can maintain any semblance of gratitude while wearing an orange jumpsuit and looking out through a chain link fence, I think it is time for me to have a look at my weekly routine in a different light. Something he said in there really cracked me up and stayed with me all the way home. He was talking about how is old lady was meant to come and visit him this week end. He went out to the gate, and picked the last of the flowers on the grounds that hadn’t been damaged by frost, then he sat, staring out the window for hours but she didn’t come. Later, he called her really angry. “And when I called her up she answered the phone just cryin’. And then, shit, all of a sudden it was really hard to be all pissed off and be a prick to her… I mean, I still tried for a while, but it was hard.” It turns out her ride never showed up for what ever reason. But I guess the comparison I was going for is, at work I have been clinging to a state of resentment and frustration. I know that I have the choice to stop at any moment in the day but, fucked if I want to. There is some kind of payoff in it for me. I don’t know, in my vocational history, this is right about the time I would start showing up loaded. I am really starting to understand in a different light why I have lost every job I had in the last seven years from being falling down drunk at work; turns out I hate being employed. I applaud Dan for being able to quickly drop the shitty state of mind he wanted to be in for the sake of the relationship he has with his loved one. If it had been my job on the phone I would still be yelling at her for sure.
I remember kindergarten clearly. That is, I remember one moment in kindergarten, formatively. I was sitting on the stiff, short cut, bluish carpet with a chalk board in my hand. The kind that is about the size of a normal piece of paper, eight and a half by eleven. The kind that is designed to rein in one over sized child drawn letter. It had two faint green on green lines, put there to show me where the curve of some lower case character ought to start. I wish I could remember what letter we were learning but I don’t. What ever it was though, I did it wrong and my teacher freaked out. That’s it, that’s the whole memory. My mom tells the story of me coming home from my first day of school in tears, when she managed to get it out of me, my explanation was “it’s such a waste of my time!” leave it to six year old me to treat my mom as an equal in moments of duress. I don’t think the chalk board incident was that same day but that statement summed up how I felt for most of elementary school. Back to the carpet. One of the first things that interested me about trauma is the way in which it is subjective in nature. A traumatic experience has very little to do with the reality of a situation and everything to do with the way the person viewing it interprets the event. If I really think that someone is going to kill me it has the same psychological effects whether that person is likely to do it or not. The reality of my teacher’s reaction could have ranged from, a reprimand at the worst, to (quite possibly) a raised brow. And we shall never know because of the some fifteen people in the room at the time, I am sure to be the only one that remembers the occasion. What we can talk about however, is my interpretation of that fateful day. Now, calling it traumatic is exaggerating, I do that sometimes. I don’t mean to take away from where I was going with this. So, where was I going with this; let me read over it again, it’s been a couple days since I started.
Right, that moment in my school history was formative, it and many others like it (real or imagined) shaped the person I am today. It left me with beliefs about the world that greatly alter the way I relate to myself and the people that come across me. In the case of the carpet ordeal, what I took away was a certainty that it was a very bad thing to have the wrong answer –something that haunts me still, although not nearly so much as it did for the rest of my school life. From the tenth to twelfth grade I would miss large segments of the class as I rehearsed an answer to some long ago asked question. This was a situation where the truth that I held about the world –formed in some long lost emotional experience—was no longer congruent with the reality of my life. Really, there are times when it is important for me to have the right answer, and times when taking the risk of looking like a jackass is a much surer road to fulfillment. More often than not this kind of extracurricular (unnecessary) suffering that I drum up for myself is a direct product of a disjointed world view, one bred of painful experience and the clockwork reaction that follows it, designed to keep me safe.
I am six months sober yesterday. This is four months longer then I have ever gone since I first smoked pot at thirteen. In those sixteen years lies a swath of emotional wreckage, countless firings, fights, and crushing defeats, as formative as it gets, despite my best efforts to retard the learning process with depressants and sedatives. The kind of shit that makes you believe stuff about yourself and the world. So here I am sober, working, loving people and myself again, but I have trouble getting a clear picture of what is going on around me. I work, waiting for the other shoe to drop even though I haven’t done anything wrong. I worry about how the people I care about will react to things that I haven’t done. And I keep getting my usual twisting of the guts when I go to look at my account balance, only to find slightly less money there then the last time I looked. It never ceases to amaze me how affordable life is when I’m not spending my rent on booze and eighty dollar hats.
It sounds funny to say it but, I actually remember the first bad thing I ever did. I don’t know how old I was, young though, before kinder garden. I took a cookie from the drawer where my mom kept them. The reason I remember this is the feeling of surprise I had when I got away with it. I guess I must have thought that she counted them or something. This was the first dishonest thing I ever did and by and large I went on to be a reasonably straight shooting youth. Needless to say in my many years of addiction honesty hasn’t been a major tenant for me, more of an irregular subletting guest, passing through on a schedule dictated by circumstance.
One of the moments from treatment that I hope will stick with me forever is a line from a morning lecture. The speaker was one of the counselors there, a short round woman with the look of an affluent hippy. She was a great lecturer, for one, her history included stories about things like, after years and years of stealing expensive coats from department stores, she went to make amends and ended up helping the loss prevention team reform mall security. Or, how her (or it might have been a friend of her’s) had painted on the ceiling of her bedroom “Relax, your in your own bed” to help with the mornings following black outs. The line I’m thinking of though, was this. She was talking about how true recovery comes with what we do when no one else is around; with out this kind of self honesty in place the addict has little chance of long term success with sobriety. “I’ll just do it because no body will know.” She would stop here, scanning the audience, “when the fuck did I become no nobody?!” She very well might have sworn too, she liked to do that kind of thing; it goes over well in a lecture hall full of junkies. It struck me though, that self degradation was implicit in being the only witness to my crimes and somehow I had become unimportant enough that I no longer had to behave in front of myself.
For me (and many other people I have heard speak about it) using is fraught with a delusional contradiction. Every time I drank I was shooting for a very certain experience, a kind of jovial ease, a sense of fundamental well being that smoothed the abrasive quality of the world. Inevitably what I received looked very different from that. The search for that perfect amount of inebriation would leave me emotionally, physically, and socially crippled. Last Saturday I was listening to a man speak about this and he told the story about his first two times getting drunk. The first time was euphoric; it came with all of the qualities that he pursued into the face of total calamity in later life. The second time, he told us, ended with him covering his parent’s kitchen with rye, rum and instant noodles that, only moments earlier, had been the contents of his stomach. This was my story as well, my first time getting drunk involved a beach, just the right amount of tequila, and my brother’s older friends. The only frustrating piece of it (in retrospect, the saving grace) was that the booze belonged to other people and thus I had no control over how much I had. My second time was geared entirely to prevent that problem. It involved two of my friends, a park bench, and a gallon of Vodka with something like a thimble full of root beer for a chaser. What fascinates me about my second time getting drunk is the marked similarity it bares to the drinking late in my carrier, some sixteen years later. That night, I blacked out very quickly, woke up alone in a ditch, was left with a few puzzle piece memories, and spent the following days making up outrageous lies about my many injuries (really, you hurt your knee playing football Casey, really?). Although that one evening did put me off drinking hard alcohol for many years, I did make it back around in time. What I love about hearing my story told by someone else a couple days ago was that he made a cognitive leap that I never had, that those first two evenings of drinking exemplify the massive dis-congruent nature of my addled mind. Every time I drank while looking into the face of calamity, there was a part of me that believed I would end up back on that camp fire lit beach, feeling jovial and in love with life but, with out fail, for many years now, the only place I ended up is very ill in a ditch.
The kind of workout that comes from ditch digging cannot be replicated with any number of twenty minute sessions on your Bowflex, or countless hours starting at the ass in the front of your spin class. Back breaking physical labor is something that I have lost in my life for a few years now, and when the opportunity arose to help a friend of mine dig a drainage ditch in the crawl space below his house, I jumped all over it. I did it for a number of reasons. I did it to remind myself that no matter how hard up I get, I would do well to avoid going back into landscaping (my god I’m out of shape). I did it out of a genuine interest in spending time with my friend, also because one of the things I have been afforded in my early recovery is this amazing skill to say I am going to do something and then actually show up and do it the next day (this one’s just not getting old) and lastly, because I am trying to hone a knee jerk impulse towards doing the next right thing. And well, this looked like just the thing. So we dug for a few hours, I stayed for dinner, it was nice, and by and large I’m not too sore.
It’s an incremental way to live. “What’s the very next right thing for me to be doing?” And like so many things in recovery, it might be applicable to everyone. It is necessary for people who have been to the edge of terminal drug use because for us, the sum of a long string of tiny bad choices adds up to death. Well, I guess there’s no reason to get preachy about it, that can also true of anyone. I think what I was getting at is that for people who don’t have a chemical dependency problem, the sum of the same bad choices I might make, leading me to death, would only lead them to a life of unhappiness.
When I look back on my years of relapse, there were a handful of times when I managed to line up a few days in a row. A clumsy child, I would carefully place one in front of the other like a line of dominoes, my pudgy hands sweating with the anticipation of inevitable catastrophe. For the longest time, I couldn’t even place two ivory pieces on end. I would just stand one up and knock it over that very morning, full of anguish about the numbing repetition of my life. Then I would get some help and make a line of seven, or thirty, only to succumb to the excitement of tapping that first piece. No matter how many days I stood on end, making a long looping row, my downfall always came from one tiny gesture, a flick so subtle and far removed from the opening of the bottle as to be lost in the thicket of stress that was the weeks leading up to that fateful drink.
Over time, I came to recognize a behavior that was an early choice in that long line leading me to the liquor store minutes before it opened. Funny as it may sound, my first red flag on the road to relapse was refusing to floss my teeth. Countless times, I have sobered up with nothing to do but endure painful reflection,looking back, wondering where things went all pear-shaped. Was it when I stole the money? Maybe it was that evening four days ago when I lied about my plans? As I follow the breadcrumbs, my walk takes me back through the woods. My shaky, detoxing hands pick up one after the other until I find myself about two and a half weeks before I got drunk. I look up into my own face staring back at me from the bathroom mirror, saying “fuck it, I’m too tired to run this piece of string through my teeth for forty five seconds.”
And there it is, the very first sign of my changing attitude. In that moment, I am no longer breaking the world into manageable, bite-sized bits, no longer looking for the next right thing to do. I have turned on the tap that, weeks later, becomes an unmanageable torrent, sweeping me up in it all the way to the liquor store at ten in the morning. The opportunities to start this flood are presented moment to moment every day, something as simple as “should I eat lunch today?” can have startling ramifications in the weeks to come. It is a life of constant diligence but, luckily for me, it is also one that affords life and death choices very regularly, giving me something to be overly dramatic about as I write. Which is good, because if you were to look at my day on paper, you would be well justified as you questioned whether I have anything to write about at all.
Having just recently gotten out of my fourth run through treatment, I find myself regularly fielding the question “So… what do you think went different this time?” Naturally, I intend to avoid this subject whenever possible; this is no exception.
My achingly smooth transition (I moved three blocks from the bloody health farm that I was just discharged from) into a life of recovery has had its unexpected challenges. What I am finding most noteworthy is that I now struggle greatly with the absence of the two things I griped the most about during my five months of voluntary incarceration.
One: dining in a cafeteria. I was practically jumping out of my pants with the anticipation of eating something that wasn’t served on a green tray. And now I have drafted and signed an agreement outlining nine simple things that, if I follow them, will guarantee my sobriety. One of the points in that plan –one that I glazed over in the drafting—is to eat three meals a day. Now, I have no idea how this obvious fact has been passing me by for years before now but, eating three meals a day is a huge fucking time commitment. That is, when to do so requires me to participate in a more substantialway then showing up five minutes early and standing in line. I love to cook. I have also been spoiled by having lived my whole grocery buying life in a place that catered to same day shopping and eating. Now I have committed to living for the next year in this place that feels very backwaterey… So far, one of the things I was most looking forward to has been a real hassle.
Two: It is very strange to be interacting on a daily basis with people that aren’t contractually obliged to listen to my feedback. Much of the mental anguish in treatment comes from spending a prolonged time immersed in a pool of constant peer and self assessment. Now I have become so indoctrinated in that way of behaving that it is my first impulse when faced with crisis. For instance, last week my boss pulled me aside and had a talk with me. It seems that one of my co-workers came to her quite upset the night before, complaining about my performance on the job. Now in one way my recent history prepared me favorably for this. In the short time that I have been working in this place (an odd store, kind of a cross between Wal-mart and a garage sale) I have felt quite confident in my performance. So with that clarity –bordering on arrogance—I was able to take my coworker’s complaint for what it was, information, in this case saying that the focus of my efforts at work could use some adjustment. Now my boss is a great lady, one of the things that makes the job worth while, still I could see that she found my reaction to this situation disarming. Instead of looking for the many ways that I saw this complaint to be incorrect, I went reflexively to the one way in which is was true and useful. Feeling on a roll, my first thought was to go to the complaining woman herself and have a heart to heart. That is where, thank god, some discretion kicked in. In treatment I would have been within a construct that would support looking at what she was really upset about. In the outside world, that was pretty much the worst thing I could have done. This woman has no interest in addressing any level of motive below “He needs to be taken down a peg”. I had been living too long in a (metaphorically) gated community, whose lease agreement outlines an implicit willingness to view anger as a secondary emotion.
Later that week I was chatting about it with my counselor; a wonderful, rotund gentleman who, for his anonymity and my enjoyment I will call Lance Vander Graph. Lance encounters the same problem although on a larger scale because his stay at the facility continues to be much longer then mine was. He speaks about having to leave work daily and spend the rest of his life interacting with people outside of the treatment context. It took him some time to remember that many, many, people in the world don’t share the alcoholic’s willingness to examine their habitual patterns of resentment and denial –their security blankets. Simply put, it is not everybody’s goal in life to be happy. I asked Lance how he reconciles the two worlds he lives in, how he lives life on the outside without letting his impetus for assisted self discovery bleed into the real world, how he keeps himself from tearing people’s blankets from them as he passed them on the street. He said “It helps me to look at people and remember that everyone I meet is trying their best that day. Just sometimes what that looks like is a little sad”.
The weeks leading up to my latest voluntary incarceration were not the darkest days in my years of addiction. Those weeks looked like me hiding from the people in my life so that I could sit in the dark and watch streaming television on my laptop. Oh right, I was also drinking copious amounts or vodka straight from the bottle. I often forget to write that part because it just seems implied when I talk about my life. I forget that sitting in a small dirty apartment with the lights off, avoiding calls and watching all, whatever there are, let’s say thirteen, seasons of Law and Order SVU sequentially, is not synonymous with blackout drinking for other people. Interesting side note: I was walking with one of my roommates last night and he told his exact same story of darkness, internet TV and alcoholism.
The other lows in my drinking career had the appearance of being much more devastating than my last days. They included such highlights as being too drunk to cash out while closing the bar with my boss, cutting off the end of my thumb with a meat slicer, crushing my left index finger in a hydraulic press, stealing booze from clients while working on there houses, consoling my crying girlfriend as she sat by the front door of my work, passing out in a locked storeroom as my co-worker pounded on the door, missing valentines day by drinking in the morning and waking up hours after our dinner reservations, and of course, an alcohol induced seizure that landed me in the ER, where I woke up alone, with no idea how I got there, and with tubes in me, one to put fluid in, one to let fluid out. I have been saying for a while now that if negative consequences were what it took for me to sober up, I would have cleaned up before I ever made it into treatment. The truth is that for me, they were never enough to stop. So what is it that provides the catalyst for change, when it comes to recovery? What is the “bottom” that people talk about so often when they tell their story?
When I reread that highlight reel of my drinking just now (there were so many more examples), it strikes me that I have done some pretty stupid shit. And that really is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are reading this and were one of the few people that were around for the worst of it, you can appreciate the way in which summing it up in a sentence (albeit a long one) does it no justice whatsoever.
Around a year ago, I had a couple months of clean time strung together and came to a startling discovery: the thing that had driven me to do all (OK most) of the fucked up shit in my life wasn’t the hatred of the feeling of being sober, so much as the fear of being sober. A small distinction perhaps, but an important one nonetheless. The thing that had been driving me to do such horrible things as forging my mother’s checks and showing up drooling drunk for a date, wasn’t me being in unbearable emotional pain when I was dry, it was the fear of not having something (anything) within arms reach should that situation arise. I remember the moment this hit me: I was in the corner store by my apartment at the time, called the Solo Market, the name is unimportant but I wanted to send a shout out to them just cause they still rule. I was in there to buy a soda. I walked to the cooler in the back and took two. I always bought two at a time because they were no name and were cheaper that way. Side note: why the hell is President’s Choice the only pop company that makes good grapefruit soda? Anyway, I walked up to the counter and paid, saying the only two Hindi words I remember from traveling in India, thank you and goodbye. As I stepped out the door of the shop, I realized that the most remarkable thing had just happened; I was walking out with nothing more then the items I had gone there to purchase.
On any other day this might have seemed mundane but, I was wading through a grimy soup of self-discovery at the time and was flinging sludgy meaning at everything in my life, just to see where it would stick. It occurred to me that I had rarely done that, only bought the thing I came for. I always had to stock up, like my emergency preparedness kit had to have a salty and sweet snack in it at all times. As I mentioned earlier, the Solo Market is right next door to where I lived, I mean right next door, so it wasn’t as if I couldn’t get there in a moment’s notice, should the need arise. I don’t know what biblically-proportioned catastrophe I was anticipating - floods, falling frogs to disturbing to be braved with an umbrella, locusts? Whatever it was, the thought of sitting through it without the option to choose between potato chips or chocolate was unimaginable to me.
Standing on the sidewalk, soda in hand, I got it for the first time. I had been living my whole life in crippling fear of not having something within arms reach to alter my feelings, and that fear had motivated me to do some of the most despicable things I could imagine (well I can imagine some really messed up stuff, so not that, but bad things). It wasn’t until I had that fear momentarily lifted that I could see how pervasive it had been, how it had warped my decisions ever since I was young.
This was one of the realizations that led to my sobering up some months later. My addiction was a continuous walk of drawing arbitrary lines in the sand so that I could cross them a short time later. “Oh well I’m bad but I would never do that” “Oh well I did that but I would never do the next thing I now think is unthinkable”. I was listening to a guy talk a week ago and he said something that struck me. He had a descriptive way of talking about that alcoholic bottom that I was asking about earlier. He said “a true bottom comes when you are falling faster than you can lower your standards.” With each discovery I made about the nature of my relationship to addiction it became harder and harder to lower my standards fast enough to keep up with the way I was living.
At different times in my life, I have been very afraid. I lost my passport in Laos for the second time on my trip though SE Asia. One time in fourth grade, my teacher asked me on which side of the division symbol the numerator went, and I had no idea. I once woke up in the hospital with no recollection of how I got there - I had to wait for a nurse to explain to me what the tubes coming out of my body were all about. More recently, I had a very legitimate fear that what I was doing was going to kill me. Just over seven months ago, I was checking myself in to the ER because I feared for my life. I was drinking in a way so destructive that alcohol poisoning was only a matter of time. I was in no way suicidal but, on the other hand, death had become an acceptable risk if it meant I got to keep drinking. So fear is something that I have had in my life from time to time, something that I rarely handle well, something that drives me to do important or crazy things depending on the hour of the day.
As it turned out, all of this colorful life experience prepared me not at all for the best thing to fall into my lap since I found out what happened when you mix vinegar and baking soda in a bowl. In an uncharacteristic move, the English language finally got a turn of phrase to be both strikingly and disturbingly accurate. There is something about the term “falling in love” that I never really appreciated until it was my feet searching for solid ground. There is a certainty implied in the statement. It’s not “oh did I just trip over something back there?” No, the feeling is one of being, oh what is it the young people say these days? “Head over heels?”. Oh yes, I know for sure what is happening. I am falling hard, and the best proof I have is the vertigo.
Fear, that’s where this all started. When is fear a sign of weakness? Far from having the definitive answer on this subject (if I ever do sound like I have a definitive answer to anything it might be time for you to move on), I do now feel qualified to offer one instance where it is not. I think that one of the things that makes a scared man courageous is whether the fear that grips him is necessary or not. If that feeling of terror is an unavoidable, intrinsic part of the endeavor, then it is a mark of strength to feel the warmth of urine running down your leg. Even with the strongest hand in the game, it would take a sociopath not to have an increased heart rate when going all in.
Throughout my life, I have run internal marathons to develop the skills I now have for dealing with uncomfortable emotions. Fear is always at the base of it but, anger, sadness, hurt, they all fall victim to the bending, prying and compartmentalizing of my coping. It is a skill I am proud of, one that has served me well and kept me safe over the years. In fact, it has been such a habitual way of dealing with my discomfort that I now am prone to applying it in places where it isn’t good for me. Instances in my life that only remind me of the things that I had designed this tool for. The moment I get a whiff of fear in my life, I am apt to unleash this beast and turn it on whatever is around, letting it strip the body and substance from a thing, like the stereotype of a Latin American youth having at a parked car. This is all well and good, not always the healthiest way of relating to the world but whatever, it’s done all right by me for the most part.
That is until I came across a situation where to tear the fear from the situation means taking all of the other feelings with it, part and parcel (actually that was true of this approach in the other examples as well, it just got suddenly relevant here). When falling, I have found that I can’t remove the fear of hitting the ground if I still want to have the sensation of my heart flinging from my stomach up into my throat and back again as I tumble “head over heels” with a shit-eating grin on my face. To strip this of the emotion that it is wrapped in and shove it in some labeled cubby hole in my brain, is to take away the very thing that I am risking heartbreak for. There is no real love with out the fear of losing it, what would make it so great if it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to see it go?
This is the fear that walks hand in hand with strength and courage. These are the times that define me as a man.