Sunday, March 04, 2007


This past week has been tumultuous, and that is putting it mildly. I am in real crisis for the first time in my life and I'm having to learn how to deal with it. My mind crashed and I can't just reboot it. Yesterday I was sitting out on the street watching people go by and I had the strangest sensation that it wasn't me looking out. At least not the me that I'm used to. To add to the storm I managed to have a terrible email conversation with my friends. Email is not the best place for pouring out your turmoil. It creates this odd and disjointed picture and you are missing facial expressions and tone of voice. But as awful as it turned out it did serve a purpose. It let the darkness out and now I have to learn to love having it out.

All of this got me to thinking about relationships, specifically the ones I have. I realized that my relationship with my friends is much the same as my relationship with my family. I love my family, they are all pretty great. I don't see them that often, mostly at holidays, but when we do get together we have a good time. But we don't really talk about anything more than skin deep. When my sister had a crisis of her own recently it was very difficult for her and her family. It took her a long time to reveal her troubles to us and when she did it was in an email that sounded almost casual. When she and I talked about it on the phone that too was almost casual. It was not an intimate conversation. And I understood perfectly. It's just what I would have done. Keep it light. If you keep it light that means it isn't as terrible as it seems and you won't be quite so vulnerable.

This is how I have always liked my relationships. At a slight distance. Makes me feel safer. This is the relationship I have with all my friends. Casual, relaxed, calm. And about as deep as a puddle. That's the rub. Without depth there is no where to go. I haven't had a best friend in a long time, not since high school. This is the price you pay for invulnerability. Or at least perceived invulnerability, for the real truth is that when you keep all that turmoil inside, you become vulnerable. It's like a building succumbing to dry-rot. It may look solid on the outside but don't slam a door to hard or it will just cave in.

I can't change my behavior over night. It will be a work in progress. I also have to get more friends, ones who share interests that I don't share with my current group. And I need to see them more regularly, face to face. Email is very convenient but it does not support intimacy. The hardest thing will be to open myself up, let the fears and the weaknesses show. I know that I did not feel any differently about my sister once I knew she was in trouble. On the contrary, I wanted to know more about her life and how she feels. But it's hard to change patterns of thought that have been around for more than 30 years. For example, yesterday, after all the emailing was over, I thought, how can I get back to the way it was? I can't of course nor should I want to. It may be awkward at first but in the long run it will be better.

I've always been ready to help my family and friends in any way they might need. Now I must learn to ask for help when I need it. But I also must be ready to stand firm when it comes to what I want to do. One of the other reasons that I don't share is that I don't want people trying to talk me into or out of things. I will accept suggestions and advice but I may not act on them. I don't watch Dr. Phil really but one day I happened to see a few minutes of his show and I had to agree with what he was saying. The gist is, people can to say whatever they want to you, you can't stop them. But you can choose not to react to what they say. Ooooh that's tough. I've got my father's genes after all, debating is in my blood. It's very hard for me not to defend my position. And I like to win, to be right. And this is okay when dealing with superficial stuff, e.g. politics. But when it gets closer to home I lose my perspective and it ceases to be a debate and becomes an argument. This happened the other night when I spoke to a friend of mine on the phone. Before we spoke I'd been feeling better. I'd made some decisions and was feeling much more positive. Then this phone call, that started out well, turned into an argument. Not an acrimonious one but I let myself get on the defensive. And at the end of the call I felt battered, filled with doubt again. But it was my own fault. I should not have allowed it to turn into a match over who was right. Because of course that's not the point. I should have stated my objective and my reasons. Then I should have listened to my friend's objections. Once he was done I should have said, okay, I will consider what you've said, thank you. And that would have been that. Instead I let myself get worked up into this storm of emotions over what wasn't even a proper debate. Once more with feeling: They can say what they want but you don't have to react to it. If I can remember that then I don't have to be afraid to tell the truth. I can make a statement and walk away even if the other person thinks I'm wrong. I don't have to prove that I'm right to anyone. And maybe I'm not. Maybe I will fall flat on my face. But I've done that now. And it turns out, despite the storm and the pain, that I'm okay. I have more work to do before I feel well again but I have made the first move. It's that first fall that's so hard. The later ones aren't so bad because you know that the pain doesn't last forever. And in spite of my cynicism and my tendency to imagine the worst, deep down I am really an optimist. I believe it will all turn out all right. This part of me gets suppressed sometimes by bleak thoughts but it doesn't last. My father says that when I was a child I was very cheerful and I think I really am still. It is glorious just to be alive. That is the part if me I need to nurture. These last two or three years the self-recriminating part has gained supremacy. I became consumed with the idea that I had not done enough in my life, that I had failed to live up to my potential. There's the inner guidance counselor talking. What I should have done at this point was to do more for my soul, my spirit. Instead of complaining about The Pit I should have gone out and done some volunteer work and gotten involved in some spiritual work. Gotten some perspective. Instead I let the toxic atmosphere poison me.
It may be that like many hard times it will turn out that this crisis was just what I needed. Many recovering addicts say you have to hit bottom before you can make a real change. Maybe that's true no matter what your self-destructive vice of choice might be.

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