Sunday, 10 February 2013

The recovery position - part 1. 10.02.13

If you have read any of my past blogs, you might be aware of the fact that I have a slight tendency to get myself into scrapes.  Thankfully this is not a problem because I have an infallible system for dealing with bad situations.  It is not my original creation but I cannot for the life of me recall where I picked it up from – I have the dreadful feeling that it might be from a magazine I glanced upon at the dentist.  I call it the “What?  So what?  Now what?” approach.  That is because those are the three questions I ask myself and force myself to answer.  It probably sounds idiotic and simplistic, but to me it is not instinctual and it is incredibly helpful.  I have to be strict with myself and make sure that I follow the process, however unpleasant it may be, because I know that it will accelerate my recovery.

The first question, “What?”, may sound easy to answer.  However, it can often not be the case.  Answering this question requires making an honest assessment of what has actually happened.  It requires looking at a situation impartially and unemotionally, sometimes with brutal honesty.  I don’t know about you, but I am often not very good at this when I am involved in something.  I find it far easier to say “I have just sprained my ankle” than “my friend X deliberately hurt me”, for instance.  If I don’t force myself to look at reality, I can end up beating about the bush forevermore.  I can end up saying things like “my friend X did/said something that I found upsetting, but maybe I shouldn’t have, I probably shouldn’t have, I’m sure he did not mean it, I might be oversensitive...” and blah blah blah on I go around in circles.  Frankly, you can’t go anywhere with that.  You can’t start a recovery process if you do not know what it is that you are recovering from.  Finding a cure is a damn sight easier if we have an accurate diagnosis – that’s just obvious.

I have been recently commended for my “raw honesty”, regarding my blogs.  I can see how people may think that and I wish it was true.  Unfortunately my introspective works are often the product of months if not years of floundering, brooding and half-lying to myself.  It’s hard to make a statement like “my father never loved me nor wanted me”.  It is factually true, but it took me a long time to be able to look at the facts and openly admit it.  It has taken years for me to be able to say that and not feel a twinge to the heart, too.  It is even worse when you need to make a statement that makes you a bad person.  For instance, I hated my grandmother.  It is the truth, I can justify it to myself and quite possibly to an open-minded listener, but it is not a nice thing to say. 

Sometimes even labelling physical events can be painful.  I have been involved in an extreme situation where I failed to assess what had happened to the point that I thought I was losing the plot.  I was struggling to deal with my reactions to an event that I did not understand in the least.[1]  It was as if I was suffering the pains and physical impairment of a major fracture without admitting that it had taken place.  I ended up eventually talking to a friend who, by the simple means of putting a one-word label on the event, completely changed my assessment of it.  From that point on, I could move on in dealing with it.  Up until that point I hadn’t stood a chance.  Making the correct judgement call gave me an understandable reason for my reactions, too.

The thing is, though, that labelling events and situations can be the point of no return.  There can be a huge cost to it, inasmuch as you are also labelling the people involved.  For instance, if you admit to yourself that you are being bullied by your boss, you also have to be able to admit that your boss is a bully.  Your relationship will most likely change, quite possibly deteriorating irreparably.  Even if they change afterwards, they will be the person who caused you some sort of hurt.  The flipside of it is that you also have to admit that you are being bullied, that you are the victim.  Now, some people might find it easy, but I know for a fact that I struggle with things of that kind.  In fact, I struggle with it so much that for months and months and goddamned months I argued with a friend about whether one of my exes (the psycho, see previous blog) had been abusive or not.  The term stuck in my throat and made me rather vexed.  It made me so vexed that I wrote a painfully self-righteous blog about it.  I still stand by the blog – kinda.  I am willing to admit that my ex was trying to be abusive.  I am unwilling to admit that I was being abused, though.  There is a difference between someone trying to punch you and you getting punched, after all.  The blow has to connect.  So there.

As you can see, raw honesty notwithstanding, my ability to tie myself up in verbal knots rather than calling a spade a spade is considerable.  Not only I can defend arguments so tenuous they might as well have been woven out of moonshine and fairy dust, but I can also go around in circles and spirals and even fractal patterns ad infinitum.  If you leave my rather overactive and garrulous brain to its own devices, it can envelop itself in an endless narrative that goes absolutely nowhere.  I could go on about what has happened indefinitely and never move on.  It can feel as if my brain is stuck in a vortex.  This is why I often have to force myself to move to the second step of the process, the “So what?”   This is an assessment of the actual damage that has taken place.

Like the first step, this can also be difficult for me.  Not only it can take some effort to get my brain to stop flapping, but sometimes I can find it hard to have the courage to look at the damage, as it can be so severe.  It can be hard to admit the implications of events.  For instance, say that the “what” is your partner lying to you.  The “so what” can be that you are deeply hurt and that you believe that you cannot trust him again.  Neither of them are easy admissions, as they upset the status quo.  They set a point of no return, again.  Nonetheless, without a frank and accurate damage assessment there can be no plan for repairs.

The third step of the process, “Now what?” is where I start looking at solutions.  This is the upturn, I guess, although it generally does not feel like it at all.  Often, unfortunately, the changes required do not feel at all positive.  For instance, it can be heart-rending to break up with someone you have deeply loved, even when they have let you down by doing something very bad indeed.  It can be traumatic to give up a familiar job because you cannot stand your boss anymore.  Furthermore, this is the stage where other people often become, by necessity, involved in the process.  By and large, you can go through steps one and two in the comfort of your own head, but generally speaking other people will be involved in or affected by the consequences of your decision.  You will not only have to deal with your resistance to change but with theirs too.  There is a good chance that you will find that you have to make change happen, and change is hard.

Regardless of its difficulties, this is my three-step process for getting myself out of the shit and I am sticking with it.  It can be hard, but it is simple and effective.  It has helped me a lot in a variety of situations of all degrees of seriousness.  Indeed, applying the process meticulously has helped me become much better at assessing the seriousness of events, as in the past I had been far too prone to losing my sense of balance.  It stops me blowing minor events out of proportion and helps me deal with the truly serious ones.  Yes, if life hits you really badly you might need help to go through the process, or after it.  Sometimes you might need a hell of a lot of help, indeed.  I still firmly believe, though, that you have to go through the process, because without diagnoses you are unlikely to find a cure.  You should try this next time you have a problem.  It rocks.

However, I have learnt recently that it does not work at all, in any way, shape or form, in situations when events have been so drastic that I can’t see how I can get over them.  There are events so bad, so painful that surviving them may seem worse than disintegrating because of them.  Obviously everyone is different and quite possibly I am a bigger wuss than most, but the situation in which I found this not to work is in the case of grief and loss.

Death does not scare me at all, neither mine nor that of my loved ones.  Loss, however, totally wrecks me.  I cannot stand to see other people grieving and I cannot handle my own grief at all.  I just collapse under it.  There are two main reasons why the “W-SW-NW” approach does not work for me in this sort of circumstance.  Firstly, the pain I experience is so severe and so outside of my control that I cannot picture an end to it.  If you have suffered through a severe, long illness you might have found that you get to a point when you just cannot remember how it feels to be well.  I get like that with the pain of loss and grief.  I can’t see how I can possibly ever stop hurting again.

Just as bad, if not worse, is the fact that I cannot tolerate to start moving ahead towards a new life that would encompass my loss.  I do not want to accept it.  All I want, really, is to have died in a freak accident the day before the loss took place.  I would have died happy, completely oblivious to the fact that my happiness would have otherwise have been so short-lived.  That would have been the easy way out.

My “infallible” system is very fallible indeed, it seems.  However, I cannot think of a better one, so I am sticking to it.  Incidentally, it has occurred to me that I have never used it in the case of positive situations or events.  I have only used it to forge a plan of attack in emergencies.  I am planning to apply it the next time something good happens and see what transpires.  It’s got to be good to spend at least as much time thinking about positive stuff, after all.

[1] Yes, I am being vague here.  Tough.  Not your need to know.

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