Sunday, 28 April 2013

The victim trap. 28.04.2013

‘“Do you want to get over this?  This is her contract that will be used over and over again to remind her that SHE wanted to change and she was willing to pay the price.  There is great power in the victim identity.  (…)  This sentence allows the instructor to point it out when this happens, to point out that the benefits of victim status must be given up to outgrow the victim status.  This is hard, but critical.  The subtle power in the victim status often seems like the only good thing and the only survival tool to come out of the event.  Many are reluctant, very reluctant, to give up a useful “victim identity” for a possible stronger self.’ 
Rory Miller, “Meditations on Violence”.

I read this sentence last week, right at the back of a book that has truly shaken me up, and for the first time in I can’t remember how long I cried.  I wasn’t crying for myself.  I was crying for a friend of mine, who told me something a few months back that I could not relate to at all.  In relation to a recent and bloody break-up with a lingering practical aftermath, she told me that it was better for her to stay single, because “people feel sorrier for me if I am alone.”

My external reaction to that statement was non-existent.  I didn’t argue against it, partly because it is not up to me to tell people how to run their lives but largely because I was so shocked and disgusted by it.  You see, I have an aversion to pity.  I truly, deeply cannot stand the concept of people feeling sorry for me.  The idea of courting that situation is just not something I can fit in my head.  I had no immediate response beyond revulsion, which did not seem appropriate.

I only experienced pity in the flesh once before, and it was technically reflected pity, but it still repulsed me.  What happened was a result of my then partner (the psychotic alcoholic, if you’ve read my past blogs) deciding to antagonise a group of teenagers on the way back from a pub.  This resulted in them rearranging his face by kicking it repeatedly. To cut a long story short, I ended up going along with him to the hospital.  He ended up being tersely handled by two older nurses, who were clearly disgusted by him.  They weren't very impressed with me either.  They looked at me with naked disbelief and pity in their eyes.  It was the pity that got to me, that shook me up.  I felt so humiliated to be involved in the whole sad, pathetic, sordid little incident.  My life had taken a weird, unpleasant turn since I associated myself with the guy, that was a fact, but I had not realised that it might be a cause for pity.  That, as much as the event itself, was a catalyst for me to start pulling back, to fight to regain “normality”.

When my ex kicked off, I did not want people to pity me.  I would not have minded some assistance at times, that was a fact, but I did not want anyone’s pity.  I don’t know what it is about it, but I just cannot stand it.  I would much rather have people accusing me of idiocy for having gotten myself in that situation than feeling sorry for me.  I believe that my aversion to pity is one of the reasons I quite simply cannot stand the label of “victim”, which in turn causes me to struggles with the label of “abuse” and all its variations.  This is, in essence, a form of deliberate self-delusion on my part.  I have wondered at times whether it is detrimental – after all, calling things by their rightful name is the first step in dealing with them.  As it turns out, though, it may be an incredibly useful feature of my psyche.

Until I read Miller’s book I had never realised the lure of the victim role.  I don’t know exactly what I saw in it that repulsed me; it may be quite simply the vulnerability of it.  I don’t deal with public vulnerability very well.  I do my hurting and my fearing strictly in private and usually after the events are long over.  In public and in the thick of it, as a preference I tend to channel Wolverine.  Controlled anger helps me ignore other feelings, most notably pain and fear, and resolve situations.  Those other feelings have to be deal with eventually, that’s true, but they would interfere with my functioning.  Furthermore, why would I want to reveal them to third parties?  Why would I want anyone to know what I’m susceptible to?  That’s equivalent to giving someone a gun and asking them not to shoot you. 

Refusing to admit to being a victim, even if only of circumstances, has meant that in most occasions I have had to deal with stuff on my own.  People as a rule rush forward to support the defenceless, not the raging.  If you crumble in a heap and cry, people may rush to aid you.  If you keep standing, knuckle under and fight against whatever is coming at you, shaking your fist at the gods and swearing like a trouper all the while, you’re largely left to your own devices.  A lot of the times I might have done with some help, so this may not have been a helpful trait.  Then again, I have avoided the trap of the victim role.  I have never assumed it, I have never enjoyed the special privileges it carries, so I have never had to cast it aside either.  The more I think about it, the more the concept of it sickens me.

To maintain the victim role, the bottom line is that you have to prevent yourself from getting better.  The moment you get better, you are no longer a victim – you are a survivor.  In order to remain a victim you have to sabotage your own recovery.  You have to embrace whatever painful, damaging events took place in your life and hold on to that damage.  You have, effectively, to continue using your past to spoil your present and jeopardise your future.  In doggy terms, you have to keep rolling in your own poop.

What my friend is doing, in essence, is refusing to grant herself the one thing that would make her better.  Her breakup was a tragic event.  Finding new love, a new source of trust, comfort and support, would not erase that tragedy but would help her move on from it.  It would help her healing and make her a survivor.  She would lose her victim status.  She would no longer get special treatment.  So, she has decided to deny herself the balm that would soothe her pain.  She has decided, essentially, to carry on the hurt her partner inflicted upon her by denying herself a new life, a new hope, a new happiness.  She is holding the dagger her partner thrust in her heart and using it to continually cut herself, so that people will see her bleed and feel a compulsion to help her.  Well, sorry and all that, but fuck that for a game of soldiers.

I won’t say that I’m a world champion at recoveries and comebacks.  Life routinely baffles and hurts me.  I bumble about uselessly much of the time, and it probably shows.  However, I refuse to force myself to suffer just so I can emotionally blackmail those around me into giving me support.  I refuse to let myself down.  I will continue fighting for myself, for my well-being, for my happiness and wholeness.  If that means that I am the only one doing any fighting, so be it 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Superpowers. Just like that. 23.04.13

I’m tripping out on Rory Miller’s “Meditations on Violence”, as I’ve been for days.  This little gem hit me big time:
"Permission and awareness go beyond that. There are agreements and subconscious human dynamics that affect violent behaviour. Cultivating awareness of which these agreements are artificial, and granting yourself permission to break them combine for a nearly superhuman ability. It is not that you can suddenly do what humans can't do, it's that you can do what humans choose to believe they can't do."
Miller is talking about self-defence skills.  He is talking about situations where people’s preconceptions and social training prevent them from successfully defending themselves or the people around them.  I have been thinking about a very similar yet completely different situation for some time but I have not been able to word it anywhere near as clearly or concisely, so I’m nicking his paragraph and taking it out of context.[1]  Bear with me.

It all started in the dark, dark months of late 2012, when the world was surely going to hell in a handbasket and the Mayans were letting me down.  In the middle of the mother and father of all headfucks, hardly able to think straight or function, I found myself being able to predict the future.  Unfortunately it didn’t apply to winning lottery numbers, racing horses or anything of that nature, just to the people around me.  It started out with a particular individual.  In a lightbulb moment, it came to me that she is selfish and fickle.  She wants what she wants, with no regards for the people around her, and she doesn’t tend to want the same thing for any length of time.  The combination of the two traits makes her a very difficult person to live with.  Whatever you do to please her today – and you must please her or be out on your ear – won’t be the right thing to do tomorrow.  After months of watching a series of people bending themselves backwards around her to try and accommodate her and inevitably end up failing, and hearing her recount the tales of how she was continuously let down, it just became so obvious.  It all made sense.  Her behaviour, which I had previously found entirely unpredictable and sometimes hurtful, was now suddenly perfectly explainable and expectable.  Whatever she was going to do next, it was going to be selfish and fickle.

I didn’t tell her about my conclusions, obviously.  You can’t go around telling people that they are selfish and fickle, can you?  It’s hardly the done thing and I didn’t need a showdown.  I did not even contemplate trying to explain to her “where she was going wrong”.  I did not try to “fix” her.  I just kept the two little labels in my head and used them as bearings when navigating around her.  So far, I’ve not been hurt or surprised by her again.  In fact, I have been pretty much able to predict her behaviour towards the rest of her social crowd.  This, in turn, has given me the ability to tell her “what is going to happen next”.  In fairness, it doesn’t take a genius most of the time.  If you give someone a present and then take it back to sell it, the ex-receiver will be upset at you.  If someone buys you a present because you really, really want it and then you sell it, the ex-giver will be unimpressed too.  If you get someone to let you live in their house for free because you’re strapped for cash and then buy yourself an iPad or start saving up for an expensive holiday, people will feel taken in and react badly to it.  Crystal balls are not necessary here.  Most of it is pretty billy-basic stuff.  It is not at all obvious to her, though, so when I can tell her how things are going to develop she is genuinely impressed.  She can’t see it coming.

Over time I got even better.  I started being able to branch out and “read the future” of what the people around her were going to do too.  You see, once I pasted the “selfish and fickle” labels on her, my relationship towards her changed.  I got a bit cooler, a bit more reserved.  I started talking a lot less and listening a lot more.  I became an observer, rather than a person actually involved in her life.  Bizarrely, she seemed to love it and started to tell me more and more about her life, hence about the other people in it.  The more I seemed to be able to predict their behaviour, the more she told me.  Hey presto, I’m half-guru, half-clairvoyant.  This would be laudable if my life wasn’t a living testimony to the fact that really I don’t know shit, but hey, I’ve got a new skill.  She’s routinely impressed, and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy that.

I always thought that every person was as unique as a snowflake, and that is probably true.  However, at the same time we’re also monkeys with a delusion of grandeur.  Our basic operating principles, whether we choose to accept it or not, can be pretty animalistic.  Most of us live in a Venn diagram of packs – our family, friends, workmates, neighbours, etc – and within those pack we operate in hierarchies often not far off those of our more primitive ancestors.  A friend of mine holds that if you scratch the surface of civilisation the three basic questions at the bottom of each human interaction are: “Can I eat you?  Can you eat me?  Can I fuck you?”  This may be a tad simplistic, perchance, but it’s undeniable that a lot of our dealings are based on pack structures and impulses that most of us refuse to acknowledge.  Once you work out where someone sits or wants to sit in the hierarchy of a particular group and what he/she wants from the other group members, anticipating behaviours becomes easier.  Will they try to please or dominate?  Will they support or undermine?

The other great simplifier is that people’s actions, even when unpleasant, are a reflection of who they are and how they operate.  This is going to seem like the mother of all redundancies, but it really isn’t, thanks to the ol’ rose-tinted glasses we tend to wear when dealing with those closest to us.  Most people I know have a tendency to see people’s “good” behaviour as normal, and “bad” behaviour as a slip, mistake or mishap.  This would be great, if it wasn’t bullshit.

Let me give you an example.  One of my exes had an affair prior to my arrival on the scene.  It wasn’t something that “happened”.  He didn’t trip up and accidentally landed with his dick in someone.  He had an affair – it was something he chose to do, which was a reflection of who he was.  But no, when I found out I chose to see it as an extraordinary occurrence, a one-off mistake he had made that he would have learnt from.  Over time, it became apparent that he just had a weakness for anything female.  Now I could (and did) spend ages working out why – was it his upbringing, current lifestyle, something I did or did not do?  The bottom line was that he was a womaniser.  It’s not nice to slap a label like that on someone you love, but it was the truth.[2]

Another example: my mother cares more about public opinion than pretty much anything else, including her own opinion.  Again, it isn’t a nice thing to admit to yourself or others, but it’s true.  In any dealings with her, if I don’t bear that fact in mind or deliberately ignore it because it’s unpleasant, I will likely end up having problems.  In any given situation, “what everyone will think” will come first, and my happiness, general well-being or even safety will come so far down her priority list that they might as well be discounted altogether.  This became glaringly apparent when I divorced.  Not once she asked me what had happened; that just wasn’t a significant factor.  She wanted me to fix things up, and that was it.  When I went to visit her several months later she demanded that I tell her neighbours that my husband could not come with me because “he could not get the time off work”.  She’d made such a production of me being married to people that I did not even really know that she could not bear the shame of the divorce.  This was more important to her than the circumstances of it, or how I might feel about having to lie about it, or talk about it at all.

The list goes on.  The customer who bitched nastily to me about the previous owners of the business after a while turned against me and started to do the same behind my back.  The friend who let her partner push her around finally split up, and the glorious result is that now she is being pushed around by her ex.  The ex-boss who treats employees with the same regard that I show towards my dogs’ mess keeps being “let down” by them when they “leave him in the lurch”.  For all intents and purposes, people are what they do, not just what they do in their good moments.  You can use their past behaviour to advise you as to what their future behaviour is likely to be.

Now, I am not saying that people can’t learn.  Hell, given the number of catastrophic mistakes I have made in the past, I hope that learning and development are possible for us all.  I’m bloody doomed otherwise.  However, I know that my mistakes are by and large a product of some of my basic personality traits.  Disregarding completely why or how these traits came about, whose fault it is, what I could do to fix them and so on, I have to admit that they exist.  Until I accept that they are there and make allowances for them, they will constantly trip me up.

For years I’ve loved the Goethe quote: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being”.  Yes, ok, that’s just grand.  But what about now?  What about this specific point in time, when you are financially dependent on someone who has a history of not being able to manage his money?  When you need the support of someone who is constitutionally unreliable?  When you need to find out the truth from a liar?  Sometimes the practicalities of the situation rely on awareness of what is real, not what could be.

Taking Miller’s view, the “permission” aspect of my new superpower is that to pass judgement.  Nasty, isn’t it!  I know that for some people – those with certain personalities, religious beliefs and so on – “being judgemental” may be a fine thing to be indeed.  Hell, my grandmother was a rabid Catholic and she felt required to tell people loud and clear where they were going wrong.  To me it seems that she managed to be a Catholic without getting anywhere near being a Christian, given what ol’ Jesus has to say on the subject: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.”  (Matthew 7:1-5)

I grew up a bastard in a Catholic family.  Even disregarding the fact that I was by birth the lowest of the low, I had enough judgement passed upon me before I was even out of the oven that I really did not need to go collecting any more.  It’s probably a combination of that and leaning so far to the political left that I tend to fall off the scale right into anarchy, I am not sure; however it came about, to me the idea of “passing judgement” comes pretty close to drowning kittens.  It’s not quite at the level of ethnic cleansing, but it’s a huge taboo.  You just don’t.  You just DON’T.  Who are you, to pass judgement on anyone?  So you can’t say that so-and-so is an alcoholic, a womaniser, a liar, a fraudster, and so on.  You can’t call someone “selfish and fickle”.  Everybody is a nice person, really, but nobody is perfect.  So you gloss over the imperfection and end up smacking your face so hard into reality sometimes that it leaves you reeling in pain.  The past repeating itself catches you by surprise.  You are blindsided by people “letting you down” or “acting out of character” or “making mistakes” so badly that it all amounts to gross betrayal.  And then on top of that you have to deal with all the broken bits of your life, which you have to pick up with a spinning head and a dented or broken heart.

My new superpower now is to call things how I see them.  I don’t have to call them aloud, but in the privacy of my own head I reserve the right to make judgements and to operate according to my findings.  I am not necessarily making value judgements here – I don’t believe that my “good” and “bad” are universal values, not by a long shot.  What I make an effort to do is deal with reality as I see it at this point, however unpleasant.  I find it’s a hell of a lot easier than trying to operate within a delusion and then dealing with the aftermath of it coming all apart.  Sometimes it’s not “nice”, but that’s how it is.  I can’t begin to change it if I can’t accept it in the first place; it would be like trying to fight shadows.  It does not mean that I am always right, either, but at least I am not wilfully wrong.  I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s progress.

[1] If he doesn’t like it, hell, that means he knows I exist!  Bonus!
[2] Incidentally, I don’t know a single person that has only had one affair.  Not one.  It may only apply to my social circle, but they seem to be like chocolates.  Maybe taboos are easier to break the second time round.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Love your enemy. 05.04.13

I am surrounded by complete assholes.  I am beleaguered by people who, on a daily basis, commit casual acts of deep, unjustifiable, often pointless cruelty.  They stand proud amongst the ruins of broken lives, not even having the decency to acknowledge the cries of those they are torturing.  I can’t get away from them.  You see, the main problem is that I am one of them, and I’m ready to bet that you are too.

Before you discount my accusations, think about this.  How often do you lie to yourself about how you feel?  How often do you ignore your tiredness, hunger, frustration, fears, desperation, anger or sadness and just keep pushing yourself on?  How often do you “motivate” yourself by calling yourself names or using some of your personality traits as weapons against yourself?  How often do you tell yourself that your dreams are stupid and that you should not indulge them, let alone try and make them a reality?  How often do you ignore what your instincts are screaming at you because the truth is inconvenient?  And how often after that do you come unstuck and call yourself more names for not “seeing that coming”?

If you are being truthful and admitting that you do all of the above and far too often, you will be now busy preparing a mental list of all the reasons why.  Now, whilst I am sure that the world of your self-delusions is probably a vivid place full of technicolour beauty and with a banging soundtrack, I think we can safely skip that process.  The bottom line is: would you do any of that to someone else?  Would you be that callous, that disrespectful, that inconsiderate?  Would you do it to a child or an animal in your care? 

The truth is that most people casually inflict upon themselves daily cruelties.  We go to jobs we can’t stand day after day, year after year.  We starve ourselves to look good or stuff ourselves to fill a void that has nothing to do with our stomachs, and make ourselves sick in the process.  We impose upon ourselves people who make us feel awful out of duty.  We constantly force ourselves to put up with stuff that is just wrong for us.  And throughout it all, we self-justify why we are doing these awful things with an inner dialogue dedicated to drowning out our inner screams.

I don’t consider myself a mean or unkind person – then again, who does?  However, upon careful consideration, for most of my life I have treated myself shittily.  I know for a fact that I have put myself through stuff that I would never, ever dream of forcing upon anyone else.  I would not feed a mangy stray dog on the crap I used to live on at University – and yes, I had no money, I was doing what I thought I needed to do at the time to get to where I wanted to be.  The bottom line, though is that I would not have done that to anyone else, and it doesn’t stop there.  For extended periods of my life I have denied myself enough recovery time, either by overstretching myself so that I could not make time for sleep or by allowing myself to become so stressed that I could not rest.  And to cap it all, throughout all this nonsense I have called myself every shade of arsehole for being weak, for wanting and craving and needing the food and rest and comfort I was not granting myself.  Ok, I am a complete dickhead.  My personal records to date are 10 consecutive days without food and over 6 months of sleeping less than 4 hours per night.  It is a miracle I am still here and most people are far more sensible than me when it comes to taking care of themselves.  I might be an extreme example, but I can guarantee, however, that I am far from being unique in my stupidity.

Take this example. The latest fashionable diet is the “5:2 diet”.  This involves severe calorie restriction (5-600 calories, depending on gender) for two days a week and normal eating the other five days.  Essentially, you are intermittently starving yourself.  To me this looks like something I would have done as a teenager to fit into a pair of skin-tight jeans at the weekend, but I know three people who at the moment are on it, all of them adults, all of them males, and all of them clued up.  Personally I don’t get it, and it’s not that I don’t believe that it can bring results in some people, for a period.  I just find the concept of it objectionable, as it is, in essence, a form of torture.  One of my dieter friends, who is admittedly overweight, has a dog who could also do with shifting a kilo or ten.  I asked him if he would consider putting the dog on a similar diet and he was appalled at the suggestion.  He would NEVER do something like that do his dog!  But, as I pointed out to him, he was doing it to himself.  What’s the difference?  Is he less worthy of being treated kindly?  He couldn’t answer those questions.

People do this sort of shit all the time.  They let themselves down.  They would not allow a child in their care to have a whole packet of biscuits or a family-size bag of crisps for tea, for instance, yet they are quite willing to let themselves do exactly the same, maybe because they can’t be bothered cooking or they are a bit down after a bad day.  Of course, gorging on what they know to be crap is hardly likely to cheer them up, so they just end up feeling worse.  Over a period of time they put a bit too much weight on, so they start berating themselves for being fat, lazy, weak or all of the above, and embark on “miracle” diets.  And the cycle goes on.

Sleep is another necessity that is too often treated as a luxury or weakness.  Most humans need around eight hours of continued, solid sleep every night.   I know, however, a staggering number of people who routinely ignore this.  They put their goals first, forgetting that sleep is essential to our functioning.  Without enough rest our brains and bodies just do not operate properly.  We cannot think as clearly, work more slowly, make more mistakes, have greater difficulties in managing our emotions, and often put on weight as we try and resolve our tiredness by taking on extra calories.  It’s not for nothing that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.  I know this, yet I am writing this well past my bedtime, because I want to finish it.  I would never let a child in my care stay up this late, but I not only let myself, but often force myself to carry on working when I need to be resting.  I recently read a book on weight lifting that stated that a workout is not complete until the end of the recovery process[1].  My mind pretty much exploded – what, recover is actually necessary?  It’s not a sign of weakness or self-indulgence?  The way I looked at my training is changing dramatically now – as a much wiser man than me said on Facebook, I now train “to be awesome, not broken”[2].  I train (and eat, and sleep) WITH my body, not AT it.

You can sell some of the cruelty, dieting for example, as means to an end.  After all, if you want to cut weight you need to make some changes.  A lot of the stuff we do, though is just plain bonkers.  Take shoes.  So many women train themselves to wear footwear that clearly has not been designed with any sort of human foot in mind.  Most feet are flattish from the heel to the toe and widest at the toe end.  Take a good look at most fashionable women’s shoes – not only they have a heel, but the toe end is usually pointed.  Truly, we think we’re so civilised yet we have not moved very far from feet binding and corsets.  For the sake of “looking good”, we teach ourselves to ignore the discomfort, occasionally maiming ourselves as we go.

We would not ignore it if a child told us that her shoes hurt.  We would not ignore it if a dog was crying it because he’s hungry.  Yet we quite happily tell our feet and stomach to shut up, and berate them for letting us know that things are not right.  I believe that when we force ourselves to ignore mental and emotional discomfort the damage can be even more severe.  I’d gladly take bunions or a perforated ulcer over a nervous breakdown, given the choice.  Yet I forced myself to stay for over nine years in a job I hated, with a boss I despised and who treated me like shit, because “it was a good job”.  Now, how that label came to be attached to a situation that made me feel stressed, frustrated, trapped, beaten, powerless and ultimately deeply unhappy I am not entirely sure.  But of course, it was a stable position with a reasonable wage and a house so “it made sense”.  It would have been mad for me to quit.  There is, of course, no way in hell that I would watch a friend of mine go through something of the kind without kicking up an almighty fuss and trying to get them out of it, but I conveniently ignored that fact.  I put up with the recurrent nightmares[3], the intermittent and inconsistent health problems, the stress and the insomnia.  Being a proactive person, I tried to fix it.  Being an idiot, I tried to do so by embarking on a series of diet and exercise plans ranging from the unwise to the utterly surreal.  I took up meditation, Tai Chi and Chi Gong.  I read up on NLP and CBT.  What I did not do, not once, was admitting that my work life, which took up most of my waking time, sucked arse in a major way.  I tried to manage the symptoms of the situation, rather than admitting and addressing the actual problem.  I repressed all my feelings about my job I order to continue to force myself to endure it, so they ended up emerging in all manners of disguises.

I look back at most of my life, and it seems to me that I spent far too much of it putting myself through far too much crap.  It was neither big nor clever, and don’t give me any excuses about hardship being “necessary” or “formative”.  There are limits to everything and I know that I have crossed them.

Now, I am not saying that we should not put up with any difficulties.  Sometimes the bad stuff is unavoidable in the quest for the good stuff.  For instance, sometimes you have to take a class you hate to get a degree in a field you love.  It is a short-term pain for the sake of a long-term gain.  Also, some hardships really are formative.  We often don’t know what we can achieve unless we try it out.  Overcoming issues can give us a huge sense of achievement.  Besides, life not being scripted by Disney, shit also happens and you can either try and deal with it or give up and drown in it.  This isn’t, however, what I am talking about.  I am talking about those occasions when we force ourselves to put up with excessive, avoidable pain and then either ignore it or label it as a weakness.  I am talking about those circumstances when we repress and torment ourselves.  I am talking about when we turn into our own jailers, instead of acting as our main carers.

Let me give you a practical example.  I love training – I got into it very late in life and all for the wrong reasons, but I just love it.  I have learnt that when I am having a bad day, when my energy levels are low and I feel sore and hopeless, when I think I can’t cope or I wish I was not here, a good workout makes me feel better.  It is something I can give to myself to make myself feel better in the short term which is also good for me in the long term.  It is a definite win-win situation.  Of course, in the immediate term when I really do not feel like it, or halfway through it when I think I am about to spit out a lung, it is a struggle.  Even then, though, I know that I am taking care of myself and I’m glad of it.  Even when it feels completely awful, it also feels good.  This was never the case when I kept myself in my old job.  During those eternal nine years, I just felt that I was being mean to myself.  I felt that I was doing something AT me, not WITH or FOR me.

I know oodles of people who put themselves through degrees they hated because it “made sense” or to please their families.  They took class after class they hated to gain a qualification they did not want in a field they did not care for.  They often had to work very hard as they had no aptitude for that particular subject.  Their efforts would not be in vain, however; they would allow them, glory be, to embark in a career they did not want in a field they still did not care for.  It is not dissimilar to forcing yourself to eat shit today so you can eat more shit tomorrow.  Yet it goes on all the time.  My mum did that – seven years to finish a four-year degree because she just sucked at it, so she could work for over twenty-five years at a job she did not like and wasn’t suited to, which constantly stressed her and made her ill until she had to retire.  We give up on ourselves, ignore our cries for help and end up all broken and twisted inside, standing amongst the ruins of a wasted life, waiting to die.

Ok, I might be pushing it with the melodrama here, but most of us do it to a greater or lesser extent.  The weird thing is that we have a beautiful, natural, in-built system specifically designed to let us know if we are following the right path.  Unfortunately, it does not have a great deal to do with the brain.  We get so accustomed to using our brain as the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom, while it is actually incredibly susceptible to delusions.  The brain lives in a narrative universe of its own devising.  The brain looks at the Prada stilettos and tells itself how gorgeous they look and will make us look.  Meanwhile, the feet feel the very same shoes and go “ouch”.  The brain works out which course is most likely to result in us having a “successful career” or make our family happy.  The heart looks at accountancy books and feels dejected.

All my life, I have tried to think.  I have tried to analyse, understand and plan.  What I neglected to do was to pay attention to my feelings.  I ended up with a degree in agriculture but unable to feel when I am getting hungry[4], which I find wonderfully ironic.  I ended up with a “good job” that came with a lovely house, yet the time in my life I was at my happiest was when I accidentally ended up unemployed and homeless, living in the back of a small van.  I could have spent eons working out the pros and cons of that situation and most definitely would not have picked it as it was not the logical choice.  Yet it came about by accident and it was just great.

Someone posted a casual comment on Facebook which really resonated with me: “When you really listen to the body and the heart, eventually the brain catches on.”  The more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s true.  If you are really honest about your feelings they will tell you a lot about yourself and your life.  If you are not honest about them, if you repress them or ignore them, they will fight their way to the surface in warped and often unrecognisable ways.  They will not go away.  They will continue to haunt you until your life reflects who you really are, what you really want, not who you think you should be and want. 

What I am trying to work at now is at teaching my brain to read my feelings, openly and honestly.  I can then use the ol’ thinking machinery to try and work out the best possible solution to a given situation – not the most rational or popular solution, but the one that’s best for me.  I then run the solution by the feeling system and see what comes up, just to double-check.  In essence, I want my body, heart and brain to be co-operating.  It might sound easy, but it’s not. 

In order for any of this to work, I need to be honest with myself, which is not always painless.  For instance, I have the opportunity to see some school friends in the summer, which feels great and I look forward to.  The flipside of it is that I will have to see my mother, as she lives in the area.  That does not feel great and I loathe thinking about it.  I am not seeing her because I am seizing a rare opportunity while I’m in the area, but because I do not want to risk being near her hometown and getting caught out.  It is not even a case of me feeling it as a duty; I just don’t fancy the potential fallout.  Now, admitting that you do not want to see your mother, who loves you, and that in all honesty you have stopped looking forward to seeing her when you were twelve or so is not easy.  Come on, it sounds absolutely abominable.  Yet, it is true.  I can lie to myself and the world about it as much as I want, but it is will continue being true.  Now that I’ve admitted it to myself, I might be able to try and do something about it.  At the very least, it will not come and niggle at me when I’m not looking.  It’s out there, in the open, like a deeply unpleasant parasite I’ve managed to excrete.  It’s not pretty to look at, but it was rather more uncomfortable when it was burrowing through my brain.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  I think that until we are sure that we are going to act as our own best friends, we need to find a reliable measuring yard.  Find someone you love and care for – how would you take care of your children, animals, elderly relative, friends?  What would you do for them or stop them doing?  What would you allow them to go through before you stepped in and took action?  How would you talk to them?  If it’s not good enough for those you love, it’s not good enough for you.  If you treat yourself with love and honesty, well, life might not get any simpler, but it will hopefully be a lot more wholesome.

[1] “The new rules of lifting for life” by Lou Shuler and Alwynh Cosgrove.  I highly recommend it, although of course I’ve not followed the workout plans because I lack that function.
[2]  Best fitness blog ever, bar none.
[3] I was stuck in a building, needing desperately to get out, but all the doors were locked or stuck and all the windows too small.  Repeat night after night, until no longer funny.  My subconscious does not do subtle.  I am pretty sure that it wears a muscle shirt and carries a baseball bat.
[4] True fact.  I only know that I am hungry when my sugar levels drop to the point that I get woozy or agitated.  It used to drive one of my exes to distraction, as he could feel my stomach rambling when I couldn’t.