Pressed: Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us

31 Oct

Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us.


“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory, Hallelujah”  Louis Armstrong (traditional)

Standing on the Edge:  I was on an airplane with few movie choices, and I stumbled across a thought-provoking one called A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.  It is about these four unsensational, but depressed characters that find themselves up on top of the Topper Tower in London all looking down contemplating the jump.  They are embarrassed to be exposed to each other as they find themselves on the same humiliating journey looking down to the ground.  After some awkward conversation, they agree to put off their decision to jump for six weeks.  They decide that if they still feel the same way on Valentines day, that they will meet and resume the jump.  However, predictably in the interim, they find that by knowing that they are no longer alone, and by seeing each other through the mirrors that are vulnerably held in front of them by each other, they find other ways of seeing and then resolving their difficulties.

What I have found in my human journey filled with markedly exciting and successful highs, and some periodic difficulties, is that trouble can insidiously shape us in some pretty unnervingly long term ways if we allow it to happen.  Sometimes it takes someone to say, “Hey, actually the problem is not this way, or that way, or that big.  You are just seeing it that way.”  Each time we have a problem that we delicately avoid, shove under the carpet, or feel that we have successfully averted, we become more adept at avoiding looking life in the eye through fresh and resilient lenses.  More often, we spend a lot of solitary time trying to “…to rebuild [ourselves], piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go” (Hornby, 2014). As a result, after each little break in the glass, when we finally stand back and look out of our windows, we have a very distorted view of life out there.  Our “cognitive distortions”, ranging from “tunnel vision, all-or-nothing thinking, should and must statements, worse case scenario thinking through to personalization, overgeneralization” (Beck, 1995), and many more disfunctional thought patterns, begin to rule how we conceive of the world around us.

The Trick is to Pretend and Not Let It Happen Again:  What we learn as children when we fall down, burn ourselves, or have something painful happen, is that in the future, we steer clear from making the same mistakes again.  The whole goal of our human conditioning is to avoid pain at whatever costs.  However, as we get older, the maze of “avoiding life’s difficulties” becomes pretty complicated.  We get lost in it.  We lose other people while we or they are in it.  Then, we stay clear of all things because there might be some remote possibility that something awful that we experienced before, might jump out at us when we least expect it.  We deny.  We blame.  We hide.  We do not “cope” in the really profound ways that allow us to get back on the horse and keep riding onward. We know when we get triggered by past episodes.  Our bodies start to tense.  Our breathing gets faster.  Our muscles get ready to fight.  However, our brains turn off because our blood flow is relegated elsewhere in our state of flight and fear.  The majority of the population gets lost in this trigger trauma cycle.  No one likes going down these scary rabbit holes, so they are either hyper-vigilent to prevent any problems (doing everything right), or hypo-vigilent to respond to them (numbing out and apathy).

The Mind’s Eye:  What has dawned on me lately, as I live on my own and have to grapple with difficulties by myself, is that troubles are only as big as I choose to make them.  It took a few recent falls to see that I am going to continually fall as long as I “live”.  Now I need to learn how to fall, and not how to avoid falling.  I remember learning how to roll and fall on cross country skis.  It was something that was expected to happen when we skiied, and as a result, when we fell, we knew how, and didn’t think much of it.  The key is to get up and to look at what happened and learn from it.  However, it is very important to not take on crazy reactive behaviour because we take what happened to us too personally and own more of the responsibility than is ours to own.

What I am discovering about my own life is that my circle of influence is pretty small.  There is really very little that I can truly control in my life other than how I think about my experiences.  I can make some choices within the context of my home, my work, my society, my culture and the world; however, there is a randomness in the universe each and every day that I live out loud.  There is always going to be some asshole who is going to say his or her rude comments and be obstinate just because I have an idea that is new or different, or that he or she did not think about first.  There will always be some obstacle standing in the way of some outcome (not all) that I am trying to achieve.  There will always be some cost-benefit analysis that I will have to do to make my straight lines to happiness a bit loopier than I want them to be.

The key for me lately is to stand my ground:  What do I need?  What can I leave?  What matters?  What does not matter?  I need to be clear about these fundamental questions in the moment of each experience that I live so that if I am triggered, I can breathe and say, “I don’t need to address this right now or ever!”  That is a choice I can make each and every time I feel my defences kicking in, and I experience what I perceive to be trouble coming my way.

Trouble in Partnership:  What I am also learning lately as I date and discover with whom I am interested in being in partnership, is that people do not have to be similar in many ways, and sometimes not even all that perfectly compatible except in one way:  Do we know how to solve problems together?  If people can agree on how to see and solve trouble together, we have a better shot at a relationship than all of the fairy tales stories we grew up believing would be our romantic outcomes.

The difficulty is that there are not many problem solvers who want to sit in the eye of the storm either independently or interdependently and “take it on”.  We are in a wounded world of avoiders, defenders, and fair weather seekers.  It is not easy to find that special someone who is well-versed in the matters of handling difficulties with a level head and heart.  Many of us look, connect, sense a little trouble, and move onward.  In established relationships, some are healthy teams of trouble shooters, but many marriages are filled with land mines and danger zones that are delicately side-stepped to stay “happy” together.

Stay Awake:  I encourage all of us to really look at all of the things that scare us–the people, places, things, experiences, memories, and ideas.  Sometimes they are hard to conjure up as we have become desensitized.  Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until someone points it out to us.  However, when we are ready, it helps to get raw and vulnerable and find out what frightens us, why it hurts us, and then start examining how to address it each and every time it happens… because it will happen over and over again until the day we die.  It means responding, and not reacting.  As well, when we are awake to it, we can stop asking everyone around us to walk on eggshells to avoid hurting us, and start getting a bit stronger about dealing with what real life experiences have the potential of giving us both good and bad.  It puts us in charge of our own life experiences and what we believe about it.

Let’s stand away from the edge so that we don’t feel as if we are on this dangerous precipice each and every time trouble arises with the fear of falling over.  Better yet, let’s make sure that there never comes a time that we feel the need to jump off.

The self is a mystery. In our efforts to pin it down or make it safe, we dissociate ourselves from our complete experience of whatever it is or is not” (Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life).


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