Part 2: The Wheels On The Bus Go Round

ImageA friend said, “I’ve got a lot of crazy people on my bus, and I’ve come to be okay with that – as long as none of them are driving.”

Yeah, me too I think; I’m at that place as well – at least most of the time. But there are certainly times when I watch some of my old thinking work its way back up into the driver’s seat. Sometimes it happens abruptly and before I even realize what’s going on.

I’ve made some respectable strides in recovery. However, I’m still working on being comfortable around people, especially in social settings. I’ve built my sense of social inadequacy into some major self-defining, Mount Olympus type challenge that will clearly indicate my level of social worthiness. Yes, I can still be prone to dramatics.

So, I’ve been sticking one foot in front of the other and going out to lunch with people. It’s a challenge for me to sit at a lunch table with others and try to be a part of the conversation. Some people find this easy to do. I don’t happen to be one of those people – at least not yet. And that’s okay.

This week I went to lunch with three other people. One was more or less preoccupied with their phone for most of the lunch. The other two were deeply engaged in describing their experience and reflections on a recent difficult event. I listened attentively, nodded my head, smiled or grimaced where appropriate, tried to enter a comment here or there, but after ten minutes or so, I decided I was not a part of the conversation. In my mind, at that point, they were clearly in a love-fest and I wasn’t invited  – and as I watched, my old, negative thinking started inching up into the driver’s seat. Before long, I decided I was boring and socially inept. When my meal was done, I bolted. I had trouble even saying goodbye.  I drove away feeling there was something wrong with me. For the next couple of hours I asked myself why I was trying to be social in the first place. I heard myself say I’m not capable of small-talk, and I should not have gone there. It lasted a couple of hours and then I recovered – I tend to do that now.

The Shitstorm.

Yes, I curse. A lot. Not yet during this blog experiment, but I will.

A “shitstorm” is a phrase a friend and I coined for sitting down and writing about whatever is bugging the crap out of me. When I get emotionally constipated, I start to feel like I can’t move through something that is blocking me; something that is making me feel hopeless. So, I write. I let it all hang out. I don’t try to be a wonderfully-minded, mature person. I just write whatever is coming to my mind. Then I review it with a friend, make amazing discoveries, and feel a since of growth, new-found strength, and quite often visit a place of contentment and “okayness.” There’s a whole list of benefits I could list as result of writing shitstorms. At some point, I will go over them in detail.

Here’s a portion of the shitstorm I wrote this week. It’s pretty ugly and self-damning in places but there are also glimpses of recovery-minded thinking. It’s also a clear indication of what it looks like when I let the crazy person drive the bus.

Insert Shitstorm:

So, this week at lunch with Smug, Shrilly and Jack. What do I want to say about that? Hmm… Well, it’s unfortunate I can let poor social encounters take me to a bad, self-destructive place so easily. However, it’s pretty fucking cool that I can extract my head back out of my ass within a couple of hours -verses days. So why the fuck did it bother me so much? Let me see if I can say:

1. It has always been deeply painful to feel “less than” or separate from others; to feel like I don’t belong or that there is something wrong with me. Very painful. It’s been happening since I was a little kid. Always hurt like hell, too. I can remember many scenes from childhood where I felt like I didn’t belong. It made me want to crawl in a hole and never come out. It seems certain that these type feelings were a major inspiration for my drinking as well. No big news there. Happens to a lot of folk – especially alcoholics from what I’ve heard. It is however, especially painful that I can be this far along in my recovery and still be vulnerable to it, and that my response to it is still so acute! Fuck! I mean, there must be some quantification of mental illness that measures how quickly a person gets overwhelmed by such negative emotions, which would probably mean I’m still pretty damn sick. Maybe that’s what bothered me the most about Monday’s lunch. Then, a couple of hours later, the recovery-minded thoughts kicked in and I realized maybe there’s also a quantification of mental illness that measures how quickly a person recovers from such negative thinking – and I felt better.

(*Note: I should mention here that I don’t even know exactly what happened at the lunch. I just felt like I had nothing to say, that nothing I could have said would have been worth the diaphragm energy to produce it, and it wouldn’t have been listened to anyway – I would just be temporarily interrupting the love-fest. I felt like “out of respect” I would sit there and listen so I could tell myself I had accomplished my part in stepping up to the plate and taking on the challenge of going out and trying to be social. Once my food was done and I had sat there the compensatory 5 minute post-meal segment, I was outta there.)

2. Here’s the hard stuff for me to admit: I envy the fact that folks can sit there and make such lovely emotional contact with each other – all the wonderful smiles and support and body language and cooing over each other, even as they gave multiple examples of chasing their asses around in circles, digging deeper holes, and wondering what the fuck happened. They could have been talking about the right way to eat potato chips, and they would have been happy to have each other to talk to. I, apparently, don’t have that. Or do I? For whatever reasons, I seem to want to say I can’t or don’t or I never have. I have had sooo many fucking times in my life where I was “a part” of a conversation that I wanted desperately to be actually “involved in” but somehow felt I would have to “dumb down” my thinking and words so I could better identify with what was being said. That seriously sucks on several levels. Whatever. I can still be a defensive, judgmental ass. I drove away from lunch feeling like a loser – the real dipshit. It didn’t fucking matter what was being said. I spent the next two hours wondering why I wasn’t drinking. I thought about my daughters and my certain lack of charisma and how utterly boring I can be; stuck in a place of wonder of how I can so deeply observe the details of behavior but not get to actually participate in any meaningful, rewarding way. Stuck in a somewhat helpless, defensive posturing that comes from some place I don’t understand and that I still want to somehow control; that seems to have a mind of its own, that has a will greater than my own, that puts me in positions that hurt me, separate me, and leave me suffering. Why?

My thinking is so very performance-based; if I do the right things, think the right thoughts, understand and apply spiritual principles, and muffle or subdue my natural tendencies, then I will be worthy. It’s like I live in some performance-based engineering paradigm. It’s also how I interpret the recovery: I have to perform well. Show me the performance parameters and I will work to achieve them. Be proud of my accomplishments and I will then experience self-love. I cannot conceive of what it must be like to love oneself without these conditions. It’s like my brain literally stops without these terms and conditions in place.

Then I wonder why I seem to love my close friends and my family and maybe few others from my past. I seem to be able to love them even though they have characteristics I would not find favorable for my paradigm.

Then I attempt to look at myself in third-person. There’s Tom sitting over there. Interestingly, I kind of like the guy. He’s certainly an interesting character. I can understand why he feels a little awkward at times. I could like him if I met him even though he seems a little intense. I could probably end up being best friends with him. Interesting. Then I come back to first-person and poof, it vanishes; now I don’t like the guy. What the fuck??

Maybe this is so much to do with old thinking. And maybe learning to like myself is so much to do with new thinking. Maybe it’s that simple; retraining my brain. Neuroplasticity. At this very moment, that makes as much sense as anything else I’ve come up with. I mean, when I think about the idea a God loving me unconditionally, it doesn’t fit my performance-based paradigm, that is, I haven’t performed well so why would God accept that? It does not compute. I’m left blank. Geez, it sounds so clinical and devoid of love. It is, however, how I seem to think at times like this. I mean, it makes sense, you know? That’s why I’m so fucking critical of others and why I like getting up into my judgment seat. It also hurts less when they don’t invite me in; I can just say they suck because they don’t perform as well as me. That thinking, of course, does not work and I’m left feeling like a dipshit.

I guess for now, I’m gonna try the third-person exercise for a while. It’s weird but at least I can get something of a glimpse of what it might feel like to be okay with myself independent of my unforgiving performance structure. It is just so completely foreign to me though – completely. What inspired that?

I don’t know if people can understand what it was like to live with my mom. She could be so believably lovable and warm, and then turn around and try to kill herself. She was also regularly acidic and able to spew vitriol at anyone and anything at any moment at the slightest provocation – and I do mean the slightest interpreted provocation. She was mercurial and volatile and explosive and fickle and erratic, then animated and lively and musical and talented and attractive. She had no friends, only husbands and boyfriends. How the fuck does a child come out of that with stable emotions and social acumen?

Dad’s side of the family was stable, hard-working, reliable, positive, enviably funny amongst themselves and perhaps unintentionally aloof. Mom, of course, found no success among them. I guess dad found a pretty, interesting girl and married her, and now she didn’t fit.

In my time and memories with dad and his family, I found regular, stern rebuffs when I didn’t perform within the confines of their performance parameters – including whippings and accompanying stories of their youthful spankings. I also found, however, loving inclusion when I performed correctly. After they had been divorced for a while, I moved back in with dad at age 12. I quickly became disillusioned with his lack of depth and understanding and his seemingly inability to inspire me with love and warmth. He seemed shallow and almost confused and embarrassed by my acting out. His words were angry, hostile, threatening, and only inspired me to become worse. I hated him bitterly for letting me down and not showing me a path to love or acceptance. Unlike my mom, he had no ability to show me warmth and leave me with a feeling of acceptance. It was confusing as fuck.

Why the fuck am I writing all of this? I guess so you’ll say, “Oh fuck, Tom. No wonder you’re so fucked up! I wouldn’t be able to function normally either if I had such an emotionally fucked up youth. You need a special pass on life. You are special. The normal rules of acceptance and performance don’t apply to you. Let’s treat you in a special way. Your progenitors where particularly unsuitable – no wonder you are so deeply disturbed. I think we should grant you special exclusions from the normal responsibilities of adulthood. Let’s see if we can come with a unique plan, lovingly tailored to the needs of an emotionally-stunted individual like yourself. Wow, it’s really amazing how far you’ve managed to progress in life given your unusual handicaps and emotionally retarded parents. I think you deserve recognition, rewards, and special accommodations. Just think of how marvelous you are! Most people like you would be much more fucked up and probably deceased due to self-inflicted wounds. No wonder you’re so sensitive! My, my, you are just so fucking special.”

End of shitstorm.

That is what a shitstorm from me look like. And, as I’ve said before, it is always healing to get that stuff out of my system and down on paper, then go over it with a friend or mentor. This is part of my process – move it out. It is one of many parts to my path to recovery. More to come.



Continue to Part 3: Emotional Attachments


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