Friday, March 24, 2017

On second thought...

"The government should not be guided by temporary excitement, but by sober, second thought." (Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States) 

"Terrible!  I just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Obama was tapping my phones in October - he is a bad guy!"

I felt the back of my eyes begin to swell with hot tears when I read that.  Not just because I disagree (and I do), but because I feel so angry that its come to this — leaving aside issue or policy discussion in favor of blatant character assassination.  It reminds me of those kids in grade school who would resort to name calling when they couldn't win an argument.  I never knew how to participate when it got to that point.  I don't like saying things simply to hurt someone else's feelings or to get a reaction.  And lord knows how many times I've been told that I take "it" too personally (what does that mean, anyway?  After all, isn't it personal when someone calls you a bad guy (or gal)?).  But don't get me wrong, it's not one-sided.  I feel like both Republicans and Democrats have this hyperbolic reaction to anything set forth by the other party.  I find it to be extremely discouraging and counter-productive. And it all leaves me feeling defeated and filled with an icky feeling that I wasn't able to properly identify until recently. Here's the thing I've discovered -- it's literally making me sick.

Now, you may think that I'm the one being hyperbolic, but I'm not.  There is an actual, biological, visceral, chemical chain reaction that happens inside of me whenever something renders me hurt and angry, excited and angry or excited and fearful.

I heard a woman say once that she "couldn't metabolize the excitement that she craved." Right after she finished speaking, I grabbed my phone and typed what she said quickly into my notes, afraid that I might forget exactly how she put it.

That's me! I thought.  I've always bit off more than I could chew (as it were) with everything!

I've never been good with things that speed me up.  When I drink that fourth cup of coffee, I become instantly cranky and jittery.  When I did or over did __________ (insert any 1980s chemical compound that affects the central nervous system),  it was the same.  And once more; when I snuck out of my bedroom window in high school to join my friends, or called "HIM" and hung up as soon as he answered (pre-caller ID obviously) or harbored a secret resentment against someone (who may or may not have deserved it), I got the same response.  A rush which made me acutely and simultaneously aware of my both my circulatory and respiratory systems (veins filling, heart throbbing, lungs desperate to expand) followed by a sharp, abrupt decline that left me trembling with  shallow breaths and a deep, hollow, sticky feeling in my stomach.  That excitement that I craved, that coffee, that Red Bull, that "hit" of whatever (a substance, getting away with something or reactive-rage) was always more than I could metabolize.  Other people could laugh and continue on with their days after imbibing in any one of these areas, but not I.  I was always like the worst kind of junkie.  I could never take the high.

*   *   *

Checking into treatment in July of 2008, I was surprised to find that all of us patients were to be deprived of most of these aforementioned things:


"Sorry - only decaf here."

Do you have anything sweet? Candy or something?

"Actually candy and anything containing sugar is forbidden."

Oh - can I sit next to my friend during the lecture?

"Contact between male and female patients is greatly discouraged."

Is it okay if we put the news on?

"Sure! We put it on for 1-hour per day in the group room."

I just want to go to my room. I want to be alone...

"Actually you can't go to your room until bedtime.  But please find someone with whom you can process what you're feeling."

*   *   *

I soon learned that there was a method to their torture.  They were depriving us of all of the things that created those peaks -- those high-HIGHS.  Because, they knew, that without them, those valleys wouldn't be so low-LOW.  And then maybe, just maybe,  I wouldn't need to numb the pain of riding that roller coaster anymore.  Maybe, eventually I would be repulsed by the thought of chasing the high that I so clearly couldn't metabolize.

Our recovery literature tells us that: "Resentment is the number one offender.  It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.  From it stem all forms of spiritual disease."  

In other words, I can't afford to carry around resentments.  The penalty of carrying around a resentment differs from person to person.  But the take-away for me is that for us folks in recovery, indulging in any activity that creates or sustains resentment, comes at a great risk.  

Now, this does not mean that I "turn the other cheek" whenever something makes me angry (I definitely get angry with the best of them!).  But feeling anger (which is human) is totally different from harboring a resentment.  What this means is that I can't afford to hold on to that anger after it's run its course.  I can't afford to feed that anger by following certain politicians on Twitter, watching FOX News or engaging in FaceBook battles.  I have to step aside when someone baits me with politics at a dinner party or at a parent association meeting.  I need to be especially careful when engaging in a conversation with any "friend" who is charged with that certain brand of political-vitriol.  Because when I do engage, the penalty is that same hand-trembling, shallow-breathed, red-faced rush that leaves me fumbling for words and renders me virtually useless for a minute or an hour or possibly even a for whole day (depending on the level of excitement/fear/hurt/anger that I'm unable or unwilling to release).

Scottie made an observation this morning, saying that "if holding on to a resentment is like swallowing poison, then (according to Facebook) a lot of our friends are "drinking" around the clock."
And it makes me sad.  I've always been a political activist (see my blog "If Cousin Pookie Could Vote").  Or at least I was up until this past election.  And I believe that now, more than ever, it is critical that everyone pay very close attention to what's going on.  I like to watch and discuss the congressional hearings and read news feeds and the Sunday New York Times.  I feel like it is my duty  to "root for the home team" and take political action when it's warranted. But since the Democratic Convention last summer where Hillary Clinton was chosen to be our candidate, I have been the victim of these "flash flood-surges" of fear, confusion and resentment.  Feelings that, like I said, make me actually, physically ill. 

So what's the solution?   I won't (I can't!) Simply put my head in the sand.  Just like someone who struggles with food or sex issues — total abstinence can't be the answer for my extraordinary inability to metabolize the hype around our current political situation.  No, I must have some awareness of what's going on in our world.  I must pay attention (and take appropriate action) when someone threatens the basic rights of the marginalized.  But when it starts to get sticky, when I start to feel my face getting warm or my heart beat speed up,  I'm going to have to pause long enough to listen to that sober, second thought, just as wise, old President Van Buren recommended. And though sometimes taking a stand may be the next, right, indicated action for me, it will be just as likely that I might have to say, "You know, I'd better sit this one out."

Skirball Center polling place, November 8, 2016

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