Finding The Middle Ground after Dysfunction
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Hey everyone - welcome to another episode of Simply Aggressive. Today I’m sharing both a story as well as a lesson I seem to have recently learned (or so I’ve been told.) Last week I had a part of my life unravel and it caused me a great deal of sadness, anger, emotional distress, turmoil and anguish. I very quickly began responding to these feelings with cravings of my old dysfunctional habits. At the same time, I have a tool bag full of my new coping mechanisms and skills that were healthy ways of dealing with life’s hard times.
So what are dysfunctional coping mechanisms? This is the unhealthy shit we do to pacify or distract ourselves from our issues or pain. This includes:
over drinking, drug abuse, dysfunctional eating habits
excessive exercise, obsessive cleaning, indulgent or unrestrictive spending
bad sleep habits, binge tv watching, socially isolating yourself
Relationship sabotaging, over scheduling ourselves, responsibility bombing
Functional or healthy coping mechanisms start with a baseline of self awareness. This is when we choose actions and behaviors that incorporate an awareness of our shitty feelings, an understanding of where they have come from - and facing them. We do this by:
booking counseling sessions with goals, reaching out to our friends and admitting we need support
Putting healthy food and nutrients in our bodies to nourish ourselves
Getting enough rest and taking mental breaks from our discomfort so we don’t spiral out
Keeping a minimum of our responsibilities to allow us space to be gentle with ourselves, while not pushing ourselves or having avoidant behavior
Setting boundaries and limits for things that provide relief such as exercise or watching tv or even drinking
Journaling, meditating, or taking time to sit with our feelings and our emotional discomfort
Sounds fucking annoying, holier than thou and painful right? Yah - it is. It totally sucks sometimes. That’s why people pick heavy drinking, staying home from work to cry and watching TV for a month. It's HARD.
But when you’re a person trying to GROW and live beyond your damage, you have to take the uphill climb. Sorry, not sorry.
Quick recap on self awareness. Everyone has self awareness, but there is a huge range for people to have. Everyone is aware of their existence. This is base level. Well developed self awareness is about being able to have discussions with yourself about ….yourself. Its the ability to comment, question and critique your own actions, behaviors and choices - all before, during and after your experiences. It’s also referred to as having a ‘watcher.’ It’s another voice in your head (not schizophrenia) that allows a second commentary ‘about’ who you are and what you’re doing. It’s a good thing, and everyone should have this and work to develop it.
So last Friday - my morning started with tears. A lot of them. A part of my life came unraveled. I was angry, hurt, frustrated, confused and felt like I was losing control of a situation. My internal damage started. I said to myself:
“Just stay in bed. Cancel your day. Don’t get dressed. Don’t get up. You don’t have to go anywhere. Don’t let people see you in pain. Just stay here and cry.” Unfortunately I have another layer of disfunction. It says “Are you kidding? Your just crying. You have shit to do. Get your weak ass out of bed. Get dressed. Don’t be late. Crying and emotional pain are not an excuse for anything. Your legs work, your hands work. Get up, get going, get after it. You have shit to do! Crying about this is pathetic. Don’t let this interrupt your day!”
Lucky for me - I have the tools.
I took control of my internal voice. I spoke to myself with gentle and kind, but firm discipline. “It’s ok to be upset. You don’t have to hide. Call the dental office and tell them you’ll be late. Then make your list for how to get from the bed to the car. Put coffee on. Wash your face and brush your teeth. Put on comfortable clothes. Where is your purse? Grab your coffee. Where are your keys? Pick your shoes. You’re at the back door. Open it. Don’t worry about people seeing that you’ve cried.”
I kept only the appointments I needed and I didn’t lie to people about how my day was going. I told then dental hygienist I had been doing some crying, but I was going to be ok. I told my chiropractor that I had a difficult morning, but I was doing the best I could with what the day was offering me. I picked up my daughter for dance and I told her I needed her to play gentle with me that day.
When I spent time with my daughter, I focused on the present. I let everything be about her. We cuddled, read books, watched a movie.
When her dad picked her up, I set boundaries. I told him I would be unavailable for the next 24 hours.
Then I called a friend. And I drank the wine, and I yelled and cried and went to the bar, and smoked cigarettes and ate every carbohydrate & every piece of chocolate I could get my hands on. But I set a limit. I would do that only that night.
The next day I went to the gym. I did my errands, and I worked on my projects and I ate healthy food and I limited my wine intake.
But that doesn’t mean I was better or healed. That’s not how life works. Whether you get rejected or dumped, or lose a job or your kids are driving you fucking crazy and you feel like a horrible parent or a loved one dies and you feel completely alone… you can’t fix it just by avoiding dysfuctional habits and rewiring yourself to have better ones. Grief, pain, emotional discomfort, struggle and distress can be prevalent and linger. We develop resiliency by learning to cope for the period of time that starts with the battle, moves to the scabs, then to the healed wounds. It's a process.
What dysfunctional coping mechanisms do is pacify while sabotaging. We allow the coping mechanism to become a crutch and ruin our lives. We go from functional people, to back sliding into our self soothing methods and making them a lifestyle that cripples our self worth. We become the bad behavior and we hate ourselves for it. Because not only are we allowing our emotional discomfort snap its jaws at us from the outer rim, we are busying ourselves with being shitty people.
Walking the middle ground after coming from that way of life is about understanding fluid acceptance. It’s about living in the grey zone and making it your bitch. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be a saint. That’s not possible for anyone. Black and white are such tiny sections of life. You don’t have to choose between broken and fixed. The grey is the comfortable and has SO much room for you.
So when wednesday rolled around and I sat on my kitchen floor and started to cry again - my house had no booze in it, but it’s all I wanted. I was in so much emotional distress that I was literally uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to eat every piece of food in my house - but I don’t eat after 8pm any more. I wanted to do chores and clean, but I now live as a minimalist and all of my chores were done. It was painful. I was fighting ALL of my bad coping mechanisms and it hurt more to not only be fighting what was causing my grief in the first place I was also fighting against my old wiring.
So I called a friend. I chose my first healthy tool. Do not isolate, and do not lie about how your feeling. She knows my favorite thing when I’m down is to hear about someone I love having a good day. So after she told me a bunch of cute and funny stories about her day, she asks “So what are your tools? Take a break from it. Go colour. Go watch TV. And it’s ok to have the one bowl of ice cream. It’s ok to have a plate of cheese and crackers. Its ok to let yourself have some room. Then go get rest. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are loved and I love you. It’ll be ok. You’ll be ok.”
The wise words of someone else who knows functional recovery.
My message is finding ways to thrive in this life, rather than just survive this life. I recently heard Tony Robbins use the word “Knowledge Broker.” I’m not here sharing anything new or profound. My goal is to be another voice in the choir - to make the message of self growth and healing louder. You can live beyond your damage. I have and I am. You can too. You don’t have to be a saint, but find your middle ground.
I love you all and I’ll see you next time.
This has been Simply Aggressive.