Present Tense

Broken people…

I’ve never wanted to kill another human being.  Never thought about it, never toyed with it.  In fact, I’m the type of person who rather than kill a bug or a spider,  will catch it and take it  outside.  You’re probably like me.  You get angry or frustrated with other people; you’ve even made jokes about rounding up all of the ‘stupid’ people, but we’d never actually act.

I’ve never wanted to harm another person, but I did want to kill myself.  I’m an alcoholic.  I have been since I was a teenager and although I don’t know a lot about mental illness, I do know about addiction and I suspect that there are a lot of parallels.

I’ve been on and off the wagon several times as an adult and each time I fell off, I landed in a deeper hole of addiction and several years ago, in the grip of this addiction, I thought the only way out was death.  The pain I was causing to me and to my husband and family was too much to bear; all I could focus on was the next drink and the guilt of succumbing to that day after day.  I had stopped drinking before and so intellectually, I knew that I was capable, but physically and emotionally, I was too hooked to grasp that.  So, I thought about dying.  It seemed rational at the time.

As we struggle today with the horrible slaughter of so many innocent souls in Connecticut, we keep asking ‘why’?  Why would someone do this, how could someone do this, what happened to this person to make them do this?  I don’t know and I am as paralyzed with grief as you are, but I’m going to admit something that you’re not supposed to say.  I have a twinge of empathy for the obviously broken young man who did this.

I talk about my experience because unless you’ve experienced the total loss of control that can happen to any one of us, it’s hard to realize the root problem that we face.  It’s too simplistic to blame guns.  We need to look a little deeper and have a frank and open national conversation about the issues that we must address as a society.

Like addiction, mental illness interferes with your ability to function as a normal human.  It robs you of the ability to think rationally; it makes you incredibly selfish and obviously can result in violence.  The general consensus is that an act like this can’t be perpetrated by one of our fellow ‘humans’.  We viscerally realize that an act like this can only be committed by a monster.  We can’t wrap our brains around how anyone could gun down innocent children.

As I said, I have very little experience with mental illness, but we’ve seen it too many times in recent history.  These type of mass shootings are typically perpetrated by someone who has a history of mental illness, but is not given the proper treatment.  Substance abuse is rampant in our country; legal and illegal drugs are common and in the case of alcohol, embraced and endorsed.  We need to change and recognize that this is what’s driving these violent acts.

As someone who has felt the grip of addiction and how it can make you loathe yourself for your ‘weakness’ and inability to function like other ‘normal’ humans, I can see how mental illness can take over a person’s humanity.  It can make you lie, steal, drive drunk, treat other people horribly and it can make you violent.

Like mental illness, our culture generally judges addicts as ‘weak’.  There is a stigma that we need to get past.  Families are afraid to seek help in both instances because it somehow reflects badly on them.  People tend to not want to admit weakness or that someone in their family is broken.  There are more of us than we would like to admit.  People who’s lives, emotions and mental health is spiraling to a very dark place.  As a nation, we can no longer ignore it and hope for the best.  It’s too dangerous and painful.

Addiction and mental illness are both treatable and need to be acknowledged and recognized.  We need to get past the stigma and begin to accept that unless we are proactive and loving in helping each other, these types of acts will continue and sadly, grow.  We need resources for people who are suffering and who have family members who are suffering.  Stop judging and start helping.  Our lives may depend on it.

December 15, 2012 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , | 21 Comments

I ain’t giving up nothin’

My radio partner posed a question to me last week about a possible topic on our show.  Several years ago, he gave up watching sports for a year, saying he wanted to see how it would affect his life.  Now, he’s thinking about doing it again; giving up something else for a year and he asked if maybe I would like to participate in the experiment.  I thought about it for a minute and realized that for me, I am already doing it.  I’m giving up, giving things up.

I have spent most of my adult life swinging between completely out of control and rigidly in control; the out of control times were when I was drinking and in order to stop abusing alcohol, I felt like I had to put myself on a strict regimen, so as not to not slip back across the border into booze town.  I kept a very strict schedule/diet/fitness program. If it was 2 pm, I was napping.  3:30 meant a workout.  Dinner by 5 and bedtime by 9 and up in the morning at 3:35 a.m.  Gotta watch the ‘socializing’ as it was too easy to let down my guard and have a drink.  I was white knuckling my way through life because I just couldn’t allow myself to loosen my grip or I’d slip up.  Which is exactly why I ended up living back in booze the mayor.

I recently read a book by Geneen Roth, called “Women, Food and God”, which is about our relationship with food, diets and body image.  Many of us go through life with a love/hate relationship with food.  I’ve never had a major eating disorder, although I have watched people that I love struggle with life-threatening eating issues.  My problem is with trying to control other behaviors.  I read the book on kind of a whim, but the concepts and issues that she spells out have resulted in a major shift in how I see my own life.

Roth breaks us gals down into two categories:  restrictors and permitters.  In a nutshell, permitters have given up control over their eating and in most cases, their lives, while restrictors try to control their lives and emotions by denying themselves food or whatever.  Both are miserable and are suspicious of the others because of such opposite ways of coping, which is interesting since both sides are fighting the same war.

A giant buzzer went off in my head when I read this, since I’m a classic restrictor.  I have put myself through tons of rigid eating plans over the years, most recently the whole low carb deal.  My life became a litany of what I can’t eat and what I’m not allowed to consume and although it can be brutal, I took pleasure in knowing that I was ‘in control’ of myself and my eating and that I was so much better than the ‘permitters’ among us.  As long as I was in complete control over my behavior, I would be just fine;  all was right on Planet Jane.

One of the lines in her book was a pure revelation to me:  You eat the way you live.  It’s true.  I restrict myself in so many areas: emotions, fun, being open to new experiences, food.  My therapist told me a couple of weeks ago when I was explaining why I couldn’t do something, “Jane, there’s a lot of “can’ts” in there.”  Yep, because I must be in control of everything, otherwise I could spin out of control at any moment and hit the bottle again.

So, I restrict, punish, deny, control and congratulate myself on my ‘self-discipline’.  I’m so controlled, so noble, so superior to everyone else.   Well, no more.  It’s time to loosen the reigns on Planet Jane.  Time to realize that one can truly live a life of moderation.  I can have a cupcake when I crave one.  I can miss a workout once in a while, if I’m not feelin’ it.  I can reject feeling guilty about not living up to someone else’s expectations.  I can do all of these things and others that I haven’t even thought of and KNOW that it doesn’t mean I’ll start drinking again.  The problem with keeping yourself on such a short leash is that eventually, you’ll snap it and go right back to the behavior you’ve been rigidly, vigilantly trying to avoid.  Too much control, too much denial, too much ‘giving things up’ can result in a stilted, unfulfilling, robotic life.

Nope, I’m not giving anything up.  I’m done with restricting and will now work on adding things to my life.  More joy, more wonder, more music, more living in the moment, more dining out, more, more more!  Not hedonism; I’ve been there, but I’ve also lived at the other end of the spectrum, in the “no fun” zone.  I will now dwell happily in the middle, which is far, far away from booze town.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments


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