How to Change the World

I’ve joked for a while about how I’d love to send a resume/cover letter to the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) that highlighted how entirely useless and lazy I am, figuring that’d make me perfect for any job they have there.

The story behind this is that I have worked extensively with the DHS, both for myself and for people I served whilst working as a peer support specialist. I have had nearly universally bad experiences with them. I won’t get into it here, but my experiences with them are so incredibly bad in so many ways that I’ve collected a number of funny stories that I tell to people who are frustrated with the government in general. In light of this, I relished the idea of mocking them from a troll email account.

My girlfriend was moderately annoyed that I suggested doing this. She pointed out to me that I don’t know their story or what they deal with. If I were particularly unlucky, the email might go to someone who was on the verge of giving up on trying to make it a better system, and I could push them over the edge, into despair. At the very least, such a letter would do nothing but make the readers of it unhappy.

To be honest, I really have no clue what it’s like to work for DHS. I’ve heard vague rumors that it’s a horrible job of being legendarily overworked. That insane level of overwork may be the reason the workers are effectively useless to their clients.

I suppose my desire to “troll” DHS was a bit sadistic when I think about it. To be sure, this is natural. I’ve not only been hurt by the system, but also seen others get hurt by it. The natural thing is to want to lash out and hurt them back. But this is not the Way. It doesn’t take a religious person to realize that being a jerk to strangers is no way to live your life.

Our Lord commanded us to “turn the other cheek” when slapped. I don’t think this is about getting walked all over. I think this might be about changing the world. If someone strikes you, and you are kind in return, would not they be at least somewhat confused by this? I fought my family and my friends. I was extremely cruel to them when I was sick and tormented. They were kind in response and loved me. This provided an environment where I was safe to become a better man; I don’t fight people any more. I can pay this forward and maybe someone else, when treated the way I was treated, will even change their life, like I did.

Thank you, my friends, for giving me wisdom when I wanted to behave unwisely. Thank you for this lesson, dear Sucrose.

Other Peoples’ Money

Several days ago, something went minorly wrong with something that I am responsible for. There are others who depend on this matter working well, but they are not financially responsible for it, whereas I am responsible to pay for it, if necessary. In the end, the people dependant on it spent a rather minute amount of effort to correct the issue for free and suggested that I spend my own money to solve it immediately. I took a bit of time to prepare, but when I addressed the problem, I solved it in literally several seconds with no real effort.

My initial response to this was anger. I felt that people were abundantly willing to spend my money with the slightest provocation, but hesitant to spend even so much as moderate effort to save me money. I made the assumption that this is because they do not respect my money. Or me, for that matter.

Response #1

It was easy to fume about this. Everyone I spoke to for the next while heard about my frustration, as well as knowing exactly the names of those who bothered me. This was a group of sins all at once. Anger, lack of forgiveness, and gossipping. I have tried to avoid these in this post, including avoiding making clear those who bothered me by speaking in very general terms. Gentle Readers, you may feel free to tell me if I failed in my attempt to do this.

A day later, whilst working my courier job, I had some trouble finding a free parking spot near the area that I would be picking up the item. I quickly jumped to the conclusion that I could spend a mere fifty cents on a parking meter and just charge my client for that extra cost. Soon enough I realized that I could park for free for an hour at a nearby parking garage. Here’s the thing: I was already planning on that for parking an hour later near the same spot for lunch with my mother. Apparently, I am far more willing to spend my client’s money than my own money for even the same thing.

Fortunately, I had this thought before wasting my client’s money. I parked for free at the nearby ramp. Yet, this had me thinking about my similarity to those who were willing to waste my money. They are not bad people any more than I am. I know I am a good, compassionate person, but I am apparently equally willing to waste my clients’ money as others are willing to waste mine.

Response #2

What do I do with this? I know not to shame myself over it. I’m not a bad person for this. Perhaps, what I need to do is be more forgiving of others that I perceive as wronging me. They are just as good as I am. Between all these events and this writing, someone pointed out to me that those who were willing to waste my money were paying for me to upkeep their system, so they may see it as spending indirectly their own money than mine.

Another way I intend to apply these events to my life is to take extra care to not waste others’ money. I now know that all people are more inclined to do that, including myself. Not to be self-righteous, but with this new information, I can live a better, more virtuous life. I am always looking to improve myself, so I’m glad for this opportunity to do so.

Reflections on Love

A couple posts ago, I mentioned my fear of hurting a significant other. I said this caused a lot of stress, now that I’m entering into a relationship. It comes as little surprise that I have already descended to my worst. That is, I used guilt to harm my girlfriend. Though I repented within seconds, the damage was done; she was very hurt, and also, I was quite ashamed.

So what to do in such a situation? First of all, I try not to do it again. In no way do I accept such behavior as OK. Beyond this, however, I must accept that as a mortal man, I will do things that are not OK. This doesn’t mean that I’m fine with these behaviors and don’t condemn bad actions as bad. It means that I have to love myself and others despite our imperfections.

This is a hard lesson to learn. It is my natural reaction to all vice to condemn not only the vice itself but also myself. I am tempted to argue that my experiences in Western Christianity (Think Augustine) led to this, but I have to admit that my tendency toward self hatred and shame has always been with me. Even as a toddler, I refused to speak until I was three years old, possibly because I was afraid to speak incorrectly.

My girlfriend showed me a podcast today that helped. The man interviewed shared many things about love, and I was reminded that part of love is the hardship of it. He said that while love stories are always about falling in love, the real love is what comes after this “falling”. To be fair, my girlfriend and I are still in the “falling in love” stage. We are still entirely infatuated and silly about it. Yet now, with this bit of conflict, we reached a bit of imperfection which will always be with us. In this imperfection, we begin to learn what resilience we have. We also learn how to improve on this resilience.

To be honest, this stuff is scary, but it’s good. Frequently, good things are not safe things. When I got my first full time job, I was terrified of it for multiple reasons. Much of my fear centered around the sort of stability required to work so many hours in a week. Yet I fought through it and now own a house and have met many wonderful people including my girlfriend. I learned myriad things about life and people. I’ve thought recently of starting a business centered around helping people get into and stay in recovery of mental illness. I intend to use my certification as a Peer Support Specialist to advance this business, if I do indeed create it.

I will never love anyone perfectly, but perhaps I can love people well. Perhaps I can do more good than harm. If I can do such a thing, then I am indeed blessed.

Refocusing

It seems rather obvious that before my last post, I had not posted in quite some time. The main reason for this is that I have been spending a lot of time rethinking my blog and what I wish to do with it.

I found that, over time, I seem to have established in my mind that I take the role of a teacher here. I am not sure this is wise. It seems a bit foolhardy for one to view himself as a great teacher. A friend of mine, who will be an ordained priest in a couple of months, seems to me to be a fantastic theologian, but when I asked him about his desire to contribute meaningfully to the theological dialogue of his Church, he wisely dismissed such notions as delusions of grandeur. If he contributes much, it will be not be from a stance of seeing himself as a great teacher. It will be from personal holiness and a perspective of humility. If he achieves those things, then perhaps God will bring forth from him something for the world to listen to.

I hope that I can teach some, but if I do this, it will be from a stance of humility. I am always learning. I want to share what I am learning from the perspective of an eternal student. I do not invent truths; I merely discover them when I am so fortunate.

I suppose in a lot of ways, this will be a change in wording. I will not speak as an authority, but rather I will speak as a student. I do hope that some can join me in my journey of learning and experiencing Recovery. I hope that some will share with me what they have learned in their own journey. I ask that you, my Gentle Readers, be so kind as to teach me. I believe that every human who ever existed can teach me a thing or two, if I merely listen.

Grounding

First, a word on Dissociation

Dissociation

Once in awhile, I get this feeling that reality isn’t. Everything feels strange and far away. I almost feel that I’m watching some movie and am completely outside of it, even though I seem to have a direct impact on what the protagonist does. Often this is accompanied by dizziness, and other strange feelings in my head, which are hard to describe. I’ve been told that this is a form of dissociation, thought to be honest, I’m a little more driven to share my experience with it at the moment than I am to properly research terminology.

Today, I felt a strong sense of dissociation and it had already happened recently, too. Usually it only happens a few times a year, so this seemed like a big deal. Talking about this with one of my friends, they inquired whether I had been under a lot of stress recently.

In fact, I have been under a lot of stress. I recently entered into a serious romantic relationship for the first time in about seven years. This is a pretty big adjustment, and I had avoided relationships for a long time. It is, frankly, quite scary to be doing this again, especially since with closeness comes the possibility of hurting people and being hurt more than in other situations.

Grounding

My girlfriend, Nicki, had recently mentioned “grounding” as a technique to deal with dissociation. Being rather unfamiliar with it in general, I simply took her word for it. Now, grounding itself is something that I am relatively uneducated on, but I know it involves using the senses to inflict a strong sense of reality on oneself. Some people use cold objects such as ice to snap them back into the present. Others focus extremely strongly on things they see around them in the current room. Honestly, anything that powerfully uses the senses can do. I’ve never tried this coping technique before, so I didn’t quite know what to choose.

Prayer

It occurred to me that one of the virtues of Orthodox Christianity is its use of all the senses in worship. Every time we meet, we sing many beautiful songs. The deacon censes the whole church, bringing us to worship with smell. The church is covered in iconography, reminding us with our eyes of the God we worship. We kiss these icons, and light candles and oil lamps. Often, we receive the Holy Gifts, tasting the very body and blood of our Lord.

I am fortunate enough to have, in my room, a number of icons, as well as a oil lamp. To go with these, I have a prayer book filled with prayers for all times of day and all seasons. To ground myself, I lit the oil lamp, looked at the icons, and chanted a number of prayers. It was amazing. This brought me in contact with the God I worship. This experience reminded me of everything I love about Orthodox Christianity. As I lit the match to light the oil lamp, I smelt the burning, and even that was enough to shock me back into the present moment a little bit. I read the prayers and felt myself returning to reality. This was amazing.

This all happened a few hours ago. I feel back in reality. Reality is again. Grounding is amazing. I am thankful to have learned this skill. I finally put it into practice despite having learned it long ago. I intend to do more of this in the future.

How To Think

THE SITUATION

Around a year ago, I got in an argument with Mary (not her real name). Both Mary and I were extremely passionate about our side of the argument and, to be quite honest, it went too far. Her last comments on it were that she was “pissed”, and I found no way of resolving it, even after apologizing. Mary and I are in a group of friends that meets regularly, and every time we’ve met since then, she seems distant. She is certainly more distant than she was before. I’ve not talked with her much outside of these regular gatherings, and I’m a bit afraid to call, because I don’t wish to bother her until I know that we can resolve the issue. I met with these very friends recently and after we had a brief dispute about my supposed hatred of a group of people, I wanted to set the record straight and tell her that I came to love that group of people, largely through her sharing her love of them with me. I didn’t want to make a scene so I texted her that deep thought. I think I heard her scoff at it when she read it, and she did not reply. After this, I sort of gave up. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to be her friend for over a year. I missed the friendship, but apparently, it’s been over and I just need to accept that obvious fact. I decided I would get in touch with my other friends of that group and figure out a way to see them outside of our gatherings. I did not wish to make of scene of things, but I couldn’t bear to keep sitting around while someone in the same room is so angry with me over something that happened so long ago. She had ended other friendships before, and apparently, it was my turn.

A SURPRISE

I set to calling the different friends in that group to quietly make my decision to not come back but to keep in touch with everyone but Mary. First, I called my friend, Greg (another fake name). Greg was rather surprised. He had not ever noticed any hostility from Mary to me at all. He recalled the argument that I thought started it, but didn’t notice anything change after that. Now, I know I can have some thought disturbances, so this intrigued me. What was really going on here? Was Greg just oblivious, or was I imagining things? Long story short, I called almost everyone else in the group and not a soul had noticed Mary’s hostility. This led to a reanalysis.

WHAT IS PARANOIA?

I, at times, suffer from paranoia. Now people can get the wrong idea about paranoia. When we hear that word, we think of those who think the mafia is after them, or that there are giant conspiracies to take over the world. Paranoid monarchs or dictators often execute many of their loyal supporters out of fear. But paranoia isn’t always so extreme. I once met a man that paranoid, but even that man wasn’t always so. I met him years later and he was more inappropriate than paranoid.

There is a type of paranoia called “Fear of abandonment”. I learned about it when I was misdiagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. The idea is that instead of thinking that everyone is out to get you, you irrationally fear that people don’t care. I used to think my own parents didn’t care about me at all, which is a particularly shocking fact to those who know them. I don’t tend to think people are out to get me. The worst I tend to think is that they are angry with little to no cause. I frequently fail to realize how much people care. I feel that I have so few friends when the reality is I have many friends. When I got baptized into the church, my tiny little church was packed, partially because i had so many friends there. These aren’t just friends, by the way. They were mostly people who thought I was entering into heresy. They came anyway, because they loved me more than they were bothered by my moving to a different church.

HOW TO RECOVER

There isn’t really a magical way to never be paranoid again. For me, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers help, but they aren’t the whole story. No medication, no matter how helpful, can do all the work for you. But I have a trick. I remind myself that I tend to paranoia. I do fact checking. Sometimes, it can be very hard to check facts when my brain doesn’t process logically. That fact is especially annoying when I rely on my mind so much. I have surrounded myself with competent, clear minded people. Those people whose advice I asked are observant and honest. They’d have told me if Mary was furious with me. I have other supporters whom I frequently call to see things as they really are and to check my emotions. This is quite humbling, of course. It would be nice if I didn’t have to rely on others to do my very own thinking.

No one who has watched Mary and me interact in the last year has gotten the impression that she is angry. I defer to this. I now know that my friendship with her isn’t over like I thought it was. I’ve assumed friendships ended oftentimes when they hadn’t. I actually accidentally ended friendships in the past by declaring them over. I had thought I was stating an obvious fact over which I had no control. In those cases, my friends took it as though I were telling them that I ended things right then and there.

I have others’ wisdom as my strength. Knowing, as I do now, that Mary is not likely furious with me, I can look at the situation with new eyes. I have the power to change my thinking. Sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do is to simply think positive thoughts over and over and over again, mentally shouting over all the negativity. I was once so good at that that I could say nice things right over a miserable thought before it even happened.

THE TRUTH

Around a year ago, I got in a horrible argument with my friend, Mary. We were both emotionally involved with our side of the dispute, and the argument went too far, hurting both of us. I lived in fear that Mary would be angry with me forever, but the truth is, she is a better woman than that. I stopped calling her to talk or visit outside of our gatherings with our friends. She didn’t call me, but then again, she never did. I am always more likely to call a friend than the other way around, and that has trained my friends that they don’t need to call me, as I will call them eventually. They look forward to these calls, though. Mary can be blunt and distant, but she’s always been that way. It’s probably one of the reasons we made such good friends.

I decided to call Mary and just confess to her that I was afraid she was so angry with me all this time. I’ll mention I thought it was because I had been so mean to her that one day over a year ago. It should be a good way for us to talk about it and if she is still bothered by that, we can make peace. I had been afraid of her, but she’s my friend, and that probably hasn’t changed.

The Struggle Against Reality

First, a video for you to watch.

So the idea is we love to mock people for “struggling against reality”. Doesn’t the concept sound absolutely ridiculous? But I have an assertion to make here. We all do it all the time.

Perhaps the most iconic version of this is in the game of bowling. Has any of us ever bowled without at least slightly leaning to the left or right as if it will affect the ball? We know it won’t, but we do it anyway. Another example: currently there are a lot of politics happening. Presidential primaries are being run in both major parties, and they’re taking a long time to get through all the states. Those of you into politics, do you ever find yourself thinking so hard about the results and wanting a particular result so bad that you might even say you’re trying to will your candidate into victory? I’ve done that. Now, let’s get personal. Do you ever find yourself thinking about something that happened in the past that you desperately wish hadn’t happened or had gone differently. Maybe you fantasize about it being different, or perhaps you try to hide from it in your mind, but it hunts you down. Every last one of these situations of thinking have happened to me and I rather suspect they are fairly common to humanity as a whole (except those who have never bowled, if such people exist.)

Now I ask, how do you feel when you dodge reality like that? To be honest, even in the bowling example, it’s pretty stressful for those couple of seconds. Some of us enjoy the suspense. I on the other hand don’t care for it at all. Bowling isn’t stressful in itself, but fighting with the reality of where the ball goes is kind of like suffering. Real suffering happens when we fight against actually painful realities. Like bad memories. Having a difficult past hurts either way sometimes, but trying to will it out of existence is true suffering.

So how do we stop fighting against reality? Simple. Cut it out. I’m serious, it is that simple, but if you’re like me, that doesn’t make it easy. There’s something within us that seems to think that if we accept reality, then we must approve of it. I’ve shared this skill with people who have been very badly hurt, and some of them are simply unable to realize the difference between acceptance and approval. We have to fight this on a very deep level. Images help me in this. I picture my grip on fighting reality as a grip on some small object, like a racquetball or something that represents my pain. To symbolize my acceptance, I mentally drop that ball. When I’ve done this, I find the temptation to pick it up again, but by strong willpower, I resist the urge and leave it on the ground. Some people have developed rituals like this such as writing things on paper and burning them.

When I first practiced this skill of ending the struggle against reality, I used it on very difficult areas of my life. I remember that before I applied the skill, I felt a suffering tension all over every inch of my body. When I dropped my struggle, the tension left, but there was still a sharp pain as if stabbing through my heart. I hadn’t even noticed that before. The reason is I spent so much time avoiding that pain and put so much effort into it that I was suffering greatly from the denial. The suffering from the denial was strong enough to drown out the relatively minor pain that I was trying to avoid. The tension was unbearable, but the sharpness in my heart was totally manageable.

The Buddhists call this skill Radical Acceptance. What I described is only the very beginning of Radical Acceptance. It goes far deeper, but this is enough for the current discussion. I, of course, am a Christian, and not a Buddhist, but I think they’re on to something here.

I want to point out that Radical Acceptance is not always the best way to handle a situation. In a way, it’s really a last resort kind of skill. There are three other ways of handling extreme distress. One is to change the situation. Honestly, if you can just change what’s making you feel so bad, do it. Don’t waste time on accepting what there’s no need to accept. On the other hand, there is much we cannot change. Especially the past. The second alternative is to change how you think about the situation. I once made a comment about someone to my friends, but I worded it all wrong and it sounded as though I were making a terrible sexual comment. I was purely ashamed of it for years, despite the fact that I had not meant to say anything of the sort. Later on, I realized that, actually, what I said was a hilarious double entendre and these days it just makes me laugh, even more so because I had said it in such innocence. If neither of these two work, you always have the option of remaining miserable. It’s your choice, but failing changing the situation or thinking about it differently, I’d prefer to accept it than be miserable.

This skill is difficult. I’m curious to hear if any of you Gentle Readers have tried it or are considering giving it a try. What works for you in dealing with difficult truths?