Well, it’s almost the end of January, only a few more hours until we start afresh with a new month. I am not at all sad to be moving on – I tend to struggle in January with the darkness, the cold and the short hours of sunlight. I find January a bit depressing and, if I’m going to be honest, it often finds me a bit depressed too. Sometimes it seems that no amount of good news can shift the (January) blues.
This morning, I was thinking about how so many of us only survive the harder times due to some well-tuned coping strategies. We work hard, we play hard, we eat more, drink more, eat less, drink less, we cut ourselves off from others, we attach ourselves to others, we spend more, buy more, dream more, stay in bed longer, sleep too much, struggle to sleep at all. As a race, human beings have become adept at avoiding the real issues – using these and other ways of coping with the stress, sadness and solitude. We’ve become so sophisticated at it, that many of us no longer recognise what we are doing – we deem it “normal” and carry on with our busy lives.
What are we hiding from? What is the “pain behind the problem”? What are we so afraid of? Why am I (and I can’t be the only one!) so afraid of exposing the “real me”? So intent on hiding it and covering up my fears through food/fake smiles/frivolity? It seems as though we live in a world intent on keeping the “real me” (or the true self) in the corner; somehow we think the world requires us to be busy/stressed/multi-tasking/thin/beautiful/clear-skinned/self-disciplined and able to let our hair down and party hard when needed. What are we all hiding from?
Sometimes I think that those least able to hide their pain have something to teach the rest of us. Those who have been through the gutter and managed to climb out the other side. Those who have developed “non-coping strategies”, giving them a much healthier, more balanced perspective on life. Those who have recognised their own weakness, flaws and messiness – and realised they cannot overcome them on their own.
An (ex-)alcoholic, an (ex-)addict who has found support and strength through AA or NA has thrown out his or her “coping strategy” and found a “non-coping strategy” instead – where relationships and community are vital, where a sponsor is available 24/7, where reliance on a “higher power” is critical to making it through the next day. Where days are lived not in a blur of busyness, but mindfully, thoughtfully – literally one day at a time. Where the power of temptation – and the addict’s weakness in the face of such temptation – is not seen as minimal and overlooked, but rather recognised as the behemoth it really is – and avoided at all costs. Where pain must be confronted, rather than drunk away. Where bad days lead to reflection and asking for help, rather than another drink, another bet, another (three) slices of cake. Where identity is always constructed around “the great weakness” so that the addict remains humble and contrite, rather than giving in to pride and self-sufficiency.
I would like to be less private and “independent” during my own bad days, my own darker moments. Rather than hiding away, turning to chocolate or other escape routes, I would like to call up a friend and ask for their support. I would like to constantly remember my own fallibility and need for strengthening from a higher power. I would like to face the pain head on, rather than smother it in comfort food/drink/busyness/deadlines. I would like to develop a non-coping strategy that actually works! Throwing away – onto a massive burning pyre – every single friggin’ “coping strategy” that has let me down, time and again, and so predictably, over the years.
Maybe a few of us could get together and discard our unwanted coping strategies on a huge bonfire all together – recognising the truth that we all need each other anyway. Maybe we could build a new community – not defined by success/outer beauty/achievements/serenity, but instead constructed around the human need for true love, empathy and acceptance. Surely it’s got to be better than what we’ve got right now?