Survival Tactics.

I started blogging/writing online close to 20 years ago now, I think. 17? 18? Something like that. I was introduced to Blogger by a co-worker; it wasn’t long after I’d moved to Minnesota, gotten (relatively) sober, and needed some kind of outlet. So I cranked up a site, called it “Clever Little Minx,” and started writing. A lot. I made some mistakes, of course; I wrote about people using their names, didn’t quite understand the whole privacy/discretion/OMG DON’T PUT THAT ONLINE thing… 

…but eventually I figured it out. That was back when blogging was still relatively limited in scope. Or at least, it was easier to scroll through sites, find people whose writing resonated, and connect with them in some way. Commenting led to communication and conversation, conversation led to connection, connection often led to meeting in person, or at least forging lifelong friendships.

Anyway. All those years ago, I wrote a lot about my struggles with drugs, a need for connection, sadness over lost relationships, questioning my choices… I did my best to dig deep, and that was how I started to heal. All the way down, from the inside out.

At some point, I started getting comments or messages from a guy whose name I can’t remember. He identified with a lot of what I’d written, and appeared to have some pretty heavy struggles of his own. He might have even had his own blog where he wrote about those struggles… it’s all a little fuzzy. But the one thing I do remember about him was a story he told about himself.

He’d suffered/battled/choose your verb with/from depression for a long time, and it got progressively worse. To the point where he wanted to die. He may have been using drugs/drinking, I don’t remember, but the desperation started to mount. He was consumed by thoughts of not wanting to be alive anymore, contemplating taking his own life. It was relentless. And I guess at some point, the only thing he could think to do was to steal several computers from his place of employment and try to sell them somewhere, assuming they would catch him and lock him up in jail.

Where he would be safe.

From himself.

I think what ended up happening is they DID catch him, but when they realized what was happening to/with him, they got him help instead. (Which, you know, might be a better way to approach things in general, as a nod to our school to prison pipeline/the prison industrial complex/etc.) By the time he told me this story, he was in a much better place, and grateful for it.

What I marvel over when I think of that story is the body, mind, and soul’s survival instinct. When you find yourself in a whole lot of pain, there is often still a part of you – no matter how still, small, or quiet – that wants to live, wants to survive, wants to overcome. And the path your brain may put you on to get you there may not make a whole lot of sense… I mean, why wouldn’t he just ask for help instead of going through such a convoluted process to get caught, right? … but it’s what made the most sense to him at the time, in a totally desperate situation.

So then I think about what we all do to survive tough situations that we may not be able to get out of; at least, not right away. Unhappy relationships. Less than ideal (or downright awful) employment. Unfortunate family dynamics. People will often do things in the throes of panic, unhappiness, depression, sadness, or anger that they wouldn’t do otherwise. We find ways to make ourselves be or feel okay in that moment, and those might be things that, in better circumstances, we wouldn’t dream of doing. All because we’re in need of a temporary salve or some relief from the feeling.

This is where the idea of “a good person who’s done a bad thing” vs. “a bad person” comes in. Guilt vs. shame, like Brene Brown talks about. Guilt is, “I did something bad,” and shame is, “I AM bad.” Those are the internal options. You can choose to use your guilt over a “bad” choice or action as inspiration for never doing that thing again. Shame is much more difficult to work through when it’s internalized unless you have a safe place to call it out, and if you can find it within yourself to do that work.

The people around you have a lot to do with this, too. If you make a bad choice or do a bad thing in the midst of an unhappy situation, the people you’ve surrounded yourself with can either take the path of forgiveness, understanding, kindness, honesty, and love… or, they can take the path of shaming you for the choices you’ve made, which in turn can exacerbate your own internal shame.

Human beings are messy. It’s taken me this long in life to realize that not everything is black and white, not everything is an easy right/wrong decision – whether in my own life, or the lives of those around me. I can look back on my own situation and wince over some choices made, some actions taken, some words spoken… but I can also evaluate the circumstances surrounding most of it and attribute those words, actions, and choices to what was going on at the time. I can also see how I’ve developed different coping skills over the years, how I can identify triggers and opportunities for doing something different.

Recognizing “survival skills” in my own life and the lives of others has opened me up for a lot more willingness to forgive, too. To give everyone (including myself) room to make bad choices, to be human, to fuck up… I think it’s not only what got you to that place, but what you choose to do moving forward, that makes all the difference.

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