Emotional anorexia. It’s not a real syndrome. At least not that I know about. I’m fairly certain I just coined it. Doesn’t matter. Point is, it applies. And I’ll grant you that the last thing I need is yet another diagnosis. The list of things that are wrong with me is already quite absurd in length and is probably better left alone. And it is possible that I am simply a deeply masochistic individual committed to as much self-torture as I can get my hands on. I don’t know. Overtly, I certainly don’t feel like I go looking for new and interesting corners of my pathology. They just seem to present themselves. And I believe that I try my hardest to acknowledge and treat them to the best of my ability. And yet, regardless of my best efforts to stem the tide, the onion just keeps on peeling, drawing me further down the endless aperture of my own reality.
Victor Frankl said, “There is a price to be paid for self-awareness.” I wholeheartedly agree. And his point is not that self-awareness should consequently not be pursued. Matter of fact, he is one of mankind’s greatest proponents of staunch vigilance when it comes to the quest of understanding self. His point is that with the seeking comes the awareness that there is no going back. You can’t unknow what you know. So before you go looking, be clear that you might not like everything you find. He maintains that the fearless searching is undoubtedly the road to salvation while still acknowledging that the road itself may well, at times, be strewn with deep potholes and shards of broken glass.
The last line of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous reads,
“Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.
May God bless you and keep you – until then.”
The key word that stands out for me in that passage is “trudge.” And I guess that was Frankl’s point. It’s a trudge. It’s work. And you don’t have to do the work if you don’t want to. Denial is certainly an option. And then, of course, if you find the denial being compromised by the truth stubbornly trying to break through, there are always the many anesthetics of the human world to assist in keeping it buried. And, as to the anesthetics, the reason that something like hard-core narcotics can prove useful is that they tend to, in fairly short order, force something of a fork in the road. What I mean is that for those who utilize work, power, sex, food, etc. to staunch the truth, it is far more possible for the pain they produce to be just benign enough to allow a person to live a long life of mild dissatisfaction without ever hitting a bottom severe enough to force the issue. On the other hand, if you’re a crack smoker for example, the chances are pretty good that you will eventually hit the sidewalk like a bullet and be presented with an overt life or death choice. I chose life. At least, so far.
And so I trudge. And sometimes the trudge is exhausting. Well, if I’m being honest, more than sometimes. Often. It’s often exhausting. And, again, I’m really not entirely sure how much of the exhaustion is self-created. I only know that, within my limited brain capacity, I certainly feel very much that I want to be happy. That all the work is an investment in the deep desire to live comfortably inside my own skin. And sometimes I do. Certainly I do a hell of a lot more than I did twenty years ago. And on many days, that is enough. On those days, I have the cognizance to recognize that I am awash in more blessings than I could ever have imagined for myself and that I am exactly as happy as I am and that I have myriad opportunities to work toward greater happiness. Course, there are also a hell of a lot of days where I get stuck on questions like, “Why am I still so bloody damaged? Why are there so many areas of struggle? Why does my skin feel like it is made of tracing paper? Why does it continue to be so damned easy for the circumstances of the world around me to capsize my little rowboat?”
And this brings me back to the idea of emotional anorexia. You see, if there is anything I have come to unequivocally understand about this journey that I am on, it is that left to my own devices, my comically limited human will, I am something of a train wreck. And that the solution to this basic problem is some sort of spiritual connection. Not God necessarily. I have a lot of trouble with the notion of somel omnipotent individual making definitive holy decisions casting the fate of all of us. On some level, I long for that sort of rigid, compartmentalized notion of a higher power. At least for today, though, it falls short of cutting the mustard for me.
But I believe in something. Some sort of divine energy from which I may draw power. Nebulous as my notion of this mysterious power is, I have abiding faith that it exists. But believing in it, in my experience, doesn’t do a whole lot to assist me in my plunge down the rabbit hole. I need to do more than believe. I need to connect. I need to connect to it. And, of course, the challenge of establishing connection is that no one can really agree on the most efficient way to do it. With that said, one common factor that I believe you’d find no matter what framework of spirituality you examine, is that communing with other people is a key piece of the puzzle.
Love and support from our fellows is right at the heart of how we find spiritual wholeness. I know that to be true the way that I know that the sun rises in the east. And you’d think that this knowledge would make it fairly simple to seek out the love and support I so desperately need and then, once found, welcome it into my heart with ease. And the first part of that equation I actually do accomplish with incredible ease. With almost no effort at all, I attract hoards of loving and supportive people into my sphere who want nothing more than to freely offer me adoration and comfort. And then, for reasons I do not fully comprehend, I hesitate to let them do it.
Last night, I had a delightful conversation with my friend Andrew. Andrew lives in New York. I love Andrew. I love him deeply. He’s a wise, empathic sage. Just the sound of Andrew’s voice when he answered the phone and said, “hello” filled me warmth. We updated each other on this that and then I began to tell him of my recent struggles with my newly diagnosed ADHD and the Adderall that I have been taking to treat it. He was supportive and understanding and non-judgmental. When we hung the phone up, I felt awash in his love. I also felt myself overcome with sadness. Because I never call Andrew. Previous to the phone call in question, I don’t think Andrew and I had enjoyed a phone call together in nine months. He had left me a few messages over that time and I had not returned those calls. And here’s the thing. I have no idea why. Andrew would, I believe, be overjoyed to have me call him every single day. Accordingly, I sense that I too would love that. And, obviously, I could go ahead and do that. And I might. But, if history serves as any indication of what we will do in the future, I probably won’t. And that’s where the sadness comes in. I want the love and support that Andrew so freely doles out so much, and yet I am aware that the chances are pretty good that I won’t allow myself to have it for another nine months.
As I was writing this post, I paused after the first paragraph to call my cousin Howie. Howie is the closest thing in this world that I have to a brother. Like Andrew, he lives in New York. We enjoy each other on a multitude of levels and a phone call with Howie is always stimulating in an effortless sort of way. He’s a devout reader of this blog and was very interested to garner some further data on my relationship with my new medication. He knew some of what was going on. But the information that he had successfully gathered had come entirely from his reading the two posts which preceded this one. And the reason for that is that I have not called Howie in months. He has shot me an email or two over that time and perhaps dropped me a phone message. But I had not responded until now. The conversation moved from Adderall to work situations to home life to movies to the two new albums from Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. We shared an “I love you” and hung up and I felt the very same sadness.
The two calls to Andrew and Howie ultimately took place because I have been going through a very difficult time and have once again come up against the way in which I starve myself of love and support when I need them the most. So I am painstakingly trying to work against it. This is not to suggest that the two phone calls were hard to make, just that in the wake of both of them I found myself overwhelmed with the covert deprivation which has me spending an enormous amount of my time feeling emotionally alone.
I could give you a pretty long list of friends who you could call and inquire about their relationship with me, and while I believe (hope) they would have a host of lovely things to say about why they care for me, I am also quite sure that the lion’s share of them would eventually toss in the word “unavailable.” Or maybe they would use “aloof” or “distant” or maybe even “selfish.” I am equally sure that if you interviewed my mom or dad or sister or aunts or uncles or cousins or in-laws you’d encounter the same pattern. In fact, the only people who I can say with a somewhat solid degree of assurance would not frame me in such a way are my wife and my children. For some unknown reason, I seem to have figured out how to take the love in from my bride and the two little beauties we created. I can feel, with almost no limitations, the depth to which Sydney and Ryan are wild about their daddy. And Lorri? Well, if you’ve paid even cursory attention to this blog, you have read the many things I have written about my wife and know that I worship her and absolutely believe her to be an angel sent from the heavens to rescue me. I have, over a long period of time, come to allow Lorri to love me. It hasn’t been easy and it, on some level, continues to scare the living shit out of me. The wounded little boy inside of me continues to harbor the still, small belief that I am wholly unlovable and that God hates me and that his ultimate revenge on me for my very existence will be to grant me the greatest love that a human being could possibly imagine and then violently yank the rug out.
So, considering the challenges I have around the intimacy I share with my wife, I suppose the reluctance to do it with others is less than completely surprising.
And yet, still the question, “Why?” What’s the problem here? Why the persistence in throwing up stop signs when it so clear that what I need is a steady green? It’s a conundrum all right. I suppose it’d make more sense if I was unloved as a child. But I wasn’t. I was loved. I was plenty loved. For whatever foibles my mother and father may very well have had in their attempts to parent me, I never had any questions about whether they loved me. I was told I was loved every day. I was hugged and kissed and held and squeezed and petted with reckless abandon. And, as a result, I am a very loving person. My parents, along with my extended family, certainly taught me how to love.
And yet somehow it seems to have fallen short of showing me how to be loved.
And most confusing of all, my ability to love seems to be the ultimate smokescreen in terms of shielding me from how little love I am taking in.
My tendency to take on the pain of countless others and gently nurture them through it very easily serves to manifest the illusion that I am engaged in genuine intimacy while, all the while, I am slowly going to pieces as a result of not getting my own buckets filled. And it isn’t until I burn out on all the service and take a step away, that I am able to see that my fuel gauge has long since fallen south past the line marked “E.”
I hit one of those bottoms about six months ago. Since then, with the great majority of my commitments to service let go of, I have experienced a deep void that I have been slowly trying to figure out how to fill. And as each day passes, I fight the urge to plunge back in and resume my futile quest to save the world. Because, paradoxically, it is a mostly selfish quest. It’s a drug. And I want it. I want it because. at least from the standpoint of immediate gratification, it works. It makes me feel valuable and useful. And, of course, that’s not all bad. But it will also allow me to ignore the central problem.
It will allow me to starve myself. And that needs to stop.
Because I am hungry.
The phone calls to Andrew and Howie felt surprisingly nutritious. In spite of the sadness, my belly was full.
Perhaps tomorrow, I will tuck my napkin into my shirt, pull up to the table and eat some more.