I make a lot of decisions based on whether or not they could be viewed as weakness. I will avoid something simply because it would be admitting defeat, even if it’s helpful. “Help” in itself is suspect. Help means you can’t do it by yourself. It means you’re weak. Incapable. Pathetic.
I always want to be able to “just do” something. Power through, conquer by sheer force of will. If I’m strong enough, it will be uncomplicated. It’s simple if you’re not weak and don’t need help and don’t have emotions. Or at least, the wimpy ones. I should be able to flex some giant muscle and make it happen. And if it’s difficult for me, if I have to work for it, if I have to spend any time being puzzled or sorting it out, then I wasn’t good at it. I’m stupid, it beat me, I lost.
This always showed up pretty clearly in school. In Spanish years 1 and 2 I was at the head of the class. I knew all the answers, I had that knack for it. But in year 3 I started to struggle. As in, I had to study for more than half an hour a week. It took some effort, I had to put some work in. So, I gave up. Somebody else had the answer before me and it was over. It wasn’t my thing anymore, not now that I’d failed at it.
This is all part of how Dad raised us. Either you “are” something or you’re not. Either you’ll have some breakthrough moment where your God-given talent shines through everything, including the FACT that everyone is out to get you and “keep you down”, or you won’t. And since he loved us, he was sure that we would have that moment. So we weren’t told to work hard at our dreams, we weren’t told to go to college and have plans, we weren’t told to think ahead or analyze anything, we were told that we were “talented” and we would “make it”.
For my sister this has manifested in a total aversion to anything concrete. I’m sure it’s also partly her actual personality, but she is an artist in a classical sense. Math means nothing to her. She sees the worlds in pictures and ideals. I had to compare flavors to colors in order to help her learn how to cook. “Red will always go with green if you want contrast, but if you want something close to your base color you have to go with purple or orange, right? So, if you have some potatoes and carrots, you just have to know whether onion or jalapenos are the green of this equation, and you can learn that by experimentation.” This mindframe works for her, as she is actually very good at bringing her visions to life. But that’s just luck. And she still wishes she could be more “normal” sometimes, i.e. have some things in her brained nailed down a bit more.
For me, because I am not naturally artistic and I was singled out to have to be the “tough” one (he reinforced this by hitting me about ten times more often than either of my siblings) it has turned into an obsession with the concrete. It has become the perfectionism I’ve been talking about. It is classic “all or nothing” thinking. It’s ALL (I am perfectly successful at this thing in such a way that the perfection thereof cannot possibly be questioned) or NOTHING (I suck, I’m not meant to do this, and I am giving up now).
Whenever I try to start any project, at the outset I figure out how I will measure it. I can’t just say “I want to write a screenplay”. I have to decide exactly how long I will spend working on it each day, or dictate how many plot points I must articulate per week, and when I do this I tell myself that these goals will keep me on track. But it’s a trap. The second I have a system of goals set up is the second I know that I will break it at some point, that I will slip up and fail, and that means FAIL. And that will be the end of it. And right then, right at the beginning, is when I start looking forward to giving up. Going back to that quiet, hidden time when I wasn’t disappointing anyone. If nothing is expected from you, you can’t let anyone down, and that is the lure of being a self-loathing lazy sadsack fatass.
When I set out to lose weight I do the same thing. I measure everything, I resolve to write everything down, I plan to do X, Y, and Z every day and track everything in a graph. I tell myself that it’s fun, and I certainly do love me some graphs. But really these things are all crutches, for the same reason playing the victim is a crutch to some. The blame falls elsewhere. Because I know, deep down, that all these measurements are setting me up for failure. But I refuse to acknowledge that, because that would be admitting defeat. I’m not supposed to be susceptible to that. Nothing and nobody is supposed to be able to set me up for jack shit, I’m supposed to just be able to power through this. So I do the same thing over and over, waiting for my shining moment of talent or Fate.
This post is my confession to this mania, and a promise to try and stop it. As always, I not fell but LEAPED off the wagon on my “90 Day Chris Powell Challenge To Self”. I set up these lofty goals (I never give myself easy goals, and you can guess why – because anyone can succeed at easy stuff and that’s not the same as being perfect and strong) and then after the first tiny slipup, it all falls apart.
So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: I’m going to lay aside my crutches and open my eyes to the painful truth that I can fall into a hole just like anyone. We all have different traps, because we have different blind spots and different types of places we go walking alone. Since these differences exist, I assume that means that they are under our control. If you have THOSE traps and I have THESE traps then we both should be able to figure them out because they’re keyed to us, right? Well… maybe. Maybe that, in the abstract, is true. But I think an analogy is appropriate here. When the Bible talks about traps of a sinful nature, it never says “hey, stop being tempted”. It says don’t sin. It never says “put all your effort into figuring out why you in particular are tempted by these specific things and then cut it out”, it says don’t sin. It never says those things because the truth is, there will always be new traps even if you get rid of your old ones. That’s Satan, and that’s life. That’s why Grace is necessary – you could give me 1,000 years and I’d still never be perfect. So God doesn’t ask the impossible, he asks us to try and then covers for the rest of it.
Back to the literal thing I’m trying to get at. I realized that if I just WANTED to lose weight (which I do) and then was simply let loose in a world that is basically good with things in my life basically under my control and without any glaring encumbrances, I bet I would just go about my business and do the things necessary to get what I want, because that’s how we humans do. We see a shirt, we check our pockets for some dough and go get some if we need to, and then we buy the shirt. We don’t whip out pen and paper and draw a to-scale map of the neighborhood and make a list of exactly what bills we need to find in the cookie jar. And we certainly don’t beat ourselves up if we get distracted and also buy some gum or if there’s pocket lint stuck to the money we hand over.
I’m not starting again right now. I’m not starting anything. I’m not measuring anything, and I’m not planning anything. I’m not whipping out pen and paper and I don’t have an endgame. Tomorrow when I open the fridge I’ll probably go for the veggies over the mini cheesecakes because I feel better when I eat healthy and it makes my clothes fit just a little better. And if I get bored I can go for a jog, or write, or anything else that would bring me closer to some stuff I want.
And of course, if I do run into a tough tactical situation, I will ask “What would Michael Westen do?”