Saturday, September 23, 2006

communication breakdown

One of the startling features of sobriety in its early stages (which is perhaps every day for the rest of one's life) is the complete reconfiguration or outright obliteration of patterns long used in relating with others. The admission of powerlessness extends to everything, including arenas where our most tried and true control strategies have long held sway, in particular in the arena where we can be most hurt which for me is definitely relations.

For example, let’s say I’m involved with someone who disappears and refuses to communicate. The features have everything to do with abandonment and all of my control strategies around abandonment are liable to kick in. Rage, masked as a distant coldness, is bound to follow hard on some initial period of pursuing that which retreats from me. Faced with being abandoned, I would be inclined to completely suppress my entire experience in order to “get the person back.” But ultimately this submergence of who I think I am and what I am feeling causes a backlash of rage, of “becoming irritated and refusing to talk,” of passive aggressive withdrawal, silence, dishonesty, etc. The book is already closed at this point, baby. I might still be a body in the room but I am so far gone you’d think I lived on a different planet. It’s a control strategy for me, this “you can’t fire me, I quit” stance. The reified feeling of it, its substantial heaviness, is reinforcement for the core belief: You are completely and entirely alone and unloved. Anything happening that seems to call that core belief into question is an illusion, when the core belief is operating. So if someone I love disappears I have my old games and old internal conversations all set to go, worn in deep old familiar antediluvian grooves.

In sobriety it’s like watching those things happen while at the same time investigating the possibility of believing new beliefs and reacting in new ways. The strange aspect of life sober is that the old ways are fully present. Sometimes of course they are just operating unconsciously the way they always have, without even a hint of recognition. But more often there’s a consciousness standing apart from all those old dominoes, observing, and considering “well, what if what you think is happening isn’t? What if you don’t know the whole story and don’t have to know the whole story?”

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