When Children stick their hand down a narrow cookie jar they can’t get their full fist out and start crying. Drop a few treats and you will get it out! Curb your desire – don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.”
– Epictetus, from Discourses 3.9.22
Curb your desire. I live so self-unaware, I am not even certain what it is I want – but I act on my impulses most of the time without thinking. Am I frustrated? I’ll smoke a cigarette. Am I aroused? I’ll masturbate. Am I stressed out? I’ll have a drink. Is there a roll or three leftover after dinner? I’ll eat them all.
What do I want?
I want to break the barriers that hold me back. I want to be a man of integrity, peace, and patience. I want to be in shape and healthy. I want to create things and understand how things work. I want to be educated and well read. I want to be passionate about living life fully, well, and joyfully. Yet I want to show restraint with the indulgences life offers, while still enjoying those things.
I need to think differently about the things I am about to do. And I need to say no to myself more. Curb your desire.
I wrote all of these things earlier this morning after finding the quote online from Lifehacker [link]. What I find so frustrating about my life is how I can go from one sensation [lust] to another [determination to live a better life] and then to another [having a drink when I come home from work ’cause it feels good].
I want to ask the question, “When will this all be different?” but I know the answer: when I choose to make things different. When will I break barriers? When I choose to break those barriers. I am my own worst enemy and my own best friend. I am the only one responsible for my success. I’ve been down this path before, writing something very similar just over month ago:
I just want to sit in the dark and hide from my life. There are certain bright spots that I allow to warm me, but it seems more than ever that there is a large darkness permeating and enveloping my life. It is cold, this darkness, like the bottom of a cave, far away from sun and warmth. But I’ve just put another jacket on, one after another, and some wool socks, some long johns, a hat. I grow a beard to try and keep warm and pretend that I have not created a dark cave to dwell in.
I am tired. But, as the quote goes, I can’t get any rest because I’ve been doing nothing – and I can’t quit doing nothing to get any rest. It’s funny – I used to not have time for anything. I was always working, always creating, always performing that I rarely would come home and find myself with nothing to do. And now, that is where I am, I come home from work, it’s 4:30 pm, my kids are off playing, my son is napping still, and though the house is a disaster, I have nothing to do. And so I do nothing. I sit outside in the cold and I smoke cigarettes and sip a scotch. And then it simply progresses until at the end of the night, I go to bed drunk, cold, rank with cigarette smoke.
Last night, I found myself frustrated after dinner because my wife had started helping our middle child with her math homework and I was doing the dishes and then my wife turned to her phone and instantly shut out everything around her. Middle Child was asking her a question repeatedly and wasn’t getting a response, so I started to help her, but I wasn’t familiar with where she was at and I just wanted to finish the dishes so they could be done. It’s so dumb now, but I was a little bit drunk which probably just incensed my frustration. And so, I tried to bring up my frustration to my wife and she ripped me for being a jerk [which I probably was]. But I was frustrated. I responded that I wouldn’t bring up how I was feeling any more, and her response to that was, “Good.” Which is exactly the opposite of what she’s been asking me to do. So I told her to fuck off. In front of the kids. (And of course, my three year old immediately was like, “Yeah, fuck off mommy.”). Damn it.
And we spent the rest of the night separate – me fuming while she watched tv. Me vowing to never speak of my feelings again – her I don’t know. And so, by this morning, the opening of this writ is how I am feeling. Weepy as I write this; the breath in my lungs surging as I smoke a cigarette; the shame of my failures staining my shirt as a sign to all. The other night, my oldest noticed the sadness delivered from my eyes. And it made it worse – I can’t hide it from my kids now? The only thing I’ve ever been consistent and good at is hiding. I have always been able to hide: from my parents, from my siblings, from my wife, from my in-laws, from my kids, from my friends, from my bosses and co-workers, from the seeing public. I have hidden in various forms from these people, some more than others, some less than others. But I hide because it keeps me safe. But that hiding has turned into hiding from myself too – that’s why I get drunk, so I don’t have to feel. That’s why I smoke, so I get that puff of “satisfaction” to cover up my own smell.
The scene that C. S. Lewis depicts in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace, turned into a dragon with a deep lust for gold, faces Aslan the lion has always struck me savagely. And it’s because I am Eustace, covered in layer after layer of scales. As Aslan shreds skin after skin with his strong, terrible claws, the core of my being shakes, begging, hoping, yet distancing myself from the request to be made new.
But of course, now I find myself in a place where I am questioning the very existence of God, at least of the god I grew up believing in. That’s why the idea of Aslan was such a tremendous impact in all of the Narnia stories – the idea of Jesus physically altering the universe made so much sense. That was why I could pray, “Lord, tear these scales from my body” and hope desperately that by some miracle I would be made whole. All those times I cried. All those times I believed I heard him say something. All those things I told people that he had revealed to me. All the while not actually doing anything myself to change. What a load of shit.
The one thing my mother told me when she first separated from my father was, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” She was referring to him, and I was pretty oblivious to the realities of my dad, who he was, how he behaved, how he functioned and lived. To this day, I still don’t really know. But the little that I do know I have seen in myself in some of these stupid fights my wife and I have had. Me vowing not to talk about my feelings any more. Me not saying anything for months and then blowing up in a mild instance. Me hiding.
So, the long story short is this: I am not ok. I have not been ok for a long while. But no one is going to save me. No one is going to fix me. I am the only one who can do this. I am the only one who can change. I know that I am a person who deeply longs for order and direction. I am the one who has to create that order and walk in that direction. And I can be the person who does that. I can pull myself up by my bootstraps, shed the heavy coats that I’ve buried myself in, and begin the long climb out of the deep, dark, damp cave. Toward the light. Into the light.
I’ve been writing some form of that for the last 20 years [for that I blame religion]. I’ve believed for so much of my life that I am not good enough. And it’s just bullshit. Believing that I am not good enough has made me endure 20 years of failure without change, hoping that some thing was going to save me. The only thing that’s different is that last paragraph. I’ve never really believed I can be the one to instigate change in my life. And you know what? I can and I will. And I am.