Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The Evolution of Coping
Over the past three months I have revealed more about myself on this blog than I would have ever imagined possible in years past.
As I seem to have laid out the bulk of my psychological damage and some of the perceived roots of my depression I feel like I've only touched on the means I use at coping with these things. I think the skills and methods we develop for coping become incredibly important in D/s as well since a lifestyle sub will inevitably face an ever-evolving system of dynamics that will force them to continuously sacrifice freedoms. I believe their ability to cope directly influences their ability to thrive in such a lifestyle.
When I talk about demons, I generally refer to events or memories that occurred in the past that still manage to influence my life, thoughts, or feelings in a negative way. Not good enough. Unlovable. Worthless. Terrible. My rational mind knows that I am good enough, that I am lovable, that I am worthwhile, and that I am not (always) terrible. The demons manage to have a stranglehold on my soul and have punched holes that remain open... while they can be filled temporarily, I'm always aware of those holes... and if the temporary fills are gone, the pain comes rushing back.
My earliest means of coping with rejection was to just do the best that I could. Meet every expectation. Be excellent. Be perfect. Exceed expectations. I managed to do this in many ways and it was the way that I was still rejected that led to the evolution of my coping skills. After a brief foray into attempting to silence the demons, my next method was to compensate... and then over-compensate.
I know people that believe it is impossible for someone to truly change. I disagree with this sentiment as change became something I performed regularly. It starts with an ideal and a vision of how to actualize this ideal. By analyzing our actions, first in hindsight, then in real-time, and finally with foresight, we can in fact compare how we currently act vs. what our ideal form would act. With careful monitoring of our behavior and impulses, it is possible to slowly change ourselves to a more ideal form. At first it might seem like acting, but if the desire to change is genuine it is very possible. After a while, the reactions become natural. The thought process before the actions becomes automatic. e.g. You no longer have to imagine what an unselfish person would do, you already think like someone that is unselfish.
I looked at myself in a brutally honest way. I was an asshole and fairly narcissistic. I didn't value others as equals... I saw myself as being the most important thing in my world. I understood why I had very few friends. These were the defenses I had built up in order to make living with the holes in my soul bearable. It took me a year to reverse this course and I didn't just return myself to a neutral state... I kept going until I was a generous person who thought about the needs of others first, I learned to listen rather than speak, my impulse was to build people up rather than tear them down. I had a track record of being a jerk and I had everything else that I hated about myself... zeroing the scales wasn't enough... I felt the need to compensate for my inadequacies.
As my process progressed and behaviors became natural, people began to notice. People began approaching me. They wanted to be around me. They trusted and confided in me. My friendships were deep and genuine. The only traces of my old me was my sarcasm and quick tongue when it came to joking around among friends.
This wasn't enough for me to overcome the demons or find the peace in my soul I was searching for. The next step was to over-compensate. I wasn't content with being a good guy, I wanted to be a great guy. I wanted to be the type of person that other people said "wow, he's a great guy." I wanted to be the person that other people knew they could depend on when the chips were down. I wanted to be that guy that people included in their short list of closest friends. Need someone to watch your back? I'm there. Need someone to cover for you? I'm there. This guy fucking with you? Let's kick his ass.
This worked in many ways. I had a lot of friends. While there were some acquaintances, I had a LOT of people I could count on and trust. My parents threw a surprise party for my 17th birthday and 105 people showed up. I grew in self-confidence. My self-esteem remained checkered. I couldn't find love. I felt ugly. I began to over-compensate even more. I began to open up a bit more emotionally. I found I was actually an empath. I became the sensitive guy that women would confide in. I was the shoulder to cry on, the one that could be called at any time day or night to be there... but I was still alone in the end.
I continued to over-compensate. By the time I was 20, my primary goal was to become someone who could make a woman happy... be everything to her. I became someone who could look into the heart of others and understand what they needed to be happy. I did not use this ability lightly. I wouldn't flirt with it, I wouldn't exploit it. I reserved it for the one I loved that would love me back. It still wasn't enough.
I attended a few different colleges so very few people were aware of the process I was going through. Each time I started new it was as if this is who I had always been. I was never able to make myself great enough... to be loved... or to overcome the demons.
In my mind I'm still always on my evolving journey of over-compensation.... still continuously looking for ways to better myself as a friend and lover... and search for ways to make other people happy. I have been taken advantage by people many times over the years... but I never let that deter me. I still invest heavily in the people I choose as my friends and try to be amazing.
It was K who first spotted this desire in me... and saw that I would excel through submission. She was the first to truly patch up one of the holes in my soul. Little did I know that D/s would also serve a role in that as well.
The second largest battle I've faced with coping is depression. I first started battling depression at age 5 and it has factored heavily into my life for 30+ years. My depression is heavily influenced by the strength of my demons. When things are going well, the demons have little if any power. If things go south or the temporary fillings become unstable, it is common for me to go spiraling into a very dark place where the demons constantly enter my thoughts in a bad way. Originally I had no means to cope with things when they got bad... I merely wanted to die. Numbing and escapism gave temporary respite, but it always tumbled back when I would sober up or the movie would end, and so on. To be honest, I probably should have been medicated for the majority of my life. I chose to avoid that route and in the process found another progression of coping.
My first coping method was obsession. This is heavily at the root of my "nerding out." I find something... and it becomes what I care about. I learn all about it... I master it... I become an authority on it. The obsession can be about many different things. I found a new author... I'll go get every book they ever wrote and read them all. I find a director I like... I'll go get every movie they ever directed and watch them all. I find a TV serial drama I like... I'll go get every box set and marathon it all the way through. A new type of Video player comes out... I'll research every known generation and style before picking the best one. I'll decide I want to learn to cook Japanese food and I'll learn a ton of recipes and techniques. I'll decide I want to work out and start exercising 7-days a week. This is what I do... I find something to immerse in and plow into it full force until I have mastered everything about it.
In turn, once I have mastered it, I find the need to share those things with the people I am close to. I am able to show them what I find special and use that to strengthen the bond between us. This is a strong positive. Another positive is that it occupies my mind. I have no time to worry about the demons... I'm too busy trying to find a good condition used copy of season 7 on DVD for under $10. It gives me a sense of purpose that I can relentlessly pursue.
The downside... is that this closely resembles a hypomania of a bipolar cycle (I am not bipolar). Some of these obsessions aren't cheap (others are). I am a wise enough buyer to only pay a "good price" for items purchased during my obsession, since I know I may want to liquidate it back into cash at a later date after the obsession has passed. Because of this I am extremely careful not to make horribly unwise decisions... just borderline unwise ones (I am usually in a position to break even or make a profit).
I'm well-versed enough in the early feelings of my depression that I can spot it when it's about two-months away. The first feelings brew up in my chest... a few impulses pop into my brain and I see it clear as day. The iceberg in the distance. I begin reaching out in an attempt to solidify a support system that will carry me through okay. As I got older this became harder and harder to achieve as people get busy with their lives and they just don't have time for people that aren't immediate family. When it works, this is the healthier option but more often than not it falls apart.
In these cases I will forcibly induce an obsessive state. I will scour until I find something to become my new obsession and off I go, knowing I will be okay for its duration and hopefully either a) find my said support system or b) track down my next obsession to be waiting in the wings. Once I start reaching the end goal of the obsession is when I start getting worried. I can tell I will crash once I reach the end. If I haven't succeeded in finding (a) or (b) I end up plunging in... crashing straight into the iceberg I saw from months away but could do nothing to avoid... only prolong.
The craziest thing is that the coping methods I developed for dealing with the demons and the primary coping method I use to stave off depression ended up becoming idealized for the D/s lifestyle. I can willingly shape myself into the form that is ideal for pleasing her. I will be perfect for her. I will meet and surpass her expectations. All of this is natural. I can zone in on submission as my obsession, always seeking new and better techniques or mindsets. I drive full on at becoming the perfect sub. As long as the D/s dynamic is in place, there is always enough on my mind to keep myself from feeling the pull of the demons or crashing. It is a very blissful state for me, full of purpose, and it's odd that everything I have done seems to play very well into thriving in this type of lifestyle.
Unfortunately... D/s isn't always present for me. With F it was a couple of days a week. With T it no longer exists. It is in these times that I still have to worry after the crash. This led to the last evolution in my ability to cope. I hope at some point I can take this even farther but this is the current state of me.
The hardest part of daily existence in depression is to be able to spot which feelings are real and which ones are caused by or magnified by a chemical imbalance. If your beloved pet dies you should be sad. If the pet dies and you want to die because of all the things you could have done better with it, that is depression. It's bad depression when you want to die because of all the things you could have done better with a pet that died 10 years ago.
I have become accustomed to spotting the difference and brushing off the fake feelings and centering myself around the real ones. When the fake feelings pop up with tremendous frequency... life can start to feel crappy. This is what led me to my final means of coping. I live day by day.
When I know that I'm in deep I have one goal: To experience joy daily. I can't think about tomorrow, so what will I do today? I want to watch this movie with T. I want to go get ice cream. I want to find some new music to listen to. I want to soak in the tub with some insanity inducing bath salts. While this might seem silly... it's actually rather fulfilling. I set out one small goal per day that I know that I can achieve and will bring me joy... and I make sure to do it.
It doesn't bring me a glorious future. It doesn't really fix me. It does make me smile daily and feel good about being alive. It keeps me from losing to the demons, getting sucked into the stress of the daily grind, or collapsing under the weight of the damage from the past. Even when I'm super depressed I find a way to smile daily and feel good about being alive.