You know you’ve got some work to do when your response to your sobriety program’s admonition to remove negativity from your life is, “Well, this bleeping sucks!”
But, hey, I’m in it for the long haul; if my program says, “Eliminate negativity from your life,” I absolutely will. I decided this week I would take a three-pronged approach: I would take in only positive media, I would challenge myself to think positive thoughts about my life circumstances, and I would find something positive to say to everyone I met. How did it go, you ask?
Taking in Positive Media: I thought to myself, what is positive media? I know – comedy! I will read and watch lots of comedy. I will also – because I am a Tumblr devotee – track the hashtag “sobriety” and gain encouragement from the other people working through their substance abuse issues. Awesome!
Look, not actually awesome. First of all, do you know what comedy really is? Comedy really is people laughing at horror. It is a negative genre with an inappropriate response. Something tragic happen? Did someone touch you inappropriately as a child? Did you try to kill yourself by getting drunk and lighting yourself on fire? Laugh about it! That is comedy. In recent days I have read Russell Brand’s first book, My Booky Wook, and Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, Wishful Drinking, because they are both supposedly comedic books about getting over substance abuse. But what they really were was 500+ pages of abandonment, bad parenting, identity crises, sexual abuse, harassment, and failed relationships. Were the books fantastic? Yes. Were they positive? Hell no.
And there are days when that is all you see.
Thinking only positive thoughts about my life: Let me give you a rundown of the week:
Monday’s Facebook Status: “Vitamins. English muffin. Meditation. Good morning!”
Tuesday’s Facebook Status: “This list [with attached graphic] might be a good list of abusive characteristics your church wants to AVOID, by the way.”
Wednesday’s Facebook Status: “‘I almost wish that there would be, like, a simultaneous telecast, and all Americans would be forced – forced at gunpoint no less – to listen to every David Barton [evangelical “pro-family” writer and speaker] message, and I think our country would be better for it.’ – Mike Huckabee. Yeah, you wonder why I vote Democrat?”
And Thursday: First, “How DARE you point out my privilege! Taking away my privilege and providing opportunities for equal access is OPPRESSING ME.” Followed closely by, “I just want to go play with tulle and drink lemonade for a while.”
Yes, at the rate I was going, my status updates by Saturday morning were going to sound like Insane Clown Posse lyrics. Of course, my frustrations came from surrounding life circumstances: my job is stressful, I am planning a wedding, I struggle with keeping calm during conversation about topics like religious organization or the current actions of many elected representatives against the women and poor in our nation, and even yes, sometimes, people are wrong on the Internet. It’s all so very hard.
Meanwhile, finding something positive to say to everyone I met found a particular challenge on Thursday, when our (small) company, where I have admittedly been less-than-pleased with my working environment, surprised us all with our quarterly evaluations and also a routine of peer-evaluation, wherein everyone has to tell you one good thing you’re doing well, and two bad things they’d like you to improve upon. This was a double-whammy to my positivity project: first, it forced me to think negative thoughts about those around me, when I was struggling to be positive about a job I disliked. Second, it forced me to listen to a rather negative-heavy litany of feedback about myself. Needless to say, I went home and had a boatload of Chinese food, chocolate Easter bunnies, and my new addiction, Diet Coke, constant companion, to get over all of that.
But it occurred to me as I was drowning my anxiety and frustration in crab rangoon and Russell Stover that there was an abiding connection between all of my experiences – and no, it wasn’t just that they all friggin sucked. It was, of course – and cue the After School Special music here – my perceptions of events had been marked by my own negative interpretation. Deep, right? I am so deep.
Rather than allowing the media I took in to bring me laughter and an opportunity to view my own struggles through a comedic light, I focused on the negative facts of the situations presented. Rather than reading the #sobriety tag on Tumblr with an eye of compassion and an ear for hearing the wisdom of people who’d been doing this longer than me, I just saw struggle and wrote them off. Rather than catching my positive thinking deteriorating over the course of the week and trying to put a positive spin on things until I felt better – you know, fake it til you make it? – I just whined and moaned and resorted to childish longing and argumentative prodding. And rather than allowing my challenging work environment to teach me something about myself or look for an opportunity to give something positive, I just threw my hands up in despair at something I couldn’t change.
So I did some work toward the end of the week, doing something the very special doctor people call “reframing.” Reframing, for those of you who have yet to have your heads shrunk by an expert, is taking a second look at occasions in your life that you have until this second look considered to be negative, and trying to see them from a different perspective. Once I was able to reframe my week more positively, all of a sudden I thought those books were very funny, the people on Tumblr were brave, my own record of my struggles throughout the week took on a ring of hilarity, and my work? Well, I did learn something valuable about myself: that it was time for me to move on.
Hey, some things are just bad. Part of learning to be positive for me is also learning not to invalidate my own experience with blowsy platitudes. Accentuating the positive isn’t about deluding yourself out of reality. It’s about taking reality, and throwing a pie in its face.