People don’t generally wake up and say “I’m going to be a jerk today”.
Addicts, criminals, bullies. Cranky moms, neglectful dads. Irritable customers, traffic “idiots”, narcissists.
You probably know one. At least one.
And if we’re honest, we’re probably all at least one of these things ourselves, in some shape or form. Or we have been, at some point in our lives.
Okay. I’ve just thoroughly insulted my readers. Great. 😛
But seriously, none of us is exempt from “jerkness”.
Consider that you also do many things wrong, and that you are a man like others; and even if you do abstain from certain faults, still you have the disposition to commit them, though either through cowardice, or concern about reputation, or some such mean motive, you abstain from such faults. – Marcus Aurelius
I was once a sugar, caffeine, and shopping addict.
I once got a ticket for speeding (waaaay over the limit). I was a traffic idiot. (Or road idiot? There wasn’t really traffic to speak of. It happened on a quiet country road.)
Those were both tough things for me to share.
Especially because…those things aren’t “me” anymore, and I’m afraid of being identified by them. I have this fear of being labeled by or viewed through the lens of the things I’ve done in the past…the crummy choices I’ve made.
But there you have it…it’s out there.
But notice the labels I was quick to assign myself.
“Addict” and “Idiot”.
How often do we look past a person’s behavior…and ask…who are they on the inside? What brought them to this point? There must be a reason. Something deeper going on.
I am not in any way attempting to excuse or diminish the careless decisions I made in that season of my life.
However, I wasn’t happy to be destroying my health with sugar or wasting money with excessive shopping.
I didn’t really want to be speeding, or to “tempt fate”. Or break the law.
So something brought me to a point of doing that which I didn’t “really” want to do.
There were reasons for my actions. Lame reasons? Maybe so.
But when you examine them, lame as they may be, those reasons do lend a different insight into my story, personality, and situation. You get a different picture of me.
And suddenly, I become more than just an “addict” or an “idiot”.
How Did I Get There?
Story #1: The Ticket
I remember well the morning on which I got my ticket.
It was a Saturday morning in April – probably around 7:30 – and I was running late for work.
When getting ready for the day, I had been waiting on a family member in order to do stuff I needed to do in the restroom, and this caused a delay in my departure from the house.
Punctuality was very important to me, but I couldn’t just barge in and invade the privacy of my family member. I was trying to be a good “roommate”.
Well, I ended up getting out the door pretty late, which made me extremely anxious about getting to work on time.
Work was already stressful enough, without the added stress of worrying about losing my job or being approached/confronted for tardiness.
I must be on time. Tardiness = stress AND possibly losing job or getting a “strike” on my record. Even if these things don’t happen, I will still be very stressed by the fact that I’m so late.
I hate disappointing my team and letting people down.
And I want to maintain a reputation as someone who is dependable.
I also must not break the law. (Or, in my “survival” or stressed-out mode of thinking, the greater concern may have been “I must not get in trouble”. I do (and did) care about honoring the law, but that matters more to me now than it did then, and I wasn’t thinking too clearly in those days, with all the stress of my job and trying to keep my job.)
Well, of course, out in the middle of the country, early on a Saturday morning, when I’m running late for work, an officer would pass by me and pull me over.
And today, I’m actually very grateful that that happened.
It was a wake-up call for me.
I have not been the same type of driver (or person) since. In a good way.
But I digress. This is not the point I was making. 🙂
My point is that, I got a bad start to the day, and it created a very difficult conflict for me.
Because, on the one hand, I had to be on time to work. Honor commitments. Be reliable.
But, on the other hand, I had to honor the law. (And, like, be safe and not risk my life or anyone else’s.)
And I know, some of you are probably reading this and thinking, “C’mon, Kate! That’s a no-brainer! The law takes priority over a job!”
But in a moment of anxiety, time pressure, split-second decisions, and fatigue (oh, did I mention, I was going on about four hours of sleep? 😛 ), making the “right” call was tough. Because in that moment, multiple things seemed right (being on time to work, driving safely) and at the same time, nothing seemed right (speeding, or being late to work).
And the whole reason I ended up in this predicament (IIRC) stemmed from something outside my control (family member spending long time in bathroom and not working/negotiating with me).
(Admittedly, I don’t remember how long I was waiting [or precisely how accommodating or unaccommodating my family member was that day]. My time spent waiting may have felt much longer than it actually was. It’s been a while.)
Story #2: The Addictions
Sugar. Caffeine. Shopping.
Might as well throw chocolate in there, too.
Okay, well, chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium. And I am forever magnesium-deficient. So there’s my explanation (at least in part) for the addiction there.
But chocolate also falls in the category of “stimulants” (or foods containing stimulants).
Problem is, I am sensitive to stimulants (including coffee).
I’m also sensitive to sulfur – in which chocolate and coffee are abundant.
However, I was relying on stimulants to keep my sleep-deprived self in a “functioning” state at a fast-paced job. (It was very difficult to get on a consistent sleep schedule, as my work schedule was usually quite erratic.)
I also tend to suffer from low blood sugar. So cane-sugary-stuff was a quick “fix” for me, to keep me going and give me some fast energy (whatever carbs I consumed, I typically burned within short order at my job.)
Did I know that cane sugar probably wasn’t great for me? Sure. I even knew that I was somewhat sensitive to cane sugar (from an IgG test I had taken). But I didn’t realize at the time just how harmful it could be, or how much it was affecting me.
And even if I had known this, I don’t know if it would have made a difference at the time.
It was hard to think of changing anything in my life or mode of operation, because any such action would require energy and brainpower, and those two things were in very short supply at that point in my life.
Even working in a time at home to cook healthy food to bring with me to work seemed overwhelming.
Plus, my schedule changed from week to week, and the lack of consistency made it challenging to plan any sort of routine.
(…Not that I’m much of a “routine” person anyway….)
I know. I made some lame excuses.
But they were legit enough to me at the time to keep me from taking any action.
I largely defaulted to buying things at my workplace. They had some healthy or “less unhealthy” options – which I mostly tried to stick with – but in retrospect, most of those options were still not well-suited to my dietary needs. Things like veggie smoothies and fermented drinks, and organic or non-GM sweets/desserts and chocolaty stuff, which…were still super-sugary sweets and desserts, and therefore unhealthy. Somehow I convinced myself that they were more acceptable because they were organic or non-GM.
They were the fuel that kept me going, so I “had” to believe they were okay.
This would probably explain why my eyes gradually became droopier, my skin became more coarse in appearance and more diseased, my speech became more slurred, and I suffered from excessive brain fog.
(Sleep deprivation was also a major contributor in the aggravation of these symptoms.)
I remember beginning to feel like I was actually dying. Like I was aging way too fast.
And coffee? I kept drinking it to stay awake, but it actually began to make me more tired.
According to Dr. Jesse Chappus in this article:
Here’s the problem. Coffee stimulates the adrenal glands, which means that every time you drink coffee, you’re activating the body’s fight-or-flight response. But, instead of releasing adrenaline so the body can react to a true stressor, the adrenals are releasing this hormone in response to your coffee consumption.
What happens over time is that your adrenal glands start to burn out from overuse, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. Naturally, you can help to prevent adrenal fatigue simply by avoiding coffee, or keeping your consumption to a minimum.
And shopping? Well.
I wanted to fit in. I had always felt out of place in various situations in my life, and didn’t want to be a social outcast at my workplace (especially because this could affect job opportunities in the future).
If I could just look more professional, hip, or stylish, I thought, then maybe I would be respected more, treated more kindly, considered for promotions, etc.
Additionally, I had a “crush” on someone at work at the time. So I wanted to look attractive.
And working a metrics-heavy, stressful job each week – where corporate-originated pressure and expectations trickled down to employees, and where all of this crap (stress, negativity) had to be hidden from the public – with whom I was constantly interacting – I began to wear down.
In such a work environment (in most work environments, but some more than others), criticism, pressure, and poorly considered words are not uncommon.
And I began to question my value.
Without even giving it much thought, I began to search for other ways to increase my value – or at least to feel valuable, even temporarily.
And so I purchased things that (I hoped or believed) would make me more attractive or even smart (or at least seem smart).
I know it sounds silly and foolish now, but I was drowning then. And when you’re drowning, you’re not thinking.
But I think the biggest reason I was hooked on shopping was because my neurotransmitters were imbalanced and I was looking for a thrill or “high” to make me temporarily feel better (my physical pain/discomfort – such as a headache – would sometimes disappear or diminish while I was shopping [typically only to return later]).
I was also looking for a way to cope with the intense stress of my job.
The work itself was fairly straightforward most of the time. The most stressful aspects were: the amount of time I spent on my feet, the smells, toxins, bright lights, and other factors (which can cause migraines and other symptoms for me), the particular work environment/culture, and often, the unreasonable goals/expectations and understaffing, as well as the retaliation or irritation with which vocalizing concerns was sometimes met.
Shopping was sort of a way to escape from all of that, albeit a temporary one.
To experience – for a moment – a feeling of “wellness”, when all was not truly well.
My addictions and dangerous driving represent some very poor choices I made, which affected my [already compromised] health and compromised my safety on the road (and maybe the safety of others, but I had a habit of speeding the most on country roads – because they were pretty quiet – in order to get to work on time. I tended to slow down once I got in town. Still, something could’ve happened.).
And not one of those choices was free of consequences.
But my point in sharing all of this is that:
We all have a reason for doing the things we do. Even for making the poor decisions we sometimes make.
Although our reasoning may not be the wisest or most logical in these situations, we are still rational and reasoning beings, and there is (almost?) always an “understandable” motivation lying beneath the harmful or dangerous choices we make.
There is always a reasoning or rationalization that takes place in our minds, even if it is flawed.
But sometimes, the “non-rational” part of our brain – the limbic brain – is the one doing the “reasoning”.
When our brain shifts to survival mode (because we’re in a stressful situation), our limbic system takes over.
When this happens, the “childish” part of our brain is taking the reins and calling the shots.
Interesting article on trauma and the limbic brain:
How Trauma Changes The Brain by Nicole Priesmeyer
Today, I’m thankful to say that I’ve been able to work through these particular addictions, and I am a much safer, more cautious driver. I’m definitely constantly watching my speed. 😛
But lemme tell ya, other issues and struggles have popped up in their place. It’s just like Whac-A-Mole. 😛
What “they” do – on the surface – may be evident to us.
Bullying others at school or work, getting hammered, driving aggressively or carelessly.
But there is always a “why”.
And that may not be so evident.
What they suffer may be hidden from us.
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
How could they not just throw that alcohol away, and stop purchasing any more booze (because it’s obviously such a temptation for them)?
All it takes is some willpower, we muse.
How can they continue like this and just throw life away?
And sometimes, we make assumptions about their motives.
What is this f*****g moron thinking cutting in front of me? Risking my life, so he/she can enjoy a momentary thrill and look “cool” for a few minutes?! Well, that’s not cool, a*****e!
When someone speaks to you curtly, disregards what you say, performs what seems to be a thoughtless gesture or even an outright evil act, think to yourself, “If I were that person and had endured the same trials, borne the same heartbreaks, had the same parents, and so on, I probably would have done or said the same thing.” We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend our judgment of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding. – Epictetus
And I’m not saying that we should condone bad behavior, or that we should never take measures to protect ourselves.
There are times when, as much as you love a family member, or because you love them, you must distance yourself – at least for a time – in order to stop enabling unhealthy behavior and thinking patterns that you may be feeding in them or in yourself by sticking around. And in order to keep yourself safe.
Additionally, while you may forgive a family member for what they are doing or have done – and may have compassion for them – that doesn’t mean that you must (or necessarily can) press your “trust” button and…presto! – immediately feel trusting of them again.
Forgiving others doesn’t necessarily mean that everything inside us will instantly return to “normal”.
And showing compassion doesn’t always mean occupying the same space or placing ourselves in a dangerous situation. Compassion does not necessarily equal closeness.
The act of loving and forgiving does not preclude the action of allowing ourselves space – at least for a time. In some cases, there may be ways to still help your loved ones from a distance.
If you’ve been abused, and chosen to forgive your abuser, this does not mean you return to a situation in which you may be harmed.
Someone who is suffering from antisocial personality disorder may try to convince you that you have not forgiven them unless you restore to them the level of trust they once enjoyed. They may attempt to shame you for establishing distance or protection from them.
Forgiveness does NOT equal trust.
What if the behavior we see traces back to something that occurred in the deep, dark caverns of our “enemy’s” past?
Or what if their actions stem, in part, from physiological illness? Neurotransmitter deficiencies, hormonal imbalance? GABA deficiency? Pyroluria?
Or from abuse or neglect?
It is crucial that we look at the “why”, and not simply demand or expect the person to cover their problems with a bandage, or fix themselves externally.
We must recognize that there is likely an internal, hidden cause.
And until that cause can be identified and treated, behavioral changes are not going to take place.
I was talking to my sister about this, and she made a great point. Her words (paraphrased): “The behavior that we see is often symptomatic, rather than being the actual disease.”
Yet how readily do we consider alcoholism, or “narcissism”, or irritability, or erratic behavior to be “the disease”? The problem to treat?
Yet the actual disease (whether emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical) is often the part we don’t see.
And I’m not saying that there is never a time for a “quick fix” to something as a protective measure. This is sometimes necessary in the case of an emergency.
Going to the hospital for suicidal ideation/behavior. Or severe malnourishment from an eating disorder.
Arranging legal restrictions/restraints for someone who is physically out of control and harming or likely to cause harm to others.
However, these are not long-term solutions, and they don’t address the roots of these problems.
There is always something that led that person to suicide, or an eating disorder, or physical aggression.
Maybe they know what got them there. And maybe they don’t.
Sometimes, the investigative process takes a while. Therapy and medical treatment may be required.
But telling someone to just “snap out of it” and “stop being ___ (suicidal, alcoholic, anorexic, depressed, tired, aggressive, prideful)” is very unhelpful.
Sometimes, we don’t even understand why we do what we do. Especially in the throes of a panicky state. Like a dachshund struggling not to drown, we make all the wrong moves to stay afloat, sometimes grabbing onto others or pushing them down.
Please see Disclaimer.
Pyroluria is often correlated with major mental illnesses, including alcoholism, schizophrenia, and depression, and physical problems, including digestive/GI issues.
Pyroluria: The Most Common Unknown Disorder – Dr. Jockers
According to Dr. Jockers:
Pyroluria is a genetic condition that is typically related to familial alcoholism and/or environmental toxicity. If an individual has a family history of alcoholism they may very well have this genetic mutation. It can be induced with childhood trauma or a chronic infection early in life. The onset usually begins in the late teens and is often triggered by a traumatic life event.
Pyroluria certainly can’t explain all behavioral problems, addictive behavior, or mental health struggles. But it’s definitely worth checking into.
I have the genetics for pyroluria, and many of the matching symptoms.
For me, pyroluria has manifested as: skin conditions, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and pale skin. My eyes’ sensitivity to light may also be connected.
Supplementation with vitamin B6 and zinc has been extremely helpful for me in treating this.
What are some things – besides pyroluria – that might cause people to struggle?
Sleep deprivation / insomnia.
Low blood sugar.
Chronic fatigue syndrome.
Lead or other heavy metal poisoning.
Neurotransmitter imbalance/deficiency. For example, someone who’s low in dopamine or GABA (and some people are genetically inclined to be [see this article by Dr. Michael Veselak]) may be particularly attracted to recreational drugs or substances that increase GABA transmission or dopamine in the brain, because the brain is sending a message, “Help me! Fix this! RED ALERT! LOW GABA! Dopamine critically low!”)
One may not know that their brain is begging them for more of the drug (or why it is).
And…the “obvious” (but not always so evident) possible causes:
Loss of a loved one (human/pet).
Why does your coworker always feel she has to tear you down?
Maybe she feels insecure because her boyfriend or husband is mistreating her, and she fancies that you must have a great love life.
(Don’t we often fancy that others live more fulfilling lives than we do? We know the worst about ourselves, and only the best about others [the images they project to us]).
Or maybe you remind her of her father who neglected, misunderstood, or abused her. The father she could never please, the father who hurt her. Perhaps she now sees you and other men through that light.
Why does your son continue to destroy his health with alcohol?
Perhaps he wants to “fit in” with his friends.
Maybe he is battling pyroluria, and trying subliminally to medicate his brain and restore balance in its chemistry.
Maybe he is trying to drown out a feeling of emptiness or inadequacy or guilt or disappointment in himself.
Why is your sister continuously anxious and depressed?
Perhaps she’s experienced excessive stress in recent years.
A car accident.
Broken friendships or other relationships.
Or maybe something happened in her childhood. She was teased, bullied, or rejected at school or neglected, abused, or unjustly punished at home. The impact of these experiences on the brain can last into adulthood.
Even if you’re her family member, you probably don’t know or can’t recall everything that’s happened to her.
Why does that mother always yell at her children or belittle them?
Perhaps her mom always did the same thing, and to a greater extent.
It scarred her, and she is taking out the pain on her children.
Or, it jaded and calloused her, and she thinks this is normal or acceptable behavior for a mother.
Perhaps that “idiot” who cut you off on the road just got fired, and they’re trying to overcompensate by feeling “cool” or on top of something. Maybe speeding or “getting ahead” on the road makes them feel powerful for a minute.
Perhaps – just for a moment…the thrill drowns out the excruciating pain.
Or maybe…they’ve got a passenger who’s in labor!
No, speeding and erratic driving is NOT okay.
But the practice of asking “why?” can provide us with more insight into a person’s situation, enabling us to show more empathy.
It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And this happens, if when they do wrong it occurs to you that they are fellow humans and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die; and above all, that the wrongdoer has done you no harm, for he has not made your ruling faculty worse than it was before. – Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, VII.22)
I want to reiterate: I am not saying that this sort of behavior is acceptable.
And if you are on the receiving end of the harmful/dangerous actions of another (your safety is being jeopardized), I cannot stress enough that it is extremely important to do everything you can to extricate yourself from the situation.
Here is an international list of helplines.
We may have immense compassion for a person who is struggling, but this does not always mean that we remain physically close to them while they are sorting things out, especially if we are much weaker than the other party, or “disadvantaged” in some way in the situation.
When we pause, and seek to comprehend where other struggling human beings are coming from, this enables us to demonstrate more understanding and kindness.
It gives us an “appreciation” for the difficulty of the battles they are facing.
They are no longer just:
They are complex human beings – just like you – but with very different life stories, genetics, wounds, scars.
There is always a “why”.
© 2017 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved