Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bursting Bubbles and Feeling FUBAR

It always amazes me when my brain tunes into something, and suddenly, I start seeing examples the same message everywhere I look and in the most unlikely of places. My last few blog posts considered optimism as a coping mechanism. It was part of a series of posts about cognitive biases – the errors of thought that people make when interpreting the meaning of what happens to them or what they observe.

Optimism proves to be a bit of a paradox in that it is a hard bias to reduce, but it also fosters hope which becomes a powerful motivator for positive change. People who lean towards optimism tend to be happier, and the belief that an effort will be met with success can literally and dramatically improve a person's chance of success. The tricky part involves striking a safe balance between an optimism that fosters positive change while avoiding the pitfall of recklessness through risk-taking. We need some buffer to help us cope with the fact that life is not fair and that we are flawed creatures with limited power. And in life, sometimes the bubbles we create wear out their usefulness as we change and grow.

Time for Change

I've been in the midst of a positive paradigm shift – a seemingly comprehensive change in the way that I think about myself and my identity. In many ways, I've been working towards this place all of my life, getting ready to catch up to this moment. Maybe another way of explaining the change might be the analogy of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I know each of the individual pieces well and have spent lots of time sorting them out to make some sense of them. Lots of that work seemed like tedium that produced little – until I started to get a glimpse of how those individual pieces fit together to form a larger image that not only makes more sense but also depicts a sense of what is real and true.

I've even felt a momentum in the midst of it, especially in the past year, building into a crescendo that almost left me wondering over the past few weeks if I might actually be manic. My husband says that I'm most definitely not, noting that I've just finally started to figure out in both mind AND heart that I've spent most of my life believing too many negative things about myself that were just never true. I'm enjoying freedom from self torture by embracing who I am. As I see more of the change taking place, this feeling of time speeding up for me reminded me of what I feel when I read Tolkien's writings. It seems like he spends a lot of time focusing on details that I don't quite know what to do with in my mind, but suddenly, the details come together quickly, creating a page-turner of a story.

When my coping bubbles of optimism began to burst in days gone by, the changes were so profound that they felt painful. But having been through other such bursting of bigger bubbles, I know something of the process from that experience. It's frightening, for a part of me has “never been here before” in this place in my thinking. At the same time, I have learned that such changes sweep in with goodness and growth....eventually.

Familiarity with FUBAR

I first heard this term from my husband who picked it up in the military corps at college, and given their love for acronyms, I assume that the term originated within the military. Use your imagination, but I'll define it as “fouled up beyond all recognition.”

If anything ever did leave me feeling like I was hapless and hopeless, it has been my experience in a spiritually abusive church. I felt irreparably harmed – and I was in many ways. I will never regain the freedom of childlike innocence that I enjoyed so much – an optimism that paved the way for too many risks and my foolish trust in people who didn't merit it. Kids who grow up with trauma seem to be predisposed to this kind of feeling anyway, and I find it interesting that some research in complex PTSD from within the VA system connects a predisposition to the problem with a less than ideal childhood.

For me, while it may be maladaptive now, optimism held me together and was sometimes quite fleeting anyway. I found threads of hopefulness in what seemed like the nothingness of helplessness and sadness, and those threads sustained me for a very long time.

The term came up with an acquaintance of mine about a year ago, and I've found myself wondering if I am truly “FUBAR.” The feeling of it for me is too familiar. What is the value of a person? What if I was never fully developed enough to be recognizable before trauma came along? FUBAR can mean different things to different people. But then, I remind myself that feelings aren't facts and if I'm asking the question, the likelihood that I am FUBAR is slim if I'm considering the possibility. I suppose that what I'm feeling is the vulnerability of the reckoning of the idea that “but for grace, there go I.” For whatever reason, I've survived many painful and devastating things, but I am not without hope.

In a way, my paradigm shift has much to do with realizing that I was never FUBAR in the first place.

Hope in Homeland

Without any delusions and resisting giving away an spoilers, I felt very inspired by the sixth season finale of Homeland, the political, espionage thriller series on cable TV. I watched it early this morning, and couldn't be more impressed with it. The concept for the show was adapted from an Israeli series which translates to “Prisoners of War” in English. I read and watch such dramas with the idea that I am also not so different, considering that the concept of thought reform developed from what we learned from some of our POW soldiers when they returned from Korea. Who knows more about PTSD and FUBAR than a soldier after a tour of duty in a war zone? Though my adversities have been very different, I recognize the similarities deeply.

I'd just gone back to watch previous episodes to reconsider some of the themes in the ongoing story, so I've already been chewing on the dilemmas faced by the primary characters in the show. It's very much on my mind along with my paradigm shift. The main protagonist is a CIA operative who suffers with bipolar disorder which she manages to conceal from her employers for a period of time. I've also been fascinated with the complexity of the operative that works as an assassin for the agency and the demons with which he wrestles. He was introduced during the second season of the show, and much attention has been spent on developing his character.

The show doesn't whitewash the serious problems that each one of the characters face, almost depicting the microcosm of war within the context of literally waging in a true political war at the same time. It occurred to me that I could hope to find no better examples of someone who is FUBAR. And in all honesty, I think that all of the characters, to one extent or another, could classify as quite altered by their experiences. But at the same time, while they may be forever changed, each one of these flawed persons in the drama shines with competency and skill that rival their flaws with just as much contrast. It reminds me of listening to a physician describe Attention Deficit Disorder to me many years ago. The disorder presents many burdens, but like a double-edged sword, it comes along with some beautiful gifts. In this season's finale, I really drew in that sense of the humility and honesty that the primary players show to one another – along with a new appreciation for the beauty that has been birthed out of their hardships. They have been birthed both because of and in spite of their flaws and the tragedies they've endured, alone and together.

I'm still drinking in the theme that even the wisest of people can be taken in by their own biases and blind spots. Optimism seems like something of a wild card in that process. The risks can be great or small, the benefits of hoping against hope to realize the best of outcomes make it worth it sometimes, and other times when we think that we've achieved the highest and best, it looks and feels like anything but that. As the saying goes, some days you get the bear, and some days, the bear gets you. But for the most part, though my priorities often end up in a jumble of distraction and lack of discipline, my head usually hits my pillow at night in a sense of peace. And when I do labor in disappointment, it's generally over the people that I've hurt as I've made inevitable mistakes. Rewards always come at a price, and real achievement doesn't come cheap.

I see that in many of the primary characters in Homeland, for their weaknesses become their strengths, and their strengths are given to their own, unique pitfalls. One of the themes building since the beginning of the series has been the kindhearted nature and commitment to what is right and best portrayed in Mandy Patinkin's character, Saul Berenson. In the past two seasons, several characters have come right out and voiced that observation – that he's not really suited for the job, given his own optimism and hope. In the jumble of sound bytes that are used in the opening credits of Season 6, one can hear Saul lament that he really thought that he could change the world. In a TV interview I saw a while ago, Mandy states that he thinks that he could do well to have more of that part of Saul, his character, in his real life.

The hope in Homeland for me? If a CIA division chief and former director can be blindsided because of his own sense of optimism, I'm not in that bad of company. People like me tend to think that paying the price to do what their conscience binds them to not a struggle for others. Some of the characters seem to have little or no conscience at all, and that's a wise thing to note as well. And I suspect that the world would be a better place if their were more people who are like him. (But I've been biased towards Mandy Patinkin since I saw The Princess Bride!)

From Bursting into Birthing

As one of my own bubbles of childlike optimism bursts as I shift into this new place of understanding, I'm also excited by what feels like the birth of a new life full of new opportunities. I'm not sure whether I will make the most of what almost feels like a whole new life as I venture into a place in my mind and my life that I haven't visited before. It's my new dwelling place of perspective if I can persevere.

I wonder how often I'll be visited and tempted by the bubbles of the past as I take my first new and deliberate steps forward – away from The Hunger Artist that I once was? I see now that it was never who I was meant to be. My counselor once used the analogy of the tensile strength of a spider web. They are so remarkably strong in a masterful design of engineering, and like a single strand of a that webbing, the old dark lies that we believe seem to hang on for dear life, struggling against change. Well, a big one has broken for me, and with what I'll call a SOBER JOY, I'll keep on trusting this process, trembling in excitement from both anticipation and holy fear.

I could take the easy route and actually try to become more like Saul as it has occurred to Mandy in that CBS interview. But even he realized that Saul is an idea – an archetype, almost. I have to go about the more daunting work of accepting, embracing and living out who I truly am – with no disclaimers, save that I am human like everyone else. I'm not paragon of virtue, nor am I a hunger artist, born only to starve in shame that I somehow twist around into what is really my own type of pride in the illusory bubble that I made.

I'd say that I'd publish a blog post when I get that figured out, but I suspect – and hope – that life always remains an adventure. And I'm grateful to those kind ones who have been walking along with me in reading this would be diary of sorts. Sometimes, everything feels FUBAR, especially as fire burns the old baggage and residual burns up into ash. Still, having lived thorugh the process before, I've decided that if you can find a tiny ember of hope, it will eventually burn away the dross. And if I could find one, surely everyone else can find theirs if they search for it with all their heart.

And that's all part of what I understand about moving through that pesky maze of healing from trauma to move into wholeness. (I'm not sure that I even comprehend wholeness, either, but today I seem to be at great peace just where I am the way I am. Maybe that's the key.) 

LATE EDIT:  I neglected to note that I know well that now the real struggle comes, but I know that it's a productive one.  Quite often, we take one step forward only to seem like we're taking two steps back.  Emotional healing isn't linear!  But the bad days are never as deep as the ones at the very bottom, and the rewards of perseverance make it worth it.  Solomon said that the man who endeavors to do right falls seven times, but he keeps getting back up and keeps moving forward.

Back to a few more Cognitive Biases 
(those pesky CrainioRectal Inversions) 
in upcoming posts. 
Then I can get back to Herman's stages of recovery.

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