familiarity doesn’t equal healthy


as we grow older and hopefully wiser, we become aware of ourselves. we sense our tendencies and personalities. our weaknesses and our strengths become actual weaknesses and strengths, not just these “things” we’d heard of when filling out personality profiles or talking about in job interviews.

the things we don’t like (and are aware of) we hope to not repeat. the things that we do like (and are aware of) we hope to repeat. it’s simple. what’s not so simple is recognizing what is and what isn’t good. often what comes in familiar clothing is not good for us. it’s the sneaky stuff, the old habits that come in different boxes or wrappings that fool us into repeating behaviors. it’s that simple adage that i repeat to myself: “just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s good for you” which breaks the trance. not recognizing the familiarity of a toxic element, a behavior pattern, a weakness, is where it begins for me: that slow-seeming descent into an emotional tempest set at mach IV that feels like a hangover from a frat party when the haze clears. these hangovers can last for days. for me, it’s what i do to myself that can be so much more profound and debilitating than any outside drug or element. 

i learned about my familiar weakness shrouded in a familiar strength one morning about seven years ago after i awoke from a near-paralyzing dream that changed the course of my life. the content of the dream is on the docket to be detailed in the next Great American Novel that i aspire to write, but that doesn’t matter here. the dream set in motion a journey into surgical self-awareness and psychotherapy that saved me, very likely my marriage and my children from living with Joan Crawford. 

it was in those first sessions where my therapist revealed to me that i was on a mission to destroy myself one thread at a time, due to a habit; a way of living that was so entrenched in my being, so very much a part of my daily operations that i had no awareness of its insidious nature. 

everyone has their predilections, their habits and the things that exploit their weaknesses and destroy their strengths. i used to be like the tasmanian devil. i was aware of this. i used to cry-laugh about how i would come into a situation and leave everything upside down and tables strewn about the room with papers flying everywhere. inside, i desperately wanted to be like a daisy in time-lapse photography. i wanted to be slower, to reveal myself slower, to engage instead of bulldoze, to listen instead of always insist i was right, to speak instead of shout, to Adagio instead of march. 

being Taz came from a primitive place: i wanted so desperately to be seen, heard, appreciated and understood as a child that as i “grew up,” i never noticed others noticing me. i had to turn it up to eleven. always. i realize now, that when i enter a room and no one looks up, it’s working; i’m beating my addiction.    

i come from a lineage of people with very strong habits. we are mostly irish. my great grandpeople were sledgehammer slamming, hard-driving brogue-slingers who helped build the New York railway. i dig that. my genetic family’s stores of physical energy and mental prowess are a thing of beauty in theory. in practical life however it means we have enough energy to think and over think and think some more and stir up stuff, most of it irrational, because of our thinking and remembering. sometimes that thinking is good, sometimes it’s not good.

i don’t believe the eldest of my line were heavy drinkers. their work ethic was insane and coming to America during the industrial age only inspired them for further ambition. the drinking might have occurred with the later litters as perhaps being born in America softened the genetic drive and allowed for more idle time which of course gave us more time to y’know: think.       

in keeping with my irish tradition of having too much of a good thing, i learned through my psychotherapy after that dream that i have an addiction. of course i thought that was total bullshit. i saw brilliant members of my family succumb to alcoholism, gambling, smoking, drugs and over-thinking. because my days of collegial over-drinking were behind me, drugs didn’t hold much appeal for me nor did cigarettes and gambling required my giving away money on a hunch (my friends and family know never to bet against me because when i’m willing to put money down on anything it’s because i KNOW i am correct) so my diagnosis of having an addiction was complete crap because i was on a mission to be sober, fit, hard-working, active and engaging. y’know: eleven.

my so-called (whatever) addiction (right) could be only one thing, that i was a “thinker.” the problem with only my brand of thinking is that eventually, the blood supply to feeling atrophies and it creates a whole other level of thinking, where the tasmanian devil reacts and reigns. the bloodline to feeling (self-awareness, emotions and physical awareness) needed to be open for me to heal. 

my drug of choice is a by-product of the thinking (i’ll tell ya in a minute). it’s free. it’s available anywhere at all hours. you don’t need to be a certain age to get some and you don’t gain weight from it or lose brain cells from abusing it. you don’t need a prescription. if you don’t see any around, you just make it yourself. it’s real easy: just lose your shit over the tiniest things. in fact, if you grew up with it, like i did, it’s even easier to re-create it because you have some of its dust in your pocket or in some of the things you took from your parent’s house to your house without awareness. objects have their own energy and they carry your memories and relationships with them, so if you have something around that came from a sad time, get rid of it or attach happy memories to it. i know this sounds crazy, but it’s true.

my object of desire is Chaos. my therapist told me at the end of my first. session. ever. that i have a Chaos addiction. i have it right here in my notebook titled “Be The Daisy”: “3.16.05: little surprise that i thrive in Chaos. love drama; need to step out of it. see how i create drama. 90% of actions are subconscious formed by patterns we endured / experienced as kids — trick: to become AWARE and learn to avoid it.” 

apparently since i moved out of my parent’s place, i’ve had a bottle of Chaos on a shelf in every room of my house, including closets, bathrooms, the kitchen, workout areas and the shed. i have one in my car and i have a tiny one hanging from my key chain. i think there’s an app for it on my cell phone (facebook). there’s a little bottle in my purse. and i have a travel flask of Chaos for when i fly. it’s FAA-approved.

most of the bottles are coated with a tell-tale layer of dust. the dust is a reminder to let the bottle, no matter where it is, gather more dust because that dust means i haven’t picked it up, looked at it and wrenched off its cap or bitten off its cork to sip from it. i used to drink a case of Chaos a day for years before i started therapy. these bottles of Chaos are The One Thing in My World the cleaning ladies aren’t allowed to make perfect. like a bottle of 100-yr-old scotch, you want dust on these bottles.

i just passed a bottle of Chaos on the way to get my therapy notebook. the bottle was sitting next to a crumb-covered dish my son left beside the computer keyboard. instantly i became irritated by the dish, felt my muscles prepare for battle, took in a deep breath to unleash my dragon and proclaim the broken rule (food near computer — which wasn’t really the problem, it was deeper than that: it was my feeling of insult from being unseen and disregarded) and demand correction. but i stopped myself, laughing inside at the irony of my near-collision with Chaos while in the process of writing about my addiction to it. i decided to let it go. i picked up the dish, nudged my son on the shoulder, gave the raised eyebrow, gestured the dish and he took it from me for prompt delivery to the kitchen. 

Chaos averted.

i’m not kidding: this shit’s insidious. if it weren’t for my awareness of my ability to lose my temper over little-seeming things (aka scars from my past), i’d never know about the Addiction to Chaos. it’s because i grew up with it, was surrounded by it and trained by some of the world’s finest Chaos fomenters that i became one myself. 

the opportunities for Chaos and (depending on the circumstances) its wingman, Ensuing Shame or Guilt or Personal Offense (which create their own Chaos in a family system) are everywhere: 

  • be late for an appointment; 
  • delay cooking dinner; 
  • don’t walk the dog; 
  • put on a couple pounds; 
  • sign up for too much / don’t say no / don’t delegate; 
  • ignore the kids; 
  • be offended when others are late; 
  • have secret expectations; 
  • distract yourself beyond ability to do anything predictable; 
  • expect your friends to treat you the way you treat them; 
  • fall behind on a project that no one knows about; 
  • unleash venom disproportionate to the offense; 
  • hold yourself up to unrealistic standards; 
  • never allow personal mistakes; 
  • give more in a relationship than you get; 
  • have secret needs and expect people to understand your rage; 
  • repeate old patterns of behavior with toxic people and expect them to change simply because you have. . . 

omigawd, it goes on and on. 

once the Chaos was outed, The Work began: i had to see patterns where it manifested and more importantly, where i created it if it were missing: 

Ooh, i like that chair where it is, and the table works just fine. the way the light hits the color on the walls in wonderful. what i think the room needs to feel more like home to me is my rage and Chaos: why didn’t anyone ask me to help?!? you’re all jerks.   

my relationship with Chaos had become so much a part of my fabric of being that if i didn’t sense it, i would make it. imagine: a quiet library. it’s peaceful, calm and the energy is silent industry. that made me insane; everyone was so content … NOTICE ME! i loved the idea of reading. . .  but the chairs were uncomfortable. the lighting was wrong. why won’t that kid shut up? why is that person looking at me? eww. this book smells like filth. what’s that stain from? gross, there’s a hair in this book. these people can’t do anything right so i’m leaving. NOW. in my 2-ton SUV in a self-righteous rage over the hair in a book and i’m going to scour the county to buy my own copy of the book instead of borrow it for no cost and then get pissed at myself later for spending the money when i know finances are tight; but then i’ll blame that on my husband for not keeping me more on my toes…

see? i’m a pro.

or this old one: everyone is sitting on the couch watching a movie. it’s a nice moment. but i’m begging for a phone call from my toxic friend who needed me to tell her how screwed up she was and how often she repeated her patterns so we can have a fight and i can preach and vaunt all my anger at her. i recognize right now at this instant as i type that somewhere in me, i subconsciously wanted out of the Chaos, not the relationships. i knew the relationships were sickening for me because i would freak in order to create divide. i miss the people. but people are their habits and when people don’t change, you’re stuck until you’re not anymore. 

i have another note: “I need to abandon before things become “pattern-istic” and they repeat and I get sucked in and I explode. Are the explosions what do me in? No. They are what feeds me and this food is toxic.” imagine getting energy from an explosion… that’s some bad shit.  talk about Schadenfreude

so you see, Chaos also showed up as a repeating pattern in my relationships with Certain Types of Women based on my nearly constant tempestuous relationship with my own mother: i was constantly giving more than getting which of course allowed me to get pissed. i would actually seek out women whose energy was similar to my mother’s: deeply smart, invisible, unavailable, distracted (unaware) and angry women. i became friendly with women who were not healthy emotionally and in more than one, our relationships became competitions where i had to get out because i was acutely aware of my addiction: Everything About Them Allowed Me To Ignore Myself. if i stayed with them in their states of distraction and huge self-unawareness i was dead; i wouldn’t work on me and i would allow the rage at them (me) to foment. but i had only an on/off switch; no dimmer. i didn’t want to be dead. The Work was showing me there was so much more to life, so i created drama that let us hate each other and end it.   

AA has its mottoes: 

  • One Day at a Time
  • Live and Let Live
  • Let Go and Let God
  • Easy Does It 

my own subgroup, CA, has sentiments very similar to those that are required for awareness of my addiction. my mottoes are:  

  • Continue To Do What You Always Do and You Will Absolutely Always Get What You Have Always Gotten
  • You Get What You Give
  • You Do, And It Is Done
  • Change And You Will Change; and two personal favorites of mine based on the brilliance of two men my parents knew: 
  • “You’re Not Mad at What You’re Mad At” -Father John J. O’Connor; and 
  • “You Don’t Have to Get Out of The Trouble You Don’t Get Into.”  -Howard Clother (my dad’s boss) 

the recipe for success requires daily, no: hourly, no: constant awareness which will eventually lead to new neural pathways in your mind (that’s another blog post altogether) of feeling your body assess, notice and react to something. if it’s quiet: ENJOY it. really enjoy it. just one small opening of self-awareness coupled with turning left instead of right; or calling later away instead of right away; or saying yes instead of no… leaving 10 minutes early instead of later… repeat. these small things can create a whole new way of living.

“there is nothing like the relief of changing your course on something because you’ve admitted you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. you can always change course: delay, think on it, let it settle and come to you when it’s ready. forcing anything never works: you end up exhausted and what you’ve forced is distorted.”

that was a status on my facebook GrassOil page a couple weeks ago. i wrote it because i was stuck on something that just wasn’t happening. it wouldn’t materialize in the way i intended. so, true to form: i thought about it in other ways. i massaged it into another shape altogether. i took a deep breath, told my quads and shoulders to gear up, took a running start and slammed myself into it. i was trying to convince myself to do it anyway simply because i said i would. it simply wouldn’t be. i became frustrated and angry and almost took down the bottle for a sip. i stared at it; i heard it mocking me. calling me… “wouldn’t a little sip fix everything? just one. then you can forget about what you’re trying to do and create a whole new problem somewhere else to fix or obsess over… c’mon…”
i still haven’t done it. i’m ok with it because the dust is still on the bottle. if i did it, if i’d made myself do it or something else just as pointless, the bottle would be clean as a whistle and the cork would be missing.
the simplest of adages is this regarding my Chaos Addiction: “change begins with me.”
thank you.

11 responses »

  1. Hey my friend. I read this at 3 p.m. and it was so thought-provoking, I napped on it and then thought about it some as I ran around the lake. It is very gratifying, both on an intellectual and a personal level, to obtain a snapshot of how your mind works. I did not understand exactly what you meant about the bottle of chaos a couple of years ago when you first mentioned it to me. Now I understand it completely. Since I have met you, I have seen you perfect the process of setting the chaos bottle down, and I think I sort of applied it to my own life tonight. Instead of writing something reactive when hit with some unfounded criticism, I just shrugged and wished folks peace. And it felt grand. This particular addiction is not one I share (as you know I have plenty of other um issues); and yet, I reckon those of us who lacked a voice as children often tend to overcompensate and go out of our way to be heard as adults. Like you, I feel so much happier when I am aware of situations that would otherwise entangle and upset me without solving any real problem or offering a net benefit. Ha! This is what happens when I comment after midnight–I ramble. I enjoyed this post so much and I thank you for making me think.

  2. I posted comments yesterday from my iPhone but they didn't go through, so here goes. Molly, this was so incredibly insightful and I found myself clinging to every word. I was able to use your perspective as a window into my own neurotic mind, and boy, are you lucky to have had the grit to do the work as an adult to gain such valuable insights. How grateful I am that we have both worked hard during our semester abroad. You are a gem. Love you.

  3. Thanks for opening up and allowing others to see a different side of you. Also for giving words and pictures to thoughts, feelings, and actions; I know they are all about you, but I can relate. I am always searching for how to be a better mother/wife/sister/daughter/me and you paint a wonderful example of introspection and action vs reaction vs not.cb

  4. El, i appreciate your thoughts! i remember you saying that about my Chaos addiction; that it was hard for you to understand and so because it was so simple (and crazy twisty-turny) for me, i knew i could do a better job of explaining it because you're pretty bright. Your being a witness to my transformation and exhausting self-awareness (SO different from self-absorption, isn't it?!) is a gift. Your own experience this (last) evening is a powerful reminder that Change begins with Us. I know what you're talking specifically about and I too curled back my own fingers, finessed what I was typing and Let the Bottle Be. And, yes, ain't it grand? 🙂 Let others stay asleep and unaware until they are ready to wake up. And wow, when they wake up, what a BEAUTIFUL DAY, regardless of the weather. I am glad you enjoyed. I wrote it for many people to enjoy. xoxo -mol

  5. Allison, I love you so much, you don't know. I know we share similar genetic tendencies and I am so SO glad (SO GLAD) the semester is over but how much we've both learned. I still slip, I still grab the flask (I did when I recently travelled) but I passed it around and didn't take a sip. I brought it for others because they ran out of their own and if i didn't share my flask, I surely woulda sipped and created more for them. It sure is a gift when we realize we can stop this stuff, ain't? So glad you read it; I wrote it for more than me… -mol

  6. cb! so glad to hear from you! i appreciate that you are appreciative of my opening up. i was afraid i would shatter inside as well as turn people away, but y'know what? if i turn them away, they didn't get me anyway. my thoughts, feelings, actions are universal, CB, they are. mine are familiar and relatable because we all share them. and i too am always searching for ways to be a better female human as well. it's exhausting at first, but then it begins to create a way of being for itself and it becomes more automatic and even more rewarding as it's more an act of mindfulness. you're a great, gritty, honest, earnest person, CB. i know you are. i see it. I Get You. xoxox and happy easter. -mol

  7. Pingback: Monthly Wrap-Up, Blog Changes and Housekeeping « Grass Oil by Molly Field

  8. I love the little jar of chaos in the car! Congrats on all of this growth. Really it is amazing to just become AWARE of your self. Most don’t get that EVER and the fact that you have is such an achievement in it self. I’ve GOT stories to tell you!!!!!!

    • it is an achievement, isn’t it? sometimes it stinks to be so self-aware too… sometimes i’d like to say “i give up” and do what was done to me, but i can’t. it’s not right and it’s not mine. did you read “the four agreements”? it’s a little out there in places, but it’s great and short. i think you’d love it if you haven’t read it.

  9. HOLLY! if you weren’t put in my path to blow my cover…I swear! I could’ve written the darn thing myself (no to steal your thunder or drama). I mean when I read “seven years ago…first time in therapy ever….and on and on and on the coincidences go….holly molly! I almost missed this post, but tonight I needed words of reassurance as my thinking is trying to swallow me hard and so I re-read our emails and in one of them you mentioned this post and POW! exactly what I needed to read, exactly the directions I need to follow…You just gave me a big shot of awareness! whenever I enter a room, no way you can ignore me and I always “sheepishly” complain to myself: why is it, GOD! that all these people have to turn?, nosey BASTARDS! and it is because aside from being a world champion marathon OCD thinker, I DEMAND THE ATTENTION! So next time I enter a room and no one notices me, instead of feeling not seeing and ignored or not heard which is why I HATE to repeat myself, I’ll know that the old conditioning of demanding attention because I grew up starved of it, those old habits are leaving and new healthier brain grooves are forming…keep writing Molly, you are saving more than just your soul

    Thank you

    • Isnt it funny (not ha-ha) how that works out? We are able to see things when we are ready.

      Im so glad you’re forming better newer abd healthier brajn grooves; isnt it The Best whtn you can look back and NOTICE the changes?!

      So excited for you (and me)!


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