I shared my recent “theory to practice” opportunity in yesterday’s post. Recall that I was referring to the space where something goes awry, and we draw on our inner work to show up as the best version of ourselves, when it is hardest to do so. I also mentioned our option to have a “tantrum” as a result of the undesired event, prior to formulating our best response. Let’s talk more about that.
We all have ways of “acting out.” As a young person, I learned that sugar was a “hell of a drug” (quoting Dave Chapelle in his tribute comedic skit to singer Rick James.) In seasons where I wasn’t playing sports I found something sweet a most comforting companion in lonely after school days watching TV.
Later, the seduction of alcohol (another form of sugar) made it’s way into my list of menu options for tantrums. It is fast acting, easy to obtain, damn near encouraged by our culture, and provides short term anesthesia from reality.
Mercifully, I never found some of the other avenues of numbing very effective. But I know people that do. These include but are not limited hoarding, gambling, shopping, sex addiction, gaming, drugs, social media, and excessive exercise and work. Anything that takes us out of the current moment qualifies.
As life has thrown me curveballs, as it does everyone, I learned to justify numbing aka “throwing a tantrum” as a way to sidestep reality. When hard things happened, I often thought “Well, if this isn’t a time for a full on sugar binge, or alcohol bender, I don’t know what is.” And I went for it.
At the seasoned age of 51 I have learned that when we react to something unexpected, or even terrible, by reaching for these things (you know what it is for you!) we can actually make the situation so much worse. When we “act out” by indulging in any form of numbing I think of that as a tantrum.
When little children don’t get their way, the scream, kick, cry, throw things and are not in control. When I reach for an ameliorative beverage, or a brownie sundae with extra hot fudge, and the indulgence goes beyond what is in my control, I recognize that I too, am having a tantrum.
The tantrum might be socially acceptable (or not) but resigning to self-injurious behavior is a stall tactic we have learned to pull the lever on. It works every time. And wears off, eventually, every time. These behaviors are predictable and so are their outcomes.
As in the example of the tantruming child, a literal “mess” is often made that requires cleaning up. And the same is true for us. I am comfortable accepting my own limitations. If I choose to sidestep stress by engaging in one of my “go to”s I try not to judge myself. But I recognize that tantrums result in messes that need to be cleaned up and try to hold myself accountable to owning the choice to go down that road.
Because it is a choice. One we can make. And if we choose the behavior, we choose the consequence, which can vary from debt, to hangovers, to stomach aches, to sleep deprivation, and to regret. Those messes require our energy too. For we must clean them up before we can really address the original situation, which will always, and only ALWAYS be there when we wake up from the uncontrollable tantrum that we yielded to as we reacted.
Learning to be aware of that choice, is the beginning of actively participating in it. Our desire to act out when things are rough is not a mandate, it is simply one of the options. The great thing about being humans is that we can exercise one of many, when the inevitable curve balls land in our lives.