True Living: Saying Goodbye to Denial

I was once asked a simple question by a therapist: How do you handle disappointment? I took pause with the topic, tripping on my ego. My assumptions being, I was always as cool as they come.

“I’m great with disappointment!” Even I wasn’t buying it.

I was delivered a knowing smile; the type of look that says so much by saying nothing. You wanna try that again, sister? 

“Well, I mean…I kinda just suck it up.” I qualified.

Shit. Do I? 

“How so?” She volleyed back.

Here we go.

I hate it when therapists guide us to the well, only to make us carry the bucket (we pay them for it, but still).

The remainder of our session was spent exploring my personal inventory of how I deal with things that suck. I don’t remember much of my drive home that evening. I was in some sort of enlightenment-trance, marinating in the realization that I was a bona-fide card-carrying member of the denial posse.

When it comes to life’s land mines and pit falls, we have limited options to choose from in terms of handling them: deal, or deny.

If we choose to face our disappointments (ranging from minor inconveniences to major life traumas), the work is excruciating; only the strong survive. But survive, we do. There’s a reason clichés ring true – and “that which does not kill you, makes you stronger” is no exception. It’s just getting there that’s the hard part.

Denial, on the other hand, can be easy – except it’s not. We may think we’ve out-smarted life by sweeping issues under the rug, but the universe has other plans. The problem with ignoring anything difficult in life is two-fold; our issues don’t magically evaporate and what’s worse, they metastasize, bleeding into all areas of our life.

So how do we deal over deny, when faced with insurmountable events? For starters, it helps to get real. Be honest with yourself (if no one else), in truly recognizing what you’re dealing with. If in a toxic relationship, start looking at your life through a lens that’s not so blurry with illusions that things are different. The longer you deny the realities that you are selling yourself short, the harder it will be to leave.

For some of us, this is easier said than done. When its is all we know, leveling in to discomfort is the norm. But there’s a reason why something doesn’t feel right. Which is a sure-fire sign of denial. We ignore our instincts and mask our turmoil in creative ways. But no amount of booze, sex, money, food or drugs will help – trust me, I’ve tried.

I was sharing with a friend recently of a past break-up after years of toxic push and pull (my co-dependent to his narcissist). I shared how in the beginning after he left, I struggled with the detox of drama. My phone was quiet, my house was still and the self-doubting, fear-based negative dialogue in my head was dissipating. It was eerie and unfamiliar.

After a few weeks I came to learn that what I was experiencing for the first time in – maybe ever – was peace. I learned the absence of drama isn’t filled with more noise, it’s surrounded with a blissful energy that comes when you realize you are worth more.

No matter what our story, change is scary. How we navigate life is up to us and surprisingly, we have more power than we think. Whether moving to a new town, switching careers, finding the courage to speak up for ourselves – or leave a poisonous relationship – the choice is always ours. And the faster we deal, rather than deny – the less time it will take to get to our next chapter.

Christine Macdonald

And, Scene: Crimes and Misdemeanors

“In reality, we rationalize, we deny, or we couldn’t go on living.” ~ Crimes and Misdemeanors

Introspec

 

The first time I saw Crimes and Misdemeanors twenty-five years ago, I was in many ways still a kid. Barely 21, thinking I had all of life’s answers, I was working full-time as a nude stripper in Waikiki.  My proudest accomplishments involved hoards of cash accumulated on my garter and snorting mountains of cocaine behind the plush velvet ropes in various VIP rooms throughout the city.

This is your typical Woody Allen film, full of dry humor wrapped in cynicism, dipped in self-deprecation. A fan since Annie Hall, I knew sinking my teeth into this existential drama would not disappoint. It doesn’t hurt that the cast is a list of my faves, ranging from Martin Landau and Angelica Huston to Jerry Orbach and Alan Alda.

This is a movie that lifts the veil of ethics and morality. We examine the lives of two very different men, Judah Rosenthal and Cliff Stern – which can easily resemble the devil and angel on our shoulder. Their lives intersect one another as they take different approaches to solve serious problems that they initially brought on themselves. Their choices are based on what’s right and wrong, good and bad, and how each of them has rationale behind their decision.

As someone who has always danced on the razor-thin line of both morality and ethics – I could more than relate.  I asked myself the obvious question when lost in the language of Allen’s script.

What would I have done?

Even now all these years later, I find myself referencing this movie when attempting to pick up the pieces of collateral damage from yet another one of my brilliant fuck-ups.

My brain is a trip. I can’t remember what clothes I wore yesterday, but sitting in regret and reflection during my sunset drive home on the Pacific Coast Highway, I remembered every word – and recited out loud – the final monologue of this movie:

“We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions. Moral choices. Some are on a grand scale. Most of these choices are on lesser points. But! We define ourselves by the choices we have made.

We are in fact the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included, in the design of creation.

It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe.

And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.” ~  Crimes and Misdemeanors

The final scene:

 

“We define ourselves by the choices we have made.” So true, it hurts.

Whether or not I finally get my shit together remains to be seen. But at least I’ve got old movies to keep me company as I continue to try.

 

 

 

 

Christine Macdonald