Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rerun: Lost!

In keeping with this week's spiritual theme, another blast from the past ...
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

I love that passage from Revelation, which in turn is derivative of Isaiah. Healing is an ancient and universal yearning. Instinctively, we just know: There is something better out there. Being stuck in our own shit just doesn’t cut it.

But we still persist. "Ah sinful nation," the prophet Isaiah thundered, "a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord ... "

Last thing you want if you happen to be a character in the Bible is for God to get mad. Bad things always happen. Wake up! Isaiah kept telling his people. But no one listened. Now all hell was about to break loose.

“O Assyrian,” proclaimed the Lord through Isaiah, “the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.”

I can’t help but wonder. With Sargon and his vast legions dropping in on Israel and fast-track rezoning the countryside and otherwise vindicating Isaiah, were the Israelites still stuck in their own shit? Were they still not getting it? What’s wrong with our shit? Is that what they were thinking?

Obviously, the Israelites had lost sight, lost their way, and ultimately God’s favor. Why couldn’t they have listened?

It turns out change is not so easy. Over a period of seven years, I attended various depression/bipolar support groups. For three years, I ran a DBSA group in Princeton, NJ. I’m a huge fan of DBSA, but what sticks out most in my mind is the number of people I came across who were "stuck" in their recovery.

These were people who had had satisfactory results with their meds and tended to be fairly adept in managing their illness. But they couldn’t see their way to satisfying lives. Meaningful work, loving relationships, and friendships were all problematic. Moreover, they displayed a distinct lack of ease with themselves.

So, what were they doing wrong? Loaded question, as we are assigning blame, but in a blog I write for HealthCentral, I asked it anyway. One of my readers, “Kate,” who had attended a co-dependency support group, responded:

I went for about 8 weeks. At first I was like, "Wow! This is so great!" but after the 6th or 7th week it seemed like the same people showed up, made the same complaints, took all the blame, used the same buzzwords ... and never took any steps towards recovery.

Wow! Did this ever strike a chord.

I vividly recall one DBSA meeting I facilitated. After our initial check-in, we broke into two smaller groups. Eight or ten of us were seated around a table. “William,” a highly personable young man, had recently started a job as a salesperson at a car dealership. As a result of his illness, he was heavily in debt, which placed a huge personal hardship on him and his wife. Moreover, his illness posed a major daily challenge.

But I knew William well enough to know what success on the job would do to his self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I also knew that if he could make it selling cars, he could make it in sales. And if he could make it in sales, then he could write his own ticket.

But I also knew that if he pushed too hard against his illness, his illness would push back. He knew that, too.

Three well-meaning women urged him to quit his job. They trotted out the standard advice that stress on the job can trigger a mood episode.

So, also, can the stress of having no money and feeling worthless, I wanted to counter. I was the only one in the room who presented William with the option of hanging on - of entertaining the hope that the situation at work could improve.

The chorus of quitters virtually drowned me out. I wanted to smash a shoe on the table and shout that only people with jobs or who owned businesses (or retired from such) were allowed to talk. Yes, quitting was an option (and it later turned out to be the correct one), but the first option?

You just quit and retreat into your miserable half-life and then spend the rest of your time on earth blaming your illness? Sorry, I don’t get it. And what I really find reprehensible is whiners and complainers wishing their horrible fates on others.

I’ve lost more years to my illness and various personality issues than I can count. Trust me, one day in that kind of walking coma is an eternity too long. When you’re in it, it’s virtually impossible to see your way out of it. Perversely, the psyche responds by finding comfort in this state of suspended animation. The brain adapts and then locks in. The abnormal becomes normal. Fear sets in. You doubt everything about yourself.

There is something better out there - it just doesn’t register. We yearn for a healing - to embrace and have that embrace returned - but instead we curl into a defensive fetal ball and block out the world.

Stuck in our own shit.

The Israelites could not imagine a life different than the ones they had, a life in the favor of their Lord. They were told they had to change, but we know change is hard. They knew there would be all hell to pay, but who likes to think about all that?

So, imagine, you’re one of those doomed Israelites, standing on a rocky promontory, gazing out at the cloud of dust on the horizon representing Sargon and his chariots of doom. What are you thinking? Oh, shit, my daughter is about to be raped and sold into slavery? Or, despite all indications to the contrary, that life will go on as usual, that you can plan for your daughter’s marriage?

Ten Lost Tribes of Israel? They were lost long before Sargon came to finish the job. The Exodus of Moses and triumphs of Joshua were but distant tribal memories. In the intervening years, the Israelites had intermarried with the locals, embraced Canaanite deities and customs, and had forgotten how to be Jews.

Lost in their own land - we all know the feeling.

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