Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stuck in the Amber with You, Babe

Insects in Amber via Wikimedia

Have you ever had a moment that you wished could last forever?

When you really unpack that idea, of course, that's ridiculous.

A moment that always stayed the same - never better, never worse - would be life as a big blank sheet of paper.

The whole reason anything feels wonderful is because we have other moments to compare it to which are less wonderful.  Some of them feel downright awful - because we compare those to the good or great moments.

The insects here were trapped in resin that hardened into amber over many many years.  I don't know what a bug thinks or feels when it's immobilized, before it actually dies.  But I'll go out on a limb here (checking carefully for resin ahead of time) and guess that being unable to fly, crawl, slither or what-have-you, is probably not a comfortable, fun, or happy experience.  Even if the end result is becoming virtually indestructible.

 I found some of the most interesting musings on stasis, growth, and change, in this article by Dara Marks for the Writers Store: The Fatal Flaw - The Most Essential Element for Bringing Characters to Life, and which seemed especially apt to those with OCPD - and those who try to live with them.

First, it's important to highlight the fundamental - organic - premise on which the fatal flaw is based:
* Because change is essential for growth, it is a mandatory requirement for life.
* If something isn't growing and developing, it can only be headed toward decay and death.
There is no condition of stasis in nature. Nothing reaches a permanent position where neither growth nor diminishment is in play.

Is there ONE "Right Way" for a rose to be?
Bud, barely open, full bloom, turning to rose hip...
All have beauty and value.
We human beings, are also always growing and changing.

Much about that process I'm not 100% enamored with.  I don't like it when I get sick.  I don't like it when I leap get out of bed in the morning experiencing various aches and pains.  Though I'm not going to have poison injected into my face to erase my wrinkles, the truth is, if I could simply choose to have fewer of them, I probably would.  I'm not thrilled with the effect that aging and gravity have had on various body parts, not to mention a changing metabolism.

Sometimes I've gotten injured, and I will undoubtedly be injured again in the future.  Sprains, bruises, even broken bones.  Sometimes I'm forgetful about where I put something, or perhaps only thought I paid a bill.  I have a harder time remembering names now, than I did a few years ago.  This, too, is part of how aging works.  Sucks, but that's how she rolls.

One of the saddest things to me about OCPD was the panic (often expressed as anger) felt when a loved one did become ill or injured.  One woman's husband was furious with her when she broke her arm.  Another went off the rails when a set of house keys was temporarily misplaced.  To OCPD, accidents/the unforeseen = immediate death.

Actually, they mean we are still alive.

The only way we, as human beings, could be safe from the process of getting hurt, injured, sick, and growing old, is if we too were trapped in amber.  Because the inevitable outcome is death for everyone, which is way too frightening to face, OCPD tries to fend it off by his/her obsession with cleanliness, safety precautions, and other worries.  They seem to be trying to wrap their loved ones - or themselves - in virtual bubble wrap.  To freeze a "perfect" moment in time forever.

And it doesn't work.  They can't do it, we can't do it... the only way a living creature can be held in stasis is if it's no longer a living creature.

Continued from The Fatal Flaw:
As essential as change is to renew life, most of us resist it and cling rigidly to old survival systems because they are familiar and "seem" safer. In reality, even if an old, obsolete survival system makes us feel alone, isolated, fearful, uninspired, unappreciated, and unloved, we will reason that it's easier to cope with what we know than with what we haven't yet experienced. As a result, most of us will fight to sustain destructive relationships, unchallenging jobs, unproductive work, harmful addictions, unhealthy environments, and immature behavior long after there is any sign of life or value in them.
Change is always scary, especially if we're not sure what it's going to look like on the other side, but NOT-change means death.
The FATAL FLAW is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness.
In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has committed himself to a survival system that operates under the assumption that if he takes care of everyone else, somehow, magically, his own needs will be met as well. There was a time in George's life when developing his ability to care about the needs of others helped George grow into a more loving and less self-serving human being. Powerful feelings of self-worth accompanied these actions. He felt good about himself because he was getting as much as he was giving. His life had a balance to it. But there came a point of diminishing returns when the value of what was coming in was no longer equal to the value of what was going out. As more and more demands were made on George to put the needs of family and community above his own, his identity as a caretaker became fixed. Other aspects of George's nature were suppressed or ignored and the only things that grew in their place were anger and resentment. The system of putting everyone else's needs before his own was breaking down and George felt unhappy and unfulfilled, but he continued to heave all his energy outward until the day when there was absolutely nothing left. That was the day he decided to jump off a bridge.
The flaw in George's limited perception of his own identity was about to prove fatal. Therefore, the real drama of the story centered on his ability to expand this self-perception by reclaiming his greater value before it was too late.
I found the passage above very interesting, both in terms of writing (fiction) and what sometimes happens to the co-dependent (like me).  I had never really considered that George had a character arc - I always thought it was the town that had to come to appreciate him, not the other way around.

Or was it?  He poured himself out for other people, inwardly resentful, expecting they would psychically know when he needed, instead of asking for it, or even requiring it.

Back to the main point - living things grow and change.  If we want to be full human beings, we must accept that stasis is neither healthy nor desirable.

People, plants, animals, relationships - it grows, it moves, it changes - or it's dead.  Freeze tag is a children's game, not a sustainable lifestyle.

Do you have a stasis story?  Have you tried to freeze or turn back time?
How's that workin' for ya?