Monday, February 23, 2009

WWSD?

I have a friend who works in a hospital with kids who have suffered some form of psychological trauma. When we talked a few weeks ago she mentioned a new technique she is using that helps the kids develop skills to mitigate defiance and resistance issues. You take a board game (Chutes and Ladders or Candyland, for example) and any time you land on a square with a consequence you don’t like, you simply say “I accept it”. The theory is that with repetition, this acceptance attitude will make it easier to let go of the small stuff in order free up your energy for more important matters.

The object of this game will make no sense to those of you who don’t mind losing or have no problem dealing with unlucky circumstances.

I, however, am not one of those people.

Anyone who knows me will agree that adjectives like “ambitious” “competitive” or “determined” are perhaps not quite strong enough to describe my personality. Look, I won’t even attempt to identify what makes us who we are — that's for the professionals. I will say this, however, and that is that my deepest fear is being powerless. It’s why I try to set the parameters for most every circumstance I might happen to be in. Some people call this "controlling". I like to think of it more as being prepared.

Saying, “I accept it” when something bad happens is admitting I screwed up, that I couldn’t anticipate the unexpected, couldn’t protect myself when it counted. It’s like standing around knowing I’m about to be pooped on by a bird and doing nothing to stop it.

•I race to be on time to a doctor’s appointment then wait 45 minutes only to leave before being seen so I can pick up Oliver on time. Splat.

•I didn’t click the “submit” button twice to make an online payment and get hit with a late fee, finance charge and a higher interest rate. Splat.

•Library fine for a book I didn’t lose. Splat.

•Brown hair when I told the stylist “Dark blonde, please.” Splat.

•Gain two pounds when I should have lost five. Splat splat.

Looking back, there was no one to show me the special way of playing Chutes and Ladders when I was a kid. Are you kidding? I had to learn my own set of survival skills and that acceptance phrase was definitely not in my repertoire. If I turned around and said, “I accept it” after getting my butt kicked on the playground, I’d have had ten more kids lined up waiting to take a turn. At home my motto was “I deflect it”: make it look like someone else did it then get the hell out.

“Why can’t you be more like Melanie Hamilton?” my mother would cry in exasperation. She’s referring to the demure gentlewoman who plays Scarlett O’Hara’s foil in Gone With the Wind, a movie staple in my house growing up.

Why? Why? I’ll tell you why. Yes, Melanie may have been the queen of accepting difficult circumstances (and with grace, to boot). But if it was left to her, everyone would have died at Tara after Atlanta. Remember that Union deserter? She thought she could fend him off with a sword that weighed more than she did. Hmph. And what about all that business pretending her husband wasn’t involved in a love affair? Good faith in those you love is admirable but in the end, denial never helped anyone. Then there's the part where she donates her gold wedding ring to "the cause” thinking it's going to make a difference for the South. Good heavens, girl! There's optimism and then there's reality.

That's where Scarlett comes in.

Mom, you can’t tell me “Gone With the Wind” is the number one movie of all time because of Melanie Hamilton! Scarlett was the one who birthed Mellie’s baby right before carrying them through a burning city to safety. It was Scarlett who kept the family alive on cotton earnings when they all would have starved otherwise. And whose pistol was it that took care of that deserter with one clean shot before Melanie even showed up? Yep, Scarlett’s. After the war, she made her comeback by starting up a profitable business then single-handedly restored Tara to its pre-war glory. Before the movie is done she survives an attack on her life, buries two husbands, both parents and a child. In short, the woman was a hero. (Now if you want to discuss her lack of scruples, empathy, maturity or selflessness, that's another entry...)

But I digress.

I know my therapist friend is sharing the “I accept it” technique because she knows I’m at a point where I could use a little more zen in my life. In other words, I’m getting too old to carry around so much piss-and-vinegar all the time. As with her kids in therapy, she’s just trying to show me all the energy I use up in defiance could be better spent elsewhere. And she’s right. Saying, “I accept it” is a simple way to end the battle before it even starts. No agonizing, no wrestling, no “if only I had….” Just, “I accept it” then move on.

There. That’s not too hard, is it?

Well... it was my persistence that reversed the late fee and other charges, a direct follow-up with the stylist that restored the blonde at no extra cost, a "stick-to-the-rules" deduction from the allowance that covered the library book and a little renewed determination to my exercise routine that will polish off the lingering holiday weight gain.

And while all of that is true, I haven’t given up on the zen thing. Not yet, anyway. I still try to meditate once a day, pick my battles when I can, go to yoga regularly and use visualization to clear out negative emotions. And while saying, “I accept it” still feels like getting pooped on, it doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying until it doesn’t.

After all, tomorrow is another day...