A nurse friend of mine has become so fully adapted to the new abnormal that she and her colleagues have adopted the simplified way to describe the pandemic.
“I don’t even remember what life was like before ‘The VID,’” she texted the other day.
Another friend of mine has started a social media campaign to boycott any company that uses the words “unprecedented” or “challenging times” in their advertising.
What do both of my friends know that many of us could probably learn from them? They have accepted reality. The truth is as basic as it is life-changing. It is what it is.
It is what it is? How demeaning is that? Lives are being lost, people are sick, businesses are being destroyed, and incomes are being crushed. This is bad. Really bad. Probably the worst of most of our lifetimes. How dare we brush it all off with a casual and condescending statement like that?
Here’s how: It may be our only hope for the future.
I have come to believe that our outlook on life, our ability to function, our very mental health—it all comes down to our level of security and our willingness to dance with the unknown. We are all insecure to varying degrees. We worry about basic fundamental things like food, shelter, and love. But we also worry about things like appearance, reputation, social status, and our place in the power dynamic.
Insecurities are natural—even healthy. It is how we manage our insecurities that determines our chances for having a peaceful, generous, and productive life.
We have two options for dealing with our insecurities, really. We can coexist and get comfortable. We can acknowledge how little we control and the uncertainty of our plans and ideas. We can learn lessons from the past, live in the moment, and try to take the unknown of tomorrow in stride. It isn’t easy, and embracing insecurity takes a lot of faith and patience. Or we can opt for the popular alternative.
Most of us, myself included until recently, are not very good at accepting our fears and the unknown. We look for shortcuts to drown the uncertainty and silence our relentless worry. We use external distractions to hide from us our insecurities. Rather than embrace that which we don’t know or understand, we choose rather to find a tool to help us ignore it and hope it goes away.
And then we wonder why so many of us are so unhappy.
Think about the external vices you use to find comfort. Do you shop when you feel incomplete? Do you find yourself snacking even when you aren’t hungry? What about sex? Does it bring you relief from reality more than love and satisfaction? Do you clean the house frantically when you are frustrated? Do you exercise relentlessly in search of that fleeting dopamine and endorphin hit? Do you take your lack of security out on the people you love with only tangentially related rants and accusations? Do you volunteer your time, not from a place of generosity and love, but so you can brag about your awesomeness to friends, or at least yourself? Do you work long hours to escape from your family more than to provide for your family?
There are, of course, the more recognizably troubling external vices we use to battle insecurity—alcohol, other drugs, porn, sugar, self-mutilation—they all serve the same purpose. It is all about taking the things about which we worry, and pushing them down deep inside for a while. From methamphetamine to mindless snacking—it is all about using external distractions to manage our insecurities. Your innocent rut or unfortunate habit might be my soul-crushing alcoholism, but they are all the same intent just with varying degrees of social acceptability and collateral damage.
Not only do we hide behind externals to mask our insecurities, but we also use cute, non-judgemental words to make our insecurities seem less daunting. I drink to unwind. Shopping relaxes me. I eat when I’m bored. The cocaine helps me when I’m tired. I stay late at work so I can feel accomplished. Unwinding, relaxation, boredom, exhaustion, and a sense of accomplishment are all internal needs that we assign external vices to remedy. In doing so, we reject the notion of learning to coexist with our insecurities. We drink or shop or eat or work or vacuum to make them go away.
And while opioids and excessive volunteering are significantly different in levels of deadliness and impact on our loved ones and societies, on the inside, they are all the same. They are distractions that keep us occupied so we won’t dare stare our insecurities in the face, and learn to trust our instincts come what may. It is a problem suffered by billions as part of the human condition. It has hidden for centuries in plain sight, rarely reaching catastrophic proportions. Our insecurities and external distractions quietly feed our unhappiness.
Then The VID came along, and our insecurities have been wildly exacerbated to the point that for many of us, we’ve kind of got to deal with it.
Your insecurity might have gone from the vanity of feeling a need to lose five pounds, to watching the business you’ve built over years or decades vanish due to stay-at-home orders. The worry you had a few months ago about what your neighbors might be saying about your landscaping might now be worrying about finding a new job in a new career field because your old one isn’t coming back. It might be the case that you used to stress about the fact that you never finished that college degree, and now you are stressed about your mother’s health as she fights for her life in isolation in the hospital.
Your insecurities might have legitimately and unavoidably exploded in the past couple of months. Guess what. The external distractions still won’t help. In fact, now more than ever, external answers to internal fears are like pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.
So what’s the answer? If we can’t push our fears way down deep inside and ignore them with the help of our distractions, how do we manage the growing mountain of insecurity? What do we do?
For me, the answer to that question lies with an understanding of the other thing our external distractions silence. When we drink, smoke, shop, work excessively, or eat an entire chocolate cake, we distort and castrate our instincts for life. When we use externals to ignore our insecurities, we grow increasingly inept at finding internal solutions. If we just keep pushing it down, we aren’t capable of dealing with it when it explodes in our face. The old saying is true in reverse when it comes to insecurities: what goes down, must come up.
I can only imagine what you might be thinking right now. “I just read over a thousand words of this guy’s babbling, and his solution is to follow our instincts and everything will be better?” I get how froufrou and generic this might sound, but think about the alternative for a second.
What good is it doing you to lament the arrival of The VID? How do you feel about your new routine of drinking every afternoon, or eating mindlessly all day, or exercising incessantly, or working nonstop on your business that’s not coming back?
What if we stop complaining, and stop self-medicating, and embrace the new abnormal? What if we get real cozy with the fact that it is what it is?
I believe in the resiliency of humans. I believe we can recreate our existence if we get after it and work together. I believe that the fear of our future has to serve as our motivation, and not our excuse. I am painfully aware that I am sickeningly optimistic. But I’m also aware that someone has to do it—some bunch of us have to do it—if we are going to start moving forward and break the chains of the never-returning past.
But we’ll never make it to where we are destined to go if we bog ourselves down in external excuses and distractions. Now is the time to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed. We need thinkers and innovators and the strongest of burden carriers. There is no place for wishy-washy, non-committal past dwellers. And there is definitely no place for the vices that silence our instincts along with our insecurities.
The VID might be to blame, but it is up to us to make the necessary change. The time for sadness and reflection is over. Let’s go make the world in which we want to live.
~ If you’d like to learn more about how I left my external distractions behind and learned to listen to my instincts, please read my free Guide to Early Sobriety.