Bad habits live in the dark, Part 2

kid hiding behind a ginormous door in a museum

A follow-up post stimulated by a comment on last week’s, Bad habits live in the dark.

This is a week of observing.

By which I mean this week, I am turning my attention to what is going on in a given moment, any moment, but particularly (when I can slow myself down enough to catch them) ones where I feel out of the ordinary.

This round of consciousness-raising started with a (gentle) exhortation from Hiro, as part of her wonderful (because of who she is), maddening (because of where I’m at) class on curing Internet Hangover. During our first session, this past Wednesday, we were given some tools for handling some of the intense demands this always-on, always-open portal of energy can make on the unprepared soul.

Even more importantly (to me, anyway), we were instructed to pay attention as we wandered hither and yon to how we were feeling and where we were feeling it. Did a certain site make us feel anxious? Angry? Sad? Excited? Where was the anxiety located: chest? Head? Stomach? Loins?1 In other words, most of what we’re doing at these beginning stages is learning to shine some light on what’s happening so we can see it.

Part of what’s maddening about this for speed addicts like me is having to slow down to do all this. There’s a “Yes, yes, I know” aspect to all of this change business. I know I’m spending too much time in email and on Facebook and trolling my Google Reader for new items. I know I need to get off the Internet and get on with my work. I know I’m stuck. NOW, PLEASE TO BE GIVING ME THE ANSWER PLEASE.

The thing is, there’s knowing and there’s knowing.

The first knowing is head knowing; people who are good parsers are really good at head knowing. We are also sometimes a bit, shall we say, divorced from the feeling part of knowing, at least, from the feeling that triggers the impulse to reach for more of our soma of choice. Whatever reptilian part of us that is screaming for the safety of more “news,” more wine, more candy, more sex, more Battlestar Galactica does that through the vaguest and most inarticulate of asks: “MORE. WANT. NOW.” Slowing down to feel the tender hurt and pain is the last thing that lizard is interested in.

When I first started acting, really acting, not the fun but not particularly real horsing around I did in sketch comedy up until then, I cried for two years. A slight exaggeration, but only just very. The Method class I took was an excruciating daily exfoliation of my soul. Hell, it was soul-rolfing. Not what I would characterize as fun or even, most of the time, non-awful. But the results, when one of us was willing to do it, were extraordinary. You would watch in amazement as some perfectly good simulacrum of experience metamorphosed into a holy, super-real transport to another world, via Chekhov and skill, yes, but mainly via the fearlessness of one or two brave souls willing to let go.

In the same way, when I had my breakthroughs in therapy and my hospital bed epiphany, there was a monumental falling-away.2 But if I look at them carefully, each was preceded by an excruciating pain point, or, more precisely, a series of them, where I really and truly stared at what was blank in the face. The breakthroughs were awesome, and by that, I mean wonderful, magic and transporting. The moments of examination before? Uh, not so much.

Part of the reason they were so horrible is because of so much ignoring along the way. I was very Scarlett O’Hara about most of my minor annoyances, there was always a day when I would deal with them, but it was always another one. In the meantime, on the shelf or out the window or just brushed away like a pesky mosquito they go. When I look back at myself way back when, or last month, or yesterday, most of the time, I wasn’t even conscious of the brushing-away. It becomes reflexive; you don’t even have to think about it.

And here we are, back at it, not thinking. Or if thinking, only doing it in that super-spiffy, hyper-efficient, Type-A way: “Oh, yeah, that; it’s probably bad. Let’s get to that sometime, hey?”

In the comments of the first part of this post, The GirlPie brings up the notion of becoming a good liar. She talks about it in the context of integrity, saying that having a Specter of Wayne would do her no good because she has gotten so proficient at bypassing the truth. I do not know The GirlPie well, but I know her enough to suspect that she has integrity to spare, and that she’s equally blessed in the proficiency department. For whatever reasons, a Jewish-Catholic, I’m doubly burdened by guilt, I am a terrible out-loud liar, so that route to bypassing integrity is generally unavailable to me. I am, however, wildly skilled at lying to myself, or rather, at speeding past the truth, ergo I totally get where The GirlPie is coming from.

So here is what I have to say about accountability and integrity and using these magnificent beasts to wrangle the less magnificent (but no less mighty) ones to the ground: sloooooow down. For now, don’t even go there, just notice.

Note the feeling you’re having, as soon as you can catch it, because that’s all you can do, as you eat candy bar #1 or #5 or #25. Just note, at first. Note. Observe, like a scientist. Scientists don’t judge, in the lab, anyway; they just note. If you are up for it, maybe write it down privately. Do this as often as you need to until you get bored with it. You will, eventually. Bored or disgusted, and then intrigued. What if I try this next? you might ask at this point. You might. Maybe. And then, when you do, you can find the Specter of Wayne that works for you. Might be a shrink. Might be the courageous decision to speak honestly to the shrink you already have. Might be a 12-step meeting.

For me, for now, The Specter of Wayne works. But let us be clear on this: it works in exactly two areas I’ve spent enough time looking at and noting and getting bored and disgusted with, and no more.3 There are other areas I have not yet begun to note. Or to become disgusted with. Or hit bottom with, or whatever your notion of “Enough!” is.

My other habits, in their time. Your habits, in yours.

Sharing what we can about grappling with them, or supporting each other in the pursuit of excellence?

That, all the time…


1And before you make any assumptions about Hiro’s fan base being into the pr0n sitez, know that feelings can manifest themselves in craaazy areas. It’s a chakra thing, apparently, and those lower chakras are all about basic survival needs, safety included.

2And the one in the hospital? Let’s just say if I could bottle that shit, the world would be a very different place.

3You’ll note (haha) that I’ve discussed the SCD illegals cheat that Wayne is helping me with but not the other. That’s because it’s private. I may or may not ever discuss it here. Doesn’t matter. I discuss here what I’ve got enough distance from to talk about in a way that might be useful to someone besides myself, and what does not affect my privacy or the privacy of others. You don’t have to be public about everything. You don’t have to be public about much of anything, when you get right down to it.

Image by emilio labrador via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Taking note of the first feeling that occurs is a great technique. I’ve been trying to apply this to my life through a 1 sentence journal. (Got the idea from Gretchen). By taking notes I create more of a distance from my feelings, not letting it overwhelm me.

    Fear has been a big part of my life. I used to run from my fear, avoiding the pain. I’ve realized this negative thinking only made me feel worse. I started putting my arm around my fear and walking side by side with it. These chats have been so valuable.

    Colleen, your advice still resonates with me. I’m staying true to myself and reaping the benefits. Thank you.

  2. Funny that Karl (above) mentions Gretchen. One thing I got from her is to make commandments (she recommends making ten–I’m currently at four). My first commandment is “Fear not,” meaning that when I find myself avoiding x, y, and z, I try to remind myself that my avoidance comes from fear, which is self-manufactured, so therefore I can probably go straight at what I’m avoiding and it won’t really hurt me at all. Good stuff–like your blog. Thanks.

  3. How cool of you to take it all to that intense level, so many storeys below where I thought it stopped! I nod along with the Type-A assessment of “oh look, I should fix that… I know I can but I’m busy with this over here right now… must add it to my list…” Dear Hiro is so good a reminder to slow down — exactly the right Rx, same as I’d advise on the issue. Probably why I wanted to take that course but didn’t…

    YOU certainly have integrity; I might just have standards. Although I didn’t write about *becoming* a liar, it just seems like a facet of me, from the start. (An actor from way back, it’s not at all frequent, but it’s not the problem for me that it *should* be.) But I’m pleased that Part II takes the point further. You’re such a talented writer…

    And your commenters (yay Karl & Elaine!) remind me that I loved Gretchen’s idea of the logline diary and the commandments (“Be GirlPie”)! I found her when I found your blog, in 2/08, and really should get back to act on all those saved posts in my ACT ON folder… yeah, your lovely, tender writing (about stuff that seems way more painful than any skinned karmic knee I’ve ever had, sorry) is a reminder to put my oxygen mask on first then help the lady in the seat next to me…

    Maybe, respecting your work as I do, it had to come from you to (as I hear it) remind me to address my own (perfectly acceptable-to-me) flaws first rather than brush past them as I rush to the aide of someone else who needs “fixing” (I’m very bossy.) Yeah, I think that might be it, here. No shrink or guilt to speak to or of, for me, but that rushing past… that rings a bell… the head-knowing, the gut-knowing… yes, yes — your insights are always so-so interesting!

    Luckily, with any bad behavior like the 99% candy diet (+ tacos!) during this week of deadlines as the example I used, when I want to stop, I just stop.

    Same thing with other hedonistic behaviors like say, mooning over an old unrequited love, or feeling bummed that no one tweets with me anymore, or getting pissy that TheBoyPie makes a mess he doesn’t see when he cooks… As soon as it doesn’t serve my immediate (childish) need, I stop. I prefer control as I’m moved along this river of time, so I might grab something to hold onto for a bit, but I much prefer to swim or float under my own steam.

    But you’ve given me some impetus and chaw… my own Specter of Wainwright, me thinks…

    Thanks, girl. And man oh man, blog on. You are incredibly talented.

    ~ @TheGirlPie

  4. Interesting: agreed about the outcomes of acting…. Right, you’ve just motivated me to start going to improv workshops again, even thought it’s scary!

    Did you check out the link I sent you on Twitter, btw? About the new drugs in the pipeline to treat Crohn’s disease that are derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine? Would be interested to hear what you think.

  5. Oh my. This sounds so much like me that it’s a little frightening. What resonates most is your point about “there’s knowing and there’s knowing.” If you think you’re smart and you think you have some self-knowledge, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of “ok, ok, I know this. I can skip this part. Let’s move on to the stuff that will really solve the problem, already.” Slowing down and noticing seems such a waste of time to a Type-A smarty-pants.

    Aaaaaarghhhh!, as Charlie Brown would say.

  6. but the truth is that its quite difficult to slow down and really take note of the emotions that you are feeling. Usually the heat of the moment can take over and before you know it you need 5-25 minuets of hardcore inspection to figure out the process of what just happened [not that im not advocating studying your emotions to help one out for next time, because I think that it really does help].

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