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    Prescriptions For Disaster (part 1)

            Emotional coping mechanisms, if left unexamined, eventually become psychological addictions. Say, for example, I’m hurt, and as a way to deal with the pain, I just emotionally shut down. If I continue to do that, and never look at the behavior, then sooner or later that’s what I'll automatically do whenever I get hurt. My response to pain therefore becomes a knee-jerk reaction, an unconscious decision, that I make without even knowing it.
             I did this for years, particularly after my dad died. I know there are lots of us out there, especially men, who handle pain by getting angry, or shutting down our feelings, or both. Those coping mechanisms work. That’s why we keep doing them. They shut out the pain. But like all pathological defense systems, they come at a huge price.
             Ultimately, they cost us ourselves. 
             Imagine that I could pop a pill every time I felt pain. Well that’s exactly what shutting down is like. Instead of feeling and dealing, I just stop feeling. Kind of like popping a “don’t feel pill”. I did this so often that I became “addicted” to that “pill”; I automatically shut down and put up a wall whenever I got hurt. Or sometimes, I’d get mad, then put up the wall.
             Shutting down is just one coping mechanism, and it happened to be my “drug of choice”. There are plenty of others: denying that we’re hurt, blaming the other person, passive aggressive behavior. Most of us employ one or more when we get hurt.
             The big problem is that these coping mechanisms are like prescription drugs: if we use them too often, we get hooked. Then we can’t stop using them when we’re in pain, because we react automatically, and it’s all we know. The result can be devastating to our relationships: with ourselves, with those we’re intimate with, and with anybody we love.
             That’s why I call these coping mechanisms Prescriptions For Disaster.
             And, just like in our physical bodies, our emotional health will become severely compromised if we’re hooked on one or more of these prescriptions.
             Clearing our emotional lives of these prescriptions parallels the process we would use to rid ourselves of them physically. And since your partner is probably on something too, it’s best to do it together.
             First, you both have to admit that you’re hooked. You have to admit that, when you get hurt, you automatically reach for something else, instead of reaching inside and for each other. That’s a feat in itself, because it means coming out of denial. It means owning your part in a destructive process.
             It’s always good to know what the meds are for. Unfortunately, with emotional prescriptions, there’s no writing on the bottle to tell you. So you have to do some soul searching and figure out why you’re taking what you’re taking. This step can actually wait until later. The “why” right now is far less important than owning the fact that you’re on something. And ultimately, we’re all taking them for the same reason: to stop the pain.
             After you’ve owned that you’re hooked, no small feat mind you, you have to become willing to give up, or at least wean off of, the prescriptions. That means you both commit to start doing it differently. You both agree that, when one or both of you get hurt, you don’t reach for the meds. Instead, you risk feeling the pain. Then you risk expressing it. So that you can both work it out.
             This is where the rubber meets the road. It means you have be introspective, self-aware, vulnerable, courageous, honest, and maybe even get some form of therapy. That’s a lot of work. But it’s absolutely essential if you’re going to get off of those meds and stop poisoning your own body and the body of your relationship.
             Since I’ve stopped shutting down, I’ve had to feel again. Sometimes, I don’t know if I can keep doing it. I’m amazed at how much pain is still inside of me, even after all the work I’ve done. But I’m committed to this path. Even if at times I wish I could go back to shutting down again. And sometimes I do. But it never lasts too long. Eventually, I snap out of it and start feeling again. And my life opens up once more.
             Tomorrow, I’ll present to you my own very personal Prescriptions For Disaster in my last relationship.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a medicine cabinet full of Wrongs) Reserved.

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