Sunday, October 24, 2010

Childish Adults

In response to my Hornet’s Nest post the day before yesterday, a friend on Facebook remarked that she knows even sober people who act in the way I described. Actually, so do I.

I explained that if it’s not alcoholism that’s the cause of childish behavior in an adult, I just mentally insert "or whatever their addiction is" in its place, because most people are addicted to something (painkillers, food, sex, shopping, gambling, adrenaline rushes, relationships... something) that acts as a buffer to keep us/them from clear thinking and acting in an adult manner. Addicted people just never really grow up. I think it happens something like this: at some point, we discover a substance or a feeling or an activity that makes us feel better when life bears down on us too heavily. We start using that thing as a crutch, and though it may make us feel temporarily better, it also emotionally arrests us. We stop growing. We stop learning from our mistakes and start reaching for our crutch instead. It’s hella easier, and makes for more interesting stories, too. (Well, until the crutch stops serving us at all. Then the stories start to get ugly.)

If the crutch becomes an obvious one and a problem, some addicts may even put it aside, but they may still ACT LIKE addicted people. They’ve gotten so used to not learning from their mistakes or processing their experiences or are so afraid of dealing with the pain of a searching moral inventory/self-analysis, that they just stay emotionally and mentally where they are: stuck. We call sober alcoholics such as this “dry drunks.” They’re an alcoholic in every way; they’re just not using. That’s why alcoholics who successfully quit drinking still need Alcoholics Anonymous. We need to do all the step work that helps us break the old childish patterns of thinking and behaving that we’ve developed over the years. In many ways, AA is a lot like life coaching in how to truly be an adult.

Every last person in AA is simultaneously a childish asshole and a supremely sensitive, beautiful human being.

Then another Facebook friend interjected that hey, it can also be fun to be child-like and want to play. Who wants to live a somber, always seriously boring kind of life? Hang onto to childhood as long as you can; don’t be an old fart.

But of course, you can be child-like as a sober adult. There is a huge difference between child-like and childish. To be perpetually child-like is to experience joy, to have an insatiable curiosity, to delight and wonder at new things, and all the wonderful stuff that kids do and express. Hey, it’s why I love Tigger, his bouncy-pouncy enthusiasm.

Being childish, on the other hand, simply means acting and reacting solely from a self-centered place ("I want what I want and I want it now"). You can have brilliant, talented adults who are frustratingly childish; they can rationalize every last thing they do with a series of reasons until they’ve talked you into a corner, but when you boil away all the rationalizations and look only at what they DO, voila. It amounts to “they want what they wanted and they wanted it now. “ To hell with you, to hell with the rules, to hell with the consequences; what I want outweighs any collateral damage. Indeed, the sickest of these will not only not care about the collateral damage, but will also talk themselves into believing that those they have hurt somehow deserved it. It’s how they live with themselves, I think, because deep down inside they truly aren’t lacking in compassion. They’re simply disconnected from most of us. Consequently, their relationships tend to the shallow side, because once they stop getting what they need (and it will inevitably happen, because their need is so vast it’s an empty hole that can’t be filled), they will be on their merry way, on to the next person they believe can remedy their ills.

Don’t get me wrong. We ALL get off track and we all do childish things on occasion. It’s part and parcel of being human. It’s just that some of us do it way more than others, and usually there’s a colossal ego residing in these folks.

So, what can we do about it? Only do the best that you can. Don’t sweep your crap under the rug. Own it. Learn from it. Experience all the resulting feelings. And don’t do it again. Then you truly will become old and wise, and you will gain from this life whatever it was that God had in mind for you to learn this time around. You will finally achieve what you’ve always wanted—happiness and fulfillment on a permanent basis. Before, you were merely going about it the wrong way.

Otherwise, you’ll just be old and childish and doomed to repeat the same damn mistakes over and over--until one day you get it, if you ever do.

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