When I was younger, just seeing someone living a life like the one I am living right now filled me with terror. I suppose this must be the same sort of terror that racists feel, or that anti-LGBT people feel. Nameless, shapeless terror at the way that certain things should simply “not be.”
There are times now, too, when if I step back and look at my life as it is, name it, describe it to myself, it also fills me with terror.
I am living in it. The moment-to-moment is not so bad at all. In fact, these holidays were wonderful. Yes, my wife and I live in different places. Yes, it is unclear what the future holds. But we love each other. We have happy children and we share happy times together. Our bills are paid. We are in from the cold. We have the resources to stage a celebratory season with some success, and we took great pleasure in each others’ company.
So what is the source of this terror?
— § —
It is a deep fear. It occupies the entire torso, perhaps the entire body. The neck and throat become tight. There is a heaviness and a coldness in the pit of the stomach that seem to to cause it to pull downward, as though it wants to rip free of its moorings in my flesh and fall toward the center of the earth forever, deep, deep into a molten abyss from which nothing can escape. The fingers and toes tingle. The eyesight goes dim. Breathing becomes short.
I remember feeling it at different things in different stages of my life.
In my teens and early twenties, I felt it whenever someone spoke with happiness or acceptance of any kind of “alternative” lifestyle, with such “alternativeness” being rather broadly defined indeed. Someone sometimes smoked a joint? Terror. Someone had divorced parents and felt that it was okay? Terror. Someone was sleeping with someone yet “not in a relationship, just for convenience?” Terror. Hearing them do these things and be okay with them filled me with terror.
And yet—Yet!—I did many of these things myself! And when I did them myself, I was not terrified in the least. What frightened me was that others espoused them as “good” or at the very least “acceptable” whereas I did them precisely because I believed that they were “wrong.” Somehow my belief that they were wrong made my doing-of-them perfectly okay and distinctly pleasurable; others’ beliefs that they were right made their doings-of-them something catastrophically threatening to me.
I remember feeling this as a child whenever something new happened in life. My parents moved, or redecorated the house. My parents went to an office party. Relatives stayed during holiday on which we didn’t usually have relatives around. In each case, it was my parents’ or others’ acceptance and embrace of the difference and novelty that created the terror, not the things themselves. If my parents had complained bitterly about the fact that they had to attend an office party, it would have been fine for them to go. But for them to want to go?
For someone to want to do a drug?
For someone to want convenient sex?
For someone to enjoy growing up in a broken home?
That, that was terrifying. And I’ll tell you a secret. It still is.
— § —
I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon. What is the source of this terror? It plays into my life in significant ways right now.
If I live in the moment, all is well.
If I find myself reflecting on my life, however, I have to reject its contours, to be troubled by it. And should my wife say a word or two about the current situation being “right” and I happen to connect that statement of rightness with an awareness of the details, I descend into terror again—even if a moment before, I was happy.
— § —
I can’t understand the nature of this fear, but as I said, I intuitively connect it to the fear that racists or bible-thumpers feel about various things, even though those things don’t fill me with fear.
It is a kind of moral terror, at least superficially. The Facebook Buddhist would tell me that I have an attachment to things, ideas, plans for my own future or self that I am struggling to be free of.
But I think it runs deeper, for myself, and for the others that feel this kind of terror.
If I just felt it for myself, for my own acceptance of non-normative things, I could attribute it more easily and clearly to childhood experiences of punishment, witholding of love, etc.
But why the same terror even when other people, when strangers do something non-normative from that list of things that pushes buttons, even if they are not the same buttons for everyone?
— § —
I feel as though this must be a kindergarten-level question in psychoanalytic circles, as common as this phenomenon seems to be, and yet I can’t recall having read anything about it. Not that I should have, given that I have no formal training or background in psychology at all.
And I know that it’s not purely a “moral” terror or the “fear of God” or anything like that. I’m not scared for others when they embrace the non-normative; I am scared for myself when these others embrace the non-normative.
What is the source of this fear? What is the logic? What is the implication?
— § —
I was going to say that it might come down to fear of abandonment; that if others are okay with divorce, perhaps it means that someday my own spouse may divorce me; that if others are okay with addiction, perhaps it means that my own loved ones may leave me for a bottle or a pill; that if my parents are willing to transform my living arrangements as a child or my routine, it means that nothing that I rely on can really be relied on.
But I suppose this is not fear of abandonment. When you turn over the fear-of-abandonment rock, what you find is, I suppose, the fear of mortality. That nothing is forever. That all things change.
That no, you can’t rely on anything. Not because nothing should be trusted, but because nothing is forever, and nothing is objectively true. All things, including the self, change. Vary. That even if this seems like an exhausting prospect, to fight this uncertainty is equally exhausting.
Trust is not certainty and can never be. The same goes for truth. Someday, I will lose the world and the world will lose me. In the meantime, I may lose others and they may lose me.
“All that is solid melts into air.”
— § —
Okay, so it is about attachment. Buddhists are right. It is about mortality. Western philosophy is right.
And this entire post has been redudant; it is a train of thought clearly inspired by my last post.
— § —
To become whole in life, to live, you must accept the fact that you are destined to die. To be able to love other people properly, you must accept the fact that you will lose them when they die.
This is a cruel paradox. I can accept it. I can’t help but accept it.
But once again, it really sucks. Shitty decision-making, whoever-it-is-that-created-it-all.