April 8, 2020
Before chaplaincy became my career of choice I was a substance abuse counselor in a clinic that treated adults with addictions to opiates like pain killers and heroin. It was hard work. Most of my days were spent telling my clients that they have a choice to make to remain sober, a choice they have to make every moment of the day. The resistance I got was astounding! Every day I head every imaginable excuse for illicit substance use. Most of them were reasonable. Most of them made sense. Most of them were valid reasons for the initial addiction. What I struggled with was getting my clients to realize that every time they used their substance of choice, regardless of the historical circumstances that led them to using, it was a choice they made.
So you can imagine my shock and dismay when, after eating nearly half of my body weight in Cheetos and Diet Coke, I caught myself blaming the pandemic and my present confinement to this hovel I call home for binge eating all of emergency snacks. I was shooketh! I had to call BS on myself. I didn’t eat a whole bag of Cheetos because there’s a deadly virus lurking around and every sneeze or cough could be a harbinger of my inevitable death. I ate a bag of Cheetos because I LIKE CHEETOS!!!!! I ate them because of the way they crunch. I ate them for the way the salt burns the creases of my mouth. I ate them because I WANTED them.
Fear, anxiety, anticipatory grief, and the inevitable push toward the inevitable end of all things (i.e. death of all living things) are ALWAYS going to threaten to undo us. We fear a lack of control over our environment but often use the illusion of our lack of control as an excuse for poor judgment. Every moment of every day we make choices. Either I will eat an apple when I get hungry or a bag of Cheetos. How I make that choice is definitely informed by the stressors inundating me from every side. However, that does not mean I have NO control. I can control my choices and how I respond to the stressors around me. I have agency over more than I imagine.
No I cannot control an invisible virus. No, I cannot control the amount of toilet paper my neighbor buys. No, I cannot control how incorrectly EVERYBODY in the grocery store is wearing their masks or how they keep touching their phone and their credit cards and their kids with those nasty contaminated gloves. But I do have control over how I wear my mask. I do have control over how I treat my neighbor by not stockpiling resources I don’t really need. I do have control over how I live and relate to others. I have control over how I wash my hands and wear my PPE and treat others as precious and worthy of love and life.
As I write this I’m reminded of the first part of the Serenity Prayer that asks for divine intervention in identifying the difference between what can be controlled and what cannot. This prayer reaches out to something bigger than us for serenity and courage: serenity to accept that which is beyond our control, courage to enact changes where we are able. The most important part of this prayer, however, is the imploration for wisdom. The wisdom to know the difference between what is and is not in our power to control is something of a gift or a skill that must be nurtured and practiced. Wisdom is more than just knowing. It’s the ability to set actionable goals for responding to the stressors in our lives rather than knee-jerk style reactivity. Wisdom, as it is often said, is knowledge put in practice.
So it’s ok if you feel like eating a whole bag of Cheetos while you sit on the couch watching Tiger King on Netflix. It’s also ok if all you can really do is take a half a step back and choose to only eat half the bag today. Tomorrow, maybe you will feel stronger and only need one episode and a handful of chips to get you through. Every day you choose to be responsible for your wellbeing you are setting yourself up for stronger and wiser days ahead. So before you just give in to your drug, err, I mean, snack of choice, retreat behind the walls of resignation, before you give up hope: have you considered that you might not actually be powerless right now? Stop what you are doing and take an inventory. Look at what you have control over. You have agency and power over more than you think. You’re still breathing aren’t you? You’re heart is still pumping blood and your body is still warm and teaming with activity. You’re still just as full of agency as you’ve ever bee. You are just as much you as before: free to make choices that give life to yourself and to others. Your heart is still capable of love. Your soul is still capable of touching another’s, even in your physical distance. Your hands are able to work and create and comfort just as they have always done. Your feet can dance and your heart can sing. You are the you-est you you have ever been!!!!
So, wash off that Cheeto dust. Start today, right this very moment, with choosing to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually true to yourself. Right now, and every moment that follows, is an opportunity to thrive.
And when all else fails you, remember this: knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad….
Love and Light!!!