"I'm just...I'm overwhelmed. It's all too much...I can't keep doing all this. I can't...it's all just too much."
That voice. Those words. They're too familiar.
But these words aren't my own. They belong to the main character of novel All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner. Her name is Allison Weiss, a successful woman who feels like she's struggling to keep it all together: work, her shaky marriage, an overactive toddler, the house, her aging parents, the list continues to grow in her mind. So she turns to something she thinks she can control: her emotions.
At one point Allison's daughter wets the bed. But before she can deal with showering off the squealing kid, Allison goes to the bathroom to find a bottle of OxyContin and fishes out some pills. "I scooped a mouthful of water from the sink and swallowed. Immediately, even before the pills were down my throat, I felt a sense of calm come over me, a certainty that I could handle this crisis and whatever others emerged before seven a.m. All will be well, the pills sang as they descended" (p41).
Author, Weiner, puts into written word the battle of the mind many of us deal with on a regular basis. We want to juggle it all, but with all those balls in the air we get overwhelmed. We don't dare let a ball drop for fear of what others might think. So we come up with a strategy. Sometimes an unhealthy one just like Allison who starts popping prescription meds.
Swinging between extremes.
It's an exhausting pendulum swing between comfort and control.
Comfort lets us pacify ourselves when negative feelings or situations arise. And they will. Life is like that. Then in an attempt to prevent those negative feelings we control. We try to keep things in line, the way I want them, thereby avoiding those negative feelings or situations as well. If we find it hard to do well with one method, we often swing to the other.
As this story line points out, we all have something we turn to when the going gets tough. It might not be OxyContin. But it might be: over-exercising, food, alcohol, shopping, porn, movies, or insert your own sedative here.
It's the thing that helps us shut-off the noise and shut down in order to cocoon ourselves away from the world. Think of the busy business person who comes home after a long day in the office, then flakes out in front of the television for the rest of the night. This doesn't really help us or help anyone else. By sedating ourselves we block out everything and everyone else.
Take as needed for pain.
The pill bottle reads "take as needed for pain." Allison concludes she needs it for the pain that she feels each day of her life. It's not turning out the way she wanted. High expectations (mostly placed by herself) lead to the pain. So she numbs it.
"You would never see my kitchen and guess how many milligrams of narcotics I required to drag myself through the day. You would never look at my living room and know how much I'd cried....(you'd) imagine that we had a happy life. Nothing to see here¸ you would think. Everything is fine"(p159).
Allison keeps telling herself that she'll cut back. She gets up to 10+ pills of OxyContin a day. But inevitably life gets in the way. Her daughter has a tantrum. Her father's Alzheimer's gets worse. And so on. Tomorrow becomes the next tomorrow, because each time Allison rationalizes she needs the pills to "get through today."
The advice Allison's mother gives her is the one we all need to hear, "You can't waste your life hiding...pretending that things are okay, being drunk or on pills or whatever, and not be a real mother, and not really living your life" (p318).
Don't bottle it up.
Early on in the novel, Allison is in a doctor's office with her young daughter. She's admitted that life is challenging. The doctor replies, "You're not going to be any good to anyone if you're not taking care of yourself." (p31)
He uses the analogy of a mid-flight emergency, during which oxygen masks drop from an airplane's cabin ceiling. Adult passengers are instructed to put on their masks first, and then tend to children or other people.
Eventually bottled up emotions come to the surface. We either damage ourselves. Or we hurt other people. We either implode or explode; just like a soda bottle that's been shaken and jostled around. So we need to take care of ourselves. We need to be brave enough to face the struggle. We need to be brave enough to let our guard down. We need to be brave enough to let others see us fail; drop a ball every now and then.
In All Fall Down, Allison eventually goes to rehab to deal with her addictions and her emotions. She, and we, need to face and feel our unpleasant emotions as well as deal with the destructive/distracting ways we've been attempting to cover then up.
Lisa Goetze is a 30-something-woman endeavouring to love Jesus and love people with reckless abandon. She's a former Canadian journalist who now calls Brisbane home. She's a full-time volunteer at Youth With A Mission.
Lisa Goetze's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/lisa-goetze.html