Monday, March 7, 2011

Chapter 11 - Manipulating Ourselves

We have already established that the primary response to a manipulator is to lie.  It follows then that if we lie to ourselves we are manipulating ourselves.  We can and are quite adept at self deceit.  Why do we do this?  Why do we attempt to justify the choices we are making?  Why do we, sometimes quite successfully, convince ourselves that right is wrong and wrong is right?
In my own case, I loved to use the justice scale to justify misbehavior and satisfy a guilty conscience.  I had myself persuaded that if my good deeds out-weighed my bad deeds that the scales would be tipped in my favor.  There were plenty of people around me we were more than willing to help me entrench that lie.  The truth is, “no unclean thing can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The lie I told myself was unproductive and dangerous as any I have ever heard.  I went along, quite merrily under the umbrella of that lie.
For a time I was Stake Mission President in my Stake.  I was determined to be successful in my calling.  I needed the reassurance that I had done well.  I needed the accolades that would accompany success such as I enjoyed.  I was, at the same time actively participating in my addiction.  Occasionally, I felt guilt sufficient to bring me to the Bishop or Stake President.  I would confess and then cite my merits in my calling as evidence that I was turning over a new leaf.  It was an easy sell.
This brings me to the second lie I told myself, which led to a lie that I told others.  I decided it was sufficient to confess to my Priesthood Leaders in generalities.  I justified leaving out much of the detail.  I didn’t want to admit some of my misbehavior to myself, let alone to my Bishop.  Addiction is like that.  And the first remedy to addiction is honesty.  I couldn’t even honestly admit that I was powerless over my addiction and that I had forfeited my agency with regard to my behavior.  I lied to myself when I told myself that I would quit someday, later.  In my heart of hearts I knew I was utterly unable to quit. 
I lied to myself when I told myself that the only person I was hurting was me.  It was an easy lie to pass off on me because I was so focused on myself that I was completely unaware of the harm I was causing those around me.
Every effort I made to quit was done by manipulation.  I would attempt elaborate means to avoid using.  I would force myself to be in good company.  I would destroy my stash so I couldn’t get what I needed.  I would ride herd on myself and employ others by various means to chaperon me as well.  I would commit myself to busy work as a distraction.  There were times when I had elaborate charts I had to fill out incessantly in an effort to trick myself into righteous behavior.  I would put on a righteous image and hold myself up as a good example so that I might be forced to live up to the expectations I had helped others have of me.  It was all lies and deceit and it didn’t work.
Every effort I made to use (abuse) was also manipulation.  I would tell myself that I could use after I had done my Home Teaching; trading good for bad, so to speak.  I would allow myself harmless indulgences so I could ease myself closer to the edge of all out abandonment.  I would select good things to do that were proximate to the bad ones, so I could peek over the fence if you will.
I often ran away from sin, but I always left a forwarding address.  It was always a lie and it was continual hell.  Well did Lehi speak when he said, “Wo unto the liar for he shall be thrust down to hell.”[1]  It isn’t wo unto the liar for he is entering the road to hell, or wo unto the liar for he might not get his temple recommend.  The term thrust has a sense of immediacy and forceful certainty; and so it is.  The lie, whether expressed to another or to one’s self brings immediate separation from God.  It also perpetuates the pain and suffering we bring upon ourselves by our dishonesty.  The lie is the vehicle by which we arrive most immediately in hell.  Hell is not a place.  It is a state of being.  If you think you can lie and avoid the miserable and captivating consequences; you are telling yourself the biggest lie of all.
Why do we manipulate ourselves?  Could it be that we don’t know any other way?  We are so commonly manipulated that we naturally assume that since the only way others can get us to perform is by manipulation; it must be the means by which we must get ourselves to perform.  We also assume that God too, is a manipulator which is the most heinously lie we could ever presume.
The notion of self manipulation rather implies the duality of our nature.  The natural man is an enemy to God.  The natural man trust’s Satan.  Satan manipulates.  This duality is wonderfully expressed in the Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.  I’m not a literary scholar.  I have no idea what Stevenson was trying to convey in his work.  What I do know, is that when I read his story, I related very much to Dr. Jekyl’s predicament.  I was in the same situation, though not chemically induced.  There were two opposing components to my personality.  And each one was very busy manipulating the other.  This inner conflict was devastating.  I acted like two different people.  For some time I actually wondered if I weren’t schizophrenic! 
I dealt with this dualism the best I could for too many years.  It was the chief component of the insanity that is addiction.  Then one day I heard a story.  You have probably heard it too in one or another if its many manifestations.  I’ve since encountered so many versions that I have no idea who to credit for its brilliance and for the blessing it has been in my life.  Here is a sweet and simple version that concisely makes the point:

A Cherokee Legend

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Truer words were never spoken.  I learned to feed the good wolf within me and to starve the bad one.  After a while, the fighting ceased.  The bad wolf, too weak to fight, has, for the most part slinked off to some far corner of my personality to hide.  Subtly, Satan tries to get me to slip a scrap of food to him here and there and I need to be very careful to give good and regular nutrition to the good wolf, but it sure beats feeding them both and dealing with the constant conflict, the constant manipulation.
The other day, friend and author Louise Penny wrote of a mourning friend (also Louise) in her blog:
Spoke to Louise last night and again this morning. She's very funny. Said that for the past year, when Jacques’ health took a nose-dive, she got used to doing various things...a routine. That grew more and more exhausting. Til at the end she said she'd get out of bed, drag herself down the hall murmuring to herself, 'Time to make the doughnuts. Time to make the doughnuts.'

A reference to an old TV commercial about a doughnut maker who got up at the crack of dawn and like a zombie went about his work. 'Time to make the doughnuts.'

Everyday, for weeks and months, that was how she felt, and that was what she mumbled to herself.

Until yesterday. She said one of the hardest things was not going to the hospital. She actually drove by it...slowing down. But didn't stop. 

Mostly, though, she's decided to not run away from the pain in frantic activity. Or even in television.  But to sit quietly, and feel it completely. And then, one day, to feel it ease. She knows the only way to really let something go is to own it first. And she has the courage to do that. At least for today.
Louise has made a mature, healthy choice to refrain from manipulating herself by running or distracting herself from her pain.  Addicts manipulate themselves all the time for that very reason.  The use of drugs, alcohol, food, porn or whatever, is the worst form of manipulation, by which we lie to ourselves and avoid, rather than deal with the vicissitudes of life.  Well did Louise Penny observe that I must honestly own a problem before I can let it go.

[1] 2 Nephi 9:38

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