Operating in Full Survival Mode: How To Find Your Way When the Shit Hits the Fan

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jul 9, 2013 in Musings, Relationships |

There is this funny thing about life you have probably noticed: just when everything seems to be running along smoothly and happily, the shit hits the fan really hard just to remind you that shit is out there…in case you have forgotten in your oblivious bliss that bad things happen to good people all the damn time.

Does this mean you should always be on your guard? It is a question I have been asking myself a lot in the last 48 hours because, for me, the proverbial excrement hit the spinning blades a couple of days ago.

As I was discussing this latest episode of flying gunk with a girlfriend at dinner last night, and she was reminding me that an emergency room visit is cheaper than a funeral (nevermind that the dead person is never the one paying for the funeral), her nephew called. As custodian of this handsome 16-year-old frame of hormones and funk, my friend had recently found herself up till all hours of the night trying to track down his whereabouts.

When she hung up the phone after an extended conversation about where the kid was going and when and for how long, I remarked how impressed I was that she was semi-successfully juggling the raising of a toddler and a teenager. She laughed and replied, “All I care about is survival. Are they dead or alive? That’s about the best I can manage right now. If everybody is alive, things are good.”

And I began to wonder…is this really what life has come to? Survival? Just basic survival?

The other friend who joined us for dinner seemed to think so, remarking to me as I relayed how torn up I was with grief, “Look, you’re just gonna have to get through the next five minutes, and if you can make it through that, then work on getting through the next five.”

Somewhere back in my 20s, I thought life was about hope, love, and happiness. But that was back when I was single, childless, and the most responsibility I had outside my career was remembering to feed my dog.

Here’s the thing: you think once you attain all your dreams, life is gonna be really good. But dreams have their cost. Children are work. Successful romantic relationships are work. Successful careers are work. Building a house is work. Taking care of it all is work. Taking care of aging parents is work. Rebuilding your life after divorce and disappointment is work. And maintaining the level of income and sanity required to keep life running with some semblance of smoothness is work.

And when you’re juggling all this with only two hands and one brain, sometimes things fall through the cracks. Okay, a lot of things fall through the cracks. And pretty soon the cracks are gaping wounds. And pretty soon there isn’t enough joint compound in the universe to plug them all up. Shit is oozing from everywhere.

And you begin to ask yourself, “Is this what I signed on for?”

A friend of mine who is a divorced father of three told me recently when I was asking if life was going to be one pile of shit hitting the fan after another, “There’s always going to be serious shit. And someone somewhere will both cause it and help you out of it.”

Only a man juggling a career, the raising of two teenage boys and a daughter, and his own efforts to go back to school could possibly say something so profound. And I listened….

Because it made a lot of sense. Pretty much every person who has ever wounded me, intentionally or unintentionally, has also brought me to some powerful crossroads, more often than not because the pain forced me to change my way of thinking or doing, made me drag myself out of a rut and onto a new and, ultimately, more productive path.

The trouble is, when you are in the midst of grief and pain, the new path is often hard to see through all the tears and hyperventilating. Sometimes you just have to sit back and let the mist lift first. That’s called “survival mode,” waiting for the minutes to pass, day by day, staying alive until the fog dissipates.

And don’t mistake hope for your rescuer. As my single dad friend added that day I talked to him about despair, hope really isn’t what’s going to pull you out of the mire. “Hope is a fragile gossamer thread,” he remarked. Rather it’s getting to the point “where your eyes are not crowded with the bullshit of the world,” and you can see clearly the path that is yours, the one that has been waiting for you to discover it.

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