Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Self Doubt

I kind of have an anger issue.  I'm incredibly self-conscious about saying that, because I know how it sounds, and I know the images it brings to mind.  So let me be clear: I am not violent, towards myself or others.  To my recollection, I haven't raised my voice to my wife or daughter.  I did yell at our old dog once, and I felt horrible about it.  It's not the kind of anger that you think of when you hear someone say he has an anger problem.

My anger is more like extreme frustration and exasperation, all wrapped up in guilt and shame.  It often doesn't have an object other than myself, which I'll get to.  After The Toddler was born, I realized this anger was going to be an issue, so I talked to a guy, and he helped me through some things, and tried to give me some tools (cognitive behavior therapy or CBT) to deal with the feelings when they came up.  Problem is, CBT takes a lot of work to be effective, and it takes a lot of practice to get good at it, and in the meantime, you're trying to extricate yourself from a hot situation to work on it with your tools, and it feels like the worst time to try to extricate yourself from a hot situation.  I know I'm making excuses.  My point is, even with the best intentions, I realized I was unlikely to get good enough for CBT to be a good resource to deal with these feelings (and, I know.  The work is the point.  The work is the tool.  The work is the CBT is the work is the CBT... I know).

So I thought maybe I'd think about the anger and try to understand it, in the hope that by understanding it, I could steal its power.

The Wife and I are planning a kitchen renovation.  We had a small misunderstanding, nobody's fault, but it made me mad.  This was one of those situations where my anger had no object other than myself.  I was just mad.  Mad at myself.  Mad at being in that situation.  Mad that I got mad.  I didn't, and don't, understand it.  It brought me down for a couple days, thinking about it.

I wonder if maybe I'm angry because I thought I'd finished all the hard work of growing up.  For a while, I felt like a real man, and a real husband, and maybe I thought that would automatically make me a good father without needing to do any more growing up.  Maybe, but that doesn't feel exactly right.

I have this misconception that I've worked really hard to get where I am (I haven't), and to be reminded that hard work never ends makes me angry.  The relentlessness of needing to be a better person than I naturally am.  The realization that you're not nearly as good a person as you thought you were.

I watched an episode of The Sopranos and then I wrote a bunch of this shit down in my journal yesterday while The Toddler napped.  Dinner was leftovers and I had no ideas for the rest of the week.  I felt guilty because instead of watching TV and writing, I should've been cooking and meal planning.  Every day, there are a thousand moments when I know how I would act if I was just a better husband, father, or friend.  The Toddler is throwing food on the floor or licking the toilet.  Those are teachable moments.  Those are moments when if I just had a little more patience, or a little more understanding, or a little more energy, I could decide on one of the many correct courses of action.  Many times, I do what I should.  Too many times, I don't.

I didn't know that the hard part of marriage and fatherhood would be dealing with the relentless march of moments during which I would need to decide to be better than I really am, and then summon forth the effort to act better than I wanted to be.

But how do you balance the ideal with reality?  Most of the time, the way I should act is selfless and the way I want to act, or the easy choice, is selfish.  Instead of watching TV during nap, I should cook.  But I'm not capable of always making the selfless choice.  Nobody is.  How do you know if you're living selflessly enough?  How do you deal with the doubt and shame of feeling like you should do better?  Thoreau wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  I wonder if he was talking about the doubt?

Or was he talking about the guilt of asking the question, and then doubting the motive for asking?  Do I really want to work to be a better person, or am I putting this out into the universe because I know one of my friends will read it and tell me I'm a good person?  Am I asking this question because I really wonder?  Or to absolve myself of the guilt of reaching out for reassurance?  YOU CAN SEE WHY THIS SOMETIMES GETS ME DOWN.  :-)

I got no answers.  If you do, you should be writing the blog, and books, and making bank off chumps like me who sometimes have a hard time getting out of their own way.  All I know is, I'm coming to terms with the reality:  I am not as good as I could be, and to be as good as I could and should be will take a lot of work, every day, for the rest of my life.  Or until I'm old enough that I can be that grumpy old man with no fucks left to give.  Today was a much better day.  I know what we're having for dinner.  I finished the laundry.  I made good progress on a woodworking project that had stalled for a couple weeks.  The sun is shining.  It could be, and has been, so much worse.