You know what’s worse than doing something that is a no-winner? Knowing what you’re doing in a no-winner. You picking up what I’m putting down? Like scarfing down a Costco-sized satchel of fig newtons and a pail of egg nog just before hitting Six Flag’s new Vomitorium Ad Nauseum roller coaster. With vertigo and a hangover. That kind of thing. The good news about being ignorant of doing these kind of things is that one is shielded away from the true intention behind it and is merely a shallow grasp at something that carries deeper consequences. The bad news about being ignorant of doing these kind of things is that one shielded away from the true intention behind it and is merely a shallow grasp at something that carries deeper consequences. Yeah, same thing.
Comparing myself to others is one of those things. Comparing myself to others and not knowing it carries a safety switch on that gun, in some ways. I am not quite pulling the trigger on something, but I do feel the cold caress of steel on skin and wonder why I feel off, angry, desolate and depressed. I can feel some sort of inner rumbling, like the puttering of an engine with the wrong fuel coursing through it. There is an anxiety and a feeling of being ill-at-ease. So it’s safe to say that when I am unconsciously comparing myself to someone, it puts me in a shoddy spiritual place. Makes me mental too. What’s worse though is when I know that I am doing it. And being in recovery has given me the ability to see things with eyes open a scant more than before, so I can clearly see when I am comparing…and despairing.
We all know that comparing oneself to another is just one of those Oprah / Dr. Phil no-no’s. There are some lovely quotes on the topic, and a lot of pixels have been fused in the description of the futile search of comparing one to another. Religions and spiritual texts discuss this, or at least aspects of this. Countless articles have been authored on the topic, and we know the mental, emotional and even physical consequences of doing this. And yet…a guy like me will still gorge on that food and hit the roller coaster ride. I hate egg nog, and fig newtons are chewy and yummy in small bursts, but I will again and again engage in that behaviour and suffer the rolly-polly aftermath. Mop and bucket please. Pavement pizza in aisle seven.
I’ve told the story before, but when I was in treatment, I used to compare my bottom to how “bad” and low the other guys in the house got. Hell, I was even jealous of some of their stories. How sick is that? I remember confessing to everyone at a meeting about this blood-lust envy I had to their collective being face down in the gutter with a crowbar dent on their heads surrounded by cops and dancing ninjas tales…you know, the typical thing I would hear from the dudes. One of counsellors pulled me aside later and told me something that I still remember to this day – “You are where you’re meant to be”. In other words, I needn’t compare myself to what these other men went through. And frankly, not many had the sordid, Raymond Chandler-like novella bottoms I imagined them to have. Most guys were like me – a stain on the bottom of a shoe, and I was was too busy comparing the shoe rather than wiping the mess.
Alcoholics and addicts didn’t invent this thing, this comparing thing, of course. We just happen to have deeper reactions to it. Like self-pity or jealousy or any of those self-induced and self-involved Rubik’s Cubes that our minds like to fumble with, comparing one’s self to others is just something to be left to those who can make a fast go of it and move on. A mental quickie. An emotional mile-high club entry. A high-five to the dark side and then a rocket jet pack out back into a moon-kissed orbit. But for a person like me, I tend to stick around it like a bad odour. And like the old Bachelor of Liberal Arts graduate buddy of yours who couch surfs in your basement for two months, I overstay my welcome. Comparison is toxic…another poisonous substance that runs through my veins and crash bangs my serenity like Leather and Pinky Tuscadero at a tea social.
The comparison thing loves nothing more than to creep up on me when I least expect it. The other day I was riding my jalopy of a bike up a hill (at full tilt) and someone blew past me. Not another cyclist (I am used to that), but a skateboarder. I might as well have had an old man shoot past me in his walker like a F-16 in an evasive manoeuvre over hostile territory. My mind went into meltdown mode and I compared myself out of any sort of peace I might have had. A skateboarder? What kind of cyclist am I? The pathetic kind, is the answer. Why I can’t I be one of those graceful, gliding cyclist who traverses miles and terrain with the ease of a Serengeti gazelle? Well, the answer is simple, Mr. Compare Boy – you have squatty legs, you ride a heavy mountain bike, your bike is falling apart and the tires are low on air. Simple physics, my wayward and lugging lad.
So, this has nothing to do with me as a person, or a cyclist, or how “good” or “not good” I am. I know that intellectually, but someone tell the rest of me. Same goes in all other aspects of my life when I see someone achieve something that either I wished I had done, or didn’t even know that it could be done. And by the way, this isn’t about jealousy. Jealousy is when I get angry at someone for having something that I feel that I should have, or deserve. Jealousy is counting someone else’s blessings. This is turned around – this is the “look at them – great…and now look at me” kind of reaction (use “discarded used tissue” mime for full effect). This is not so much about what they have, but what I don’t have, whether I am “deserving” of it or not. It’s my own will turning on me. Ego feeding itself while chewing it’s own leg off.
Now, comparing things has its uses and times of use. Our minds are meant to compartmentalize, organize, prioritize, analyse, investigate and make judgement calls. These are useful things when sizing up a new car, looking for an apartment, deciding on a job or even figuring out whether to go out with that special person or that other special person. Our minds are programmed to put things in certain orders and shelve and file and place items in a mental database with a speed that even Google would be ripping its face off to have (I can’t guarantee it’s ad-free though. I get jingles stuck in my head all the time. Damn you, Juicy Fruit). But that same wonderful working of the mind will also want to do the same thing with people and other intangible and immeasurable things. My mind wants to make sense and sequence of the people that I interact with or bear witness to. My mind wants to put them in marching order like the Brady’s or the Von Trapp’s and then give them ranking, like state fair cherry pies. And therein lies the danger.
While I can quantify objects, quantifying subjective and even intangible things (“he’s more loved than I am!”) is fraught with pitfalls. There is no way that I can make that leap and come out on top. It’s like deciding what is more beautiful – a sunset or a rainbow. Or a baby’s giggle. Or a lover’s gaze. All completely different, and yet my mind wants to line them up with a number attached to them. There is never a right answer to these, and hence my ego wants to will itself to have the right answer. And for me, my default is that when it comes to me, I am at the bottom. So no matter what I have going on, whatever I have, it’s never top notch. It must have an inner failing, like a blown gasket on a Lada. Comparing myself to things that can’t be comparable is a Cosmic Fail and yet I will rub myself up on it like a mosquito to a screen door.
Comparing myself to you takes away from me, and it takes away from you. When I comparing myself, and I am on the short end of that comparison, I am saying that what I am, and who I am, is not important. What the Creator has created is not of value. I have no worth. Or less value. It sets in motion the wheels that I will eventually run myself over with. Self-pity, jealousy, envy. I find myself removing my mind from the gratitude for what I do have. I lose sight of the talents, skills and abilities I do have and fester on about what I don’t have. Intellectually, I know that I can’t have it all, and yet the little persistent voice of ego will tell me that I should have it all. I mean, my squatty legs may not propel me much on a bike, but they certainly help me lift heavy objects or push off when bolting. Or bearing the weight of my two boys as we rough house. But instead of looking at it like that, I am off gazing at the middle distance playing the unwinnable “what if” game.
That is why comparing is so dangerous to a guy like me – it gets me away from what I already have laid claim to. I have a great life right now. I have a job I enjoy. I have a great family. I have love and support from so many people. I am part of wonderful recovery communities. I have my health. I
am mentally sound can count to 100 without missing a number. I have a great number of things that I can count myself blessed for having or being. You’d think that is enough. But no – ego wants to dismantle that like the ticking time bomb that it isn’t. “Great job? Really?” it will ask. “How about Joe over there making three times what you are and working less hours. Plus the babes love him”. Well, um, okay. Not sure what to say. Maybe Joe is better than me. Maybe Joe is happier than I am. Maybe Joe is luckier than I am. Or, perhaps Joe worked hard for it. Right place right time. Or perhaps Joe is actually miserable. Had I thought of that? I was great at masquerading how I truly felt. I am not the only one who can do that. In the end, it doesn’t matter about Joe. Joe isn’t me and I am not him. I am only me and can only focus on where I am in the universe, the big picture.
When I dig deeper, I see that these comparisons and the inevitable conclusion that I am not good enough, it brings me to a place of fear. The fear of being rejected. And that’s a heavy trip of a fear. Wavy Gravy kind of trippy. So when I see that skateboarder pass me, it’s not just about me being slow. It hits that bedrock of “I am not enough.” No one will like me because I am not flying through the streets at Mach 3 speed. No one will like me because I am not interesting enough to be a speedster. No one will like me because I don’t like me right now and who wants to mess with this trash bag called Paul? Yikes. So while I may not travel quickly on two wheels, I can certainly breakdown my serenity in lightening fast time. That feeling of being rejected is a core issue for many of us, and it will come out in this comparison thing I have going. So there is only one way to manage this.
I need to see and feel that I am good enough. The idea that I am enough is a tough one for me to tackle. To this day even. To think that what is here, right now and in the place I am, is more than enough? Slap me silly and call me Sally, because this is news to me. I had a whole lifetime of feeling less than, so to prop myself into a spot where I am on the level, like that little bubble on a straight plane…well, there is going to be a lot of heavy lifting involved. Spiritual, mental and emotional lifting. And remember what I said about squatty legs? They come in handy, so now I am ready to lift. Just not all at once. Don’t want to break my back. But it’s in that lifting and sensing that I am neither lesser than or greater than that helps to line me up with the Creator’s will and brings me to the path of freedom and serenity. It’s a way of being that is still hard for me to bear at times, as that small voice of “you’re not worthy” still likes to prod and poke and get the bear stirred up. But I am aware of it, and that always helps to neutralize the hordes at the gate.
I think we all can write out a list of all the things we don’t have or can’t have or even shouldn’t have. We all can consciously and unconsciously line ourselves against some impossible measuring system and still fall short. We all can see the futility of it all and yet still go back to the very thing that brings us back to futility. At least I can. But what is the point of this all? It’s wretched navel gazing that bears no fruit of its own except a temporary sick spirit. Comparing myself to you is like trying to let a bird free and then yanking it back down with a wire attached to its leg. Whenever I compare, I am denying myself the ability to soar, to glide with the sun bearing down on me, the wind lifting me up and guiding me. I ground myself and wonder why I am not free.
In the final analysis, I am me and I have to get used to that idea. I have to see that I am enough. That the only one I can compare myself to is…me. I can see where I have come and where I am now. And right now, I see a lot of leaps and bounds between the old Paul and the one that is typing these words right now. I have to accept me warts and all, and yet not just focus on the warts. I have good qualities. We all do. I also have my limitations. We all do. So why linger and let my mind burn holes in my soul when I can spend that energy helping others or staying close to the Creator? But my mind likes to play, so the comparing will occur. I know it will. But I can lessen the damage the more I am more comfortable with me. Playing in the sunlight of the spirit rather than plunging into the darkness of the well. I am good enough. I am good enough. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’ll get there.
I am just a bit slow, remember?