Off Script

I was on my way home from work last night, standing on the subway platform at South Station when down at the end of it, a scene straight out of reality TV was taking place between two young African-American women.

I have no absolutely idea what they were arguing, cursing and shouting at each other about, but I do know it was at a decibel level that not only everyone standing there waiting for the train could hear it, but I suspect people at street level might have caught wind of it as well.

At one point, the woman who was clearly the aggressor in the fracas, reared around on all of us and demanded to know ‘What are you lookin’ at?!!’ to which, the snarky bastard in me wanted to respond with something akin to ‘Just watching another immature drama junkie getting their fix.’

If there’s one thing I can genuinely say I have not missed at all in the past few years of monastic, misanthropic life which I’ve grown accustomed to, it is dealing with seemingly endless amount of drama.

Now, before you sharpen your fingernails and start pointing them at me in consternation, I fully recognize that my admission of that comes with a more than obvious degree of hypocrisy, given how tumultuous my life has been since about 2010.

Make no mistake, there have been stretches of time where I’ve created drama storms big enough to make the hurricanes currently pounding the southern U.S. look like five-minute sprinkles.

But here’s the kicker. Once I got out on my own and away from a lot of both the people and the circumstances which generated a whole lot of that drama, the more I realized how I both fed off it and helped sustain it through my behavior and attitude.

And if being alone and untethered from people and their remarkable propensity to spin drama out of thin air, especially nowadays when we are so hypercritical and hypercombative in our social discourse, has taught me anything, it’s this….

I have no appetite whatsoever for drama anymore. None.

Now, along with that comes the recognition that as much as I look to avoid it nowadays, there is the unpleasant reality that like it or not, life is drama and as such, it cannot always be avoided. But in that recognition, there also comes the acknowledgement that there are some dramas which have to be addressed.

Finding a new job or a place to live or saving money vs. paying bills, for example. Those are universal dramas that we all have to deal with and sometimes they can become emotionally taxing enough that keeping them tight-lipped doesn’t help anymore.

So what do we do? We vent our frustrations in the hope of getting positive reinforcements from those people who we are emotionally connected to, be it a parent, sibling, friend, significant other, etc. It’s that release of emotional pressure that allows us to emerge with a clearer head and a bit of reassurance that whatever problem is keeping us from achieving goal X is not insurmountable.

We all do this, myself included, and I suspect that if you ask 100 therapists or psychologists about the logic of using this as a coping mechanism, most will reply it’s very much a healthy, normal and human thing to do.

BUT, there is a big difference between something like this and using our emotional turmoil as a means of drawing in other people around us in a more malevolent fashion through our growing dependency on social media, safe spaces and the epidemic of -isms we love to carpet-bomb each other with, and none of us are really immune from that either.

Unfortunately, the only way I’ve found to really combat this is to step as far away from it as possible, and that only came about after a good 30 years of being smack in the eye of my own drama storm.

As a kid, I wasn’t good at dealing with drama and it took a long time to figure out that my own dependency on it was in response to feeling both ignored and unaccepted by pretty much everyone around me except my small circle of friends. That degree of isolation inevitably leads to wanting to be the center of attention for someone, anyone.

And if you have any real measure of empathy, it also makes you susceptible to being pulled into the black hole of other people’s drama as it provides both a mutual degree of recognition and it creates an immediate feedback loop which allows the storm to keep churning away.

It wasn’t until I got much older that I finally began to see that in most of those cases, those people really weren’t interested in getting their drama to go away. Sure, they’d talk about it and they’d promise me and everyone else who’d lend them an ear that they were finally going to do something about it. But sure enough, it wouldn’t take long before they were right back where they started.

Even now, I still have stretches of time where my own drama storm tries to reconstitute itself by bringing up a lot of things I either don’t want to remember or I don’t want to deal with. I don’t know if there’s a definitive way to make those times go away short of a lobotomy or descending into some narcotic-fueled haze, but I’d like to think that I’ve gotten at least a little better at reading the signs of when the clouds are starting to build up.

But in order to get to that point, it’s taken me over six years of being pretty much detached from people and essentially detoxxing from all their drama so I can deal with my own. Along the way, I’ve lost some friends and loved ones because we clashed over why their particular drama had to be recognized and accepted…

Editorial Note: I know this will likely get me knocked off a Christmas card list or four, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. You cannot make someone bend to your particular drama. It’s not how it works and the more you force it, the higher the likelihood that you will break that relationship and the person on the other side will realize they don’t need this in their lives. And you then get to watch them walk away…usually chucking whatever arbitrary and unfounded -isms in their direction as they exit your life.

Once that relationship is over, by the way, good luck trying to put it back together because odds are, that person will remember just how much unnecessary drama you put them through to the point that they likely cannot differentiate who you were then from who you might be now.

I had to learn that one the hard way over the past year as I tried rebuilding what was arguably the most important relationship I’d had during the time where my personal drama had become an all-devouring black hole.

There are times in everyone’s life where it feels like we’re at the whim of some overworked and overwrought Hollywood screenwriter. Where we either wake up in the morning or go to bed at night wondering, How the hell did I get here?’

I used to think that if I tried hard enough, I could help people flip their particular script so it offered a better ending, in exchange for flipping my own.

Now, I find that the easiest way for me to get from one day to the next is to just throw the script out entirely and just try to improv it the best I can.

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