When things break down…

· Grief,Trauma

I’ve been reading, listening, and mulling over all things Jordan B. Peterson for some time now. I have so appreciated his thoughts on good and evil, on suffering and taking personal responsibility. His voice has been been both comforting and convicting, adding depth to both my spiritual and recovery life. The following is a piece out of his book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, and describes better than I can, what Discovery felt like for me and why I knew I needed help.

“You and I Are Simple Only When the World Behaves

When things break down, what has been ignored rushes in. When things are no longer specified, with precision, the walls crumble, and chaos makes its presence known. When we’ve been careless, and let things slide, what we have refused to attend to gathers itself up, adopts a serpentine form, and strikes–often at the worst possible moment. It is then that we see what focused intent, precision of aim and careful attention protects us from.

Imagine a loyal and honest wife suddenly confronted by evidence of her husband’s infidelity. She has lived alongside him for years. She saw him as she assumes he is: reliable, hard-working, loving, dependable. In her marriage, she is standing on a rock, or so she believes. But he becomes less attentive and more distracted. He begins, in the clichéd manner, to work long hours. Small things she says and does irritate him unjustifiably. One day she sees him in a downtown café with another woman, interacting with her in a manner difficult to rationalize and ignore. The limitations and inaccuracy of her former perceptions become immediately and painfully obvious.

Her theory of her husband collapses. What happens, in consequence? First, something–someone–emerges in his stead: a complex, frightening stranger. That’s bad enough. But it’s only half the problem. Her theory of herself collapses, too, in the aftermath of the betrayal, so that it’s not one stranger that’s the problem: it’s two. Her husband is not who she perceived him to be–but neither is she, the betrayed wife. She is no longer the “well-loved, secure wife, and valued partner.” Strangely enough, despite our belief in the permanent immutability of the past, she may never have been.

The past is not necessarily what it was, even though it has already been. The present is chaotic and indeterminate. The ground shifts continually around her feet, and ours. Equally, the future, not yet here, changes into something it was not supposed to be. Is the once reasonable content wife now a “deceived innocent”–or a “gullible fool”? Should she view herself as victim, or as co-conspirator in a shared delusion? Her husband is–what? An unsatisfied lover? A target of seduction? A psychopathic liar? The very Devil himself? How could he be so cruel? How could anyone? What is this home she have been living in? How could she be so naïve? How could anyone? She looks in the mirror. Who is she? What’s going on? Are any of her relationships real? Have any of them ever been? What has happened to the future? Everything is up for grabs, when the deeper realities of the world unexpectedly manifest themselves.

Everything is intricate beyond imagining. Everything is affected by everything else. We perceive a very narrow slice of a causally interconnected matrix, although we strive with all our might to avoid being confronted by knowledge of that narrowness. The thin veneer of perceptual sufficiency cracks, however, when something fundamental goes wrong. The dreadful inadequacy of our senses reveals itself. Everything we hold dear crumbles to dust. We freeze. We turn to stone. What then do we see? Where can we look, when it is precisely what we see that has been insufficient?”

(Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech)