My July column, “George vs. ‘The Inner Tyrant”‘ got a lot of interest from people who asked me to go into more detail about how my “Tyrant” works, and what works to stop him.
Self analysis is a little bit tricky, but it seems that the “Tyrant” is always there to ambush me, especially when I feel desperate or alone, when I feel exhausted or defeated, when I’m in despair and isolated. And like a wounded animal, I instinctively return to my ancient familiar place of darkness, my old cave of pain. I curl up in the well-known dirty straw of my injured psyche and “comfort” myself in the old habit of ripping at my wounds:
“I’ve lost the best years of my life to this illness. I’m 45, crawling death-quick into middle age, and for 30+ years of that time, I’ve battled coma-deep depression.”
“I’ve lost the chance for any financial security. When I was sick, I couldn’t work, when I couldn’t work, I had no insurance. My credit history is destroyed by having enormous hospital bills that I couldn’t pay, so they sent the bill to collection agencies that hounded me for years. (They are so kind to you in the hospital, and so unkind to you when you get out that it makes you sick again so you have to go back to the hospital where they are so kind to you…)”
“I’ll always have a beater for a car, I’ll always rent a crummy, little apartment, I’ll always get my clothes at Goodwill, I’ll always eat at McDonalds, I’ll never have a family, no children, no grandchildren. I’ll never get to travel to all the places I’ve read about, that I’ve dreamed about. I’ll never get well, I’ll never get what I want, I’ll always feel this way, I’ll always be left behind, I’ll always be alone, I’m ugly, I’m stupid, no one will ever love me. Whatever is “me” somehow slipped away, and I’ll never get it back. I’m damaged and wounded beyond repair, and this is what I deserve.”
That’s a small example of the ‘Inner Tyrant’ on a nice day. It’s a formidable opponent, but it’s not unbeatable. What works the best for me is when I can summon up enough mercy to hit the “Tyrant” with reality. I sometimes reason with it, sometimes soothe it, sometimes get righteously pissed at it:
“I am 45, but those years weren’t wasted. In reality those were the best years of my life, because of all the learning I did about myself and the world. I’ve battle a disease that can be as lethal as cancer, a disease that strikes not just the body, but the soul, and I’m still here. I’ve been given a PHD course on the human condition, something that is precious beyond measure.”
“I don’t have much money, never have, and maybe never will. But because I’ve lived in poverty, I feel grateful for what I do have. I know that I live like a king compared to most of the world. Because I did without for so long, a simple meal seems like a banquet, a beater car that gives me independence seems like a limo, a room to lay my head seems like a palace.”
“I will probably never have a child, and that breaks my heart. But I’m so lucky to be working with other people who have been wounded, and they trust me and look up to me, and they are my children, my family.”
“And as for my wounds and my scars, they haven’t destroyed me, they’ve made me who I am. My scars are all on the front, not on my back. I’ve always stood and fought.”
“And when I get to heaven, and have to answer for the time I was given, God isn’t going to ask to see my bank book. He isn’t going to ask to see my medals and awards. He’s going to ask to see my wounds, my scars, what battles I went through, what I sacrificed to help myself and the world. What pains I took on behalf of others.”
It doesn’t work 100%, but it’s a start. It’s one weapon against despair, because I’m not damaged beyond repair, and I don’t deserve to suffer. And the same goes for all children of God.
I asked God for strength,
that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I
might learn humbly to obey
I asked for health, that I
might do greater things
I was given infirmity, that I
might do better things,
I asked for riches, that I
might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I
might be wise.
I asked for power, that I
might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I
might feel the need for God;
I asked for all things, that I
might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might
enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but everything I had hoped for;
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I among all men, am most richly blessed.
(Prayer of an unknown, wounded confederate soldier)