I got my Christmas bonus last week. Of course, it isn’t called a Christmas bonus. This is a government job. It is a “longevity” check. But we get it around Christmas, and not on the anniversary of our hire date.
Every employee who has worked for Metro for at least five years gets this check. It is a tiny thing at the beginning, and a little more each year. There were years where the budget was tight and we didn’t get it at all. Things are better now, and it is a nice thing to have back.
I noticed my reaction to it this year. I have this reaction every year, but this time I noticed. I’m trying to observe myself from the outside. I’m trying to see what I do out of habit and instinct and ask myself why. I want to see if that reaction or course of action is still useful. Sometimes we outgrow our actions, but we still do them because we haven’t thought about them.
I saw this money and wanted to spend it right away. I didn’t even think about buying presents for others. I didn’t think about sending some of it to a charity. I wanted to spend all of it on myself.
I wanted a treat, or a toy. I didn’t want to buy anything I needed. I wanted to buy something I wanted. I don’t even have anything in mind. I just wanted to spend this money, and spend it fast.
This is why for many years I didn’t have much of anything in my savings account.
I’ve gotten over that feeling for the most part. For the most part I’m sane. For the most part I save money and pay extra towards the principal for the house and car notes. But right now the desire to burn through that money shone like a torch.
I didn’t. I thought about it. I saw that feeling as the outsider it is. I saw it as a symptom. I saw it as being not really from me, not the real me.
I started to think about what that feeling meant. At first I thought that I was going on survival mode. If I convert that money into something physical, I can see it. I can keep it with me. Just like wandering tribal people who move their camps with their flocks, I wanted to convert that wealth into portable currency. Money is better if you can wear it as baubles on your coat, you know.
But where does that feeling come from? I’m not planning on escaping. I’m not foreseeing any need to bug out any time soon. Even if the zombie apocalypse does happen, I don’t see that bartering with beads is going to be the mode of commerce. But who knows? It worked for the Dutch when they bought Manhattan.
So I dug deeper. There had to be more to this feeling.
It is all about comfort and self soothing. This past month has been hard. Financially, materially, it has been fine. Emotionally, not so much. There’s been a lot of upheaval in my family recently. Too much drama and not enough sense.
When bad things happened I used to soothe myself with eating sugar and carbs, or smoking, either pot or clove cigarettes. I used to soothe myself in the same way that many people soothe themselves – to do everything possible to not actually address the situation itself. Sadly, a lot of our soothing methods result in even more problems.
I’ve gotten past a lot of those soothing methods, but apparently I’ve not purged myself from the “need” to spend money to cheer myself up. I’m glad I saw it as the craving it is, and didn’t succumb to it.
We can all learn from our cravings. They teach us what we really are searching for. I didn’t really want to spend all that money. I wanted what the money could buy. And really, I didn’t even want that. I wanted what it represents.
In this case I was searching for security and stability. I was trying to retreat into primitive ways of coping, rather than dealing with the problem at hand. Part of the solution is to stick with the feeling. I’ve spent so long trying to run away from my feelings that I’m not sure how to have them sometimes.
If you use crutches all the time, then you never develop the strength in your legs to stand on your own. Losing the crutches doesn’t mean that you suddenly have the ability to run, much less stand up straight. And it hurts, these first few unassisted steps. You want to grab the crutches back, or find something else to hold on to.
This is why a lot of people at AA meetings are chain smokers. They just traded one addiction for another. The problem hasn’t been addressed. It has just been transformed into something a little more socially acceptable, and a little less likely to result in legal problems.
I’m stripping away my crutches and my props, one by one, and it is hard. But it is essential. Sometimes I’m tired of all this growth I’ve done and I want to sit back and take a break. I don’t, well, not often, and not for long. I’ve learned that if I take a break, the break morphs into a full stop, and then I have to get started all over again.