I’ve listened to other people talk about their experience with addiction, depression, or other kinds of self-destructive behaviour - if they’ve managed to recover - and I often hear them remark that it pulled the rug out from under their feet. That they lost everything. Or nearly everything.
I never completely understood that. At least not until recently. What did these people mean, exactly?
My conception of losing everything has always been framed around sudden, drastic, negative changes. Like an earthquake, a flood, or the sudden death of a loved one. That it's something that destroys your reality in an instant.
If addictions and self-destructive behaviour caused these people to lose everything, it should be simple enough to see the problem before things get really bad, right? You should be able to spot the signals. That your friends are getting distant, that your energy is tanking. That your priorities are shifting.
We can self-destruct in slow motion. It can be a gradual, organic, process and we adapt along the way, constantly creating new normals. It becomes a practice of psychological self-preservation, and possibly self-deception.
I wonder if this is the more common experience: incremental loss and change. You lose your life and yourself, your health and your moorings bit by bit, day by day. And then years later, suddenly, you realize you've passed the point of no return.
Passing that threshold can put you in big trouble and not many of us want to be in big trouble. So why is hitting rock-bottom where many have to end up, to even notice how much has been lost?
Because it's easy to rationalize away and ignore the evidence that things are slipping.
And this calls to mind the adage of boiling a frog to death in hot water. While it’s not exactly a true phenomenon, it’s still a useful concept.
The story goes that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will jump right out. Or at least try to jump out. It will act to save itself from total destruction.
But, if you put the frog in a pot of lukewarm water, and slowly bring the water to a boil, the frog will just stay there and adjust to the rising temperature.
And the water will eventually get too hot. But our friend the frog has been adjusting to the relative changes all along, so it doesn’t notice just how hot things have gotten. It’s lost it’s reference point of what was normal. It keeps readjusting to new normals.
So the frog remains in the pot. It persists in it’s choices. Eventually, the water comes to a boil. Now it’s too late. The frog is dead.
The frog has lost everything, and it could have chosen a different situation a long time ago. But it didn't. Tough luck, I guess.
The point is, our life and our health is our own responsibility to shepherd and protect. And there's no need to be fanatical to be effective, either. But it is important for all of us to pay attention to our environment and the signals within it. Because the benchmark of “normal and healthy” is a relative measurement, and standards can slide without us noticing much of the change.
That's certainly happened to me, and it's also happened to others in my life. And it caused a lot of avoidable pain and suffering in the process.
Just because someone has adjusted to hotter water (or heavier drinking, foggier thinking, less money in the bank, or less energy in their tank) doesn’t mean that they are “ok”. They very well might be. But they might not be, too.
There might be real - but avoidable - health and wellness problems, looming on the horizon. The water might be about to boil.
It might be time switch tactics and try something different. It might be time to hop out of the pot.