On the phone today, my friend asks me, “How are you doing? Emotionally. We haven’t talked about that in a while.”
There’s a silence while I think about it. Then I tell her I think I’m good, actually, and that I appreciate her asking. “Because,” I say, “Nobody’s asked me that in a while.”
I talk a lot about coping, if only because I’m aware of the fact that I am or have been doing it. When you’re actively coping, it’s hard not to exhaustively narrate your inner monologue to everyone every chance you get, which is why, after a while, everyone stops asking you how you’re doing.
Fundamentally, I think humans are always coping. Like, with life itself. Like, I’m not sure our brains can really reckon with our existence, and so I think a lot of subconscious mental power gets occupied with trying to deal with why the fuck we’re here.
To complicate matters, because of the age we live in now, coping becomes essential to survival on the daily. It might not always seem like that for everyone — the filter of image or class or social media can make it seem like some don’t have anything to cope with ever, but I think it’s true that the people you think have nothing to cope with probably do, and if they don’t, they might be coping with the absence of something to cope with.
In any case, it’s really not until circumstance sort of “serves up” a tangible thing for us to cope with we can intellectually recognize requires our coping mechanisms that we can finally become aware of the essential nature and presence of coping in our life. Then we can say, like, “OK. This is a thing I have to deal with,” and then do whatever it is we have to do — or not do, as the case may be. Only then do we become conscious of it.
That’s how it happened for me, anyways: in hindsight I realize I’d been coping with a life that hadn’t turned out how I imagined all along, but it was only when I ultimately had to face coping with that life falling apart that that became evident. Basically, I’d been focused for so long trying to tie my life up into a big bow, I didn’t realize it when it become a knot.
I got so preoccupied with trying to turn that knot into a bow, that I couldn’t just untie the knot and start over. Someone had to do that for me.
Which is why my friend asked me on the phone how I was doing emotionally, because it’s been a little over a year or so since the whole trajectory of almost ten years of my life changed course in a single afternoon, and while the people close to you will be there for your to offer shoulder and ear at first, after a while everyone assumes that the coping has set in and is finally bring you further and further away from that need.
Which is true, I suppose. If you let it.
Like, I was telling my friend that I had looked back at that first year [of coping], which was full of all kinds of imperfections — good choices, bad ones; triumphs, setbacks — but somehow, regardless of the peaks and valleys, looking forward at the upcoming year [of coping] had became markedly easier.
Coping, by and large, doesn’t seem cool at first because it gets conflated with dealing. Dealing with the pain of whatever terrible experience you’ve endured. So it gets a bad rap for being that, Instead of what it actually is, which is the process of growing out of that terrible experience — something we call “healing,” but I’m on the fence about that.
My friend, on our phone call, as our conversation spun into a discussion about grief and trauma, and thus subsequent coping, referenced something called “The Four Levels of Consciousness,” and did in terms of said coping —
Now if you Google this, there’ll be a lot of hits for a lot of different personal development models that might not be this model in particular, so, for the purposes here, and your edification, I’m giving credit to Peter Sage, cited in a post on the blog “Real Growth.”
These four stages of consciousness are as follows, in order: “To Me,” “By Me,” “Through Me,” and “As Me,” and if you think about how we respond and transition into a state of coping, just looking at it should already make a lot of sense. Now, while I do think most coping is active — after all, nothing changes lest we change — I also think coping can occur passively. I think we can do a modicum of coping without even trying, until one day we wake up and things just don’t hurt as bad anymore.
But the overall reality of coping is — and the blogger cites this in the post — it’s a journey. We cope through these levels, not by them.
This is why when my friend asked me how I was doing, I had to take a sec. Because, the fact is, things have changed. Circumstances have changed. Life changed. I’ve changed.
A year ago, when people’d ask me how I was, I might say, “Surviving,” or “Alive.” There was comfort in that attention —
You know, that attention can be like a pacifier, and after a while those responses to it can become canned. Eventually, when no one’s asking you how you’re doing anymore, you might still respond in this way as a way to stimulate them into asking. Which is sad, because that means you’re stuck.
See, when you’ve truly progressed in coping, that authentic feeling at the root of how you are interacting with the world around you, it’s undeniable. Then, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” you have to think about it, then respond.
So, basically, here’s how the levels of consciousness presents, in the order they do:
“To Me” is the victim mentality, which is the instinctive response to a traumatic event. “Why is this happening to me?” For however uncomfortable it is, this is also the most comfortable level, because it allows us to indulge in the pacification of self-pity;
After we ditch the blame and take some accountability, though, we move into “By Me.” This is the active state, wherein we rely on productivity to replace the crutch of self-pity. This level frees us from the indulgence of the “To Me” state but can also wear us out;
“Through Me” occurs when we’ve surrendered our need to control and steer our circumstances (as a justified causal reaction to the memory of our pain, of course), and rely on a faith that our life is now in a state of “flow”;
The author of the blog post highlights this level FYI — and its transition into the next, and final, level — as being the most critical. The reason being, “Faith,” as the author points out, “Is the flip side of doubt.” Although faith can be a powerful tool, it doesn’t take much to compromise its integrity. Faith, reinforced, says the author, “Is knowing”…
And “knowing” leads us to “As Me,” which is just total fucking oneness with the Universe. And all I’ve got to say is, if you’ve got that going for you, it’s “nice.”
My friend and I were both able to peg down where we were on this journey, hilariously stuck in the meddling [and very luxurious] rift between “By Me” and “Through Me” — ironic on the eve that we’re launching a business we’ve gone in on together.
As I, personally, head into this new year, I’m trying to enjoy a state of “flow,” but I also don’t want to let the slack out too much; I want to work toward that “knowing,” instead of just “believing.”
Wherever y’all are at on your journey, do your best to appreciate it. Moving on to the next level isn’t an achievement, and “you can only hear from the level you’re at,” so don’t confuse another’s progress in coping with your own. Honor your own path, and take a moment now and again to recognize the distance you’ve come.