A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Seriousness Of Competitive Games


I’m stuck, but it seems like I regularly get stuck. I have not been liking myself lately. But my own negative and self-centered thinking does me no good. Tomorrow is Halloween and very soon we lose a whole hour of daylight. Is my dark mood a result of the seasonal change? My sleeping pattern has changed. More days than not I’ve been sleeping all day. I don’t like that. And I haven’t been writing in this blog. But it hasn’t all been bad, I’ve spent more time with my brother listening to music. I’ve spent time learning favorite songs. I’ve been reading more. I’ve gone to several soccer games. I had lunch with an Al-Anon friend. The truth is I’m just aware that I am changing again and a part of change is ambivalence, part hope for the future and regret for the past. No matter how static we seem to be to each other, we’re always changing. We want to progress and we fear regression. Well, some of us do...I do. I don’t have the faith in myself that I need to progress. Some of the voices still want me to see myself as evil but I just can’t go there, but I can and do see myself as foolish and cowardly and this is enough negativity to pull me down. So what do I do? I remind myself that I have also been on occasion smart and brave. Well, actually I don’t do that but I should... I think I’m going to look for a book on improving self-esteem. I need self-esteem coaching because I have trouble with it.

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I went to a soccer game yesterday evening. It turns out to be the last of the season because the team I was rooting for lost. My brother’s friend Richard has been the coach of this local high school team for a few years now (in addition to being a nurse at a VA hospital). His son, who is a junior, is a star player on the team. And I thought while I watched the team work the field that being a coach for a soccer team is a very good thing. Richard has a love of the game and is a dedicated coach. He is also a hard worker and always has been. In training these boys and in coaching them he is giving them valuable lessons to apply to life, lessons about self-discipline, self-sacrifice, team work, the value of hard work and also how to accept losses gracefully. Life at its best is a teaching game. You will succeed and you will fail and you will make choices that define your character as you get older. The fun thing about games is that they can go on indefinitely and if you lose one, you might just as well win the next or at the very least you learn from your mistakes and play smarter the next time around.

I set up my chair on the right side of the field along with a growing number of other people. It was cold but I had come prepared with a couple of layers of clothing and gloves. One woman with her daughter set up practically on top of me which made me nervous. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I discreetly pulled away a little. She kept up a running commentary of the game but I didn’t mind because she knew the players better than I did and it helped me to follow the game. My brother was on the other side of the field coaching from the side lines but that side was too crowded to set up in (he stayed standing), so I went off on my own. I was pleased that I had enough confidence to sit alongside strangers. If I had been paranoid, I would have felt too self-conscious to sit still which is a rotten feeling. I wonder if a lack of confidence and paranoia are linked? Anyway, I was happy enough watching the game but I also noticed the crowd around me. Most of them were rooting for the team I was rooting for (the community support for the other team was on the other side of the field) and it was funny listening to people trying to instruct the players on the field. Everyone was eager for a goal. But I couldn’t help but feel a kind of suppressed violence mingling with the excitement. Watching this innocent soccer match was like taking part in a mini local civil war. Several communities were involved, each backing their local team and underneath the fun there was a seriousness. Everyone was gambling for their team (both were fairly evenly matched), taking a risk to stand behind either the winners or the losers as fate and skill would have it. And in most people’s cases the players on the team were their children or grandchildren or friends. Something personal was at stake. Some piece of group identity and family identity was being forged here and people were in protective/defensive/offensive mode.

I was detached from it. I wanted Richard and his team (especially his son) to win but I did not invest much time, effort and emotion into it the way other people had. I was really just pleased that they had had such a good season (18 wins, 1 tie and now 1 loss) and would value Rich and his family a lot regardless of whether they won or not. In my book they already had proved their skill and talent as a team and as individuals. But I was also detached because of my illness. For many people schizophrenia is an illness fit for loners of which I am one for the most part. Being around people is not normal for me. But for the majority of this crowd normal meant being around people for most of the day either with family or at work. People adapt to being around people. I adapt to being alone with the voices. People take people for granted, friends, coworkers, family.

But perhaps my detachment affords a new perspective on human society. I saw the people at the soccer game as highly intelligent animals defending their territory in a mock battle. This element of discord, of potential violence is part of our history as animals. We are a violent species both towards ourselves and each other. If only we could settle our disputes with games of skill, intelligence and sheer luck and not in life and death combat. I can appreciate a good game and admire individual players but I cannot abide by games as preparation for war. The spirit of good natured, if serious, competition is one thing, training to kill is another.

Before the game started we all stood up while a recording of the National Anthem played which reminded me (and others I’m sure) of the war in Iraq. Our team in this case is the United States but I knew that the “game” of war was no game and that there were people in this crowd who had family involved with the war, some injured or even dead. I stood like everyone else out of respect to those people but the truth is I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be blinded by patriotism to the point where I supported any war. I don’t believe in murder and to support war you must believe in the right to murder. That’s basic to the rules of engagement, to the rules of the “game”. I am an animal and I am afraid of other animals (I was a little afraid of this soccer crowd) but I would not turn my fear into violence. I am a peace loving omnivore. I’d rather be killed than to kill. I think we leave unexamined the great damage done to an individual who has killed, especially those who are trained and paid to kill in times of war.

I’m still amazed at how blood thirsty many “religious” people are, especially many American Christians. What part of “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” is unclear? And why do most people ignore Jesus’ instruction to aspire to the holy righteousness of God by loving those that despise you? Love your enemies is not like them or tolerate them and it is certainly not torture and kill them. Love is love, heartfelt and sincere. There’s no room for resentments and vendettas. Peace is a calling for all of us, but it means rising above the animal instincts of self preservation (which translates into taking sides and playing till the death, i.e. war). Sacrifice to end all war is the ultimate sacrifice. Sacrifice to continue power plays is wasted sacrifice I think. Jesus wanted to end human conflict. Would Jesus have stood up for a national anthem? I don’t think so. He followed his Higher Power and his Higher Power told him “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Peacemakers don’t take sides. They unite, not divide.

The other team won fairly and fortunately none of the players were seriously injured. No one contested the win and there was no outbreak of violence. Everyone went home peacefully, some thrilled by the win and others crying for the loss. Maybe we’ve progressed. People are playing millions of games now where they might have in another time made many wars. Meanwhile the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and most people in the world still accept legalized violence and murder with the same instinctive seriousness they give to a playoff between two young, local teams that are closely matched. If only that seriousness could be applied in the service of world peace instead of nationalism and the conflict that any kind of strong nationalism elicits from other nations/cultures.

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Ah, a few hours of written ranting is good for the soul. I’m feeling less stuck.


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