A Therapist friend of mine, who has an enormous amount of recovery experience, gave me a very useful way to look at maturity. She said that an infant has a highly fragmented view of reality. In contrast, a mature person has a much more unregimented point of view.
An infant experiences the fragment of reality it is experiencing right now, as all of its reality. If at this moment, its diapers are wet, and it is hungry, its entire perspective is not good. For example, an infant might feel:
“Mommy is gone, the world is unsafe and God doesn’t care.”
In this example the baby screams loudly and lets everyone know that it is unhappy. This immediate, unhappy fragment of his life has become his entire reality.
On the other hand, if the baby is dry, in its mother’s arms, and fed, then that fragment of its reality is its entire reality.
“I am loved, the world is safe, and God loves me.”
The unfragmented adult can fully experience the current moment without losing sight of the broader view of his total resource picture.
“I just got a ticket. That is a very negative thing. I have to pay the fine or take the time to fight the ticket. The ticket is a problem in terms of my auto insurance. Maybe I have grown careless in my driving habits. None of these realities are pleasant, but I am still OK.I have the resources to deal with the expense and inconvenience, I can reexamine my driving techniques, I am still a good person, I still have God’s help.”
The ticket does not shake his entire existence.
If a fragmented person is facing a bad situation, he is terrified. If he has gotten a ticket, he responds as if the ticket was a catastrophe. “I am a bad person. The ticket will ruin my entire financial situation. My family will ridicule me. Maybe I got a ticket because God wants me to try harder to be a better person.”
The negative current fragment of his experience will make him lose track of his broader reality. In fact, his total reality may be quite good, but he is not helped by the good things because the immediate bad experience has removed the good things from view.
Suppose the unfragmented adult’s current moment is great. Perhaps he has just gotten a phone call from one of his grown daughters. He is free to enjoy that moment, but he is not separated from the rest of his reality. His whole reality includes the love of God, the love of many friends, but also many things that are troubling to him. He can turn his troubles over to God, be grateful for the love of his friends, and enjoy his moment with his daughter.
He is not using his pleasure in the phone call, to hide from other things that are less pleasant. It is just that, for this moment, the painful things in his life are God’s responsibility. If there is something he needs to do about a problem, God and he will deal with it at some appropriate future time. For right now, he wants to savor a great experience with his daughter.
Also, he doesn’t try to hang on to the good moment. He can enjoy the phone call enormously as he experiences it. Then it becomes a fine memory. He can pull up the memory and relive it for years. After the call, he is free to move on to the next presenting matter his life brings to him.
A fragmented adult will try to hang on to every positive experience. He dreads its passing. When the good moment is over, he may be faced with a bad experience. Since he is a fragmented person, that negative experience fragment that might be coming, has the power to plunge him into a fearful hole. He feels he must keep pushing painful things away from himself by prolonging the good times. His fear of the good moment passing reduces his enjoyment of the good moment.
In terms of my own experience, it has worked to my great advantage to reduce the amount of fragmentation to which I am subject. There have been several factors that have helped me.
First of all, if I have taken the time to center myself in the morning, I respond to life in a more mature way. If I have made myself fully aware of the resources that are available to me, then I am better able to keep track of the big picture as I experience the ups and downs of daily life.
I have learned not to indulge myself in disaster thinking whirlpools. A disaster whirlpool is that kind of thinking where one fear thought gives birth to an even scarier thought. Then that thought gives birth to something worse, followed by even more frightful idea and so on, until I am spinning and can barely function.
If I feel a spin starting up, I know I need to act to get it stopped. If I let my mind roll on and on, I will be miserable and reduce my ability to deal with my situation. In addition, indulging in a fear spiral only makes the subsequent whirlpools more powerful and more likely to occur.
Taking action, any action at all, is frequently effective in stopping a fear spiral. Getting some exercise is a good idea. The Serenity Prayer has helped me many times. So has sharing at a meeting.
It is often helpful for me to call a friend. The act of making a call forces me to expand my view beyond my immediate life fragment. Sometimes things that are terrifying, swirling around in my head, seem much less powerful out in the light of day. In addition, many times my friend is able to say something that quickly restores perspective for me.
Also humor is a powerful tool. Someone has said, “Humor is looking at chaos from the point of view of serenity.” If I have behaved in a fragmented manner, and now feel better, having a good laugh at myself with a friend or at a meeting is a powerfully healthy and enjoyable life experience.