I will be using my own life as an example in this, not because I am self-obsessed but rather it might be useful.
There are many things in life which we try to run from, and reality is one of them. Perhaps yet another is our fate. But there are things which we cannot outpace forever. Sooner or later we have to face them and figure out what the fuck it is all about. We can try to shoe-horn our lives into some template or other, but sometimes it just doesn’t fit.
At school when I was about seventeen I did two general studies courses, one on Buddhism and the other on Rastafarianism. I also had a bit of thing about witchcraft and soon exhausted the local libraries. So back then I was interested in “alternative” things. There was parental pressure to do the sensible thing which would lead to a proper job and because I was pretty good at science that looked to be the way forward. I was also quite good at rugby and ended up as captain of the school second team. The captain of the first team, who played in the same position as me, was an above county standard player. He was a close friend of mine, but not as smart as me. He was also head boy. Behind his head boy was my strategic input.
I was a bit of a party animal, traditionally the captain of the seconds led all the drinking games. So, I fulfilled this role. The school wanted me to take Oxbridge entrance exams, but that interfered with my rugby training, so I dropped the preparation for these. And so, it happened that I started a chemistry degree. Because of my interest in all things Rasta I started using herb. I put aside all things spiritual and focussed on some hedonistic approach to life. It was only when the rigid structure of education fell away and I was doing a Ph.D. that I started to excel. I was getting papers and results, whilst getting pissed and stoned. I was running but I did not know what from. I used to joke that I would be dead by the age of thirty. It never occurred to me that this was an escapism and an avoidance.
By the time 1995 came around I had a lot of papers published (>30) and was in a semi-lectureship position at top university. I then sunk into depression and developed a suicidal ideation. I twigged that I had better do something otherwise my prediction about death would have become a reality. That which I had tried to outpace had caught up with me. So, I started therapy and looking into things alternative and “new age”. I was pretty ill for 2-3 years but at the end of it I started getting in research monies and in 2000 I wrote a business plan which helped raise £5 million start-up funds from venture capital.
In a sense my prediction had been right. A part of me died and a newer version, Alan 2.0, was born. By now I was looking very deeply into alternative philosophies and I haven’t had a spliff since 2000. I tried one then, after a few months off, when there was a TV programme about Bob Marley on the TV. I puked my guts and that was the last.
Slowly, inexorably, a sense of reality started to take hold. I began to face my fears, my anxieties, which had been self-medicated away. Step by step, day by day, I stopped running from myself. What I could not work out was that I was in some way weird when compared to most; why and how come this was the case? I over-developed the chameleon aspect and in doing this, fitting in, I lost me. There have been quite a number of chrysalis stages since, as I shed one cloak after another.
The more I delved, the more at home I felt. It is one thing to have a theoretical understanding and quite another to apply. I had some kind of a latent understanding of things which was awoken. It seemed to me that I was fated to go down this path of exploration and go a long, long way. It hasn’t helped me fit in, but it has helped me frame things. As a result, I have learned and assimilated much. I have always been a blotting paper of sorts.
What I am getting at is this shoe-horn thing. Many of us shoe horn ourselves or are shoe horned by others. It seems easy to go along with it. But we might be doing this to escape and avoid that which we are and that which we are meant to be doing. We may self-medicate to take the edge off. I’ll hazard a guess that there are many who self-medicate as a means of escapism and avoidance. The degree may vary, but the phenomenon is widespread. Rather than face what it is or what we may become, we self-medicate so as to lubricate the application of the shoe horn. We escape and avoid our potential because we may be fearful of it and the lack of social acceptance which may accompany it.
It takes a lot of guts to say no to the shoe horn. After that one still has to figure out what to do and where to go. We cannot run forever. And it is my experience that it can take going down the tubes, down the shitter, for us to wake up. Only when we stop running do we have a chance to take stock and face reality.
Having cued this up:
Am I running from something?
Am I trying to escape my fate?
Do I recognise this application of shoe-horn theme?