The second semester of my journalism program has just started, and one of the classes that stuck with me was the ethics class I am required to take. Now, it wasn’t because of the discussion we had, nor on the situation’s journalists might find themselves in; it was because of the coping mechanisms that some journalists have after witnessing something tragic. Our professor shared a horrible situation he found himself in, and mentioned that he has some PTSD as a result of the horrific things he has seen, like mangled bodies of people caught in accidents, or dead bodies even.
I first heard the word coping a couple years ago, but I used to hear it from time to time. Coping was something that I thought was some sign of weakness since I always felt you had to release frustration in some other way or keep it in and deal with it from within ourselves. I felt it was important to keep things at the door and to never share woes in the workplace. I was in middle management for a couple years before I got into training, and I think that is where that mindset came from. But then again, suppression of my thoughts and feelings weren’t exactly welcome in my home, and I also pushed this forward with my siblings by saying things like, “Well I’m going through the same thing and you don’t see me complaining!”
I never knew the word because I never tried to cope with my feelings before. I mentioned at one point that I was an angry child, and it would feel alright to boil over and let it all out, and then finally I can be me. It is almost like I am myself when I am angry. When I played little league baseball, one of my strategies for getting on base was to get angry and use that as energy to fuel my bat. And it worked for the most part, but my memory might be shoddy. I mean, I also have a memory of me running from the game to piss while I was supposed to be fielding.
Anyway, I wasn’t that great at coping with my feelings. Even recently, something pressing happened in my life, and I relapsed a little as I am still learning how to cope. I still struggle to share my thoughts with friends, and I still struggle to open-up and share how I am feeling.
Back to the coping discussion in my class, my professor said that it is important to talk with someone and share how you are feeling, otherwise it will pop up and really create distress in your life. And that someone could be a therapist, or a friend; regardless, it is important to talk with someone to release that stress. He was very vulnerable in his story, and I commend him for doing so as that must not of been easy to share.
When I found myself in dire straits, or not feeling too great, I coped in other ways. I would hit my heavy bag or work my speed bag. I would go for a long run, and when the thought surfaced in my run, I would run harder and faster to forget, gritting my teeth while I did so. And that same pattern would surface while I worked the bag, an image of a person or an event would fuel my strikes as I pummeled it, and the anger was even worse if I chose to spar since I wouldn’t hold back. I would exercise in an almost angry fashion, moving quickly from exercise to exercise so I would not think. And before I found exercise, I would smoke weed, drink, smoke cigarettes, or get lost in a video game. While I was coping sure, I wasn’t exactly getting any better, maybe pushing it aside and forgetting why I felt the way I did.
Drinking was something I decided to give up for good a couple months back, and I did so because I drank to forget how I felt. The summer of 2019 was when I started drinking again, because before that I rarely, if ever, drank while I was a trainer. Though, now that I think on it, I still found time to have drinks with those from my boxing classes, and I am sensing a defense in me, like I am trying to mitigate how much I drank. Before I got into exercise and boxing, I was a bit of a binge drinker, and I didn’t have much control when I drank. I was a bit of a shitshow when I had too many, and I have many embarrassing situations with close friends. Blacking out felt normal, and I enjoyed it because I didn’t need to be present, and not worry about my insecurities. It is refreshing to admit this since I never did before. I have learned over the years that when I black out, I can get angry, I can get emotional. I should also mention that while writing this is refreshing, it has also been quite shaming for me as I have been told on a few instances how I behaved with women under the influence. And I still have this desire to have a drink from time to time, but for purposes of connection and communication.
Years ago, I started going to bars to read and drink. And when I didn’t have that many, it felt nice and I enjoyed my books. But the thing I was noticing was how often people approached me to ask about my book. I started to enjoy that, so I started thinking maybe this is a way to start up conversation with people. So, whenever I was feeling lonely or shy, I would go to the bar with a book in hand to read, hoping that maybe a conversation will start up. But in that summer of 2019, some personal things started happening in my life, and I started to neglect my fitness, but pursued that need to be heard. I thought I had nobody to talk with, so I started going back to bars, book in hand and drinking away. I never really considered that I had a drinking problem, but as I write this and reflect, it is obvious that I did have one, and it stemmed from neglect, loneliness, and a lack of a coping method and self-control.
Well, where does this leave me? I kept up with my drinking going into 2020, and I kept it going despite having some unfortunate situations with loved ones and family. And I never admitted this in therapy because I didn’t think I had a drinking problem. I thought since I wasn’t drinking at every waking moment that I didn’t have a problem. But as I have been learning with my recovery journey, any amount can be problematic to a person’s health if their mental wellbeing is compromised. I also tend to go all in on some things, like with exercise and boxing. In other words, I have an addictive personality. This has shown up in relationships, in my work, in boxing, and in my hobbies and interests.
It’s kind of unfortunate to admit this, and for me, it really shames me since I also trained people and they trusted me to help and guide them. I feel awful, and I know I let quite a few people down. I sometimes wonder if this will ever pass. I was thinking perhaps the feeling had, but I have gotten snippets of my past recently on my feed, so I know those wounds haven’t scarred over yet.
I would love to be in the service of people, and what I have enjoyed about my courses so far is how I get to engage and learn from others in a non-judgmental manner. And I am looking forward to meeting more people, setting up interviews, and investigating leads. But that ability to cope, that has to be a priority this time around in my life. Too often I have sunk into the pits of my despair, and found solace in a bottle or pint of beer. Therapy has been helpful, and the work I have been participating in with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has also been a boon. Whenever I learn new techniques and mindset shifts, I always wonder why I never knew these sooner, but alas, we can’t always be sure, nor in control of such things.
Sharing is important to be able to do in how we cope, but also being able to listen to those that are sharing is important too. Having an empathetic ear, paying attention, being non-judgmental, and even being silent when listening are all keys to success. Acknowledging that I am not a good listener (despite what I have been told or what I thought) has helped a bit since I figured I didn’t need to do anything more to be an active listener.