Lack of discipline

So, this morning, as I pass by the row of medication bottles without making eye contact, I am contemplating discipline. I have an aversion to it, apparently. Oppositional defiance is somewhat energizing up until it doesn’t work for you, when it yields harmful consequences. I can’t tell where this comes from…maybe parents who illustrated both ends of the control spectrum? I enjoy placing blame on the rigidity of the Catholic religion, but I could be somewhat biased. I suppose finding the root is unimportant, but as usual, I digress.

Discipline, one of those annoying words in the English language that can be used in disctinctly different ways (discpline, distinct, different – too many words beginning with “d” for my liking, but the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet). A discipline is a course of study, a branch of study, such as engineering. To be disciplined is to adhere to a code of conduct, or follow instructions toward a designated outcome, such as *ahem* taking medication every day as prescribed, or following instructions. I am a fanatic for variation, but ironically, routine causes me to feel somewhat secure. So, I wobble between wanting the familiarity of routine, and resenting the lack of variety. If I take the same path every day while walking the dog, beginning and ending at the same point, I look for ways to vary the intermediate experience. When I reach the first intersection, or opportunity for a turn or curve, I want to make a left turn one day, and a right turn the next. Anything to make some part of the experience variable. Extra points for symmetry, and/or rhythm with which I am mildly obsessed; left once, right once, right once, left once. There’s a rhythm to that, somehow; anything except step, step, step, step, point A, step, step, step, step, point B, repeat. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Now, the bizarre point of this obsession with rhythm and variety is that…it involves some degree of risk, and with the level of constant anxiety and fear that is also part of my inner machinery, risk is not always my friend. Risk and vulnerability seem to be much the same thing, so I would very much like to feel as though I know where I’m going before I get there, and once I get there, I would like to know where the bathrooms are. This does not seem like a lot to ask of the Universe, but I am told that control is not always mine for the taking. Bleh. So, I suppose I will control what I can when I can, accept things I cannot control, control things I can, and hope to know the difference before I have bashed my head into a wall too many times for comfort.

I’m not sure if this constant push for variation and variety constitutes lack of discipline, or just a quirk. I have more quirks than the average bear, I imagine, but it’s part of my charm and I don’t see that as a bad thing. Until, once again, they stop working for me. When I pass up the medicine bottles, there are no immediate negative consequences. My inner 5-year-old is doing a happy dance, and gleefully thumbing her nose at every authority figure she has ever know. After a couple of days of waiting for the 5-year-old to wear herself out, I might be feeling the effects of not taking some of the medications. Now, one would think, I would pull up the big girl panties, put the little one to bed, and take the bloody pills. But no, I’m going to put it off. I’ll need the right drink, at the right temperature, in the right cup…so not time yet. Oh, I’ll do it when I eat…it’s better not to take medication on an empty stomach, right? BUT I AM ALWAYS EATING, so there is always a right time. Oh, I’ll do it after I eat, but…the dog really needs to go out, so I’ll do it when I get back inside. When I come back inside, it’s out of sight and out of mind, and then it’s somehow the next morning, and so it begins again.

While this silly cycle is repeating ad nauseum, the point at which discipline evaporates is, I suppose, the point at which I consciously know that I am avoiding and procrastinating and resisting the regime, the routine, the compliance. There, that’s it – compliance. I do not want to comply, I do not want to submit, I do not want to conform. Even better, and more to the point (just got a visceral fist bump right then) – conformity. THAT’S really the issue. I never want to conform. If I am one of 100 people are going to the same place, for the same reason, I want to be the one who takes a different street, or a different bus, or who walks instead of drives or drives instead of walks. Anything to be outside the bell curve.

As I’m exploring this in relation to discipline, I am wondering how much of this is simply attention-getting behavior. Hmmm. When I was a very little kid, I seemed to get a lot of attention. I was the only grandchild, I was cute and precocious like a lot of little kids, so being the only child and the only grandchild, I was a princess. I shared nothing, Everything was all mine. My mommy was ill, but there were more than enough relatives to compensate, and I thrived. Every dish was prepared with me in mind, every trip out of the house was taken with me in mind, and everyone’s schedule took me into account. As it should be. Life was good, until it changed, until mommy began to recover and daddy was told to get his act together and provide for his family. And so, abruptly to my child’s mind, I was plucked out of the lap of luxury and *poof* instant nuclear family was downloaded and activated. The only problem was…nobody involved quite knew what they were supposed to to. Not me, not my parents, not anybody. Mommy had post partum depression, so she was a little off the rails. Daddy was working (although part of his job semed to be philandering and running the streets, if you ask me) so he wasn’t even in the train yard. I was…I just WAS. I had clothes and shelter and enough to eat (goodness knows I had enough to eat, ’cause I was chubby and looked a bit like Mrs. Potato Head).

But attention…not sure I got that early on, at least not appropriately. I remember my mother sleeping for huge parts of the day, so it seems like I amused myself a good bit. I don’t think I was endangered much, although I did nearly cut my thumb off trying to cut an orange once when I was about 5, but that can happen to anyone. Looking back on it, as much of it as I can remember, I do think I got in the habit of trying to attract attention, in the same way as my high-energy dog when I’m spending too much time in bed. A lot of the response I got was – would you stop jumping around? Be quiet – I can’t hear the television. Shut up! I don’t care what you ant to do right now! Would you keep still – stop squirming!

In all fairness, it was just me and mommy for 99% of the time once we had moved away from my grandmother. I do remember going to City Park regularly, where they had a Kids Land, and swings, and I enjoyed that. There were other people there, other mothers and children, and it was a popular place. I remember going to the library with her, and developed my love of reading. They had story hour, too, and that was OK, but I liked being able to take the books home. Being out was cool, being home…not as much the older I got. The tension between the big people was something else entirely. They didn’t have a huge circle of friends, so I didn’t have a huge circle of friends. My mother’s sister was nearby, and she was a lot of fun. They seemed to get along fine, and she would take me places. I adored her, and much later, I wished she was my mother. But that’s another story entirely.

So, back again to discipline and conformity. I always felt something was out of place on me…I think I knew my home wasn’t like everybody else’s home. My mommy was a little…different. I always knew that. When I first started school in New Orleans, I had already been to kindergarten once, in Lake Charles, but I was too young and my mother said I should repeat it. She was right…I had not even been adequately potty trained when I went the first time. I don’t know how she knew to insist that I repeat the grade, but she was absolutely right. And I was still chronologically a year younger than a lot of my classmates. Regardless, it was the beginning of routine, and conformity. I remember when we learned our shapes, one teacher always made a big read circle around my circles, because where I connected the arcs one line didn’t connect evenly, it overlapped the other one and wasn’t smooth. This was apparently a problem, because it didn’t look like anybody else’s circle. Hmm. I may still do that, but I haven’t had a lot of reasons to manually draw a circle over the past 40 years or so, so…impact remains minimal. But once again, for me to remember that more than 50 years ago seems rather significant.

So, is the insistence on non-conformity attention getting? Is that my goal? Probably. I’m not sure that’s a huge issue, except when it is. Sometimes it’s inappropriate, I would admit…and now it’s like second nature, a default switch. The older I got, the more I became comfortable with the notion that even bad attention is better than no attention, and so it became my life’s work to get attention by nearly (and I emphasize nearly) any means necessary. For quite a while, I’ve had at least some discretion about not taking up too much space in certain situations, like…funerals, formal meetings, etc. But there are many times when I feel daring and throw caution to the wind, knowing that I am likely inappropriate in some humorous or risque’ verbosity, but opt for the laugh, the gasp, the reaction. I don’t have the…discipline…to resist that urge. The need is screaming loudly inside my head, and it drowns out the more rational monotonic voice of conformity, the one that says “you don’t see anybody else behaving like that, do you?”, which is my mother’s voice. So, there’s the connection, perhaps. Conform. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. There are rules that “normal” people follow, good people, smart people. There are rules. You must not be normal, or good, or smart if you can’t get that. What a disappointment you are, embarrassing me like this.

So, whomp, dere it iz. I never wanted to be normal. I still don’t want to be normal. Unfortunately, I frequently want the rewards that I perceive come from normalcy, like love, and companionship, and security, and family. Respect and tolerance and the understanding that even those of us who march to the beat of a different drummer still have rhythm, and can make a pleasing sound. That should not be too much to ask. My resistance to conformity, all these years, is not based on inability, or lack of will power, it’s based on a refusal to accept someone else’s rules for my life. Usually, my resistance stops at the line of crossing into enemy territory where I can’t win the battle. (wisdom to know the difference once again). But if you want to explain to me why I should not cuss as much as I do, or why I should not talk so loudly, I will probably tell you that I can talk as fucking loud as I want, and those are your rules and not mine. That usually does not win me friends nor influence people, but it has taken me a long time to find my voice and I am not going to squelch it now. I’m too fat, too old, and too tired. So, deal. Or don’t deal. The sun will rise again tomorrow regardless.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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