Sometimes You’re Just All Jacked Up

There’s an episode of the show Family Guy where Stewie, the talking baby, starts drinking so Brian, the family’s talking dog, decides to break him of the bad habit. His plan is to get Stewie so drunk and hungover that he never wants to drink again. So the two head to the local dive bar, The Bearded Oyster. They get soused and at one point as they are about to pound another drink, they are casting about for something to drink to. Stewie says, “Oh – I know, I know . . . to the black man. Thanks for taking it all in stride.”

My husband and I just laughed and laughed at that. Because it’s so true. Our society has basically expected that no matter how poorly treated, oppressed, disenfranchised or unjustly dealt with a black man is, he’s not allowed to be angry or bitter or just plain jacked up in the head. He’s just got to take it all in stride. No stumbling, no falling, no excuses, no empathy, no mercy.

The thing is that this “take it all in stride” ethos isn’t limited to black men. It’s a cultural attitude which affects a lot of us. Whatever happens to us, whatever baggage we got burdened with or barriers we faced or the trauma we’ve experienced, none of that is supposed to matter. You’re just supposed to find a way around or through like a trooper. Get a therapist if you need one, but hurry up and get over it. No use crying over spilled milk. Forgive and move on. Take responsibility for your own life. I’ve heard it and I’ve expected it of myself and you probably have to.

For the most part, it’s not bad advice. I mean you can’t change the past, might as well make the best of it and move forward the best you can, right? The problem is that this generally well meaning advice becomes a sort of moral bludgeoning tool. We stumble and beat ourselves up for it without allowing for the fact that some a-hole had tripped us while another tried to tackle us from behind.

I recently had someone I know say to me, “you’ve chosen such a hard road to walk” and part of me wanted to hunt them down and stab ’em in the eye with a sharp stick. Because the reality is that despite my best efforts, I never did get the chance to walk down the road I had meant to take. Like most people, there were a lot of things that happened that I didn’t create or chose which pushed me down the road I took. And no one stepped forward to help make sure I was OK or that I landed on my feet. Except my husband, but he was even more screwed up than me and did his own fair share of tripping me up. I think I did a good job – a freaking fantastic job, really – of making the best of it. But because I’d deeply absorbed the “take it all in stride, never look back, don’t make excuses” ethos, until pretty recently, I couldn’t allow myself enough mercy to actually say, “I got pushed. I got tripped. My way was blocked and no one would help me out.” It was all my responsibility and I rendered harsh judgment on myself for everything that went wrong or I wished was different. And I allowed others to do the same.

But the reality is that we’re not invincible. Sometimes things happen that are just too major, too hurtful and too big for any human being to just take it all in stride. Sometimes we can’t find a way around. Sometimes we do stutter step. And sometimes we’re just all jacked up in the head. It happens. It happens to the best of us. And you know what? We’re not supposed to have to be invincible. When life is busy tripping and shoving us, we’re gonna stumble. We might even fall. I’m here to tell you tonight that no matter how good or strong or positive you are, life can really fuck you up.

Of course, when you’re all messed up in the head, you can end up doing really dumb things. And if you’re not really careful, you can hurt a lot of other people along the way. If you can keep your head about you and power through, you can minimize the damage, but often you’ll still find yourself on a less than ideal path with fewer options than you’d otherwise have. But the thing is, whatever gets screwed up and whoever you hurt, you’re going to have to live with all of that no matter what. It doesn’t really do anyone any good to deny that you couldn’t just take it all in stride and really, you shouldn’t have had to.

There’s a rather infamous verse in Romans 8 which says, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God”. It often gets misused as a platitude meant to say that we shouldn’t worry about the bad things that happen because God’s just using it on the way to make something better. Which, frankly, just feeds into our “chin up, take it in stride, don’t let it trip you up” ethos which keeps a lot of us living under a spirit of judgment and guilt. Ages ago I read a book which said it’s not like God is making a cake and whatever craptastic thing that happens is one of the ingredients. Rather, it’s more like he’s making a stained glass window where the dark can be used as an element in the design. You can make a stained glass window without much dark in it. But there are also beautiful windows made mosaic style with a bit of dark material around every piece.

Which is why I think it’s OK to own and make peace with the fact that sometimes we aren’t OK. Sometimes life makes us stumble and fall and turns our lives into something we never meant for them to be. I don’t think that God necessarily intends us to have to deal with such hard, difficult lives. But if we do, and we let him, he can still make it into something beautiful. Even if we are all jacked up in the head along the way.

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5 thoughts on “Sometimes You’re Just All Jacked Up

  1. I personally don’t see how it is possible to truly forgive a hurt until we’ve really gotten in touch with it mentally and emotionally.
    Wisely deciding not to seek revenge or even, in some cases, just restitution is usually inflenced by a degree self-interest and is not the same as forgiving.

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    • What has been tricky for me is remaining in relationship with people who are in denial reality of their sin against you. They need you to be OK and blame you when you are not so they can protect themselves from having to face just how awful they’ve been. And you need to be OK and maintain some sense of control so you can function. It creates this imbalance which pressures you to pretend that things are closer to how the person who hurt you thinks they are and reality. But pretending something is true to keep peace turns out to be not so different from actually thinking it’s reality. In your heart you may know the truth, but functionally you’re going along with what’s really a delusion. If that all makes sense.

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  2. hurrah! i agree with your article! I have temporarily pulled away from many of my social group ,because of the subtle, or not so subtle, message that if one is suffering, or has anxiety, or fear, or resentment, or confusion, there is something wrong with their spiritual condition. I perceive that they judge other’s spiritual “fitness” only with the fruits of the spirit they are showing, or the abundance they have aquired, or the promises being fulfilled in their lives, so I appreciate your biblical quotes above. in my own experience, my most significant spiritual transformations have been immediately preceeded by my inner (and often outer) turmoil. The “negative grace” i have experienced, definately helps me to understand other’s when they go through trials.

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  3. Wow – we did not interpret that quote the same way. I think the sarcasm suggests that the Black Man has not taken it all stride. That’s why I find it funny. Take care.

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    • Rick, the fact is that American basically said, “sure, we subjected black Americans to the worst sorts of violence, deprevation and oppression for 400 years, but we aren’t going to do that any more. So, sorry to those of you left traumatized and scarred by the experience, and sorry that the rest of you are being raised by people who were traumatized and scarred by the experience, and yeah, it’s true that many of you are being born into neighborhoods we created through over crowded public housing and redlining to keep y’all away from the white folks and which we refused to police, so they’re pretty violent places, but don’t worry – we also didn’t leave any green spaces or decent parks for you to play in, so the kids should be safe enough, and you should really do something about the schools in those gang ruled neighborhoods – your kids will never be able to get a decent education in that sort of place and you do want good things for your kids, right? And it’s unfortunate that you’re growing up without a dad after we forced your mom to choose between a bit of welfare to survive on and having a man who probably can’t get a job. It’s nothing some counseling won’t help, so you should work really hard so that one day you might be able to afford some. Oh – and it won’t be a problem if we bust up the unions and refuse to raise minimum wage to keep up with inflation and ship all the munifacturing jobs overseas, will it? You should be fine now, right? Oh and, by the way, I’m sure you understand how hard it is to change old habits, and let’s face it y’all have some issues which feed into negative stereotypes, so when you do run into racism, please be mature enough to remember that you shouldn’t be too sensitive about it or really react in any way because angry black people scare us.”

      So, I’m not a writer on the show, but I’m pretty much 100% certain that the joke was making fun of the infantile, self-serving and inhumane idea that black men should be expected to – or even be capable of – taking it all in stride.

      I’ve been with a black man for 20 years and the only time I’ve ever seen anyone held to account for the racism he’s frequently experienced was the one time someone left a racist cartoon on his chair at work. He went to his supervisor and said, “this was left on my chair and I’m really uncomfortable with it.” He was fired the next day because they didn’t think he and the company were a good fit. Unfortunately, America as a whole is exceptionally poor at offering basic empathy and human decency to African Americans who respond to everything they’ve had to deal with like actual human beings instead of like super-human saints.

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