Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
I have a breaking point of sorts. When life gets me down and there are too many things that are beyond my scope, I seem to have a peculiar knack (not a huge knock-down- drag-out), rather a ridiculous marshmallow pillow fight of a melt down and get myself into a bit of a pickle. Usually I have a minor car dent or some such thing.
Yesterday, it was slightly different.
I, who now live in the land of elder snowbirds who leave their cars in the middle of the street and drive at an inordinately slow pace, got a ticket. A speeding TICKET!
I saw the policeman as I was coming to a stop. He was looking me straight in the eyes like one does with an X-ray machine. I was under-dressed in my car as he waited in some small turn lane, looking for me to come to a stop. Our eyes met like two star crossed lovers. I wondered why he was hanging out here at this intersection. Doesn’t he know he should be at Eisenhower Medical Center helping find a gunman on the loose? But here he was in the middle of the lane doing a quick U-Turn to flag me down to tell perfect little me that I was speeding. He said I was going 40 in a 25 mph zone.
Like a schoolgirl caught with her pants down, I hemmed and hawed, spoke very fast as only the anxious highly culpable can and said I was sorry. Sorry wasn’t enough for this guy. I wondered why my good friend, Kate, who looks like a James Bond model only got a warning when it recently happened to her. Yet I crumpled like paper over getting a speeding ticket. “You seem like a nice woman,” he said with a sympathetic voice as he handed the paperwork over. “Signing this means no admission of guilt. If you’ve been good, you can go to traffic school and get it taken off your record.”
I was pissed.
Mostly I was pissed at myself for making such a small transgression. I have never been good at big. Like the time I lusted in my head while Erica Jong lusted in her book in action. I leave that to my children and my clients to do. When I am in crisis I dent a fender, get a ticket. Sometimes I wish I could act out and be totally outlandish, run away to Portugal or the Antarctic or anywhere – live life on the edge!
Instead I squish my failings into small annoying punishments reminding me I am flawed as a human but oh so good at helping others rewrite their story so that these minor transgressions of mind make others laugh so hard their bellies explode with butterfly wings.
I guess the traffic ticket is yet another reminder that I am vulnerable and that I needed a jolt. A jolt to figure out this 72nd year living in a new town, in a new setting where snowbirds, rain and golf carts topple, where
“in the room the women come and go… talking of Michelangelo,” as T.S. Eliot famously wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
Truth be told moves are not easy nor is change. In the last eight months I have had so many transformations that the numbers have knocked off the chart. We moved and I spent too much money fixing up a rental. I went from having one full time/part time job to having many part/time jobs. I’m like a seasonal migrant employee!
I left the West Hollywood neighborhood where I walked everywhere and moved to the desert where we drive to nearly every place. I had a routine: work, write, walk, Soul Cycle, family, colleagues. Now my routine is shot and I know very few people, save for a few bright souls who if I could I would anoint. To find new things to do, I entertained posing as an alcoholic as 12-step groups are great places to meet folks but I felt like a fraud and it didn’t work.
I’ve tried other things to fill my day, too. In fact, on my mighty transgression day I decided to swim laps, take in a steam, check out a new gym when I get too lonely on my Peloton, and make an appointment with a psychologist to kick this knowing sadness that fills my soul in this beautiful poppy field land of golf carts, restaurants, and country clubs.
And so, it is no surprise that the young “I am really a nice guy policeman getting my daily quota of tickets” stopped me. While he thought he was giving me a ticket for speeding in the slow lane, what he was really doing was telling me to hit pause, take a breath and discover what is vibrant, what is good and right in front of me.
Since we tell our stories retrospectively, meaning we are always rewriting our story, I realized I had a chance after all. My chance was to rewrite my story after all I have had plenty of practice reframing life’s tragedies into lollipops that dance down candy lane and here I am again given the gift of the rewrite.
The question is: do I write a thank you note to the police man who obviously had not much else to do in this township where people all drive too slow to pick me out of the crowd, to remind me, you are in crisis! How do you rewrite your story in this land of sun and sand? Will you as a late bloomer hijack resilience as an act of blooming defiance? Will you deploy like artillery tanks a zest for existential mastery? If so, how? I guess I’ll start in traffic school.
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.