Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confessions Of A Cerebral Thrill-Seeker

“So how did you get to be so responsible?”

Somebody recently asked me that at a party where everyone was getting drunk, stoned, or both….except for my sad self. Believe it or not, I actually took a long pause and did not know how to respond. I wasn’t really familiar with the person that asked, so a very vague and non-committal “I dunno” sufficed at the time, and then my subtly-stepping-away-to-disappear shortly followed.

On the drive home, I was still pondering the same question. How did I become so responsible? More importantly, am I REALLY responsible and what does that mean anyway? In truth, when that person asked me at the party, deep down I wanted to say, “I’m not really so much as responsible as I am a coward, a scaredy-cat, and I think I’m just genetically built that way…you know…to not be a risk-taker”. But I knew that would’ve been too much to chew on for a stranger who I probably won’t see ever again so why make the effort to explain? I did not think it necessary to punish someone by exposing him further to my deep-seated issues when in fact, he was just being polite.

However I feel the need to disabuse myself of the notion that it is merely my strong sense of responsibility and unfailing moral compass that explain why I am, what most would describe, a ‘good girl’. In truth, I am amazingly skilled at paralyzing myself and sabotaging any plan that has any hint of creativity or novelty in them. I do this by thinking too much. In the same breath, I also scare myself to death by accepting worst case scenarios as guaranteed outcomes. Risk taking behavior and overanalysis just don’t go together.

Take for instance the following personal examples. I almost never drive above the speed limit (except of course for the 5 miles per hour over) more because of my fear of getting caught and pulled over by a cop, than my avoidance of accidents. I always imagine some police car hiding in some dark alley, just waiting to issue me a ticket. And how would I handle the situation? I’ve never had an encounter with a police officer before. What kind of damage would this do to my record? What other unforeseen repercussions could that speeding ticket cause? Rather than exhaust myself trying to answer those questions, I might as well just not do it and stick to the norm.

I also don’t really drink and therefore have never gotten drunk. I never had a taste for alcohol and am fearful of the possibility of getting out of control. This of course includes the possibility of suffering from verbal incontinence which is highly dangerous for people like me who have been utterly repressed all their lives. I’m also not particularly excited about feeling sick and throwing up the day after. Well, whether it’s losing control or getting sick to the point of barfing, both, I know, I will deeply regret the next day.

And of course there is premarital sex. I was raised in a society where Catholicism is taken very seriously and premarital sex is one act that a middle class Catholic girl with ultra strict parents just should never mess with. I grew up believing and fearing not only how this act will guarantee eternal damnation, but also how an unwanted pregnancy automatically stems from it. At age 27 (as embarrassing and pathetic as this may sound to many), when 80% of my peers have already engaged in said act and turned out fine, undamaged and sane, I decided I should be less uptight about the whole thing and that if the situation ever presented itself, that I should just face it head on, throw all caution to the wind and do what feels right at the moment, with the right person, of course. Well, one right person came and I was all geared up. And then guess what? I started thinking, overanalyzing yet again. “What if this relationship doesn’t work out? What if this makes me obsessive (sure…like I wasn’t that one yet!)? Most of all, (and this was the major reason that stopped me)…what if I got pregnant?” I sure wasn’t ready and willing to be a single mother. And I sure wasn’t ready as hell to be ‘found out’, stigmatized and disowned by my family! Well, what do you know? Four years later, I eventually found out that I was reproductively challenged and that no amount of sex, premarital or otherwise, would have caused a pregnancy!! I tortured myself for no good reason and to top it all off, I was still a miserable virgin.

So you see, for the most part of my life, I’ve never raised the stakes. And in the end, the truth is that it’s just so much easier to be ‘responsible’ when the stakes are not high; when the boundaries have not been pushed to the limit and everything is still quite predictable, manageable and definitely outside the realm of ‘risk’.

I must now admit though, that I’ve taken one risk that is quite worthy of mention. This is when I decided to uproot myself from my life in the Philippines to live here in the United States. Believe me when I say that labeling my decision as ‘hasty’ is an understatement. I was only supposed to stay here for a six-week vacation, but ended up falling in love and getting engaged all within eight weeks of my arrival in Chicago. Staying for good at that time was still not part of the plan but at the very last minute, just on the way to the airport to board a plane back to Manila, I just decided to stay. I never made it to the airport. I just made it to a diner close by, anguished over my dilemma of whether or not to leave, and then amidst much confusion and excitement, I made the choice. It was beyond difficult, knowing that I was abandoning a lot of responsibilities at work back home, and more importantly, abandoning my comfort zone. With one decision, I was choosing a new reality for the rest of my life; one that I knew would excruciatingly peel off every familiar sense of identity I’ve lived with through the years. With one decision, I finally knew how it felt to throw all caution to the wind and was prepared to face consequences, no matter how dreadful I perceived them to be. In my mind, the only thing that made sense was that deciding to stay, to be with the person I love, was the only risk I knew I would never regret taking.

Perhaps for the very first time, at 30 years old, I was being genuinely responsible. For we really only practice a true sense of responsibility in times of genuine risk-taking. It is only when we take risks and then choose to stand by our decision, facing head-on the consequences of such choice, that we can truly say that we have practiced accountability and acted responsibly.

So maybe next time I’d give smoking pot a chance, for a change! I’m really intrigued as to how it would feel like to get stoned and what sorts of thoughts I’d be able to explore with my equally cerebral friends. But then again…What if my body gets a bad reaction to it?...What would I write on those medical background questionnaires at the doctor’s office regarding substance abuse? Would I then have to lie? What if I got caught? What if….What if…..What if………………………?

JPM 2.11.09

19 comments:

  1. This is the biggest decision I made too, to leave my comfort zone, P.I., where you have your family, friends, collegues and humble culture reside. Now let's face the reality that we took a risk because of love...In deed, this love brought us to a new home. :-)Jhing

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  2. I'm surprised I'm only now stumbling upon your blog. What took me so long?! All I can say is you are a lot more normal than you think you are. The difference is your ability to articulate what you're going through. It's a gift I envy and think you should embrace. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. -Sally

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  3. gusto ko na ring maging irresponsible! nice one, joy.
    Elma Laguna
    February 12 at 9:42am ·

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  4. That was one 'hasty' I decision I totally applaud, Joy! :-D I dream for that sort of pangpelikula scenario of myself throwing caution to the wind (after much thought, of course....). I can be quite reckless, but the results are often the stuff that makes a comedy sitcom rather than a fulfilling drama, oh well. :D O, Elma, take the risk na!

    Ging Candaliza Gutierrez
    February 13 at 5:39am ·

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  5. I remember that day well. I received the phone call from you, asking for advice. You see, it all worked out!

    Coeli San Pedro
    February 13 at 1:09pm

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  6. Wow! What insights you have. You were very brave to stay in the US and leave so much behind in the Philippines. But love is a great magnet. Don't get drunk, and please do not start smoking. Those things you can definitely do without.

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  7. Welcome to America. I'm glad you stayed.

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  8. There is a lot o conscience and guilt involved with certain things. Mainly a result of social learning I guess. It is good to take risks in life but there are certain things which, if we don 't feel comfortable with, then it is better to stay away. The time is right only when you think it is right or you.

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  9. Risk taking and thrill seeking is all relative. Your move to America is one that a sky diver/ bungy jumper would likely be too scared tom make. Well done you.

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  10. Sometimes, out-of-character decisions such as yours are what saves us. It is making us more flexible, more human. For me, changing country was an eye-opener, it has also allowed me to discover stuff about me I didn't know I had in me. It was the shock I needed.

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  11. I think moving to a new country and forming a new life there is something that demonstrates you can be a massive risk taker when its something that is in line with you and what you want to achieve. It is so interesting to read your post and find out about what makes you who you are. Never compare yourself to others, you are a gem within and of yourself

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  12. Thanks for a thoughtful post. That question about being responsible often depends on perspective, education (like yours, strict Catholic), the cultural mores of the country where you live, and your own principles/beliefs. Shouldn't we all be responsible? Of our behavior and how it affects ourselves and others. I knew people who would get drunk and not go to work the next day. I also knew people who would get drunk and turn up at work at 9 am, despite a killer hangover, and be very productive. So the answer isn't what you do but how you handle it and how it affects you and others.

    I liked your conclusion that, after being responsible all your life and never taking a risk, you were being genuinely responsible when you decided to take a major risk, and remain in the U.S. rather than return to Manila. However, perhaps some people saw that as being irresponsible. Again, it's a matter of perspective.

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  13. Ah the curse of thinking too much. . .still seems to be working out for you!
    Josie x

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  14. Hi Joy -

    "How did you get to be so responsible?" Hmmm many ways to analyze that one. Could it simply be that you have a much lower tolerance to pain that people who are perceived as irresponsible? Could it be that you care more about your acts, and actions, than others that are viewed as being irresponsible? As you say, fear could be the explanation. How can one person feel comfortable standing on the edge of 500 foot cliff, while another person won't climb a ladder 10 feet? We're all made differently and usually assessed inaccurately. Did you realize the person's comment to you was not an assault upon you, as much as it was a confession on their part? Yup! :)

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  15. I can totally relate Joy...I've never smoked pot (I have tried cigarettes though - BLURGH!) and I'm way too chicken to try drugs because...what if I'm that one in a million that has a super bad reaction and ends up in a psych ward for the rest of my life. All those things I wanted to do and wouldn't get done. Small steps help though in becoming a little rebellious. I dyed my hair red...I'm seriously considering a tattoo (but what if I hate it when I'm older? What will I do then? Laser surgery hurts like hell!)...I went travelling around Europe on my own...next step might be a bit of cliff diving :)

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  16. OOOOoooohhhhh, would love to cliff dive!.......then again...hmmmm.......LOL!

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  17. I never saw it as an assault, Charlie. I'm just thankful that he made me think.... :-))

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  18. Absolutely! I totally agree with you that it's a matter of perspective. You're very sharp to comment that my 'final choice' might have been viewed as irresponsible. Indeed some people saw it as that. But as they say, you can never please everyone and that ultimately, you just have to be happy and stand by your decisions. Thanks Penelope! :-))

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  19. Awww, thanks Maureen!

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Let me know your thoughts!