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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Only Post on the Internet about Both Love Warrior and FantasyFootball

It's that time of year when I write about fantasy football again. I know, I know. If you're not into it, you are really not into it. Actually I'm not going to write about fantasy football, but instead I'm going to talk about addiction (I am addicted to fantasy football.) I'm also going to talk about Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I can guarantee with some authority that this will be the only review you see that talks about both Love Warrior and fantasy football. Hang in there, you guys.

Last night I had my last draft of the four leagues I'm in. It went kind of late and then I did the customary thing of obsessing over my team for like an hour and then it was really late. The long weekend (I'm writing this before Labor Day but you're reading it later, so this is me in the past talking to you in the future which is literally every single blog regardless of when it actually goes up. Writing and reading is time travel. That's kind of weird, right? Past me was boring but now me has figured that out and the next post will be better) is over and I have to get up early to work the next day so naturally my brain is churning about all of the mistakes I made while I drafted.

The worst of the mistakes is that I took a player (Jamaal Charles, if you care) who is going into the season injured still, or not fully recovered, or something. I took him really early because I've had him on at least one of my teams every year since I started and the guy is fun to watch play football. But I made a major rookie blunder. I didn't take his backup. This is called "hand-cuffing" and you guys, if you listen to any of the fantasy football podcasts (there are so many), you'll know that this is a very important strategy. Essentially what it means is that if you have a star running back, you need to get his backup because if he gets hurt the backup will move into that role and you'll get some points out of it instead of just being stuck with Limpy McDoesn'tplay

So I'm tossing and turning in bed, cursing my idiocy, when a thought occurs to me. Fantasy football doesn't matter and we're all going to die someday. Like, who gives a crap? I don't play for money. There's no stakes. But it's so very important to me and I can't quite explain why.

UPDATE: Killing it.


And that, friends and family and strangers (who have lasted this long, and for that I salute you. Leave a comment! (unless it's mean)) is a pretty good summation of addiction.

An addiction is something that is extremely important to you but other people don't understand, unless they are also addicted. These sound a lot like hobbies, but where hobbies are pleasant dalliances with some ephemera that makes you interesting, an addiction is a near-compulsory escape from your every day life. You guys these are not clinical terms. I'm not a scientist with this kind of stuff, I'm just talking. Let's just talk about stuff.

I want to use fantasy football because it's not as scary as a lot of addictions. Certainly it can infringe on family relationships, ruin friendships, impact productivity at work, waste time, waste money (a lot if you get into the gambling angle), and make you furious when you watch someone else run in a touchdown who you have never heard of while your guy is standing on the sidelines getting a little drink from his sippy cup because he needs a rest. YOU REST WHEN YOU'RE DONE, PAL. You rest when you're dead. My only recourse is now to tweet something hateful to you while you're playing with your kid about how I wish you were dead today so that you can get your precious rest.

OK, fantasy football is kind of scary. But you can play fantasy football a couple years in a row and be pretty fine with it. Bulimia isn't like that. Serial infidelity, not like that. Porn, drugs, alcohol. That's some heavy duty dangerous stuff. So let's stick with FF and we can swap it out for whatever it is you struggle with. Glennon is a great truth-teller, and in Love Warrior she tells the damn truth, and it's hard, unvarnished stuff. It's all of the stuff I mentioned in this paragraph except for fantasy football. Me, I'm not there. So I'll talk about the one I admit to, and that's not handcuffing my players and feeling really bad about it later.

I was in a league once where I had the best record in the league, and right before we went on to playoffs, the commissioner (that's a fancy word for "person who runs a little website that 8-12 people log on to in order to say mean things to each other") decided that he wanted to be in the playoffs even though his record was bad, so he made it so everyone was in the playoffs. Reminder: there were no stakes, and, repeat it with me, fantasy football doesn't matter and we are all going to die someday. Anyway, I threw a minor hissy fit in the comments. Nothing changed. Everyone was in the playoffs, and I won the whole thing because of course I did. Next year I log in to see when the draft is and I find it has already happened and I'm no longer in the league.

I was freakin' destroyed. Didn't they understand what this meant to me? What I would do without it? Here's the thing: there are lots of people dealing without it. Some people very happily don't care about imaginary points scored arbitrarily by big men in helmets who don't know or care about them. But this had become one of my ways to escape the stresses of being a very poor college student who was gone all of the time on work trips and missing things like my daughter's first steps because I was in the desert with people I only kind of liked catching rodents and measuring the height of sagebrush plants. Also, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I don't care if you think it's stupid, I need this.

Telling someone they don't need whatever it is they are addicted to doesn't help. And the way we talk about addiction is broken. So here's where I talk about Love Warrior. Glennon Doyle Melton grew up in a happy family. Some of her earliest memories are as pleasant as can be. And yet at the age of ten she started to binge and purge. By the age of 16 she was experimenting with sex, cocaine, and alcohol. It's funny that we call it experimenting, by the way, because in real experiments we try to at least have a modicum of safety and we often don't let 16 year olds work with acids and electricity and stuff without some adult supervision, but anyway.

This is clearly the behavior of someone trying to escape, but from what?

Glennon presents a theory she had as a teen when she was in treatment for her bulimia, talking with a friend who attempted suicide. She tells about canaries in coal mines, then says:
The canary's body was built to be sensitive to toxins, so the canary became their lifeguard. When the toxin levels rose too high, the canary stopped singing, and this silence was the miners' signal to flee the mine. If the miners didn't leave fast enough, the canary would die and, not much later, so would the miners... "Could it be," I ask, "that we aren't making any of this up--we're just sensing the very real danger in the air?..  
I think the world is more than a little poisonous and that we were built to notice that. I tell her that in lots of places, canaries are appreciated. They're the shamans and the poets and the sages, but not here. I say, "We are the ones on the bow of the Titanic pointing and yelling 'iceberg!' but everybody else wants to keep dancing. They don't want to stop. They don't want to know how broken the world is, so they just decide we're broken. When we stop singing, instead of searching the air, they put us away. This place is where they keep the canaries."
What if mental illness and addiction and compulsive behavior isn't a weakness, but instead a reaction to the world around us? First it affects the most sensitive of us, but eventually it gets everybody. Wouldn't we treat them differently?

In her first book, Carry On, Warrior, she talks about how she overcomes these addictions. It's basically miraculous, and amazing and if you click on that link you can see more about what I think about it. But she left out a big part of her story because she wasn't able to tell it yet.
I think I love my people more than normal people love their people. My love is so overwhelming and terrifying and uncomfortable and complicated that I need to hide from it. Life and love simply ask too much of me. Everything hurts. I don't know how people can just let it all hurt so much. I am just not up for all this hurting. I have to do whatever it takes not to feel the hurt. But what I have to do to avoid the hurt for myself hurts everyone else. My survival means I have to keep harming my people. But it is not because I don't love them, it is because I love them too much. All I can say is "I do love you," but it sounds weak, like a like, and their faces don't soften when they hear it.
Love Warrior is that part, and guys, it's rough and raw and brutal. It talks about how the people who we are closest to and depend on the most can damage us the worst. It talks about the way men can hurt women, and how we live in a society that encourages men to do the things that are just destroying the women in their lives. The correlation between a society that shows only one standard of beauty so that every girl by the time she reaches the age of 12, and usually way before that, has already seen very clearly that she is not perfect, and never will be. But she better be trying every day or else some guy will call her fat or some girl will comment on how her clothes are old.

In college, Glennon joins a sorority where bulimia is so prevalent that an announcement is made to make sure to clean up vomit off of the toilets because nobody wants to see that. There's nothing wrong with it, is the understanding, just clean up after yourself. The fraternities hang their "no fat chicks" out the windows and "check the list" to see if you can come in to a party (the list is blank, you guys.) They ply you with alcohol and pretend to love you when you don't seem to care about yourself or your own needs. That makes you a "cool girl." And you love them for it because you've been trained your whole life that to be loved by men is the only way to be fulfilled.

Men are victims of this structure as well. It turns out that treating women as objects to be admired physically isn't great for our relationships. It also turns out that many of the qualities we associate with masculinity are horrible garbage. Maybe some of you guys were turned off when I started this post talking about football. I get it. I have some real misgivings as well. There were 44 players that I refused to draft because they've been accused of or convicted for sexual assault and/or domestic abuse, like I'm some kind of freaking hero.

We put men in situations where they are idolized for aggression, for physical prowess, and for sheer viciousness sometimes. Add that to a system where administrators as low as junior high level are covering for or excusing their misdeeds so that they can keep playing for the team. Sprinkle in police officers (who also do some part-time security work for the university booster club) who tell rape victims not to prosecute because your town was "a big football town," and you'd be "run over the coals." And who wait two weeks to even question and an entire year before even obtaining a DNA sample from the accused. You get a pretty weird combination of being rewarded for being strong, idolized for being mean, and shielded from accountability for your actions.

It's not good for anybody, this stuff. And I know that so many football players are very good citizens and use their powers for good. They raise money, they visit sick kids, they eat lunch with the kid with autism who usually sits by himself. But they also have a higher than average arrest rate for violent crimes. So I get into these mental gymnastics where I don't want to cheer for Ben Roethlisberger, because he's been accused (twice!) of sexual assault, but I would like him to throw to Antonio Brown because of fantasy. Doing something habitually even though it conflicts with my basic morals (but with elaborate justifications)? Check.

The way to fix the sick parts of society, then, is to identify and talk about them.
You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it's hard. Not because you're doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don't avoid the pain. You need it. It's meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you'll burn to get your work done on this earth.
This is a tough thing to try to get, and I've been thinking about it since. Is our society's obsession with relief from pain a symptom of something deeper? I just read an article about a guy who was so addicted to the video game EverQuest that it cost him his job, his apartment, and almost his marriage. EverQuest wasn't the problem, he admits. It was an artificial solution to a real problem.
It would be easy for me to pin my problems on EverQuest, and society in general would accept it without question. I could say I fell prey to an addictive video game that nearly ruined my life, but I would know that wasn't the case. 
I hid. I ran from my problems, hiding away in a virtual fantasy world instead of confronting the issues that might have been easily resolved if I had addressed them directly. As far as I am concerned, the only thing Sony Online Entertainment is guilty of is creating a damn good hiding place.
This is rough stuff, you guys, but we're all dealing with rough stuff. All of us, regardless of how much money we have or how many loved ones we're surrounded by. For all of us it feels like sometimes we're just barely holding it together and nobody knows but us. We've got to stop pretending, and putting the people who are dealing with it the hardest in homes or prisons or hospitals so that we can forget about them. Medicate them, yes. Get them help, of course. But let's stop pretending that being sad is the anomaly, and accept that it's not only the price of the life we're living, but part of the reason, too.
Grief is love's souvenir. It's our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.