The Art of Wallowing (plus, it’s been 32 days!)

There is a great scene from the 80s movie, Broadcast News, where Holly Hunter’s character, Jane, has what I like to think of as a scheduled breakdown. She is in her hotel room and has just agreed to meet her co-worker in the lobby in half an hour.

She hangs up -- takes the phone off the 
hook and lays it on the bed for a moment's 
solitude.  She sits stiffly, palms on top of
her legs.  It looks like someone with unusually 
good posture, waiting for something, and now 
we BEGIN TO SEE the first signs redden and 
she begins to cry.  Now she sobs -- then 
miraculously shakes it off and exits quickly to 
the bathroom.  This crying episode is clearly 
part of her morning routine.
Get the full screenplay here.

Over the years, I’ve come to accept that every couple of months or so, I have a similar breakdown. It lasts longer than Jane’s, and isn’t really scheduled…so I guess it isn’t that similar, except that it feeds the same need…the need to wallow.

My Recent Wallowfest

I spent the last 3 days neglecting nearly every one of my responsibilities.

Here’s how you do it:  Let everything drop, isolate, watch tv and order delivery. Play spider solitaire for five hours. Click the “Stumble!” button on your web browser until your eyes lose focus. Watch TV. Feel depressed.

Shutting down for a couple of days is a childish, “mom, I’m sick” type of thing to do, but there is something to be said for wallowing every once in a while. I don’t want to rationalize it, but I would like to make peace with it.

Why Wallowing Ain’t All Bad

The practice of wallowing does have its benefits. Here are a few lessons I learn and relearn during my time on the pity-pot:

  1. The world does not fall apart. Although some of my wallow fests have resulted in minor damage (missed assignments, appointments, or showers), most of the time nothing at all happens. Life goes on.
  2. I feel better eventually.  This too passes. No matter how much I cling to the nothingness of depression, it eventually ends. This is my own experience, not meant to be universal advice, particularly for people who have chemical or neurological reasons for being depressed.
  3. It is possible for me to enjoy something and hate myself at the same time. Wallowing has the same obsessive-compulsive quality that drug use has. Take the 15 episodes of Arrested Development that I watched during my most recent wallow. I enjoyed each episode, but I never quite silenced the inner voice that told me that I was wasting my life.
  4. Great advice is annoying. “Buck-up”…”take baby steps”…”let go and let God”…”this too shall pass…” I’m wallowing right now, please leave a message at the tone. No matter how well intentioned, advice on how to “fix” my attitude and get out of my rut annoys me. I have learned to nod and thank the advice giver, then go back to watching crap TV.
  5. Philosophy will not get me out of a rut. Big ideas tend to reveal big tragedies when I am wallowing. It’s all meaningless after all, what with us dying in the end and God being either dead or invisible. When I am wallowing, I am feeling, not thinking.
  6. Simple things will – I like to work from the bottom up. No matter how stuck I feel at the beginning of a wallow, I will come out of it at the end because I’m ready and because I start doing something simple like:
  • Waiting. See #2.
  • Cleaning. A clean room may not give my life meaning, but it will put me in a better mood.
  • Taking a shower. There is nothing more depressing than smelling your own ass.
  • Taking a walk. Although I will reject this piece of advice if someone offers it, getting out of the house can often lead to miracles.
  • Accomplishing a very small task. “The day wasn’t a total waste, I took the trash out!” This last wallow I made an origami picture frame and caught some ladybugs to eat the aphids off my girlfriend’s houseplant. I was a whirlwind of activity!
  • Making a plan. At some point, I decide that tomorrow I will reenter the land of the living. It helps to have a few tasks written down.

And oh yeah…I’m still not drinking and it is day 32!


2 thoughts on “The Art of Wallowing (plus, it’s been 32 days!)

  1. Spent some time here.

    I like so much of what you say. I have similar struggles: the AA talk–you’re grateful for being alcoholic– please, the choice to continue smoking marijauna(I hold but haven’t smoked), wallowing(letting yourself have space is so challenging), and where to go from here.

    Your writing is of great depth. Your command of language is tight. Your ideas are smart.

    Congratulations on 44 days.

    This is a great blog.


  2. Alex,

    Thank you so much for your feedback. It means quite a lot to me.

    I think a lot of people can relate to having trouble swallowing some of the tenets and culture of AA and NA. That being said, I owe NA a lot. Getting clean for the first time, especially for the first year or so, was something I couldn’t have done alone. Plus, “working the steps” helped me to look at my values and behaviors in a way I never had. In short, I got stuff from NA that I’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

    Your compliments about my writing suggest that you are a person of discriminating taste. But seriously, you made a young man very happy by saying what you did!

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