Updated: Nov 25, 2022
In 1997, Suga Free released an album entitled Street Gospel that featured the song “If U Stay Ready” which became my mantra for a number of years—“If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.” I likened it to being prepared.
Before I expand upon the concept of preparedness, it may be worth disavowing a lifestyle choice—a title relating to which I once used flagrantly. Suga Free was a self-professed pimp during the time of the album release.
I graduated high school in 1995, and during the 90s terminology related to pimping was widely used synonymously with conveying admiration. For instance, when seeing a car one admired it wasn’t uncommon to hear, “That’s pimpin’!”
This is a photo of me at my high school graduation. The lean to one side, foot placement, and hand gesture (pixelated for legal reasons) were representative of a lifestyle with which I no longer endorse. Still, at the time, I thought I was “pimpin’.”
Even as a young military policeman in Okinawa during 1999, I received an official plaque from my superiors referring to me as a pimp. Subsequently associated with a diplomatic security role in Rio de Janeiro, my call sign for period of time was “P.D.,” short for “pimp daddy.”
Hip hop vernacular was so widespread that it achieved global popularity when MTV featured the show Pimp My Ride, an expression essentially meaning, “Make my vehicle cool.” Each generation develops its own lingo to convey different messages.
One may ask, “Deric, why admit to any of this? Why needlessly identify the insensitive manner by which you once represented yourself?” I’m not ashamed of who I am or how I arrived at this point in my life.
People who know what I currently represent as a psychotherapist may disapprove of the fact that there was a time in my history when I referred to myself as a “pimp.” For the record, I never engaged in sex trafficking and I no longer refer to myself in such a manner.
Though Maya Angelou is credited with having said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” pimps of yesteryear converted the phrase to simply, “If you knew better you’d do better.”
Knowing the impacts regarding a darker side of sex trafficking than simply supporting oneself as an independent worker, distancing myself from the title of a pimp is how I “do better” these days. Others are welcome to make their own decisions.
The cost of preparedness
In the Marine Corps I was taught to stay ready for potential threats. Per one source, “Marines are trained to improvise, adapt, and overcome all obstacles in all situations.”
As a Marine, I was required to maintain a high level of physical fitness, qualify with various weapon platforms annually, and receive continual education about tactics, threats, and terrorist operations. I was conditioned to a “complacency kills” mindset.
Suga Free’s insistence on preparedness resonated with me. If I stayed ready I wouldn’t have to get ready. Anticipating threats at every turn was a self-reinforcing method of operation.
Premise 1: Always be prepared for violence, because death comes to those who are complacent.
Premise 2: I was prepared to exact violence at any given moment.
Conclusion: Therefore, death wouldn’t result from complacency.
Proof that my premises and resulting conclusion were sound was evidenced by the fact that I remained alive. I survived each day, because I was continuously assessing the potential for threatening situations.
However, my limited perspective didn’t account for many variables—the least of which was that I was alive, because I hadn’t been imminently threatened. Without challenging my irrational supposition, I remained hypervigilant—in a state of perpetual alertness.
I don’t know what an average person experiences day to day, because I’ve never been an average person. With posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms incurred in childhood and having been aggravated in the Corps, I’ve known about trauma exposure throughout my life.
Staying “keyed up” is something with which I was familiar from a young age. Long before Suga Free’s song was released I prepared for different outcomes which could occur at any moment.
In middle school, I kept an empty backpack at the children’s home in which I lived and would time myself to see how long it would take to gather necessary items to run away. I had it down to a minute, which was less than the response time for local deputies who captured other runaway children.
That skill served me well in the military. Although I wasn’t in the infantry, I sought to prepare myself for combat as though I were on a deployment list.
When eventually volunteering to deploy for a security detail at the Kandahar International Airport in 2002, I had my room packed and ready to go in virtually no time at all. I was ready!
Though that deployment never manifested for me, my level of preparedness was emboldened by how little time it took me to pack my life into a container. I never wanted to be unready.
Along with Suga Free’s guidance, I reminded myself of something I’d heard in the 1995 film Heat. Character Neil McCauley said, “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
If my minute preparation time was good, 30 seconds was surely better, I reasoned. However, between 2002 and 2003 was a rough period of time in my life, because the cost of PTSD symptoms took a toll on me.
For many people, there is a price associated with staying “on edge.” One can fit only so much into a metaphorical backpack or container before it explodes, overflows, or begins to weigh a person down.
My cost was my career as a Marine. For others, it’s far more severe. Some people choose an express method to terminate life itself.
While it may seem as though staying ready is a lifesaving technique, in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky addresses the price of hypervigilance. Discussing this matter in a video, Sapolsky suggests:
“We cognitively, socially sophisticated primates turn on the exact same stress response as does that zebra running for its life or a lion running for a meal, and we turn it on for purely psychological reasons. We turn it on with memories, with emotions, with thoughts, and the whole punchline is—is that’s not what it evolved for. What stress is like for 99% of the beasts on this planet is three minutes of screaming terror in the Savannah, after which it’s either over with or you’re over with. And what do we do? We turn the identical stress response for 30-year mortgages. And that’s where you begin to get the wear and tear on the system.”
In and of itself being prepared isn’t a bad, unhelpful, unhealthy, or awful way to live life. As a psychotherapist, I help clients with assessing the cost associated with preparedness.
Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I listen for self-disturbing narratives which may trigger a stress response. For instance, telling myself that I should, must, or ought to stay ready for violence creates a false dichotomy relating to being either safe or unsafe.
Without a balanced alternative to the irrational belief, the mind develops a safety imperative. It convinces itself that extreme hypothetical scenarios aren’t just likely, they’re imminent.
This irrational belief then leads to the consequences of emotion (e.g., fear), bodily sensations (i.e., tingling legs, rapid heartrate, and tightness in the shoulders), behavior (e.g., exiting a social event before one wants to), and additional self-disturbing thoughts (e.g., “I can’t stand this.”).
Over time, these experiences accumulate additional irrational beliefs while reinforcing the notion that what keeps one safe is the preparedness and resulting stress response. In the long run, it can be an unhelpful and unhealthy cycle.
The psychological and physiological impact of stress over time is generally well-understood. If you stay ready for long enough, you may not have to get ready, because you may not be around to challenge the number one threat you faced in the mirror day in and day out.
A lot of things have changed in my life since the days of preparing to flee with a backpack. Something that helped was learning to unpack my metaphorical backpack and assess the cost of preparedness as a whole.
I want to be clear; there is nothing inherently wrong, bad, unhelpful, or unhealthy about preparation. It’s when the toll of preparedness becomes too costly that one may want to consider other options.
Personally, REBT has helped me to evaluate the irrational beliefs I tell myself. I can then opt for better narratives that serve my interests and goals.
Professionally, this form of therapy allows my clients to determine whether or not “dress-rehearsing tragedy” is behavior worth continuing. Staying ready is one matter, self-disturbing is a whole other issue.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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