The Mirror

How should we define ourselves?   What describes our self-worth?

When I was young, the answers to these questions were external.  It was the culture of the time.  A person’s worth – their success – was defined by their job, their ability to provide for their family, their skill at raising children that fit easily into society, and how well you fit into the category of “Citizen”.  Are you a contributor?  Do you create and raise other contributors?

Yes, you could have diversions like art or music or reading or games, but you were strongly encouraged to keep them where they belonged — behind closed doors.  During that time, to place a diversion above the “important things in life” would shine a spotlight on you, and not in a good way.  It would easily label you as abnormal, as odd, and might even repel others from interacting with you because they didn’t want to catch your abnormality (as if it were a flu bug).

So, to be obviously passionate about work or family or church or (depending on the city you live in) the local sports team, these were acceptable.  Anything else was a risk.

Of course, time has severely changed this mindset.  But… for the better?

Instead of writing a long thesis on the topic, I’m just going to cut to the chase and tell you what I believe – what I’ve always believed.

I strongly believe that every person needs at least one thing to be passionate about; something that occupies much of their waking hours, and perhaps even their sleeping hours as well.  The passion for this ‘thing’ must be strong enough to get you out of bed on most mornings, and it should be something that you constantly want to improve.  As an old instructor once told me, “It should be something that takes a lifetime and a day to perfect.”

I strongly suggest, though, that we have more than one passion.  From experience, the strength of a person’s passion can ebb and surge – often unpredictably.  For example: When I was young, my passion for music was all-consuming.  I wanted to learn to play every instrument possible.  I wanted to write a million songs.  I wanted to learn how to use all of the recording equipment at the time and use them in ways never thought of before.  But complications of life, of love, stripped me of that passion for many years.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened.  Suddenly, my love of music was gone.  (A story for another time.)

Fortunately, at that time, I had other passions: my love of martial arts, my interest in drawing, my overwhelming need to improve and refine my body; my growing passion for history.  Although I severely felt the initial void left by the disappearance of my passion for music, that emptiness was quickly filled by other passions.

We live in a world that constantly tries to take away our passions.  It regularly tries to dump the weight of cultural norms of today onto us to crush our personal passions.  It tests us and rejects us and judges us, but those things only work if we let them.  I choose not to take life’s tests.  I reject the rejection of others.  I refuse to be judged by those whose opinions mean nothing to me.

Today is a world where everyone has the ability to express their opinions – their beliefs – so forcefully, that it’s easy to feel moved by them.  Today is an era of entitlement.  People believe their views about you and others truly matter.  If they twist you into accepting their beliefs or if you are damaged by their criticisms, they feel they’ve won.  If they strip you of your passion, they celebrate loud enough for the world to hear.

Please… identify your passions.  Then… protect them.  Chase them.  Embrace them tightly.  They make life worth living.

 

Perceived Rights

Been thinking a lot lately about the “Rights” people often believe they have regarding others.  More specifically…

So many people honestly and vehemently assert that they have the right to know what you know, and to know it now!  Some examples: A family member feels you must tell them why you didn’t attend a friend’s funeral; or a friend demands to know details about recent marital problems you’ve been experiencing; or a co-worker feels justified in insisting you tell them details as to why you were out of the office the day before.

Wanting to know a thing – and demanding to know a thing – these are definitely separate.  Yes, I would love to know more details behind the choices my family and friends make, but I never insist that they tell me.  I’d love to be their soundboard, their confidante, to help them, but I never feel obligated that they do so.

Anyone who demands personal details about your life and even claims it is their right to know these details, then… it’s obvious that they are making these assertions for selfish reasons and not primarily out of love or concern.

The details of our life are ours.  Because of social media, we increasingly have less and less control over how many of these details are seen or shared, and even less control around attaching any real truth to the perceptions of these details.  This is especially true when your details are communicated BY others TO others.

I recently had an instance where I took an action that upset another person (I’m person “A” and the subject of my choice is person “B”).  Shortly afterwards, I was faced with a demand by person “C” to know the reasons for my choice so that they could then relate those reasons to person “D”, who would then relate them back to person “B”.   When I responded that this issue was between me and person “B”, both “C” and “D” responded with confusion and outrage.  They sincerely felt it was their right to know my reasoning, to know it now, and they felt sorely offended that I wanted to keep others out of that communication loop.

How do you explain the reasons for the things you say or do when, at times, you’re not 100% sure yourself?  And, that said, why should I have to?

There are things that have happened in my life that I’ve never told another living soul;  not family, not the closest of friends, not even an anonymous hotline.  Things occasionally happen to us or involve us that take time to process, time to face and absorb, and time to come to terms with.  Those things are yours.

You Own Them.

In fact, they are among the very few things in this world that you truly do own.

Once they are “out there”, you no longer own them.  Others do.  Others translate them, redefine them, judge them – and you.  They snip them and resew them into something more easy to wear.  Or they change, delete or add ingredients to make them more palatable, more digestible.

Sharing things with people nearly always implies permission for them to offer advice, to press you with their opinions, and – all to often – to then share your “thing” with someone else.  And, of course, it’s absolutely OK for them to share your “thing” because they’re sharing it with someone THEY trust.

One of the few things that still truly upsets me these days are instances when someone insists that it’s their right to know something I haven’t shared.  They can ask, they can offer assistance or a welcome ear, but NEVER TELL ME that it’s your RIGHT to demand my information.

My list of things that immediately piss me off is pretty short these days, but this is still definitely one of them.  It’s a work-in-progress.

To anyone reading/listening:  Never feel like you do not own your narrative – your story.  It’s yours!  Tell it, or don’t.  You choose ‘when’, and please remember that choosing the answer of “Never” is definitely one of those options.  There is no title (spouse, child, parent, lover, friend, boss, etc.) that possesses an inherent right to your story.

Nuff said.

Home

For as far back as I can remember, I always knew what “Home” was, or at least what it was supposed to be.  Home was “Sanctuary”.  To me, “Home” always meant safety and peace and sleep and food and, most importantly, love.  I often strayed far from Home in my younger years because of school or work or adventure, but always with the bone-deep knowledge and certain comfort that Home was waiting for me.

Then I went through a rather long period where Home stopped being those things.

The first time it happened was after I had joined the military.  I had moved into a Dorm, but in my heart, Home was still my house on Hancock St back in Michigan.  I’d been away for about a year, but I constantly looked forward to the day I would see and feel all those things that were so familiar to me.

When I finally did come Home on leave, it was supposed to be for two weeks, but it didn’t take me long to realize that many things had changed.  I realized within the first few hours that I no longer had a dedicated bed in this place.  Also, my father had moved out shortly after I joined the service and now another man, a cruel man, had taken his place.  My mother, who had previously always been loving and welcoming and at peace was now quiet and guarded and seemed constantly afraid.  In the last year, most of my siblings had moved out, or – more accurately – been driven out by this new man in my old Home.  On day 2 or 3, I was unceremoniously informed that the few belongings I had left behind – things that had meant something to me because of their rareness (a bunch of comics, a guitar, and some journals) had all been thrown in the trash months ago because the new man of the house didn’t want them in HIS house.

A planned two week vacation at Home had become a 5-day dose of cold reality as I repeatedly searched for any trace of the familiar and repeatedly found none.  This was no longer Home.  There was nothing for me here.  So I left early and returned back to my base, to my dormitory, and to my new Home.

The next time(s) Home stopped being “Home” was during the intermittent but recurring instances where I dreaded going Home from work because of marital problems.  Bone-deep I knew there was no peace there, I could not rest there.  My children always provided me with immense joy and I was always eager to see them, but during severe marital events, the dark atmosphere of those events would often suck the joy from those opportunities too.  When you repeatedly find yourself reaching for your front door only to be overwhelmed by dread and panic and fear, it’s safe to say that that place is no longer Home.

Safe to say, I eventually found – or, more accurately, made – Home again, and I feel a great deal of joy each and every day because of the confidence of knowing it’s there, waiting to welcome me.  But even more important to me is the goal of ensuring that, no matter where my kids – now adults – go, I want them to always know deep in their bones that “Home” – the place they grew up in, felt safe in, and felt unconditional love in – is always available to them.  I want it to be a Sanctuary for them to gather their strength, and a place that reminds them that there is always safety here when they need it.  The smells and sounds are familiar, the food is satisfying, the love is like a warm blanket, and the jokes are still corny and silly and oddly comforting.

Home doesn’t erase the challenges of life, but it does defuse them a bit while providing a unique source of energy that is only found…

At Home.

Personal Reminders: Sep 2019 Edition

  • Don’t be a passenger in your own life
  • As soon as I started, I was fine
  • The opinions of others vary widely – don’t base your life on them
  • If you’re not free to be you, you’re in the wrong relationship
  • New Term: “Eudaimonia” = “Human Flourishing” – A State of Happiness (Greek term)
  • There is always a good excuse not to do something productive — Do it anyway!
  • The size of your dreams must always exceed your capacity to achieve them
  • Achieving your Dreams involves a lot of “No’s” – to others and yourself
  • Negativity is like acid:  It destroys the vessel that carries it
  • Anyone who angers you controls you
  • What you do today can improve your tomorrows
  • An easy task becomes difficult when you do it with reluctance
  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it
  • Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly
  • Keep testing your limits.  They’re yours – Change them!
  • If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change
  • New Term: “Saudade” = The Love that remains after someone is gone
  • Eliminate destructive, negative self-talk
  • Anything not attempted remains impossible
  • And the Top-4 are still:
    • Just Begin
    • Seek Discomfort
    • Be a Watcher
    • Remember Tomorrowland

Fingertips

One of THE MOST emotionally and psychically impactful lessons I ever had to learn in my life was identifying the moment when you have to let someone go.  I’m not talking about simply ending friendships or relationships.  I’m talking about…

Those people in your life who are self-destructive.

Those people in your life who are spiraling in despair.

Those people in your life who are their own worst enemy.

The easy example would be someone you care about who’s a drug addict.  Someone you’ve known most of your life, someone you love deeply, but they’re tightly within the grip of addiction and no matter what they do, who they see or speak to, through repeat interventions or repeat rehabs or repeat near-death experiences, they constantly – sadly – go back to their addiction.

The “Why” of it no longer matters.  Nor does the “How” or any of the other common questions.  The time for intellectualizing and trouble-shooting are over.  They’ve repeatedly “borrowed” money from you, or perhaps even stolen from you.  They continue to call at odd hours of the day and night, sometimes crying, sometimes to talk, sometimes just to achingly breathe into your ear because they don’t know what to say to you.  Other than their drug, they don’t know what they need from you.

Sometimes, all you really are to them is a perceived lifeline.  They think that if they can still reach out to you, they can tell themselves that – perhaps – they’re not completely gone yet.  And that may or may not be true.

But those of us who have had to deal with drug-addicted family and friends – all of us know – that there will eventually come a time, a completely heart- and soul-wrenching time – that we’ll need to let them go.

Perceptually, we’re holding their hands, but only by the tips of our fingers.  There’s not enough purchase to pull them back to the light, there’s nothing solid to grab onto anymore from our end.  But, unexplainably, you can feel yourself being pulled toward them, simply by that faint touch.  They are pulling you into their darkness.  They are dragging you down into their despair.

It’s interfering with YOUR life now.

Your thoughts and fears constantly revolve around them; even your dreams often include them.  Previously, you were living comfortably from paycheck to paycheck with the occasional blessing of being able to put something away for a vacation or for the future.  But your drug-addicted loved one has drained that from you, small bit by small bit.  Now, you wonder if you can pay this month’s bills and you’re not quite sure how that happened, or when.  You no longer sleep deeply and all night through, either because they call you at 2am and want to talk for hours, or because of the dread and anticipation of the phone ringing, because it so often does.  You’re finding it hard to focus completely on your work, so the quality of your work is now affected.

Patience for others, for your family and friends, is short because you’ve expended it all, and you rarely get the opportunity to build it back up before they drain it from you again.

You hear sirens, and a part of you automatically thinks that it may be them.  Did they find your loved-one – alone – needle in arm – tear-stained cheeks – dead or dying – cell phone in hand with your number partially dialed?

I’ve felt that pull.  I’ve received those phone calls.  I’ve lost countless hours of sleep to worry and dread and panic.  But eventually, all of us in that situation — ALL OF US — are faced with a moment when an overwhelmingly painful decision must be made:

When do I let go?

Again, the seemingly easiest example is when you’re dealing with a loved-one who is addicted to drugs, although I can attest that there’s very little that’s easy about that decision, even in those circumstances.  But for our example, the mile markers are easy to identify and discuss.

It could be the financial drain: you’ve decided you cannot afford to give them one more cent, and something in you knows that every penny you give them will be used for drugs, and you have decided that you will no longer finance their addiction.

Or it might be the family drain: You’ve decided that your relationship with your spouse is at a tipping point and to save the marriage, you must cut communication ties with your addicted loved-one.

Or it might simply be self-preservation: Either through friends or family or therapy, or you may have finally seen yourself clearly in a mirror one morning, but ‘something’ finally made you realize the personal toll the situation is having on you, and you know deep in your bones that if you don’t let your loved-one go, it may cost you your health, your personal well-being, or perhaps even your sanity.

However you got there, you’ve finally realized that you no longer can afford to “own” your drug-addicted loved-one’s situation.  It’s now time for you to release their fingertips and leave their fate to God or a higher being or to chance, or to whatever it is you believe in.  Now, it MUST be okay to turn back toward YOUR life and YOUR health and YOUR normal.

But what if your loved-one is NOT a drug-addict?  What if they’re: mentally or emotionally struggling because they’ve been raped and are dealing with the aftermath; or they’ve lost their job and can NOT find the strength to stand back up and move forward; or you’ve finally realized that your loved-one is abusive and controlling and feel that they can NOT get beyond their personal trauma without you at their side – because you are stuck in the cycle of abuse or they’ve assured you that they’ve learned the errors of their ways; or they’ve lost a limb or are battling cancer or have lost their sight, and are constantly fighting with suicidal thoughts because the concept of living a perceived diminished life is unbearable to them?

We humans often deal with so many life-altering circumstances during our decades of existence, and for some of us, these circumstances are enough to make our lives come to a screeching halt.  For most, we may begin moving forward again on our own, or we may need the assistance – or repeat assistance – of others to nudge us, pull us, forward – or we may just sit in the middle of the road and wait to be hit by life.  We instinctively reach out to others to help us, but we too often don’t accept or receive that help.  We don’t know why we shun those trying to help us because we don’t want to accept the thought that it’s simply the fear of life that we’re avoiding.

I’ve had several people I love who came back from the brink of these decisions with my help (and with the help of others).  I’ve also nearly been pulled into the abyss several times, but – so far – have been able to find the strength to let go before it was too late.  Of these, some loved ones have come back on their own… while others, sadly, are no longer here.

I’ve watched people walk that gauntlet of daily decision and heartache as they try desperately to help a self-destructive loved one, not really sure when enough is enough, not really sure how much of themselves they are willing to sacrifice.  They deal with the guilt of letting go, and they also deal with survivor’s guilt.

I’ve sacrificed much of myself to remain close to my children, and that’s a sacrifice I would do again.  But to do that, I’ve lost loved-ones because the cost they demanded was too much.

To my children, to my family, to my friends:  You are likely the type of person who would not hesitate to sacrifice yourselves for others, to make decisions that would deflect pain from others onto yourself, and to give as much of yourself and your personal resources as you could to help others in need.  But I beg of you, please keep watch for that moment when the ledge is near, when the abyss is looming, and when you need to either let go… or be lost yourself.

When we look back – sometimes years later – at those decisive moments in our life when we had to make that choice, we realize only then that there were numerous hints and signs that our loved-one was lost, and we only then do we clearly realize that we stayed in that situation much longer than was healthy to us.  But, while eyeball-deep within the swirl of these situations, those hints and signs are hard (if not impossible) to see.

THAT is when we must listen and consider the advice from those that we love and trust.  They will point out those signs for us.  They will warn us of the coming ledge and abyss.

When you sacrifice yourself for your loved-one, it is because that’s who you are, but please remember that those who love YOU are there to save you from your best self.

Lastly, also please remember that no individual can see everything that is happening or see every option or circumstance around us.  It took a long time for me to learn that.  So now, I trust a short list of loved ones to give me feedback that helps enhance my life and to avoid major pitfalls.  To ensure I never forget this, I constantly remind myself…

Life – at its best – is not a solitary experience.

Horse of Many Colors

Abuse comes in many forms.  Unfortunately, our society – in fact, most of the world – is currently not really ready to properly deal with the most common and insidious forms of abuse.  But first, let’s start with what SHOULD be the easiest.

If a husband severely beats his wife, most people would think it’s a no-brainer for the victim – in this case, the wife – to simply leave, right?  Easy Peezy, problem solved.  But wait… let’s muddy the water a little.

What if the victim decides to stay?  Do they now somehow bear some form of ‘fault’?

What if the victim is a male and the abuser is a female?  Is this situation no longer really “Abuse” because, hey… he’s a guy, right?  What girl could actually hurt a guy?

Or how bout this: Is there a degree of physical hurt that a person must inflict on another person before it’s officially considered “Abuse”?  Where is the official “Line”?  Is a shove “abuse”?  How about a slap to the body?  What if he just grabs her arm really hard and leaves a bruise?

And finally: Should the country or state or city you live in make a difference when it comes to determining when “Abuse” actually occurred?

And remember, Physical Abuse is supposedly the easiest and most definitive form of abuse.  But did you know that physical abuse is actually the least common form of abuse in abusive relationships?

The most damaging, longest-lasting, and sneakiest forms of abuse do not involve punching or kicking or the causing of physical pain.  They are the constant use of: verbal abuse, demeaning and disparaging language, words and assertions that steadily and definitely chip away at a person’s self-worth and self-esteem.  It is the practice of regularly belittling someone and questioning their decisions and choices until they feel that their individuality is no longer important and only worth exactly as much as what they are told it’s worth, and no more.

Is this form of abuse gender-specific?  Is it age or country or culture specific?

More directly > Should any person ever have complete control over another person in a relationship?

What dreams did you give up because someone else (a parent, a partner, a ‘friend’, a boss…) told you that you weren’t capable?  Does someone constantly make you think that your dreams are stupid or worthless?  That “Now” is not the time for you to chase your dreams?  That your dreams should be last in an arbitrary order of priority?

Do you deal with someone who feels that if they yell louder than you, they’ve won the argument?

Do you deal with someone who feels it’s “fair” to use whatever they know about you, no matter how personal, to get their way, no matter how badly it hurts you?

Do you deal with someone who regularly uses their anger as an excuse for the horrible things they say to you?  And perhaps afterwards, do they make YOU apologize for making them angry?  Make YOU apologize for “making them” say whatever horrible thing they said or do whatever horrible thing they did?

Do you deal with someone who regularly demands to make most (if not all) of the decisions in a relationship?

Do you deal with someone who thinks it’s okay to use threats and ultimatums in ANY situation?

Do you regularly feel the need to sacrifice your Self – your future, your happiness, your self-worth – because someone else is being used as a mental hostage?  (i.e.: staying in an abusive relationship to supposedly protect the children; staying with an abuser because of the fear of embarrassment for you or your abusive partner.)

To be honest, our world has a very hard time understanding abuse – especially if it’s not physical abuse.  When you don’t see blood or cuts or bruising, most people instantly doubt that any “real abuse” took place.  And then there’s the naïve notion that an abused person can simply walk away from an abusive relationship.  Normal America really doesn’t understand how that option seems so impossible for so many.

And what if a victim actually builds up enough courage to open up to someone and tell them their horror story?  It’s so disheartening for an abused person when they finally take the leap and reveal some of the abuse they deal with on a regular basis to someone they trust, only to hear that person dismiss them with “You just need to try harder” or “He really loves you.  I think he wants to be a better person, if you’d only give him a chance.”  They seem to be incapable of hearing and absorbing the terrifying reality that someone who abuses another person repeatedly for years and years isn’t just going to change their behavior overnight, or in a month, or in a year.

And then there are the common so-called “Support Systems” that sadly often serve to make abusive situations MUCH worse: clergy, family, counselors, hospital staff, and others.  Many people in these roles really don’t know how to effectively deal with domestic abuse, especially if it’s not necessarily physical abuse.  And they definitely don’t know how to properly counsel someone who is being mentally or emotionally abused on a regular basis.  For most, their fallback plan is normally to send them back into the abusive situation, fill our their forms, and then move on to the next person.  Family members tend to take sides, and often it’s not the side of the victim.  Or, a family member who was abused themselves will say simply “I made it through, and so can you.  Just stay in there!”

Victims of abuse often lose many of their friends and some of their family, if only temporarily, when they begin revealing the extent of the abuse they’ve been enduring.  When the victim reaches out to some of those closest to them, they are often met with common tropes like “Marriage is for life, so you just have to keep trying”, or “My son loves you and could never really hurt you.  You just have to try harder to understand him” or one of an infinite number of other dismissive rationalizations.  For these people, dealing with the truth that a loved is a victim of crimes that cannot be easily quantified by physical damage is the most difficult thing they’ll ever face.  And this ignorance only serves to make the victim feel even more alone, it makes them doubt the severity of their abuse, it makes the victim doubt their self-worth even more than they did before.

Nearly all of the world’s societal and cultural norms make getting out of an abusive relationship enormously hard, and in some countries, those “norms” actually empower the abusers, they make emotional and physical abuse “normal” and acceptable, sometimes even to the point of murder.  For a chilling example, look-up “Machismo Murder”.

We’ve made so many advances in a wide variety of technologies and mindsets, but even in today’s world, a MAN who is the long-term VICTIM of mental, emotional, or even physical abuse is unlikely to find ANY supportive friends, family, or entities to turn to.  It is a worldwide perception that men are too strong to be abused in any way, so if they “choose” to stay in that toxic environment, it’s their own fault.

On the flip-side, there are those who know someone who is in an abusive relationship but they feel completely helpless because there’s little they can say or do to help their friend or family member to get out of that relationship, especially if the victim is not ready to leave.  In many ways, it’s like dealing with a loved-one who is a drug addict.  No amount of love or strength or intelligence can force an addict to quit drugs if they’re not ready to give it up.  The same goes for our loved-ones who are victims of abuse.

Victims stay in abusive relationships because they don’t see any reasonable path out of their situation.  It is that sense of futility that often leads victims of abuse to consider suicide as a “reasonable means of escape”.  And the bigger sin of our society is that if a person tells anyone that they’re considering suicide because they’ve been in an abusive relationship for years, the common knee-jerk reaction is to view the VICTIM as sick and needing mental counselling, but the abuser and the abusive relationship are rarely even considered as things that need to be addressed.

I’ve had many reasons – for many years – to discuss mental and emotional abuse with others, to try to educate them and to incrementally try to change the views of those around me regarding the many misconceptions of abuse.  But it’s still something that needs to be addressed on a larger platform, in broader venues, and across all cultural and gender boundaries.  Laws need to be changed, effective support systems must be put into place, and visible paths of escape MUST be created that are so bright and so obvious that victims of abuse not only see them, but they feel inspired and welcome to utilize them.

Do YOU understand what “domestic abuse” really means, beyond physical abuse?  Do you feel you SHOULD know what it truly means?  Do you know what the signs are of someone in an abusive relationship?   Are you ready and willing to help?

 

 

 

 

… or get off the pot!

I’ve written (said) this many times before:  I’m not a complicated guy.  And a clear signal of just how transparent I am came in the form of a recent text from my son.

He’s in the painful “Start-up” period of his new business: making unique, very specialized keyboards.  I’m only now learning how broad and intense that interest is and how overjoyed some are to throw serious money at it.  My son showed me pictures of a new keyboard he’s making just for me.  It’s got a beautiful bottom plate with the image of a lion on it, embossed in gold.  The size and format of the key-placements is supposed to be ultra-comfortable.  The keys, he says, will have a satisfying “click!” to them as I type.  And even more special, the keyset will be orange, my favorite color.

But what really made me pause was when he told me that he hoped the keyboard would serve as incentive to write more.

I love writing.  Both my kids know that I love writing.  But even being mister “Not Complicated Guy”, I’ve never really – truly – felt that anyone in the world completely understood how much I love writing.  I mean, I’m a writer that rarely writes.  That alone doesn’t do much to profess any serious love for writing.  But recent conversations with my daughter, and then that keyboard surprise from my son – both urging me to find my writing-Self again – inspire me to push that boulder back up the hill.

The reasons have become excuses, and that needs to end now.

The “Dad” in me has always felt it important to teach by example.  So, as the title says…