Our Stuff

“…If we don’t deal with our stuff, it deals with us. There is no way around it….”

Jeff Brown.

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Being Honest with Oneself

A couple weeks ago I read a man’s revealing blog entry about how his world was suddenly upended by his loving wife dying from a fast-acting form of cancer. He wrote how he simply came apart after her death and spent the majority of his time tipping a bottle. What saved him, he said, was bottoming out, letting everything go, and being brutally honest with himself about every aspect of his past, present, and future without her.

While these words below (inspired by his article) are mine and not his, it was a powerful and hopeful message that needed to be shared—how he slowly rebuilt his life from the ground up by changing how he viewed his role in the process.  I’d like to list his url page of the article here for all to read it directly but unfortunately I can’t locate it again. Sorry. This fictional account is the best I can do.

***

Jack, my counselor, told me he had one rule, and that was to be honest in our talks. “Be honest?” I sneered back at him. The only truth I knew for certain was that I was still sinking in a tar pit of pain over my wife’s sudden illness and death that past year—I raged for half an hour at the unfairness of it all to both of us.  “You want REAL?” I told him, “THAT is very real to me—so there Jack, THAT is my being honest with you!”

My counselor then said to use that very real pain as the starting point to feeling what truth is for me—to use it as the gauge of honesty for every other aspect of my life to help determine what I expected from life in general, and even more importantly, what life might actually expect from me—which made no sense at all to me back then. “What LIFE expects from me?” I yelled, “Screw life! What did it ever do but give me more pain?”

He said that if I could just be honest with myself over what I truly felt for my wife before and after her illness, and allowed myself to feel the real depth of my loss over her death, then I could be honest about other parts of myself as well. That honesty, he said, would help me determine how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The booze, he said, was keeping me from ‘feeling’ in general because if I never really let myself feel the pain, then I could never get past the pain to move on from there.

The court-required AA meetings helped because other addicts/alcoholics won’t let you lie about what you do or why you do it. They know. They’ve been there. They’ve said and done the same things, and they call you out on your stuff. You can’t hide it from them. You get that real fast. And I needed that.  I needed their truthfulness to help me uncover my own.

But I wouldn’t call those meetings support as much as I’d call it a mirror held up to your face that you can’t avoid.  There you are—twenty or so different versions of you—all gathered in one room sharing stories, shame, and self-loathing.  And there I was with a bunch of other people supposedly just like me—like being called by some other name to tell something similar to my story, like Jim or John or Lori, …or Frank or Jerry—but they were all different versions of me. “Same brand of ice cream, just a different flavor,” Jack said.

Well I didn’t like how that made me feel, so I told them about it. Said I didn’t belong there.

“Accept it,” they said. “We are alcoholics. You’re an alcoholic—lying is what you do, especially to yourself.  That’s who you are because that’s the most comfortable way to be—at least it always has been. Problem now is that even lying doesn’t work for you anymore.”

They were rough with me at times because I was so stuck in denial—claiming I was the victim here—why couldn’t they see that? One guy even pointed to me and said, “You want to keep seeing this same lying sack of shit staring back at you every time you look in the bathroom mirror? NO? Then change what you’re doing—change what you’re thinking. Because if you can’t accept the living proof of who and what you are sitting here all around you—if you can’t stand to think that you’ve been lying to yourself and to everyone you say you loved day after day for most of your life, then don’t expect your future to be any different. It’s your choice. YOUR choice, man!”

The “Your choice!” repeated over and over in their own stories. It’s always your choice. It’s your decision. “No one makes it but you,” they kept saying. “It isn’t really about life’s unfairness, or how much you miss your wife,” one of them told me. It was about being honest with myself about what I was feeling—what I still AM feeling about it all, and deciding if that’s what I want to feel in the future.

“If you can do that,” my counselor who led the group said, “if you can be honest with yourself, then you can pull yourself together and get on with your new life without the booze. But it’s really up to you.”

And as a parting shot, another guy who looked a lot like my sleezy Uncle Charlie, who was the last person in the world I ever wanted a lecture like this from, told me, “If you aren’t willing to help yourself buddy, don’t expect us to help you.”

Well, a couple years later I can tell you that it wasn’t easy by any means. Some days are still a struggle, but eventually I learned to view that past history of my previous self and life in a different way—what Jack called “in a more constructive manner”—one where I could refocus on how I had survived those painful life lessons, and use that survivor mentality to help me feel good about myself again, …which was far better than feeling so rotten all the time, where I simply wanted to numb myself into la-la land with the booze.

But maintaining the what Jack had named “lesson-filled, boot-camp view” of my previous life which he said I had successfully survived, was a difficult choice that I had to keep making day after day—sometimes every minute of the day for awhile, until I grew more comfortable in my new skin.

And getting to know this new me who thought and acted completely different from the old me, was the hardest part of it, because I finally realized that for 42 years I’d basically been doing nothing more than lying to myself, so I hardly knew what truth looked like, or even what being truthful felt like.

In fact the more I considered it, I’m not sure that I had ever been honest with anyone, let alone being honest with myself back then.

Was everything I’d said and done in my entire life a lie? If so, then wasn’t any part of it real? And what part of me was the real ME who was actually worth knowing? To figure that out, Jack tried to flip my mind again to see WHO it was that I wanted to become, to know how to get there. He said it was like creating an image of the new and better me that I would simply have to GROW into. But how could I do that?

Jack framed it to me this way: If I were the adult parent of a newborn ME ready to be introduced into this world full of challenges and wonders, what kind of parent would I truly need to be to successfully raise baby ME into a solid, well-balanced adult? Would I need a critical, demanding, drill sergeant constantly condemning ME and beating me down for my failings, or a nurturing, caring, coach continually encouraging my daily progress and raising me up to feel good about myself?

Not a tough choice, really. I didn’t need to feel any worse about myself than what I’d already been feeling.  What I needed was to feel more loved and supported than I had actually felt throughout most my childhood. Jack agreed. He said what I needed to help me succeed in my new life direction was my own loving guidance and support, not more self-condemnation.

Per Jack’s instructions, every morning now when I look in the bathroom mirror, I ask myself this question: “How are you going to encourage the best from that young kid in you today—how are you going to parent yourself to become a strong and loving person?”

Then I look right into my own eyes and say the words of a speech I’d memorized for doing this daily self pep-talk, “How can I express myself in more compassionate ways—in ways that other loving and caring people want to share in—ways that help them to recognize the goodness of my heart so they want to become more a part of my life?”

“How can I be a good person?”  I ask the ME staring back in all my imperfections. And that’s the goal I set for the day—every day—just trying to be a good person in some way—trying to help somebody or to do something nice for somebody else, because it makes me feel good when I can do that. And the more good I do for others, the better I feel about myself. Funny I know, but that’s how it is.

Well, as you can see, I’m still working on that goal of being a better person. But I wanted others to know that being honest with myself was a key to clearing out the garbage from my life. Think about it: You got to keep taking out the trash to keep from stinking up the house.

And if that ain’t being honest, …then I don’t know what is.

The OPEN Mind

Limitation is so unnecessary.

open.jpgWhen we focus so tightly on a single issue or a single viewpoint, we limit ourselves and our outcomes.

You don’t need to do just “one thing” in your life when you can do many things. You needn’t “specialize” in a certain subject or a course of study unless you feel that “one thing” is the single guiding force of your life. Specialists in nature are often a rare, isolated species, and are the ones most prone to extinction because they limit their food sources.

While there are advantages to a tight mental focus, there are disadvantages to limiting your frame of reference so severely that you exclude other possibilities. When you zero in so tightly on a concept or even an ideology, you restrict any other explanation from penetrating your mind set.einstein quote.png

I don’t mean to be the judgmental finger-pointer here but in today’s world, being able to keep your mind OPEN to a problem’s solutions is an attribute, not a detriment.

Not only are we, the residents of this world we all share, still ignorant to the answers to all the world’s problems; we aren’t even aware of the best questions to ask pertaining to those problems.

That might sound critical of what is presently occurring in the world’s greatest problem spots, but world problem-solving depends on increasing your base knowledge of the issues, not restricting it; and single-point perspectives with limited options only create the same scenarios we’re trying to dig ourselves out from now.

Case in point: If you ever have the opportunity to go through Mediation Training please mediationtake it. Mediation is where a mediator helps two or more parties define their key problem issues; then she helps them to successfully resolve their problems in a mutually beneficial manner.  That training will help you realize how difficult it is to help two very different viewpoints find and accept common ground to build a better future outcome based on mutually beneficial goals.toddlers.jpg

It’s a lot like getting toddlers to share a slurpy even if they have two straws.

What you usually encounter in Mediation is that combatants are often like the two primary political parties mid-election year mayhem: There is the standard stalemate caused by “my way or the highway” thinking or the “you are so WRONG how could you ever be that stupid” viewpoint expressed by one or both participants in the mediation.

Emotion rules the disagreements, not rational thinking.

common groundBut the mediator’s goal is to find common ground between the two deadlocked camps, which means that if you are the mediator you have to dig deeper into each combatant’s wants/don’t wants to find out what the REAL issues are behind their immovable stances.

You’d be surprised what deeper wounds and hidden agendas are revealed in this process.

Sometimes the disagreement has nothing to do with the subject in question. The acrimony between the two camps is often pure, raw woundedness raging on whatever ground it can find to take its stand.  Those are tough situations to resolve amicably. A good mediator (not the same thing as a negotiator) earns every dollar s/he makes.

And the single most difficult task at hand for any mediator is to encourage the participants to come to the table with an OPEN mind—a mind willing to consider an option not previously proposed.

An OPEN mind recognizes that the “highway” is meant for two-way travel, and being “wrong” is often just a shift in perspective to being considered “not so wrong.”backyard.jpg

Common ground is the single unifier most sought by a good mediator. Once that is established then a mutually beneficial outcome can be defined for both parties. And once the emotional aspects of the arguments have dissipated, the warring parties are more willing to consider rational solutions to the dilemma.

But the key component to any problem resolution is that all participants must somehow achieve and maintain an OPEN mind state that is willing to simply consider ALL possibilities.kids.jpg

As dedicated as we are to our own viewpoints, stubbornness and intractability are less productive outside the nursery-school playground.

Rejection Redux

Rejection is a little like Acid Reflux; …it just keeps coming back up, especially when you lie down at night and try to sleep.

pain of rejectionRejection is the sort of thing no one wants to experience even once, let alone again and again. But for some folks, feeling like no one wants any part of you may seem standard fare. And it doesn’t feel very good when that lump of humiliation sticks in your throat.

If this situation feels like you might own it, then there is the possibility that the word “seems” could mean there may be a perception problem in your social interactions—and perhaps you only “think” that others are rejecting you when actually most folks around us are so completely self-absorbed that if you aren’t a mirror or their iphone, you simply aren’t going to be seen by them no matter what you do.

Then there is the other evidential possibility that for some unknown (or even known) reason, you are being avoided and pushed aside like yesterday’s fashion. For that possibility, you may need a little more research on WHY this might be happening to you.

However, if it is in Junior High or even High School that these rejections are occurring, then being ostracized or avoided is not that unusual as during that time period everyone is trying to discover their own identity, and yet still fit in with similar-acting or -looking kids. Those in adolescence who fail to conform to the rules of “popularity” are often ridiculed or made to feel sub-human. That doesn’t make it right—it just makes it normal.

It was SO normal when I was a teen, that Janis Ian even wrote a song about it way back when that made her an easy million dollars if not more, over the years, called “At Seventeen.” She’s even on Wikipedia—check her out. I’ll put the lyrics on here and every time you think you’re being reduced to an afterthought by another whiney-voiced, snob sneering, “Who are you anyway?” then you just listen to Janis Ian’s song and think: “Yeah, and she made a wad out of that whole rejection-thing. She laughed all the way to the bank, and still IS laughing because Oldies stations are still playing the song once in awhile.”

In other words, Janis Ian made that nasty, humiliating, adolescent character-building, rejection-experience work for her. And so can you.

“At number oneSeventeen

I learned the truth at seventeen, That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles Who married young and then retired.
The valentines I never knew, The Friday night charades of youth,
Were spent on one more beautiful. At seventeen I learned the truth.

And those of us with ravaged faces Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home, Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say – Come dance with me, And murmured vague obscenities.
It isn’t all it seems, …at seventeen.

A brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs,Whose name I never could pronounce
Said – Pity please the ones who serve They only get what they deserve.
The rich-relationed hometown queen, Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company And haven for the elderly.

So remember those who win the game Lose the love they sought to gain,
In debentures of quality and dubious integrity. Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment-due Exceeds accounts-received, at seventeen.

To those of us who knew the pain Of valentines that never came,
And those whose names were never called When choosing sides for basketball.
It was long ago and far away The world was younger than today,
When dreams were all they gave for free To ugly duckling girls like me.

We all play the game, and when we dare We cheat ourselves at solitaire.
Inventing lovers on the phone, Repenting other lives unknown,
That call and say – Come on, dance with me And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, …..at seventeen.”

Janis is now nearing retirement. I bet as she sits back and counts all her money, she thanks ALL THOSE happy faceJERKS she once knew in adolescence for that rich portfolio of song-writing material created back then.

Rejection is never fun, but it’s okay. It just makes it easier to see your own unique beauty.

Look at the smile on her face now.

The Couples Counselor

One day, the constantly-bickering Beebo and Boopikins decided that there was only one thing left to try before going their separate ways: couples counseling. So the sleek and fastidious Boopikins made the appointment marriage_counselor_all_alike_246055for them because if she had left it up to Beebo to do, it would never have been done.

In his defense, it wasn’t that Beebo didn’t want to make the appointment. It’s just that there were so many distractions in his life (squirrels, cars, and annoying kids) that he just couldn’t keep his focus long enough to remember to do it.

So the following week, they arrived together at the appointed time, and entered the counselor’s office with Boopikins coolly sauntering in first, and of course, that left Beebo trailing behind.

Boopikins immediately scanned the therapist’s messy room for possible items of interest to her before settling into the soft, cushy side-chair; while Beebo simply plopped down beside the other chair, with his muzzle on his paws.

The counselor, a middle-aged man of sizable girth with low-slung reading glasses saddled above his nostrils, welcomed them both and introduced himself as Mr. Mahler. He told them how happy he was to provide a controlled setting to discuss these “lingering disagreements” that they were experiencing between them; and if allowed, he would guide them in feeling comfortable enough to express what was really on their minds.Dog and cat on white background

Boopikins nodded with nose to the air catching the scent of Mr. Mahler’s corned beef lunch-breath; while Beebo sighed heavily. He knew where a crotch-sniffing-greeting would get him—a lightning-fast scratch on the nose from Boopikins for embarrassing them both, so he might as well just lie there and pass wind—one way or another.

“So, Ms. Boopikins,” the counselor began slowly then cleared his throat before continuing, “ah-h-h ….would you like to start the discussion by telling us what bothers you the most about Mr. Beebo?”

It was always wise to start with the female, as she would be the most anxious to be heard—REALLY heard by someone—anyone. Boopikins, gave a quick tail-flick which in cat body-language meant, “Of course, I’d be the first to start. I’m the one who has to put up with all of his …..WAYS!” And she wailed out a long “Yee-o-o-w-w-w.” (Have you ever noticed that cats never really say, “Meow”? They always say “Yeow.”)

Mr. Mahler nodded, wrote a few words on the legal pad in front of him, and said to Boopikins, “Is there more, or can we ask Mr. Beebo how he’d like to respond to that?”

An uninterested Boopikins yawned at him. This man was as boring as most men were. Same story, just a different day.

Mr. Mahler evidently understood “CAT,” and took that lack of interest as it was intended: “Like whatever, man…I could care less what you do.” So he bent far over his desk, with belly sliding atop it, and asked Beebo lying on the floor: “Would you like to respond to that ‘Yeow’ Mr. Beebo?”dogs and cats image

Beebo, seeing that suddenly everyone’s attention was on him—or at least Mr. Mahler’s attention was, began to pant open-mouthed, drooling a bit on the rug, and kind of grunted out a “boof.” (And dogs don’t “ruff” either.)

Then Beebo looked over to Boopikins, the love of his life who he could never understand in a million years—Boopikins, who was intently watching a pigeon prancing on the outside window sill of the counselor’s office. And seeing that once again, he couldn’t hold her attention even while at the therapist, he sighed heavily and dropped his muzzle back onto his hairy paws.

The counselor nodded, and wrote a few more words on his notepad before taking off his nose glasses to use as a flailing pointer between the differing pair before him.

“It’s unfortunate,” he began then deliberately paused for full effect, because that’s what counselors do—they pause for that dramatic impact. “Yes, I’ve seen this many times before, and I’m afraid it’s happening here between you two. The differences are too great, and the similarities are too few. I’m sorry. I think you’d be better off going your separate ways.”

Beebo lifted his head, hearing the dreaded words he feared the most—rejection and a tinge of sadness in the man’s voice. It was over. All done. They would part ways and never again would he sleep beside her on the cold floor while she claimed his dog pillow as her own. He was devastated. He slowly looked over to Boopikins who by now was preening her satiny fur, since she had all this down time and a soft chair to sit in, and the man was clearly as dumb as the stupid dog that she lived with, so why should she pay any attention to what he said anyway. If she wanted to keep that dumb dog around just to have something to annoy, she would. So there!

cat_and_dog_23And with that thought, she jumped down from the chair, teasingly bopped Beebo on the nose on the way by him, and invited him to chase her out. He jumped to his feet and off they dashed, back home together, to live unharmoniously ever after.

Moral to therapists: You never tell a cat what to do. You should know that by now Mr. Mahler.

Or …perhaps you already do!   Bravo sir!