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 is the best I can do.

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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.

When Words Fail Me

Lately I could say SO much and yet I know there is nothing of value in saying it.

Were this comedy of errors less critical to the welfare of the entire planet and to all of us who live here, it would be easy to complain and rail and stomp about, but instead I find silence the best choice for my own sanity.

dictatorsThis is no way to run a country in which democratic ideals and humanitarian pursuits are its founding principles; nor is it remotely smart to devalue intelligent, factual information on national security, political, and ecological subjects, or to deride the highly-trained specialists who are providing it.

When despots and dictators become the most admired and most emulated management style of a country’s highest executive, it is time to reassess the wisdom of having that person in such a powerful office.

There are always alternate choices. Perhaps it is time to consider them.

It only takes intense congressional discomfort with the present office occupant to initiate the change.25th amend

Help your congressional representatives (Senate and House) to make the choice that is in all of our best interests: Amendment 25.

Generalizing Specialists

One might think I was referring to the medical profession with this title, and in a sense I guess I am because I was reading a bit on the schism between Humanistic Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology when the bells went off in my head.

I’ve always been a fan of Dr. Abraham Maslow—the self-actualizHumanistsation guru of the last century. While reading a summation of his work and early mentors, I recognized certain well-established names in the psychology profession, especially Dr. Carl Rogers as the one of the primary founders of Humanistic Psychology which was considered in some circles as the third branch of 20th century psychology with Freud’s Psychoanalytical approach and Skinner’s Behavioral approach being the other two branches.

That’s all well and good, but again, what’s the application here?

I had just read about Ken Wilber’s critique of the Transpersonal Psychology approach and preference for his own Integral Psychology approach (everybody has an angle), and my mind shifted back to my early college days when I pyramidonce thought I wanted to be a psychologist. All these offshoots of mainstream psychology weren’t even mentioned back then or I might have chosen a different career-path because I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind and during my early college days thought that course of study would be an amazing odyssey for personal and professional expansion.

So I took a few courses in that designated “PSYCHOLOGY” pursuit as defined by the university that I had attended. And what did I find?

The professors who taught all the courses in that university’s psych department were some of the strangest, most unsociable, unlikable people I had ever met. After a semester immersed in that influence, I changed my major to Art. But head connectedin hindsight, I should have just changed schools if this subject matter had truly interested me. You know—it’s those things you know NOW that you didn’t know THEN….. like: Authority figures aren’t really authorities. They just pretend to be ones.

Back in my early adulthood, I wondered how any student of psychology could possibly be trained by people who themselves were teetering at the very edge of sanity?

Those instructors who seemed to be in charge of judging normalcy in society and the interacting members of such seemed to be themselves standing near the very periphery of normal, interactive social behaviorIF they ever claimed to occupy that location at all. It would seem that during my early years in college the collective WE were all being categorized and judged by society’s ostracized social misfits who had their defensive shields set high and their adolescent vendettas ready to avenge.maze runners

It boggled the idealized mind—at least it boggled mine. Those in the psych department at my university had Ph.Ds in statistics, testing, rats (maze-runners), research documentation, and abnormal behaviors—that means they were primarily Behavioralists.

Where was the Humanistic Psychology or the Transpersonal Psychology back then? Where was even the broader field of Social Psychology at that university? It didn’t exist THERE at the time even though it had been around since the 1950’s; meaning that those who were training budding Psychologists at that university were training students like a Dermatologist might train a Digestive Specialist. You teach what you know, and if you don’t KNOW it—you don’t teach it.

pool in headThe point being for this post (finally) is that even in today’s broader minded and more main-streamed social-psychology movements, practicing psychologists and psychiatrists have specialties. Psychology is NOT a one-size-fits-all profession. Behavioralists are NOT Psychoanalysts are NOT Humanists.

And because all these particular specialties are off-shoots of that larger Psychology field, there is little agreement among the competing branches as to what the tree-trunk looks like, or from which transplanted graft they first emerged, or which branch needs the most sunshine to grow the best humans.

So when people say the state of Mental Health is presently in disarray, it comes as no surprise to me since the main profession can’t even decide what constitutes normalcy in a world of striving individualists and constantly-merging, world-wide cultures.

I’m giving notice to ALL Universities: Please …for all of our sakes,… hire some Humanistic Psychology instructors for the next batch of yearning psychologists, so they aren’t taught by the apoplectic maze-runners that taught during my bachelors degree because a society is only as good as the models that it holds in esteem.

schools of Psych

Budgets and Expendables

I usually avoid writing about government policies and politics in my blog because that’s not what this blog is about—it’s about maintaining a higher-frequency focus of living with love and compassion for everyone.

However, I guess I’m still reeling at the news that our Governor (Iowa) is planning to close two of the states remaining mental health institutions and booting out the residents to use “out-patient” mental health facilities in their original communities (if those communities even have them).

silhouette of womanThis subject of cutting the state’s budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our society is really bothering me because I think it will adversely affect a personal friend who has frequented one of the facilities over the last several years.

To me who has known of and shared some of her lesser challenges, I anticipate that she will face a sink-or-swim, tough-love approach to coping with her daily life. While I truly hope she can master the stroke necessary to do laps across the pool, I also know the greater likelihood of her failure to do so; and that failure can result in her quickly sinking to the bottom.

What I see as the greatest benefit to residents at a state-run mental health institution is in viewing the institution as a place of sanctuary and security—which are two of the biggest issues in anyone’s mind to establish and maintain their own wellbeing. People need to simply FEEL safe. Even being contained within a locked room provides them protection from “others” when they are in their most vulnerable states of mind and unable to make rational decisions, or to physically protect themselves (and likewise not to harm themselves)

That sanctuary and security assurance will be the first casualty when the residents are booted out onto the streets. Families and friends will be faced with impossible situations of helping/not-helping and not even knowing what “helping” really is, for someone with mental health challenges.

I’ve been trained in many different healing techniques, and I’ve seen how easily the mind can be affected and altered by devices, substances, and the ill intentions of others, besides our tendencies to adversely undermine our decision-making abilities through self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-denigratimental_health_awareness_ribbon_mousepadon.

There is so much at stake when you are messing with someone’s mental health stability. I just can’t believe that these “budget cuts” in state-run mental health facilities are wise or even conscionable for an enlightened society that claims it cares about human welfare.

Don’t take away the only safety net that some of these extremely vulnerable people have. That leaves them with even fewer options, and those options are more likely suicide or jail.