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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Life's Illusions: Only just a dream.



A number of years ago, an idea popped into my head.   What happens if the life we think we are leading is all part of someone's complex dream?  In other word's, to myself, I feel I am real and self-aware, but what happens if my reality is really just part of someone's dream?  The Matrix sort of dealt with this idea.

I'm sure I wasn't the first one to ponder this thought and I am sure I won't be the last.   But, I digress.

Years later, after a series of setbacks that started with my mom nearly dying, the life as I knew it unraveled: job loss, marriage breakup, death of my closest brother, house on the way to being lost, loss of full-time parenthood, etc.   By this time, my now ex had moved out and cleaned out much/most of the items of value in the house.  A dear friend of mine walked through the house for the first time with me and noted that the house lost it's soul.  I guess in a way, the house was still standing, but the 'home' had died.  As I walked out back and noticed the patio, grill and backyard and started to walk out into the driveway, a strange feeling came over me.  I had the sense that my marriage had been an illusion.  The life I had known it was an illusion.  It wasn't the most healthy marriage from the beginning in hindsight, but sometimes you don't know these things until much later.

No one is perfect, save one.  In that vein, you bring your strengths and weaknesses or flaws and good points into a relationship.  In hindsight, our flaws clashed heavily.  We went in with a fairy tale of how we'd 'survived' dysfunctional in the past and were past that.  What we didn't realize is how mistaken that was.

--

The last year was pretty dramatic in the space of about a year, I had a friend, my mom and my dad die--two being unexpected.  In a certain way, this has seemed surreal to me.  It's like a few years ago I had my full nuclear family, now it is almost cut in half.   I'm still getting used to that.

---

I remember an episode of Married with Children called "Teacher's Pet".  In the episode, poor Bud finally seems to have luck with dating.  He has a date with his substitute teacher and a classmate.  In typical Bundy fashion, this situation crashes.   First he confides in his dad about the dilemma, letting his father know the teacher is 40.   Next day at school he finds out that the substitute teacher ran off with a football player.  The classmate then dumps him as he is no longer desirable after being dumped by the teacher.   As if it isn't bad enough at that point, his dad alerted the authorities to the inappropriate relationship.  However, the teacher had been replaced by an old woman.   His dad, mistaking the new teacher for the original one, tells her to stay away from his son and rips her telling her the only 40 associated with her was 1840--that being the year she would have been born.   The old woman is then hauled off by the police.  Bud, being humiliated decides in his mind that this is all a bad dream and that if he drops his pants in front of class it will shock him into waking up.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way and bud finds out it isn't a dream much to his further humilation.

Bud: I know! I'll prove it's a dream. I'll take down my pants and it'll be so embarrassing, I'll wake up.
[Bud lowers his pants to the shock of entire class]
Bud: I'm even dreaming that I ran out of underwear.

Teacher's pet

The Married with Children episode was funny, but it did underscore a larger point.  When faced with a painful reality, we can either face it head on, pretend it isn't so and/or compound it.  Bud, seemed to pretend it wasn't so and compounded it at the same time, not a small feat.

---

Life sometimes hums along merrily for a long time and then boom, it changes.  One day we have the car, job, our health and that of loved one and then in what seems like a short time, a major shift occurs.  It seems surreal.   Immediacy and permanence of the change can make us question was what was before real?  I think the answer is yes and no.   Yes it was, but our perception of it being permanent or unchangeable was an illusion.

Sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and understand that nothing in this life is forever.  We enjoy the good things when we can, endure the bad thing as they come, mourn the losses when necessary and we hold onto that which never fails.

Psalm 73:25-26New International Version (NIV)

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

In the meantime, we I realized a long time ago that for most this life is full of struggles and if we don't have a Higher Power, a greater calling, a Hope, then it can all seem hard to swallow.  This is why sometimes people seek the unhealthy 'highs'.

I guess if I would give advice to my daughter it would be this:
  • Live your life with the Hope in Jesus.
  • Live a purpose driven life.
  • Enjoy the good times, realizing they that they don't always last.
  • Be brave and face what life throws you knowing you don't have to face it alone. 
  • Be true to yourself. 


Cheers.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

The laughter that masks the tears and general coping mechanisms.



I've observed over the year that people have different ways of coping with pain that comes from the loss--whether it be a person, pet, life they used to have, etc.

Lately, I've become more acutely aware of the role of laughter as a coping mechanism and will address it more fully.  However, I will address the coping mechanisms I see.

Sometimes it is a fine line, between healthy and unhealthy.  For example, anger can be a necessary component of processing, but too much can be poisonous or destructive.  Similarly, relationships can give us comfort from pain, but shouldn't be a mechanism to completely avoid it.

  • Negative Emotional coping
    • Sarcasm 
      • Sometimes it can be funny, but sometimes it can be very hostile.
      • Very often a detached way of expressing true feelings.  
      • Can be anger masked by a veneer of 'witty'
    • Anger    
      • Can be healthy, a stage, a part of the process.  e.g., Anger at a loved one for not taking care of his/herself and/or leaving behind a mess when they pass away.  
      • Too large of a dose of it at once and/or too extended of a dose can move from simple venting to self-poisoning.
    • Bitterness
      • Often reflected in sarcastic tones.
      • Can be anger that has hardened.
  • Cathartic/Comforting
    • Sadness
      • A general feeling of blue.  
      • Often characterized by the inability to 'move'.  Emotional molasses.
    • Depression
      • Sadness that has hardened to the point of almost a numbness. 
      • Deep emotional molasses.
    • Crying
      • The pain becomes so acute, that it literally hurts to keep it in.
      • Releases the toxins or poisons from our body
      • Release endorphins.
    • Laughter
      • Can be finding joy where little exists.
      • Can be making the best out of a rough circumstance
      • Can provide a faux happy appearance where there is real pain waiting to be released.
  • Faith/Spiritual/Relational
    • Prayer
      • Reaching out to our Higher Power/God.  Asking Him to take away or give us the tools to better manage our burdens.
    • Meditation
      • Pushing out the negative energy.
      • Focusing on the positive.
    • Counseling/Writing/Sharing
      • Working through to the cause/root of the pain.
      • Determining what is real/valid and what isn't.
      • Discussing/hashing through the steps of healing.
    • Friendships/Relationships
      • Can be like our own personal counseling.
      • Can give us a reprieve from the pain.
      • Can let us know that we have support.
      • If we rely solely on them to cope, we may be excluding effectively taking other steps to work though/deal with our pain.
  • Destructive/Addictive coping
    • Drugs/Alcohol
      • Relying on a chemical to deal with what we should be processing.
      • Destructive to progress, physically unhealthy and can be deadly.
    • Relational
      • Relying on addiction to other people--real or 'imaginary'-- affairs/porn.
      • Reaching so heavily and often for it can suck the productive life out of us.
    • Circumstances/Things
      • Compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, hoarding are examples.
      • Expensive and drain us of emotional/necessary physical resources
    • OCD behaviors
      • Eating disorders, excessive cleaning are some examples.
      • Time consuming and can in some cases be physically damaging.

I am sure there are many more ways of coping.  But those are the ones I readily see.  As I indicated I've become more acutely aware over time of the role of laughter in coping.  A sarcastic, condescending laughter is the way a narcissist might deal with pain/loss.  A nervous or excessive laughter is often a way of 'laughing vs. crying'.   In each case, there is a feeling of acute or intense pain.  In the one case, you may be avoiding displaying pain by pushing it out into laughter.   It can appear as being cheerful or happy--sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly--but often is really a way of avoiding the vulnerable appearance of crying.

I well known saying is that "Laughter is good for the soul."   But, if it is a way of avoiding the other necessary coping mechanisms, it can be a nice storefront to a rotting soul. 

That being said, by all means I encourage people to laugh until their heart is content, but make sure it isn't completely at the expense of crying, praying, writing, meditating, etc.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not crazy for you, but crazy at you


Unfortunately, as we know the passing of a major family member can unleash problems with the surviving members.   This is especially true if the family member that passed away was controversial and/or thought to have assets (even if the latter was not so true).  The 'black sheep' member of my family has decided that they are/were entitled to the assets of my dad, which in reality were very limited.  I basically am presiding over just a little bit more than a pile of rubble.

Anyway, this led to a blog idea.  The ways to deal with a destructive, manipulative and likely mentally ill person.  In my case a family member.  Here goes:

Dealing with destructive, manipulative, mentally ill persons:

1) Attempting to rationally discuss their gripes with them. Generally pointless and frustrating as they are experts at irrational thinking.  To them the irrational is quite rational.  No matter how you try to pull them back toward the rational, they will tend not to concede rational, logical points.

2) Getting into the mud with them.  Generally a bad idea as they are experts at attacking in an irrational way.  It can effectively result in 'poked bear' response from them.

3) Attempting to appease them.  That's like trying to feed the crocodiles and hope they are satisfied enough not to attack you.

4) Shutting them out, ignoring them, not giving any oxygen.  Only surfacing long enough to make it clear you will not tolerate their abuse and preferably through a third party.  This will upset them, probably piss them off that you are not making yourself a target for them, but will save you the stress of dealing with them directly and leave them with uncertainty.  In other words, they may think twice when trying to mess with you as they won't be able to read how you'll react.  However, this is a long drawn out process and can be very frustrating waiting for the fruits of it.

5) Attempt to completely destroy them.  This could very well result in very serious consequences for you and could unleash 'fear biting' in them.

6) Use the law to disable them.  It could be a long, annoying, draining and seemingly frustrating process which requires a sacrifice of time, energy and possibly money.

I am leaning toward option 4.  It is a bit frustrating as when you are attacked by such a person.  There is a tendency to want to immediately shut that person up.  But, as we know the law isn't always on the side of the harassed person.  I guess if option 4 fails, I will go with option 6.  I've tried option 1 and 3 already.  I figured option 2 would be both pointless at best and destructive at worst.  I don't want to engage in option 5 as it is not my intention to punish a person for being mentally ill, besides trying to destroy someone typically has serious repercussions or reverberations




Sunday, May 10, 2015

Denial: The lies we tell ourselves to cope.


A friend of mine inspired this one.  Not by her actions, but rather by her suggestion.

Denial, is the cliche goes, it isn't just a river in Egypt.  Denial can be seen as the following:
  1. A form of self-defense.  We are protecting ourselves from the torment of 'facing reality'.
  2. A necessary evil.  Sometimes, facing all things at once is too much.  If  we make a point to deal with a limited amount now and 'pretend' that that we don't need to deal with the other stuff, it can give us the space to deal with what we need to over time.  Such as unwinding an estate.
  3. A way of avoiding dealing with a problem we have.  Our car makes an odd noise, it just doesn't sound right.  Well, if we avoid it, then we don't have to deal with it, so the thought goes.  Likewise, if we have an addiction of some sort or an illness, by denying it we are fooling ourselves into believing it isn't there and/or doesn't have to be dealt with.
  4. An obstacle to tackling problems BEFORE they get too unmanageable.  Again, health, auto or addiction example.
  5. Lying to ourselves and/or keeping secrets from ourselves.  Denial obviously is a mechanism by which we can be untruthful with others, but ultimately, the one(s) we are untruthful with us more than anyone is ourselves and God.
  6. Relying on our own tools rather than on God.
I don't say denial is all bad.  Sometimes, we just can't cope with everything life throws us at once.  For example, I was grieving over the loss of my mom and to a degree of my brother still.  Also, I was dealing with my own surgery as well as other family issues.  In a way, I didn't have the luxury of totally indulging the extent of my dad's failing health.  So, I would do what I would need to on that score with what I had of emotional/spiritual energy.  I let his caregivers step in an do there jobs and one of us would step in from time to time and make sure they were doing there job.   They have seen it often enough to know the process of failing health/dying.  So, they were better equipped to deal.  Denial saved my energy for a time.   However, the time to stop denying crept up on me and with the help of friends, I faced the inevitability of my dad's passing.

The 'lie' that he was going to live indefinitely was useful as a coping mechanism.  But, eventually, it had to give way.   What I found is that surrounded by Godly friends who reminded me of God's role, I didn't have to live in the denial about it.

I guess one take away I have from this all, a little bit of 'denial' for a time can be a coping mechanism, but if we let it out of control and live in it indefinitely, we are avoiding the healing and adjusting.  In terms of spiritual warfare, to let the enemy win all we have to do is do nothing.  To triumph, we face our pains/hurts/demons/secrets with God's help.

In the 12 step programs, it is often said, we are only as sick as our secrets.  It may be cliche, but it is true.  I don't think that that means we have to answer 'do I look big in this dress', but it does mean being true to God, ourselves and others.


Friday, May 8, 2015

The dying years


The past few years have been hard.  There has been a reset of my relationship with my dad.   After many years in his shadow, I'd finally utterly developed the ability to talk to him and say thing that bothered me.  Losing everything helped this process along.  I'd always been the closest to him, but he's never been the warmest fuzziest father.  Perhaps he didn't know how and I didn't know how to take him as I am very different.  He's a bit distant, I'm very connected, very emotive.

I heard the song "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics and on some level I understood it.  My dad's health was failing, but on some level, he was a tough old bird and there was a part of me that in some way just kept expecting him to live through it. He was gradually getting less able, but yet he was unwilling to accept it.  But, then again maybe he was accepting it but I didn't really see it.  I saw him "wanting to go home", even past the point of absurdity.

A little over two years ago, after 10 times or more of him falling down at home, sometimes breaking ribs, sometimes just bruising them, and sometimes sustaining cuts, I realized taking him back home like he wanted would be a death sentence sooner than it should be.  Even if I had moved in with him, I'd be leaving him at home for 12 hours or more at a time and my daughter would be subjected to these stresses when I had her.  His limitations were getting worse all the time.  He was going through spells of confusion--sundowners.  He was falling prey to sales pitches from fast talking "but wait, there is more" types, etc.  He was having issues taking his meds regularly.  In short, he need 24/7 coverage, preferably with someone or someones who was trained to take care of the elderly.   I had taken him home a few times from the ER and watched him for a while and then had to leave eventually.  Gradually, the guilt of having to leave him by himself at all, was eating me.  I felt like I was doing him a disservice.  The last time he fell and got injured before permanently moving to a nursing home, he tried to pressure me into taking him home, but I refused and said to the social worker at Christian Northeast, I can't do this anymore.  In short, I left the hospital and let the system handle the issue for once.  Eventually, he agreed to go in a nursing home.   They had told me at the hospital that he couldn't be left alone for an extended length of time.

I felt guilty about it, but I had to temporarily walk away for my own sanity as well as my dad's safety.  He kept on 'wanting to go home' and we did humor outing back to the house, to steak and shake, etc. to get him at least a break from the nursing home.  His last outing was around his birthday last November.  We took him over a friend's house and celebrated his birthday.   Later, around Christmas while I was recovering from my own surgery, he aspirated and got pneumonia.  He recovered from that, but it left him to a GI tube as he was a swallow risk.   For a time he was able to go back to regular food, but ultimately, he could not.  After a 3-4 week stay in the hospital which weakened him dramatically.  He made it out back to the nursing home and then I put him on hospice.  Making life and death type decisions for a parent isn't easy.

I watched him last Friday take some of his last few breaths and he passed away shortly after I left, almost as if he was waiting for me to leave.

---

In the song, The Living Years, the singer regrets the bitterness and frustration of not seeing eye to eye with his dad, the estrangement, the separation and just not coming to terms with his dad before he died.

I had issues with my dad.  I had disappointments with him.  I had frustrations.  I was sad that he never truly seemed to get me and that he wouldn't truly open up about himself.  I wanted a go for beers relationship with the old man, but settled for well I guess we are family so I guess we need to act like it.  He was very hard to talk to.  He'd shut down conversation, he left few real avenues of discussion.  It was almost like he had difficulties in engaging too much more than surface conversation.   Though I tried.  He often seemed more of a judge than my advocate.  But, you know I came to realize you can't wish a relationship is what it isn't  I had other frustrations about the matter, but will not go into it.  I guess at times, I felt like I had a person who called himself my dad, but had trouble being a father.  I think he meant well at times, but didn't necessarily get me.

As I realized that he was dying, my anger/frustration turned to empathy.  I looked in his eyes and I did not see this hard man, but I saw my own flesh and blood, suffering, sometimes frightened, just pathetic.  How the hell can anyone with a conscience turn their back on that?   I may not have had much to give as I've dealt with a lot in the past few years, but I had to at least try.  I mouthed to him the last time I saw him conscience, "I love you".  He mouthed back, "I love you too".  I really was looking into the heart of a hurting soul.  I tried to do my best at the end to make sure he had an opportunity to make peace with his maker.  I protected him from those whom I considered a threat to him (including a family member and a nurse).   It didn't matter who in his life had turned their back on him.  I saw him as 'my person'.  I couldn't face myself knowing that I didn't do all that I could.  Nor could I face God having refused to honor my father.  I spent his last few hours with him as his soul was encased in the shell that we call a body.  It wasn't easy, but I know I had to be there for him, if not for me.

I do miss him.   I am disappointed that having a closer relationship, a more full one, a more hallmark card one wasn't in the cards.  I do know that no matter what, he was my dad and even with his flaws he ultimately was there.  Even though his sense of honor wasn't exactly mine, I did respect it when he showed it.   I think he tried, but was hampered by less than a less than perfect environment growing up.  Besides, having an imperfect relationship with a father is better than none at all.   I got to see one way of fatherly parenting and where I disagreed, I had a basis to go in the opposite direction.  Had I not had a father, I probably would have been more aimless.

I did know that I forgave him and loved him in "The Dying Years".