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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Observations on shame: "The Shame Cycle"

Tonight (3/31/16) I dealt with what I considered a 'harassment' letter from an attorney for my dad's nursing home.  Long story short: My dad stayed there and ultimately had a lien placed on his house so they could recuperate costs not covered by Medicaid.  Anyway, I as his POA signed an agreement about a year ago which included promissory note giving them the authority to seize the house should his bill not be paid in full by the end of last year.  The attorney has been a real jerk and my attorney who is familiar with him says that he is pushy.  Anyway, thinking this whole matter I realized that I wasn't really fazed by the letter pressing the family for money.  I realized part of my serenity on the matter is that I realize that they will get my dad's house and it is up to them to flip it to get what they are owed.  But, I also realized something else: I have serenity on it because I am no longer caught up in what I call a "shame cycle".   Over the past number of years, I have felt shame over not being able to save my brother and a friend, respectively,  from harming themselves.  I have felt the shame of a failed marriage, a foreclosed house, bankruptcy, underemployment, not being a 24/7 parent of my daughter, not being there enough for my mom before she died and then having to walk away from my dad at times while his health was failing for my own sanity in the face of his insolence/difficult behavior as his health was progressively failing.  My friend Ben refers to a shame based "bottoming out" as a "shame crater".  At times, my "shame crater" seemed to be as large as the volcano crater I walked through in Hawaii.   

As anyone who has stopped to think about it has realized, when you are operating under a cloud of shame, your decision-making and/or confidence is compromised.  It doesn't matter if the shame is justifiable or not, the result is still the same.  I refer to this as a "shame cycle" because I think a lot of times shame has a way of keeping us in a rut or bad cycle. Furthermore, I think circumstances and/or people can wittingly or unwittingly support the continuation of this rut.  I am grateful that God has moved me to a place where I am not stuck in that cycle like I was, but I am well aware that sometimes the cycle is so deeply embedded in one's persona that it takes a/some dramatic event(s) or a dramatic change to shake us out of the rut or cycle.  Unfortunately, for me it took the complete implosion of the marriage to my ex and the suicide of my brother to start to start to put a stop to the cycle.  I think sometimes when we are stuck in a bad cycle, especially a shame one, we know something has to give for us to start feeling healthy or recovering again, but the fear of what it has to be keeps us from going there.

One more quick note, I have found the following are useful in stopping or breaking a shame cycle:
  • Counsel of trusted others - Whether it be a friend, minister or actual counselor.
  • Measuring myself and my worth in God's eyes, rather than my own or the eyes of the  world.
  • Confidence  - Especially when you know it is supported by a sense of honor or propriety.
Anyway, just think of a shame cycle like a wash cycle.  Eventually, it has to end to allow go onto the next the next step in the process.   Just my thoughts for the evening...


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How to succeed in life with a two-strike count!

I never really played baseball, but I have have been a lifelong fan and I know the rules of the game.  However, an interesting thing happened one year.  I used to play fantasy baseball and one year, I nearly won the league trophy and money. While I was competing hard for the league trophy, I started to pay closer attention to games.  I noticed something interesting.  Certain players tend to succumb to getting struck out or quick outs when they fall behind on the count.  However, the good hitters have the ability to flip the at-bat around when they fall behind on the count and some seem to even thrive when initially behind on the count.  So, I asked myself why is that?  Here is what I came up with.
  • Those hitters to better able to focus, especially when put in a tough at-bat.  Adversity focuses them rather than rattles them.
  • Those hitters believe in themselves and their abilities, even when the count is not in their favor.
  • Those hitters have learned to fiercely battle rather than giving up or conceding.
  • Those hitters have the patience to realize the key is hanging in long enough for things to turn their way.  That is until the pitcher makes a mistake.  As Carly Simon says in "Coming Around Again"- I know nothin' stays the same, But if you're willin' to play the game, It's comin' around again.  So, just keep in the game long enough and your luck will eventually turn.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and we put it all together.   In this life, some people are born with all the advantages, but don't necessarily succeed.  Like a batter who has a 3-0 count, but fails to get on base or move the runner(s) along.  Yet others are born in a seemingly hopeless environment, yet they succeed in spite of it.  This is like a batter who has an 0-2 count, but somehow find a way to end up on base or advance the runner(s).


A person born with an 0-2 count in life can succeed if they:
  • Like a successful hitter find the ability to focus when the chips are down.
  • Have someone who has believed in them along the way and therefore has shown them that that is safe to belief in him or herself. 
  • Have the "can do" or "never give up" attitude.
  • Realize if they battle long enough, with God's guidance, they will see the life take a turn in their favor.

In short, it is not how you start out that has to be the determinant factor of if you fail or succeed, but how you follow through.  If you are taught and/or learn to view yourself as capable of greatness, you will be more likely to succeed, even when adversity hits.  Inevitably the best students/players a) either start out slow or b) hit the wall at some point or c) both.  It is being able to look beyond the early failures and/or see past the wall that determines whether you'll inevitably be successful.  A good coach or educator will not just be one that is able to relate the X's and O's or the knowledge, but also one who is able to get his or her student/player to see themselves as being capable of learning or incorporating it successfully.

My takeaway:

  • Do not take falling behind (or failures) as being a failure, but instead as an being an unexploited opportunity to be successful.
  • The game isn't over until the last out or the last strike.  So, keep yourself in the game long enough to exploit an opportunity that will inevitably come along.
  • Optimism or successes can be contagious.  So, don't be selfish, take the opportunity to pass it/them on.

 "Give a man a success and he'll have a successful day.  Teach or inspire him to succeed and he'll have a success life."


Traveling through life with a purpose: Meeting others for a reason, season or lifetime.

I guess I've always known that people come in and out of our lives for different reasons, though I haven't always fully accepted it.  Sometimes we lose them to relationships ending, sometimes we lose them to the death and sometimes if we are truly fortunate, we keep them for a lifetime.  I guess this is sort of a follow-up to a prior blog entry: The reflection across the pond: the connection of the past to the future which we embrace.

It seems cliche, but people do move in and out of our lives or stay in our lives for a reason.  I've heard it said that when relationships end, it is like a death where the other is still alive.  Of course when our loved ones actually pass on, it literally is a death.  Either way, it is easy to succumb to questioning God why?  It is easy to question Him, why do we have to feel the pain of loss?  The pain of loss may never truly go away, but with His help, often times we can gain a better understanding of their purpose or role in our lives and more importantly a serenity about it.

When it is a relationship--friendship, romantic or familial--that ends in a 'divorce', even if it was for the best, I believe it usually leaves a hole in our soul,  It can leave us in a state of bewilderment as in what the heck happened.   It's as if one day we were close, but figuratively a million miles away from that person, even if they are just up the street.  It can be cruel: the closeness we once--even possibly recently-- had has vanished.  In a way, the shell of the relationship is like a corpse that isn't buried, but in plain sight.  It is easy to focus on the loss of that relationship rather than the purpose or benefit of that relationship had during its lifetime.
  • The friendship that has faded over time or distance may have served us when we were going through a tough time.
  • The relationship we had led to new experiences that we may have never had otherwise and/or may have left us with a child.
  • The family member that has drifted away from us, may have allowed us to gain a better insight into ourselves and/or who/what shaped us in our formative years.
The key here is not to get stuck in the what ifs or why nots, but accept what is.  It can feel cruel, but given time to mourn and His help we can learn to appreciate what we gained from those relationships, rather than what ifs or why nots.

I've had friends abandon me and I've been divorced and both situations are painful, but I have been able to look back and see that those friends have often helped during the lifetime of the friendship.  Also, I know with my divorce, that though things ended out badly, I learned much about myself, did have some positive adventures, found out what is really important and how to be a better person.  Furthermore, I did gain a daughter.  In other words, I can move forward, because the relationship, even as it failed, wasn't a total loss.

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When a relationship ends with a death--even if it is expected, there is a certain shocking absoluteness to it.  When a relationship ends in a 'divorce', at least we can humor the concept that one day that the personal interaction or our state of mind will be reconciled at least to a healthier place.  In other words, there is a hope even after it is over, it doesn't have to stay awful.  Unfortunately, when a relationship ends with a death, it is frozen where it ended.  If the person died when we weren't 'at peace' with them, there can be shame associated with letting the opportunity to come to terms with them pass us by.  If the person died abruptly, we can be left without really having had the opportunity to say goodbye.  What can be especially cruel is if they die senselessly and we, in hindsight, 'should have seen it coming'.  Unfortunately, unless we are truly prepared for the passing by death of a relationship, it can take a long time, if ever to truly recover from.

Once again, however, after a time of mourning, we are best served by not being chronically stuck in the what-ifs or the 'Why God, whys'.  It is very difficult, but instead of focusing on the fact that we will never see that person in this life again, we should attempt to view things this way:


  • We were fortunate to have that person in our life for as many years as they were.  We were never promised any time with that person and the fact that they we got the opportunity to know them has enriched our own lives.  In other words, their presence in our lives for as short or long as it was, was a Gift.
  • If we are confident of their ultimate destination to a better place, we can rest better knowing the person's struggle with the challenges in this life have been replaced with something much better.
  • The person who had passed typically would not want us to mourn them for too long, but instead carry on.  Carrying on doesn't mean forgetting that person, but instead it means remembering them in a healthy way.
Our life in this shell that we call our body is a Gift of the Almighty.  Our fall from grace, unfortunately caused us to lose our immortality.  Therefore, unfortunately, as sure as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night we will lose special people in our lifetime, so it is best if we can learn to value the time we have with them as we go along and then embrace having had that time with them when they pass.  Death may end a relationship, but it doesn't have to destroy the positive memories of it and our serenity indefinitely.

I was broken up when my brother took his life over 4 1/2 years ago, but in his life and his passing, I have learned that he has given me certain gifts that I can never repay.  He gave me a great example of a compassionate and kind soul.  He gave me an example of a person who was his own person.  In other words, it is more important to be true to yourself.  He reminded me that when life overwhelms me, instead of retreating, it is important to reach out.  Far from being a sign of weakness, reaching out is a sign of strength.  Real courage is doing something you need to even when you don't want to, to opening up to those you need to rather than letting pride get in the way. 

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If we are really fortunate in this life, we will meet a handful of special people that stay with us until our number is called--be it a spouse, a sibling, a friends or other.   I have come to appreciate these people.  These are our true support system.  These are the people we bounce our ideas off of.  These our the people that give us grounding when we seek to explore the uncertainties of life around us.  These are the people we can count on day or night.  These are the people we should say a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for.  The key here is to recognize these people when they come along and/or a part of our lives.


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Whether we meet others for a time and they disappear, a time and they pass on or our lifetime, the key is recognize their purpose or role in our lives and accept the time they are in our lives.




Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The reflection across the pond: the connection of the past to the future which we embrace.

Kristi,

A funny thing happened on the way to getting married to you last weekend.   I remembered the past as a reflection in the water.  I was standing on one side of the water, but looking down and across the pond, I saw a reflection on the other side of the water.  In that reflection, was my old life.   My old life had some good points and some not so good points, but the reflection was quite clear to me.

Just recently Nancy Reagan passed away at the age of 94.  It seemed like just yesterday that her husband Ronald Reagan had passed away not too long before to great fanfare and mourning.  But, it was really actually near 12 years ago.   Twelve years ago was a very different time and a place in my life (as I suspect it is for many people, including my wife Kristi). I was in a different relationship, my daughter hadn't been born yet, three of my late family members were alive and well, I had my old house and enough hair to justify not shaving it yet.  In short, I had a relatively simple life and had yet to experience some of the darkest moments.   But like a reflection, it wasn't as 'solid' and carefree as it seemed.  The storm clouds were always there waiting to disrupt the reflection, but they hadn't yet evidenced themselves.

Little did I know, that withing a few years, I would have a daughter, my former relationship would reveal itself as having a weak foundation, and just about everything else I took for granted would change in a my life.  Much of what seemed permanent and important then, now I know to have been temporary or passing and unimportant.  But, so it is with life's rich experiences.  You don't always have a sense of what really is until long after the fact.  However, looking back you realize that if you had looked closely enough, you'd have seen the storm clouds and recognized things for what they really are/were.  Maybe that's why wisdom is more often associated with older people.  Older people, have had the opportunity in many cases to experience that carefree optimism, but also have seen much of that optimism struck head-on by life's storms.

But, I digress.  I have come to recognize that when facing life-changing events it is inevitable to do reflecting and perhaps some soul-searching.   Since the day I met you, you have always has been one to not only accept me, but to understand me and enjoy me for who I am.  I hope you can say I provide the same.  After a moment or two to consider the reflection in the water, I realized that it is okay to remember and if necessary mourn the losses of  the soon-to-be old life, while embracing the new life with you and your kids.  We can't and shouldn't worry about relitigating the past, but we can and should embrace the future God has put forward to us.

I wave goodbye to the reflection, but that doesn't mean I will forget it, it just means I choose to embrace the unknown future with you, my lifetime partner.  But, I embrace it with the the hard earned wisdom of what love is truly all about.  I intend to use the wisdom God had blessed me with to embrace the new life He has set before me.

Love,
Your husband Rich