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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

First World Level vs. Third World Level: An Alternative View of Traumas

Recently, my old cell phone effectively stopped working.  I immediately looked for and bought a new one, but I was without a working cell phone for the better part of four days.   For most adults and many young people in our society, a cell phone is a virtual 'necessity'.   We've structured our lives around having a portable phone that acts as a tablet, camera, teller, map, etc.  It was an inconvenience of course, but I tried to keep things in perspective.   That is to say, me being without a cell phone for a few days is literally nothing compared to the daily struggle to get the basics and in some cases survive that some have in the third world.  In other words, my problem was a "first world problem".  In the third world, many have little but the clothes on their back and a struggle to have enough food.  So, the idea of being inconvenienced by being without a working cell phone for a short period of time doesn't register as a 'problem'.  Literally, a cell phone is a beyond a luxury for them.  To me, it is a problem as I've structured my life around having one.  To someone who worries literally where their next meal will come, being without a cellphone wouldn't even register.

I've been around people who have had or dealt with kids with severe behavioral issues.  It's seems more often than not there is/are underlying trauma(s) associated with them: child abuse/child sexual abuse, alcoholism/domestic violence, loss of a parent, and so forth.  Obviously, these kids are at risk already.  Then there are some people seem to live a charmed life.  They are raised in an intact nurturing family where their family is not shattered by early deaths.  They seem to do well in school, they have a good job and the 'American' dream.  In short, apparently 'trauma-free'.   As I've gotten older, I've realized that even people who appear to have the 'perfect family' growing up and a good life have will eventually face real traumas, but I digress.

Back to the point at hand. What is a trauma?  According to the the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.  Tramua is:


In other words, it can result from something as basic as a friend turning on you or as complex as years of physical and sexual abuse.  It can be caused by a one-time acute event such as rape or a bad car accident or it can be caused by years of gaslighting.  In the worst situations, all of the above type causes could have contributed to it.  In other words, there is no simple one-sized fits all circumstances definition of it and cause of trauma.

Throughout my life, I've heard people discuss their traumas or that of those around them.  It reminds me sometimes of the "when I was growing up" discussion a bit.  In other words, a bit of a pissing contest as it were.  This takes me to the concept of first world vs. third world problems.   People who grow up in a third world society would probably be grateful for some of the conveniences we have such as running water, a good sewer system, reliable power, plentiful food, reliable transportation.  Yet, in the society in which I live, people can feel put out if we have to pour money into repairs on our autos, if we are stuck in traffic for an extended period of time, if our electricity is out for a number of hours, if we are without our cell phones for a few days, etc.  I've always understood this to be first world problems vs. third world problems.  In other words, more existential or severe than annoyances.  Yet at the same time, the 'first world problems' are real and can cause hardships.

Back to the point at hand, people in their lives have trauma's.  They can break a bone, can have a friendship end suddenly, can fail a course or at worst can have an elderly relative pass away.   Those things matter and should not be dismissed or minimized to nothing.  However, these are 'typical' traumas that everyone has to face anywhere in the world.  They all matter and they all wound us at least a little, but just like a first world problems are an inconvenience, "first world traumas" are less likely to cause long-term physical and/or psychological damage.  In other words, these type issues aren't as likely to be long term disabling ('existential') traumas. In short, these are traumas of lesser magnitude.

A young kid can have a parent die abruptly or see a parent repeatedly subjected to domestic violence, a women (or man) can be subjected to a brutal physical or sexual attack or long term sexual trauma, a person can get permanently injured or disfigured in an accident.or something of this magnitude.  I call those 'third world level' traumas.  These are traumas of serious magnitude.  Just like 'third world problems' tend to be existential problems, 'third world level' traumas are traumas that are likely to cause significant long-term physical and/or psychological damage.  That is to say, these are traumas of a greater magnitude and sometimes existential.

When we discuss 'first world', we think of less harsh than 'third world'.  I felt by comparing traumas like this, it could help give some perspective.


I guess my overall point is this:
  • All traumas, big or small, are worthy of attention, whether it be to the friendly ear of a favorite parent/sibling/friend, whether it be in the office of a grief or trauma counselor or somewhere in between.  God hears all prayers, big or small.  If He can do so, perhaps we can offer the same to those around us.
  • Some traumas while hurtful are relatively 'easy' to recover from.  In a number of weeks you can fix a broken bone.   This to me is an example of 'first world' level or magnitude trauma, for example.
  • Some traumas are so profound that they defy easy recovery.  A soldier subjected to life and death surrounding him, especially for an extended him may not just be easily able to come home and resume his/her 'normal life'.  A kid subjected to physical or sexual abuse may take year to unwind and process it all.  This to me is a 'third world' or extreme level or magnitude trauma.
  • We need to understand and appreciate the traumas people have had to face, but keep them in perspective.  That's to say not dismiss what we consider small traumas, but realize that not all should be dealt with the same amount of care.

We can measure problems in our life by comparing them to those who are less fortunate in many places.  This doesn't discount our problems, but it can give us some perspective.  Comparing will not make our problems go away, it can allow us to appreciate that while things are rough, they could be much worse.  Similarly, I believe we can measure traumas in our life by comparing to others who have gone through worse.   Comparing will not make our 'lesser' traumas insignificant, but it can allow us some perspective to realize that they aren't the end of the world, just maybe a bit rough.

Just some thoughts going into the New Year.

Happy New Year 2020

- Rich


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Trusting His Plan: Thoughts on God and Why Bad Things Happen.

It's nearly Christmastime again maybe appropriately, I watched a movie which made me consider my faith a little bit differently.  It did not really change the core of my faith at all.  However, it gave me/reminded me an answer to the question that I've thought and I've heard many express:



How could a loving God allow bad things to happen?

I believe this can be a tough question for even the most devout people of faith.  Never-mind, those who are highly skeptical of Christianity, Catholicism and the like. God rest his soul, my Dad always would say, if there was really a God...and spout out a grievances in his life.  I would like to think he came to terms with God as his life was winding down, but that's beyond my control at this point. In a way, this is an example of  having to "Trust His Plan".   Anyway, I've heard other people along the way say show similar skepticism.  Either they questions whether God exists--how could there be a God..., questioned His nature or just outright question if He really takes a personal interest in His creation.  I am a man of faith, but even I've had my moments with this very question.

The movie I watched was called The Imitation Game.  To those unfamiliar with the plot, it was based on a true story of Alan Turing and his team's successful efforts to decipher Nazi messages encoded and sent by machines known as Enigma machines.  That is to say, break the code and be able to follow messages revealing information such as German troop and ship locations and movements.  Taking Turing's lead, they eventually were able to build a machine which could quickly decipher Enigma messages.  Given that the settings of the Enigma machines were changed daily, being able to decipher quickly was of paramount important.

Eventually, they were able to 'break the code' as it were.  That is, they were able to decipher the Enigma messages quickly before Enigma setting were changed daily.  In a scene that no doubt took liberties on historical facts, as soon as Turing's machine broke the code for the first time, it revealed the location of the German U-boats.  They were heading for a convey of ships meant to delivery supplies to the British.  One of Turing's team members had a brother in that convoy and he would likely be killed if the Germans U-boats were allowed to proceed unimpeded.  However, as Turing indicated, if the allies suddenly changed course and destroyed the German boats, it would be obvious to the Germans that their Enigma machine was compromised.  They'd then make adjustments which would effectively render the allies efforts ineffective.  Therefore, it was clear then that they could not and should not act on all the messages they'd deciphered.  They statistically determined  how much of the intelligence gleaned from Enigma that they could act upon without giving it away that they broke the code.  Also, they needed to make sure they'd be able to 'leak' a plausible cover story for how they got that intelligence that they acted on.

Given that they couldn't act upon all the information they had, it meant that some people that they could have saved would be allowed to die.  If the public had found out about they were not acting on all the intelligence they had, but didn't know the underlying reason, to them it would have seemed cruel and cold-hearted.  They would ask, how could a responsible government let citizens and allies perish if they had good intelligence on upcoming German attacks.  Effectively, the limited number of people who knew the 'The Plan', would appreciate why they didn't act on all the intelligence they had.  I suspect that even for some of those people, they probably cringed at how cruel it seemed.

--

My 'weak' understanding of "why bad things happen to good people' such as health issues and tragedies that befall them and sometimes their nations aren't necessarily a result of what they'd all had done or done recently.  Instead, some of it may have been a generational sin.  For example, in our own nation, we've come a long way towards recognizing the equality of people. Discrimination such as with Jim Crowe laws is not legally condoned anymore.  Yet we still have problems in this nation to this day.  My thought was that while I did not participate in the sin of slavery or Jim Crowe, problems and residual distrust that result from the sins of many generations, unfortunately do not just disappear overnight.  In other words, while I might have not participated in the sin, I can't escape the results of it. While I think this answer is sound, I don't necessarily think it can adequately cover 'why bad things happen to good people'.


I remembered in Biblical days, it was common to blame illnesses and problems on the sins of the family.  In John 9:2, Jesus' disciples took their understanding to Him:

John 9:2
His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Jesus knew that that was their understanding was flawed and said in John 9:3.  He knew that he man was 'allowed' to be born blind for a purpose:


"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.


The Imitation Game and Biblical stories like above really helped me to put it together I think.  In the case above, God's plan was that through the man's blindness, Jesus' healing power could be revealed.  I am not aware of this man's family and their faith, but I can imagine they might have to lean on 'Trusting His Plan" for why their son was born blind.   Similarly, in the movie, the populace had to 'Trust the Plan" for how their nation(s) fought WWII.  In other words, have a strong level of faith that leadership knew what they were doing, even when it might not always appear so.  Leadership could not always reveal the insight they had and why they made the choices they did.  Similarly, as in the movie and the Biblical story, God is aware that He should not reveal everything. It doesn't mean that God is cruel, that He doesn't care, or that He is okay when bad things happen.  On the contrary, by sending His Son to die for our sins, He showed how profoundly He cares for us.  What it may mean though is that there is a reason that we are not aware of why He allows bad things to happen.  In the The Imitation Game, the public was necessarily not aware of horrible choices that had to made to help shortened the war.  As indicated earlier, there was a reason for that.   Perhaps, in our own lives when tragedy befalls us or those close to us, God is aware of the big picture and realizes that for whatever reasons--our inability to comprehend, our unwillingness to accept, the need to defeating evil forces. etc--He cannot reveal His Plan for the big picture.

I guess ultimately for a person of faith the answer has to be to accept that:

  • God loves us and proved it with Jesus on the cross.
  • God hurts with us too.
  • Things may seem cruel or unfair, but as the movie and the Bible story illustrated, there really is a reason or "Plan" behind why things happen, even bad things.  It just is not always for us to know His will in our time.




Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Life Without Regret Is a Life Not Lived

I was responding to a friend's humorous meme post on Facebook which dealt with the topic of regret.  Namely, it was about how it is funny seeing a friend do something they'll regret later, but encouraging to do so anyway.   My point was that if you were a 'real' friend, you'd be in the trenches with them engaging in the activity that you both would regret.  In the process of discussing it, it occurred to me: a life that is rich (and truly lived) will have regret in it.

Now, I'm not encouraging extreme deviancy or anything like that, but at the same time, some of the most fulfilling times or aspects of our lives involve behaviors, actions and choices (BAC) that could potentially lead to regret.  For most people, responsibility is drilled in our head from an early age:


  • Be a good listener
  • Obey or mind your parents/elders/teachers
  • Drive defensively/responsibly
  • Do your homework/put your education first/choose wisely your career.
  • Eat your vegetables/lay off of the junk food
  • Do unto others/consider the feelings of others
  • Spend your money wisely
  • Choose your friends wisely
  • Drink responsibly
  • Wait for the pedestrian crossing light says it is safe walk/walk in the crosswalk.
  • Brush your teeth after every meal/floss daily
  • Don't talk to strangers
  • Don't drink/smoke/do drugs/curse
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Obey warning signs
I could go on, but get the idea.  We are taught to do this and that and to not do this or that.  In short, we are taught to be RESPONSIBLE, RESPONSIBLE, RESPONSIBLE.  Usually, the advice given is good advice for living and interacting with others.  However, as I said to my daughter one time when we saw a sign told us not to sit on a wall, "Some rules are meant to be broken".  So, we did so and watched fireworks. In other words, some rules are so overbearing, overprotective, outdated, discredited or just plain ridiculous, that they are just begging to be ignored.   But, I digress.

If we spend our lives always making sure we 'do the right thing', we miss out on:
  • Learning from our mistakes
    • Doing it better next time (if there is a next time)
    • Being better to appreciate the value of good choices.  
  • Figuring out our limits/boundaries and when it is okay to push them and when it is good to back off.
  • Being able to lighten up laugh at ourselves and have others view us as more approachable. In other words, personality.
--

For me, this whole concept is illustrated beautifully in Tapestry (Star Trek: The Next Generation).  In that episode Captain Picard apparently, had died on the operating table in the present due to injuries to his artificial heart.  A normal heart would have survived the injury, but unfortunately when he was younger he needed an artificial heart.  The character Q, who is a God-like figure, gives Picard a chance to look back on (and apparently have a second chance at the circumstances surrounding the need for an artificial heart and hence avoid dying on the table in the present.

Picard was a rash, impulsive young man when he was in the Starfleet Academy. He lost his original heart when he unadvisedly joined a brawl in support of a friend.  His friend had been cheated in a bar game by a group called Nausicaans and had returned the favor by cheating them.  This enraged the Nausicaans and propelled his friend into a conflict with them.  Picard had joined the ensuing conflict and was stabbed in the heart, nearly dying in the process leading to the need for an artificial heart.

Picard had always regretted his impulsive attitude that led to his near death as a young man. So, when given a chance by Q to see how his life would have turned out had he avoided the nearly fatal conflict he jumped at it.  This time when his friend was confronted, he stepped in and defused the conflict, humiliating his friend in the process.  Fast forward to the alternative present.  Picard, instead of being a captain, was a miserable undistinguished ensign.  Those whom he know as his crew were now over him.  He asked them why he was an ensign and they indicated that it was because he played it safe.  When asked about it Q explained that the incident he regretted gave him a sense of his own mortality.  It also taught him that sometimes the value of life.  In other words, life is too valuable to just to waste it in fear of losing it.  In his alternative present, Picard had not learned that lesson and just like he did in the conflict in the bar--in the alternative past--with the Nausicaans, he avoided risk at all cost, leading to his mediocrity.

Picard now realize the thing that he regretted was the thing that gave him direction, a respect for his boundaries and when to push them and when not to.  In other words, it gives him clarity as to what's important and led him to being respected by others.  In short, he impulsively took a chance that he would regret, but that chance and the consequences of it gave him more clarified his life.  Had he just played it safe in life, he would not have gained that focus and clarity and sense of what's important.  Ultimately, Q gives him the opportunity to replay the fight again one more time.  This time Picard jumps in to defend his friend's honor, getting stabbed in the heart in the process.  He then woke up in the present in sick bay, apparently having come back to life with his artificial heart.

--

I'm not saying it is great to live your life, purposely making terrible choices or taking very dangerous chances.  However, understand that we learn through our 'mistakes'.  They can build us, shape us and give us clarity.  While taking chances and pushing boundaries can put some off some people off, it can also attract others who see us as being fearless or brave and who has a sense of adventure.  IMHO, If we always avoid choices and decisions that we think we might regret, we risk living an unsatisfying mediocre life, like Captain Picard in Tapestry.  In other words, in some ways, it is going through the motions or just being alive.  That's why I say, "A life without regret is not a life lived."

Peace out,
Rich

Friday, November 29, 2019

Rome wasn't built in a day, but it didn't crumble in a day either

I've discussed with my daughter on a few occasions about the importance of taking school seriously and minding adults.  Without going into detail, she has had some members of her extended family have gotten in trouble in their teens and early adulthood.   I say to her, do you think so and so expected when they were your age that one day they'd be where they are or make the choices they did?

I had a friend a few years back whose life became an out of control mess.  She struggled with heroine addiction for years.  Though no one could be sure that heroine was in her system when she died, I believe it ultimately led to her passing.  It had so consumed her life that even when she wasn't high on it, that she struggled to function.  She died late one night in a car accident after recently struggling with it.  Due to the circumstances of the accident there was no way to tell for sure.

She wasn't always a heroine addict.  From what she told me, she was at one point a teen who had body image issues and got hooked on weight loss drugs.  As you might guess there were underlying issues that fed this addictive personality.  In any case, it's likely had one told her in her teens when she started to take weigh loss medicine (drugs), that it could eventually lead to heroine and and early passing, she probably would have looked at them like they were nuts.  However, near the end, she had said that she'd probably die young.

--

The news is replete with stories of people in prison whose delinquency started out small--disrespecting the adults in their life, petty shoplifting,  truancy,  breaking curfew. etc--who eventually were doing serious time for hardcore criminal behavior.   "Scared straight" touches on this. 

I understand "Rome wasn't built in a day" to mean that great things take time build or create.   When I say it [Rome] didn't crumble in day, I refer to our historical understanding that that it decayed over time.  It didn't like a man who died of a single gunshot or a well-placed stab wound, but instead like a man who was weakened, compromised and eventually passed away due to how he treated his body and bad things he partook in and the bad influences he surrounded himself with.

Like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and later the Soviet Union, to some people, the whirlwind of events was shocking, but I think to others, if they were honest, would have seen the signs of collapse forming evidencing over time.   Lives like empires, can complete their collapse abruptly, but the process of crumbling from my experience, knowledge and observations can be a gradual process with most of the steps being fairly small.

Anyway, here are some observations on

Harmful and destructive tendencies or addictions and how they can operate to destroy our lives
  • They can lie or deceive you about their impact.
    • They appear to be small, but end up being a gateway to worse.   You smoke a cigarette after being peer pressured and it makes you feel relaxed.  Eventually it can take more and more cigarettes to keep you relaxed or even worse, it just doesn't do it anymore and you look for something stronger to help calm your nerves or make you feel better such as marijuana or worse.
    • They appear to be small, but continuously 'getting away with' them can give a false sense of being consequence free or invincibility.  This can give 'courage' or illusion that it is okay to take the next step and then next step and then next step.   You steal a candy bar and get away with it, this can give you the confidence to steal progressively more and more expensive items until you get caught stealing an automobile or worse. 
    • Consequences of them can build up over time.  Whether it is spending more and more money you don't have gambling and having to borrow more on your way to losing everything, whether it is a build up of liver damage or heart trauma or the like from drugs and alcohol, or some other consequences that seemed manageable or not visible immediately, consequences will build up and eventually become impossible to miss in time.
  • Can put you in a progressively more hopeless place. 
    • If you blow off school and don't do well, you limit your future earning power and in turn can limit your ability ability to start and/or provide for a family and in turn end up poor, miserable and with a shortened life..
    • If you get caught stealing or cheating, you can ruin your reputation and make it harder to succeed honestly as people may limit your ability to earn an honest living.  The extreme version of this is people who end up in prison for felonies, especially involving illegitimately gained income.  When they come out, it is more difficult for them to get a good honest job.  So, there is an incentive to 'earning' money the only way they know how and going back to their life of crime.
    • If you alcohol or drugs take hold you may lose employment and/or friends and dive deeper into it/them instead of facing the the pain of that which you already lost.  

Rome, on the surface, was a thriving empire for scores of years after its high point and to an outsider probably looked invincible.  But, as history has taught us, it was decaying on the inside.   There wasn't one step which led to its crumble, but many.  The world of that time couldn't envision the Roman empire collapsing into the dustbin of history.  But just like those whose lives crumble around us, the changes in them can be gradual and hard to envision as fatal.  Yes, when my friend when she first struggled with body image issues, I doubt she envisioned the path that she was on as fatal, but unfortunately it was.

IMHO, that's why it is important to find a way to stress the point to young people that poor choices you make now, may not seem like a big deal, but like the Roman empire, can be a stepping stone towards eventually crumbing of their lives.


 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Freedom: Part 2: Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose

I've always appreciated Janis Joplin's music.  She was a troubled, but talented 'child' of the 1960s.  She grew up in Texas, but really never fit there.  In a word, she was a misfit.  Anyway, I have always appreciated the bluesy, "Me and Bobby McGee".   I've written about a bit about the time period between 2011-2012 in my life.  To quote Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  Anyway, I never fully appreciated what she meant when she sang the verse, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" in the song until that period in my life.

Growing up, I was the fifth of six children being raised on a postal employee's salary with the family often competing with the bottle for my dad's income.  Anyway, I never had a whole lot growing up and sometimes didn't even have enough clothes.  But I did have a good mind, which helped escape the poverty of childhood.   In any case, I was used to not having much, but what I did have I appreciated.

With my mind and education, I eventually was able to start a solid career in IT.  I was able to buy a new cars, buy a house, get married, have a child, etc.   In other words, the American dream.  I was able to buy luxuries and do things that we didn't have or do during my childhood.  I think part of me for a moment forgot what it was like to go without.  As the title of this blog suggests, this newfound lifestyle did not go on forever uninterrupted. 

My first marriage had some foundation flaws which I really did not fully appreciate until after it was over.  Anyway, starting in 2009, when my mom nearly died, my life as I knew it was, was on a path to forever change.  But, it didn't really start to show cracks until August 2010, when we separated for the first time.  Around this time, the company I'd worked for 10 years was moving its operations halfway across the country.  Given the turmoil at home, staying in town was the better option for me at that point.   By the end of the year 2010, my company officially closed operations in St. Louis, MO leaving me unemployed going into the new year.  That was blow number 1.

My and my ex got back together at the end of 2010 and I got some short-term consulting work, but that was a short reprieve from the storm.  This was true, especially since, my older brother Bill was going through his own turmoil at the time, which I didn't exactly know how to help him with.  He was struggling with demons from his childhood, with employment woes, with no luck in relationships, automobile woes and with depression woes.  Essentially he felt the walls collapsing in around him.  I wrote about him in Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother.  I was fortunate, though mostly unemployed, I had means and I still had the love of my young daughter and faith to hang onto.  He wasn't so much.  Well, as the year went on, it became increasingly clear that the marriage was not built to last and that my brother Bill was in a very bad place.

It was clear around the beginning of July 2011, my marriage would not last.  I was still mostly unemployed and burning through my saving.  Though I was distracted by those troubles, I was still able to notice that my brother wasn't doing well emotionally.  I had started to worry that he wouldn't make it long term.  Unfortunately, my fears were realized much sooner than I realized.  My brother was found deceased in his apartment at the end of July that year.  Due to the timing of it, they were not able to definitively rule on the cause of death.  However, based on what I knew about him, the last thing he texted me* and details that few were privy too about his circumstance, it was pretty clear that he took his life.  I can't say for sure if he actively tried to commit suicide or if he engaged in death wish type actions/behaviors.  Either way, he was gone.  That was blow number 2.

In August of that year (2011), my now ex and I separated permanently and I lost custody of my daughter for a few months.  That was blow number 3.   In the process, I lost my house and would over the next few years be forced to move around a few times.  Anyway, the foreclosure would only become official in March of 2012.  That was blow number 4.  Anyone who has been through a divorce, especially a contentious one, knows that they are usually bad for finances.   Though I had gotten part time work and some unemployment at the time, I had to file for bankruptcy.  Blow number 5.   I also was forced to deal with my dad's failing health while I was nursing all of those wounds.   Blow number 6.

I hadn't quite lost everything at the time.   My parents were still both alive and I was able to get partial custody of my daughter as well as had a car of my own.  But, I'd say
  • Losing a good long term job and being unemployed for an extended period of time.
  • Loss of my closest sibling.
  • Bad break-up and loss of custody of my daughter for a time.
  • Foreclosure on my house and loss of most of what was in it.
  • Filing for bankruptcy.
  • Dealing with my dad's failing health.
all within about a two year period was staggering.  Though I hadn't quite lost everything.  Losing so much in that period of time and being literally left with the clothes on my back, my laptop and my car felt pretty much like I had little left to lose.  But as I wrote about in Finding Jewels in the Darkness, there was some good that came out of the bad.

Anyway, back to the original point of the post.  Leading up to the 2011/2012 period, I had had to deal with the following (not in any specific order):
  • An unhealthy marriage and all the stress that goes along with it, including the fear of change and fear of loss of custody of a child.
  • Round after round of reorganization and layoffs at my long term employer
  • A brother who was increasingly struggling to cope and the constant stress over it.
  • Increasingly untenable financial situation which associated with coping with a rough marriage. I learned that you can't buy enough things, go enough places and do enough things to get away from this fact.  Though you can sure build up debt in the process.
  • The house payment was being increasingly difficult to make.

When it all started to tumble down in 2011 and 2012 and I survived each blow, a funny thing happened.  I realized that though I'd lost a lot, I gained something in the process.  I gained freedom. I no longer had each of those things to worry about.  My world became smaller, my stresses became fewer, my responsibilities became less, the remaining stresses I was fearful of, I found to be survivable.   Though I didn't have much, I had what mattered at the time: A car, a place to stay (a friend's house), enough money to get by on, my daughter, a few friends that survived the shake-up and my faith.  I also for a couple years more had my mom, whom I spoke about in Knew You Were Waiting For an Advocate.   It wasn't quite, nothing left to lose, but nonetheless, the responsibilities, burdens and stresses that had been weighing me down prior to 2011 were greatly reduced if not outright gone.  Though there was a lot of sadness, there was a great weight lifted off my shoulders.  I had little left after that time period, but what I had was what I needed and what I didn't have was the level of stress.  In short, though I'd lost a lot, I gained freedom to start fresh in the process.

* He texted me that "I think I'm dying".  It's one of those situations which haunts you.  When you are a kid and another kids says that he'll 'kill you'.  You take it to mean, I'm going to beat the crap out of you.  It was a similar dynamic to that.  
Given the conversations we'd been having at the time, I took it to mean I'm very depressed and dying inside.  In other words, at that moment, in that context, it came across as figurative.  Maybe at that moment, it was.  Regardless, the timing will probably always haunt me. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Freedom: Part 1: Freedom At Last

Ever hear a song that you haven't heard in a while and for whatever reason it sticks in your mind for a while?   I don't know if it is an earworm at play, suddenly getting the meaning of it aka "really hearing it for the first time" or just the song having a meaning now that it didn't have when you previously had heard it.  I have Sirius XM and they change up some of the channels from time to time.  Recently, they made one of their channels to be the "George Michael" channel.  Whatever demons he had, he was a very talented singer and songwriter and I've always appreciated that.
Anyway, I heard his version of "Freedom" he wrote as part of Wham.  So, it got me to thinking what exactly is freedom?  Can something seem like freedom but is really a prison of sorts?  So, I pondered those two questions/thoughts as well as others and here is what I came up with.

THOUGHTS/DEFINITIONS OF FREEDOM
  • The ability to make your own choices/decisions (as opposed to being controlled or pressured to do something different).
    • That can mean not having to make a choice.
    • That can mean making a choice which you otherwise might not be able to.
      • Control can come from an outside source (others).
      • Control can come from an internal source (our hangups).
    • The can mean not being held back by ourselves/others.
  • The ability to be yourself or express yourself without recrimination or at least fear of the consequences of doing so.
    • Worrying less about what others think as we get older.
      • Often due to confidence gained from experience.
      • Often from contempt about being told 'what to okay to do or think', especially when it comes from those with much less life experience.
      • Often due to fatigue of expending the energy trying to worry about what others think.
    •  The ability to set better set aside or let go of worry about what others think.
      • Realization that you can't control what others think.
      • Realization that letting what others think gets in the way of being yourself can be harmful or toxic.
      • Realization that you'll never be able to please everyone, so you might as well be true to yourself.
      • Realization that life is too short and some things are just too important to let others dictate or overly influence you.
        • How we raise our children is a great example of this.  While we can heed what others say or take it into account.  We can't let others dictate how we parent.  Being paralyzed by what others think can get in the way of effective parenting.
  • Not having to rely on another.
    • For our material needs.
    • For our contentment or happiness
    • For our sense of purpose or being. 
  • Not having 'report' to another.
    • Could be an employer
    • Could be a parent or adult or someone who is in charge of you.
    • Could be a mate.
  • Nothing left to hold onto/nothing left to lose.  This one I will explore in another blog post.
  • Really just an illusion.
    • We always have someone we need to report to
      • Even a business owner will have to 'report' to his or has to answer to clients or potential clients.
      • Every year on our around April 15th-and for some more often-people have to report to the IRS.  
    • In our modern society, we will always have to rely on others. Examples include
      • Not everyone can raise their own livestock or farm for feed needs.
      • We don't have the ability to maintain or fix the roads we travel on in most cases.
    •  Freedom is rarely free
      • Each Memorial, Veteran's and Independence Day, we are reminded of the cost of fighting to achieve and retain our freedoms (life and death struggle).
      • Often we have to give up something to gain freedom.
        • Dying gives us freedom from pain and suffering
        • Lonliness and alienation from some of those around us can be the cost of freedom from a 'bad relationship'.
        • Financial hardship can result from being separated from a soul-sucking job.


Let's break some points down a little further.

Freedom From Control
  •  I think when mot people think of freedom, they think of not having to answer to someone or not having someone try to control you in some way.  That's easy to spot.  What is harder to spot is when is when you are in your own prison.  That is where you are beholden to your own demons or hang-ups.  
Freedom Is Being Yourself

  •  I believe history is littered with people who felt imprisoned to expectations of those close to them and society in general.  Whether we feel we cannot choose whom we couple with, what we should do with our lives, what we are allowed to think or express, or something else along those lines, being imprisoned to the expectations of others is hard on the soul.  Back in the day,  I've always been a very sensitive person and in some regards in the era I grew up in that was frowned upon as a guy.   I felt like there was a pressure to be 'macho' and not show 'weakness' or especially sensitivity.  The later for a guy was interpreted by some as a sign of homosexuality or at least being a 'sissy'.  I never saw and still don't see those things in myself, but as a teen wanting acceptance, I certainly didn't want to be pegged anything like that.   I liked what I liked.  I liked 'Wham!' and I think to a large extent people 'knew' George Michaels was gay.   I knew it wasn't the most macho music for a guy to listen to, but I liked it, but didn't brag about that.  I have realized over time that the fact that I like it was all that was important.  It didn't matter if it didn't fit the stereotype of 'dude' music.  It didn't matter if people mocked them (and by proxy) guys who might like it.  None of that mattered.  I like what I like and if others have a problem with it, well I might not be accepted, but if that's the price of acceptance, it's not worth it.   But as a guy with a very sensitive side, I knew I had to 'keep it hidden'.   Anyway, the freedom to be yourself is either the actually when you aren't criticized for being who you are OR it is the ability to move past caring or at least getting paralyzed by what others think. 

Freedom Is A Prison
  • You want to give up drinking, smoking, gambling, etc.   However, your spirit is trapped in rut where you feel compelled to feed your hang-ups.  As I alluded to earlier, this can be a prison of sorts rather than 'freedom'.  You may be old enough to engage in self-destructive and addictive behavior and you may even celebrate your 'freedom' to engage in certain behaviors.  But, in time what seemed like freedom really is imprisonment to your own demons.

Freedom Can Have A Cost
  • Like most things that matter in life, there is cost. To live a comfortable life, we typically have to work hard and sometimes long hours.  To do the best for our kids, we often have to sacrifice or set aside our own needs or wants.  Freedom is no different.  We may not have to go to the front line and put our life on the line, to ensure our (and others') freedom, but there is usually a cost.   If we are okay with being single, we may not have to 'answer to' a mate, but we may feel lonliness at times and we may give up the chance for a love connection.  We may be away from a toxic job that was hurting us mentally and/or spiritually, but it may come at a cost of a lifestyle we are used to.  We want the freedom to afford to travel where we want, but we have to sacrifice a lot of time on hard work to afford us the opportunity.  We have a 1st Amendment to speak our mind, we may not go to prison, but it can cost us things like our job and our friends.  There are countless examples, but the point is clear.  Freedom is not free.

There are many other possible takes on freedom I'm sure, but these are the ones that stand out to me.  As I think freedom means nothing left to lose needs a more of a treatment, I will leave that for later, but I think this covers a lot of ground.

Just my thought and I hope some of my takes get my readers to think about it.  Maybe come up with their own definitions and perhaps come up with a different take.  In any case, as I am ending this blog, feel free to spend your time on other things.  Maybe feel free to look at other blog posts.

Cheers,
Rich


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Rolling Stops: Skirting Along the Edge of Disaster

A counselor years ago told me that healthy people view bad choices or decisions as stop signs and take heed of them.   From what I understand, have heard and seen, a full-blown addict will either not see the stop sign, deny the stop sign exists or just resign themselves to the fact the 'brakes are shot' and not make a serious attempt to stop. 

That is to say, they
  • Will not see the choice or decision they are making as bad (delusional)
    • I'm stopping in for one drink to celebrate with friends.
    • They cannot see them that one drink leads to another and before you know it, you are being carried out drunk.
  • Will minimize the impact of the choices or decision they make (denial) 
    • No one will know if I lie/steal/cheat.
    • The problem is even if no one else knows--which often is no accurate anyway--such behavior changes who you are.
  • Will know the stop sign is there and say well there's nothing I can do anyway (resignation). 
    • What does it matter if I gamble my last bit of money, I'm screwed anyway.
    • They cannot see that even in a bad situation that looks hopeless, that you can make it worse.
    • This is fatalistic.

Like many people, I've done what law enforcement would consider a rolling stop.  After one particular time, it occurred to me, some people do actually see the rhetorical stop sign and heed it (mostly).   They know there is a stop sign and they know proceeding without hesitating or making an attempt to checking if it is safe to go into the intersection is bad.   They know it is a disaster waiting to happen.  So, they stop short of just running the stop sign and look out for oncoming traffic before finishing their pause.  In reality they are tempting fate.  That is to say, they catch the danger most of the time and are able to stop their momentum and do a complete stop if necessary.  However, it just takes one time of rolling at stop and misjudging traffic to get hit by another car they've missed after a quick glance.  To me this describes a person with some addictive or at-risk tendencies.  Like a recovering alcoholic who drives by a bar he used to frequent when he has an a good alternative route or a recovering gambler who carries too much cash on him as he passes by the casino, they are just asking for trouble.   They may be able to resist feeding their addiction, for a day, a week, a month or a year or more, but eventually they are a putting themselves in a dangerous position of relapsing.   Yes, they may be able to get away with their 'rolling stop' for a long while, but eventually they risk getting 'hit' by their addiction. 

As always my posts are a reflection of my experiences, the experiences of those surrounding me or my observations about the world that surrounds me and it they aren't meant to be considered scientific research or indisputable fact.  However, I am always hopeful that through my words, others will find comfort, relate-ability or just a different or new perspective.

Thanks for reading and remember: it is better to follow the 'rules' and always practice doing a full stop, so when it is time that it is absolutely necessary to do a full stop you will be so practiced at it, that you will be likely to make the wisest choice under pressure.

Cheers,
Rich


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Codependency and Letting it Go

As I have gotten older and have had time to process things in my own life and the world around me, I can come to understand things aren't always what they seem or at least there is a reason or backstory to it.   When discussing origins of codependency, if we are honest, I think we have to acknowledge our formative years are a big part of it.  In that vein, in discussing what I've learned in my own life, I have to revisit my formative years with my parents.   I always have hated when people go on a talk show and bash their parents as if their parents were big ogres who didn't care about them and ruined their lives.  Yes, I believe there are parents out there who are totally beyond the pale selfish and who never should have raised children.  However, I think in most cases parents, no matter how imperfect they are, at least try to be decent parents.  Unfortunately, many parents are a product of their own dysfunctional background.  In other words, they are at least somewhat broken.   If an artist with talent is given a fine brush, he or she is more likely to be able to produce a work of art than if he or she is given a coarse brush.  Similarly, I believe when critiquing a person's child-rearing actions, results and success, it it important to understand what tools he or she had to work with.  In this vein, I don't mean to be critical of my own parents in that regard.  They were a product of their own environment, but I have to acknowledge them to acknowledge origins of my own codependency.  Anyway, that's my disclaimer.

--

As a child of an an alcoholic father with anger problems, I was trained early on to find ways ways to keep the peace or at least to avoid 'problems' for myself.  It didn't help that my mom was codependent either. An alcoholic father and codependent mother was a combination that didn't always work well. In any case, doing my part to keep the peace meant things like:

  • Staying out of my parent's conflicts.
  • Avoiding Dad when he was in a bad mood.  Often that meant staying out of the way until he would go to work.
  • When confronted and challenged by Dad when he was angry
    •  Don't say too much.  The risk of saying the 'wrong thing' was not worth the grief that it could/would bring.  I had to determine if the confrontation was venting or an actual answer was expected.
    •  When I was pressed to answer, I sometimes felt the need to acknowledge he was correct.   The question, "Is that asking too much?", often would be met with a "No" just to avoid further trouble.
    • Other times, when pressed, I would carefully defend myself.  I would have to do things like
      • Explain that I misunderstood and it wasn't that I meant to not to listen to him.
      • Explain carefully how I did what was asked without coming across as challenging him as not getting it.
If it isn't obvious in each case, I was compelled to read the situation and respond in a way that wouldn't escalate the anger (at least that I thought wouldn't).  The irony about is I realized eventually that responding in a codependent way to a person with anger issue can be triggering for them, in which case, it's a no-win situation. However, I digress.

--

I have come to realize a few things about codependency and what it is and what it isn't.

What it is
  • Trying too hard to change another's opinion of you, instead of just being yourself.
  • Trying to control what other's think of you and/or how they behave to or around you.
  • Tailoring your words and actions in a way to get a hoped for response rather than it being the proper thing to do or say.
    • Hoped for praise (worship) or other similar positive feedback.
    • Hoped for freedom from criticism.
  • Shutting down your voice to avoid offending or upsetting another.
  • Conceding too much to avoid a fight, where it is appropriate to advocate for yourself.

What it isn't
  • Being considerate or taking the feelings of others into account.
  • Recognizing the right of others to have an opinion of you, even if you don't like it and/or believe it is wrong.
  • Showing that you'll advocate for or defending yourself.
  • Recognizing that some battles aren't worth fighting and opting out of them.  Sometimes, you recognize limitations in dealing with certain people in your sphere and it is fruitless to engage or 'fight' them.
  • Tailoring your behavior towards doing or saying the appropriate things because it is appropriate to do so.


In my opinion, getting rid of codependency means recognizing that while you can influence for or advocate for yourself, you cannot control what others think or feel about you.  It means living your life and engaging others in a way that is right and appropriate rather than manipulative, beneficial or just to avoid problems.



Friday, October 18, 2019

Being True To Yourself

Recently at my place of employment we were required to do some 'legal compliance' training.   One of the subjects was diversity training and more specifically recognizing implicit bias. That is to say bias about groups you don't necessarily recognize in yourself.  Project Implicit was the name tied to a number of different tests about implicit bias including ones related to:
  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Creed
I took one of the tests having a fairly good idea what my bias was already in that direction.  Sure, enough, the test confirmed what I suspected to be the case about my bias.  Ironically, my last blog was about Confirmation Bias and how I suspect many people have it, but it is directed towards how they view themselves.  Anyway, some people expressed a little surprise about an implicit or 'hidden' bias they had, but I wasn't one of them.  I pretty well knew where my biases lay.  To me an 'implicit bias' is usually one that you know on some level you have, but are unwilling to accept.  To me trying to deny a bias is a foolish endeavor.  Like many other aspects of our personality and self, I feel that we can work to be our better selves by recognizing and accepting our biases.  Only then can we determine if we should work on them and if so, how we can.   Like an addict who denies his or her addictive tenancies, a person who is unwilling to face their biases isn't giving themselves the chance to be their best self.

If I am an alcoholic but am not willing to recognize that, there is no way I can possibly recognize and accept the harm it is doing to my heath and/or my personal relationships.  Similarly, if I don't accept the biases that on some level that I know that I have, I can't be more open-minded in dealing with individuals (who fit the profile of my bias). 

But why do we deny our biases?

  • Societal shame - If enough people look down on you for a bias, you may not want to accept the bias as to do so might invite accepting the societal shame of the bias.
  • Personal shame - I believe most people like to think of themselves as logical, fair-minded, reasonable and just, even-handed followers of the gold rule.   To accept that we may be ruled by anything other than that, can indicate to ourselves a deep personality flaw.  No one wants to admit what they see as major personality flaws.
  • Moral high ground (virtue signaling) - It's kind of hard to hold the moral high ground when you are exposed as being biased, especially if it is a bias that society strongly condemns.  So, what do you do?  You pretend that the bias doesn't exist of course.

I believe no matter how much we try to hide or deny our biases, they do eventually come out.  You can only 'be' someone who you aren't for so long before you grow weary of it, emotionally and spiritually.  As the concept of 'implicit bias' indicates, biases may seep out in very subtle ways, but they do seep out.

Before, I close this blog post out, I do want to 'defend' biases.  Some biases are really not a big deal and some biases are useful for protecting yourself.
  • For example, you are biased toward buying fudge cookies as you expect that they will always taste better, in the big scheme of things it's probably not a big deal (unless you and your spouse are fighting over it). 😀 
  • For example, if you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, especially at the hands of a man, it is probably very reasonable that you'd be biased against males.  It's not that you believe all males are predators, but until you get to know them better, it could be seen as safe to keep your kids away from a 1-1 interaction with a grown male until you know him better.
If digging deep down in your soul, you realize and recognize harmful biases.  I don't believe you have to announce your biases to the world.  However, I think it is important, to acknowledge them to yourself so you can do any work you need to such that you are a logical, fair-minded, reasonable and just, even-handed follower of the gold rule.

Just some thoughts,
Rich

* Full disclosure.  I was molested as a child by two males.  Unfortunately, that pushed my trust factor of adult males way down.  But, as I realized long before I took the implicit bias test, pushed me towards a bias towards those of a sex-sex orientation, especially males.  Instead of denying it, I have taken a proactive stance.  Namely, I am very deliberate in my interactions with those I suspect of having a same-sex orientation.  I remind myself that there are bad people in the world of all orientation who would take advantage of others and that they didn't harm me.  I remind myself, they are just like everyone else trying to get by and trying to live.  In other words, if I feel a bias bubbling up, I work diligently combat it.  In some ways, I would like to think this could make me a better friend.  I am mindful of discrimination others face, I double-check my motives and I strive to be as fair as I can and I always, always seek to understand the individual not the group.

Anyway, that's all for now.