Search This Blog

Showing posts with label strength. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strength. Show all posts

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Welcome Back: Finding your roots

Recently I stumbled upon the song "Welcome Back" when searching for another show's theme song.  Now I've heard this song literally probably one hundred times, but when I heard it, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia.  Longing for the memories of times I never had--hat tip to a sarcastic comment to a YouTube commenter about Time In a Bottle.  But I digress.  At that time, as imperfect as it was, my nuclear family was together.  My parents and my second oldest brother were still alive.  I still had my whole future ahead of me, even as troubled, uncertain and not secure as it was at the time.

I had spent so much time trying to escape the shadow of my childhood and my early adulthood.  I don't necessarily blame anyone for it (as dysfunction often or usually has generational roots), but I was raised in a very dysfunctional family.  My dad was an alcoholic and my mom struggled with esteem issues.  With each parent, the issues had a generational root.  This dysfunction hurt my socialization and hindered my ability to fit in.  Furthermore, due to the times and issues my own parents faced, I was subjected to childhood sexual abuse by a "church camp counselor" and someone else whom I similarly held trust for.  Furthermore, my parents divorced when I was 15, leading me to effectively be the second parent in the household.  If that wasn't bad enough, I had a severe generalized anxiety disorder take hold when I was 17.   What could have been a time for me to savor, learn, and thrive was instead mostly a time to 'survive'.  The good times I held on tight to as I know they were a reprieve from the dysfunction.  As the good times came to a close, I dreaded and then mourned their passing.  Though I'd always had a firm set of beliefs, I didn't truly start to find myself until I was in my mid to late 20s and began the process of healing at that point.  It wasn't truly healing so much as effectively covering the wounds from being exposed.  Though I remembered my childhood, in some ways, I pushed it and my early twenties away as a time to forget.  I got married in the middle of this process and completed a process of starting a new life.  Though I remembered my childhood, I continued to push it away.

You can only escape your past and roots for so long before you have to come to terms or peace with them.  As long as I had my 'new life' up and running, it was easy to just ignore my roots.  But, just like lunch and recess end in grade school and you have to get back to class, life has a way forcing you to 'get back to class'.  For me, my 'get back to class' moment started in 2011 with my divorce & all that went with it, my job loss and my brother's suicide.  I started to really process backwards at that point, but was I was still fighting to survive until 2013.  In 2013, my divorce was finalized and my job situation stabilized.  This allowed me to shift more towards process mode.  I had my "Welcome Back" moment on flight out to Salt Lake City for training.  I was all alone heading towards a city I didn't know anyone in with only my iPod to keep me company.  I had started to listen to the music of my childhood and my early adulthood leading up to my marriage.  As I was listening I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia and sadness.  I was literally remembering where I was and what I was doing during at the time that I embraced each song.  I had built a new life starting in my mid-twenties and had largely pushed aside my old life, without having effectively processed it.  I wasn't that my new life was a fraud so much as it was a new chapter in a story, where the old chapters were not completed or built up properly (processed).  But, it was just me, a plane full of strangers and my music.  This was a very bittersweet moment.  I could have put away the music, but I knew that wasn't the answer.  So, I continued the search.  I realized that the 'old days' though not perfect had their moments too and that they shouldn't be shunned.   Really, it was like another turning point.   I was in the beginning the long road to learning to embrace the past without the weight of the hurt.  I had been able to move forward much earlier with some level of healing, but some or much of deep healing wasn't there yet.

After my divorce, I'd moved back to my hometown and though it had changed a lot, the memories were still there.  Shortly afterwards, it became clear that dad was no longer in a position to take stay  at home, even with help.  He kept falling and no one could be there 24/7 to help him.  After his final fall at home, the staff a the hospital and I encouraged him to move to a nursing home.  But what to do with his place, my birth home?  He would pass away within the next two years, but in the meantime, it need a caretaker.  I eventually moved back there to watch over it, manage it and his affairs in the last year of his life.  I had literally moved in the room of my teens.  As a teen, my education was my 'ticket out', but 25-30 years later I can come face to face with the place of childhood and specifically.  Once again, bittersweet, but it gave my time to see the place (and maybe my childhood and teens) in a different way.

In Welcome Back, Kotter, the man character, Kotter, was a remedial student in a group called the "Sweathogs".  Life had brought him full circle and now he was a teacher at his high school.  Ironically enough, he was teaching a new group of "Sweathogs".   But, instead of being a troubled teen, he was now a man who had learned from and could now impart knowledge and hope from experience to the same type of kids he used to be.   Just like Kotter, I saw the old 'hangout' from a different perspective.  I didn't 100% embrace it like Kotter, but I was able to look at it more objectively.  It's been 5 years since my dad passed away and since that moment ended.  But, I still look at it as learning experience.

So, what can we learn?

Embracing the Past, finding your inner Kotter
  • Realizing that the 'old days', even as rough as they may have been, still had there moments.  (Jewels in the Darkness).
  • Realizing that you can push back on processing the hard times, but eventually it is healthiest if you face them.  You don't have to face them on their terms.  As an adult, with life experiences, we don't have to see things as we used to.   The bully of your childhood might have been a jerk, but he may have been dealing with his own inner demons at home, for example.  Time and wisdom can grant you that clarity.  
  • Realize that that was a different time and place and you faced hard times as best as you knew how at the time.  Sure we can look back and think, I should have reacted differently, protected myself better, etc.  But, that's looking at things from an 'adult' perspective.
  • Realizing hard experiences you faced early on have
    • Given you the confidence or strength to face adversity throughout life. 
    • Given you the ability to pass on hard-earned wisdom.  

Aspects of the past or your roots may not be pleasant to face.  But, instead of avoiding them or pretending them it is best if you are able to welcome them back and consider them part of who you are.  You don't have to live in that place, but you it is best if you are able to mentally able to 'visit' it without living in the hurt.  Just because the roots were imperfect doesn't mean they can or should be ignored.  Just as with a tree, treating or addressing damaged roots, can improve our long term health (physical, emotional and spiritual).  So, just like Kotter, welcome your roots back.

- Rich 


Sunday, July 14, 2019

It's Hard to Say I'm Sorry

I realized something about my dad and I think this is something that many people have problems with, including me to some extent me: Difficulty in saying I'm sorry.  By that I don't mean difficult in feeling contrite or an inability to understand when they've negatively affected or caused pain or problems for another. What I mean is difficulty in acknowledging contrition, regret or sorrow to another.

A little backstory. My dad had a difficult childhood growing up. I don't know much because he didn't talk about it. But from what I know from my dad was that his dad was a deadbeat dad and he was taken from his mom and at early age. He was shuffled around in foster until he finally found a 'permanent' foster family during the 2nd half of his childhood. He was raised by an old school, old German heritage dad. By that I mean, was very demanding, very domineering, very much into making sure a boy was toughened up.  In other words, his foster dad was not particularly nice and very sparing with approval. In any case, my dad learned at an early age not to rely on others, that he had to be a tough guy, and apparently to have an unhealthy outlet for his angst. I surmised based on a conversation I had with him near the end of his life that he was sexually abused as a child too. Anyway, my dad was domineering, prone to deal using alcohol and other outlets, and had an angry streak that all of us and especially my mom had to face. I got the sense in his later life that he regretted some of his behavior, especially where my mom was impacted. My dad would ask how my mom was doing later in his life, so clearly he still cared about her. Anyway, my dad had a hard time opening up and I think he didn't really 'know' how to say I'm sorry. Maybe it was facing up to the impact his actions, maybe it was shame? In any case, it occurred to me why he had a difficult time talking about and acknowledging where he had harmed others.

The two biggest culprits from what I see are
  • Fear of appearing/being weak or diminished.
  • Shame

Fear of appearing/being weak or diminished
  • When you are in a position of authority it can be very difficult to acknowledge harm to others for fear of your authority being undercut.
    • A person in authority is 'not supposed' to make mistakes, especially ones that hurt others.  They are supposed to be above human frailties.  Much of their authority is thought to come from their wisdom and strength, including strength of character.   To acknowledge mistakes that harm others, can be to some effectively admitting they are no better than the average person.  When their position in the family or society 'demands' that they are to be held to a higher standard, to acknowledge mistakes is to effectively to say that aren't fit for their position of authority.  So, by ignoring the need to acknowledge their mistakes (even if they are the worst kept secret)-- imagine Harvey Weinstein--they are effectively trying to artificially hold on to a level of authority.
    • The irony of it is that sometimes by admitting mistakes a person in authority can actually improve their authority.  Good leaders lead by example, both in the good and bad circumstances.   A good leader for example shows grace, shows kindness, shows toughness, but a person can be a good leader by leading the way in showing contrition to another.  Open contrition when you've harmed another can be difficult.  If you see others you look up have the strength to show contrition publicly even at the risk of their authority, it can make it easier for the average person.  After all, if my 'heroes' aren't too big to admit they are wrong, why should I be?
  • When you admit to others you have harmed that you have harmed them (and show contrition), it can change the dynamic of the relationship. 
    • The power dynamic can flip.  For example, no longer are you the safe, strong parent/friend/sibling/spouse to listen to, but someone who can cause them harm.  In other words, "why should I listen to you, you are not safe?".
    • In fact, one who acknowledges harm can be the 'jerk' who is striving to be accepted again.
    • You may have had some legitimate issues,complaints or concerns with another, but acknowledging harm to them can undercut your ability to advocate for yourself.   If you have proven to be hurtful to another, they might be like why should I care if I've harmed you?

  • If you already don't feel worthy or worthwhile, then the shame of acknowledging harm to another can be hard on an already damaged/fragile esteem. 
  • Sometimes the embarrassment or humiliation of owning up to your harm can be hard to swallow.  I believe this is especially true when you are acknowledging harm to someone you perceive as hard to gain approval of, difficult and/or unforgiving.
    • To me personally, as a child, I faced the humiliation associated with a deeply dysfunctional house.  So, I was trained early on the avoid situations that could cause me humiliation.  In some case, that included acknowledging mistakes or being hurtful.

I believe in the case of my dad, I don't think it was that he was unaware of the affect of his alcoholism and mistreatment of family members including my mom had on the family.  I don't think it was that he didn't feel regret or remorse.   I frankly don't think that he was ever equipped with the tools to effectively deal with the emotions and psychological issues that fully acknowledging mistakes he made and harm he'd done to others would have forced upon him.  I believe not only wasn't he equipped, but in some ways it was reinforced to him that showing emotions was not what a man does.

I've been hurt and I've hurt people in my life.  In some ways, I guess in varying degrees that is the story of most people's lives.  While we see on crime shows, people who appear remorseless, I believe most people feel regret, remorse or contrition at some point in their lives.  Ultimately the question is can you acknowledge "your side of the street" as they say in AA?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When Being Strong is Weak and Being Weak is Strong and Somewheres in Between.

I grew up with an 'old school' dad who passed on or expressed 'old school' ways and ways to his kids.  Now I will only speak as a guy, but from what I 'learned' boys were expected to 'deal' with adversity and utilizing what we call behavioral health--counseling or psychiatry--was showing or admitting weakness.  Now I don't fault him as he grew up in a society or world that blessed that view.  With time and distance from my childhood and his immediate influence, I have a more nuanced view.  For example, I don't think counselors or psychiatrists by definition are quacks--his words--but instead that some are generally effective, some are generally ineffective and some are helpful for some clients, but not others.  But, I digress.  I moved from my dad's old school contempt for behavioral health into a perspective in which utilizing behavioral health can be a sign of strength.  That is to say, not being too proud to admit you or your child have a problem which a behavior/medical professional can help you with.  To me that's strength.  

The goal of this blog post is recognize when purported strengths are actually weaknesses and vice versa.  In many cases a purported strength is actually a strength and purported weakness is actually a weakness, so I will address that too.  

Strength is weakness (examples)
  • Doing something on your own, when help is both offered, available and even desirable.
    • Initially, it may be desirable to do something on your own just to show you can do it or get past a block--such as writing a paper or story.  This can give you and others confidence in your ability.
    • It can become a weakness if you continue to reject help because you can do it yourself.  For example, when you have willing and available help for moving and refuse it in order to show you don't need help.
  • Someone does you wrong and you treat them badly and/or reject them completely.
    • Obviously you don't hand them out a friendship award for mistreating you.
    • Often it is necessary to display consequences for the mistreatment to indicate its not acceptable.
    • Excessive payback can make you look small, not strong.
    • Excessive frigidness or hostility, instead of displaying strength, can actually show a weakness.
      • Inability to respond properly due to unchecked emotions.
      • Too much of a focus on making sure to show how strong you are--such as how you don't NEED the other person--can actually be an attempt to hide or compensate for a wounded pride.
  • Virtue signaling - that is publicly and blatantly everyone know that you ARE on the right side of an issue.
    • Can be portrayed as strength--that is you are willing to take a public stand on an issue.
    • Often times it shows a blatant 'need' or desire to be accepted.  That is hoping to be praised for virtuousness.  In other words, it is a weakness that you are relying on or craving public approval.
Weakness is strength (examples)
  • Breaking down and seeking help, when circumstances dictate.
    • Going to the doctor rather than stubbornly hoping to wait out being sick.
    • Going to a grief counselor/group when you've had a profound death in the family.
    • It shows that you are stronger than your pride or discomfort at asking or accepting help.
  • Turning the other cheek, when you easily could punish someone else.
    • It shows that you will not let someone else's mistreatment of you get the best of or rule you.
    • It shows that you a the bigger person.  That is you put what is best over getting back at another.  Aka you are stronger than your pride or emotions.
    • Often times there will be another time or circumstance to 'respond' to the mistreatment.
  • Not saying anything in response to a situation, circumstance or story.
    • You don't need the approval you believe you can generate by getting on the 'right side' of the issue.  Your esteem is more deeply rooted.
    • You are wise or strong enough to see that sometimes outwardly responding serves no useful purpose and potentially can inflame a situation.
    • Holding your tongue rather than caving to pressure to respond (and 'show you care').  You are smart and strong enough to realize that your actions will be a better portrayal of your character than throwaway or forced responses.
    • There will usually be another opportunity and way to respond at a later point.
Strength is strength (examples)
  • Risking your health and safety to help another out in a life and death situation.  That is overcoming the fear of consequences to you.
  • A projection of military might to discourage other nations from threatening yourself or your allies.
Weakness is weakness (examples)
  • Continually let someone bully you without saying anything or otherwise standing up for yourself.  It's one thing to turn the other cheek, but it's another to just make yourself out to be a huge and continued target.
  • Going to the other extreme and getting 'hurt' over every little perceived injustice or offense.


Life will provide you ample opportunities to show your strength of will, judgment and/or character.  Not every circumstance is meant to be an opportunity to display your 'strength' (or weakness).  The most important thing is to seek wisdom and guidance (including from your Higher Power) on how to handle each circumstances.  In the meantime, it is important to be grounded and base your responses more on what is appropriate and less on how they will help you.  I believe in life if your actions or behavior are based on what is right vs. what is convenient, in the long run, you will keep your own respect and more often then not win that of others.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Demons: Facing Demons

Facing Demons

It is counter-intuitive,

But sometimes in order to live

We have to step deep into our pain

It can hurt incredibly, but there is much to gain

Placing our hand into the flame

Facing head-on our shame

It will hurt at first

The very very worst

But, gradually we will find

As we unwrap and unwind

We will gain strength and power

To live another hour

In meditation and prayer

By our side God will always be there

To help us along the way

If along the path of healing we stay

See also: