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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Zig Zagging through life: Diverting our energy from where it is really needed.

On my wedding day, my best man and I were driving around I think headed back to my apartment, but that's not important.  Anyway, traffic in front of us stopped with little or no notice.  To avoid rear-ending the car ahead of me I zig-zagged a bit.

I didn't think of it immediately, but it occurred to me shortly thereafter that in way that's exactly what we do when we try to avoid "running into" the painful truth--even when we need to face the reality of our situation and/or work through our decisions/issues/problems.   Just like with the momentum or energy of my car, life's momentum often pushes or carries us directly into path of our problems.  As I didn't want my best man or I to face the impact of rear-ending the car in front of us, so do we not want to face the impact of problems.  So, we come up with diversions or ways of avoiding having to deal.  Sometimes, these diversions are destructive like Alcoholism and out of control gambling.  Other times, they are just unproductive like keeping glued to the TV.  But, the common thread is that we use the diversions to deal.  In others we are 'zig-zagging' or moving sideways to absorb the energy we would otherwise be focusing on our problems.

For example, in my first marriage, when we had disagreements or when something was bothering me and I felt like I couldn't discuss it with her, I would shut down, push it aside and find another outlet to avoid having to deal (and possibly avoid a fight).  Sometimes, it was a 'productive' outlet like cleaning the house, other times it wasn't necessarily a productive or healthy outlet.  The main point is that I was 'zig-zagging' or finding a diversion from the problem that lie head on.   Now, this wasn't a new way of dealing for me.  It really was an extension of my childhood and early adulthood in which I felt like I couldn't speak freely with my dad or effectively stand up for what was important to me.  But, I digress.  The point was that I didn't want to face the impact of dealing head-on with problems.
That all changed with the passing of my brother Bill.  I have a blog in progress that I'm not finished with about him called Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day.  Anyway, I realized with his passing the ultimate cost of avoiding dealing with issues.

What I've written above at some points might suggest that it is a bad thing to 'zig zag' or divert.  However, as I've learned over the years, life isn't necessarily always clear cut.  As Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 indicates, there is a time for everything.  This included dealing head on with issues vs. pushing aside the issues for a time.  Here are a couple circumstances which zig-zagging might not be a bad idea. 
  • Sometimes, the issue/problem is too large to face directly.  For example, when mourning the death of a close relative, we can't get our grief out in one day.  We can sometimes only face what we need to in small stages: dealing, then turning away, then dealing, then turning away...
  • Sometimes, the timing isn't right.  For example, if we are hosting out-of-town family for the holidays we don't want to air our dirty laundry and cause humiliation in front of our guests.
Anyway, just my thoughts for the night.  Hopefully, you get something useful from my musings.  God bless and good night.

-- Rich

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Finding Jewels in the Darkness

It's been a few years since my old life as I knew it stopped and it transformed into a new and different and in some ways better life.

I will eventually write a blog called "Growing up the hard way" about how the difficult and painful years from an early age to young adulthood and beyond can either destroy a person or be their path to maturity.  But, for now I will focus on something that I have realized recently.

Sometimes we go through dark periods in our lives in our lives animated by sadness, depression and/or grief.   At the time, we are focused on the hurt and the pain and surviving it.  In other words, we are too busy working through the pain to notice or to accept the happy moments.  In a way, we are stuck in the darkness of the moment and though we have happy moments, we really don't appreciate those moments until long afterward.  In other words, in hindsight, we locate jewels in the darkness.

The concept has been floating in my mind for a while not quite crystallized.  It was a simple thing that really flipped the switch on this the other day.  I was driving home from work the other day and heard "Wild One" by Flo Rida featuring Sia.  I love music and I have gotten some happiness or contentment out of listening to that song.  I looked back and at the time I was underemployed,  working through a divorce, didn't have my daughter, was in the process of losing my house and just lost my brother.  In short, I felt like I was living in hell.  But that song, for the few minutes it was on at a time, brought a little respite for my sadness and grief.

But, I look back and now I see that while I lost full-time custody of my daughter, I had some special moments with Olivia that I will savor.  It was me and funny girl facing the world.  We learned to enjoy "chasing nature": usually birds, ducks, squirrels or rabbits.  We went to church together and made friends.  We went on shopping trips together where I bonded with her over helping her to find clothes she loved.  We learned the simple joy of picking up food and refreshment at QT.  We learned the joy of sitting on the sidewalk, while picking out seeds out of pods.  I could go on forever, but what I realize in hindsight is this: while things were brutal around me, I look back and had moments of joy or happiness.  I call them "Jewels in the Darkness".

I guess my takeaway is this: always realize there is joy to be found in the darkest moments.

Goodnight and I hope my readers have a good day tomorrow.


Friday, June 10, 2016

What's the Frequency: The process of getting used to major life changes...

A few years ago after me and my now ex split up, I couldn't live at my place anymore.  As we were not in a good place in the divorce process, ultimately we couldn't effectively agree what to do with it and it went back to the bank.

Anyway, a friend of mine opened her place up to me and I am eternally grateful to have had that place to start to piece my life back together.  But, in the meantime, I remember waking up day after day wondering what the hell happened?  Why was I there at not my own place, with my old life with my late brother still alive, employed at my job of 12 years, coming home to or picking up my young daughter, etc.

It felt like one day I had a set life, a set pattern, a set of circumstances and 'the next day' it was seemingly all gone and I was in a completely different set of circumstances.  In other words, there is a shock and adjustment to major life changes--especially if they are perceived as negative.  In talking to friends and acquaintances who have faced major adjustments like divorce, death, job loss, etc, I've heard or sensed similar responses:

  • Bewilderment - A sense of wonder as to what are we doing 'here' in our current circumstances?
  • Disconnect - A sense that even though our current situation clearly is what it is, it can't REALLY be our current situation.  In other words, our current circumstances are just a 'dream'.
  • Longing - A wish that things we back to 'normal', even when 'normal' wasn't necessarily that great.  Our old circumstances at least fit like a well-worn shoe.
  • Mourning - A sense of sadness and loss.

People are usually more adaptable than they realize.  Change that we couldn't see making it past or darkness from which we couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel eventually become adjustments and acceptance--even if reluctantly.  That being said, I see two exception responses: 
  • Sometimes a change is so dramatic that even though we survive it, we really don't bounce back.
    • A great example of this is when a parent loses a child senselessly.  As a parent, I know that even if I survived this, I would have a hard time ever being myself again.
  • Sometimes we are so entrenched that we find ourselves unable to adapt to it at all.
    • We see this with older couples that have been married for a long time.  One spouse passes away and the surviving spouse struggles to get by at all, sometimes apparently dying soon thereafter.

I guess the takeaway out of all, I have found that changes while difficult are usually survivable, you have to just have something or someone and/or a higher power to hold onto while the winds of change blow in our life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother.

I usually have a splashy saying at the top of my blog entries, but this is one that I just think I will dive right into.  Eventually, if we live long enough, we will face a loss so deep, so profound that it cut us to the bone.  It will be a loss that haunts us, a loss so profound that it changes the trajectory of our lives.  A loss so painful that there is no way we can quite cry our way through it.  In a way, it is the loss of soul so close to us, that we are never truly the same after it.

UPATED (11/9/18)
(Brother facing childhood sexual abuse as well? If I did, likely he did.)

What makes it worse is when this loss by all accounts appears senseless.  Suicide is what I speak of.  Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am speaking of my late brother Bill.  I figured one day after my parents were both gone, I'd write this.  Not that I was afraid of this getting back to them so much as just the timing wasn't right.  Anyway, I've written and read eulogies three times in my life, but the hardest one to write was about my brother.  To me, a eulogy is a few highlights of a person's life, mostly kind words, just a few words to say and to give them a decent send off, but not enough words to tell whom they really are,

I am winging this and I don't know how it will proceed, but I guess the best way to write sometimes is just to let the words come out.  Here goes Bill.

A little bit about him.  Bill was a kind soul.  I didn't really realize how kind a soul he was until later in his life.  Bill was a very sensitive soul.  He loved kids and even my daughter to this day remembers him.  She was nearing only four years old and hadn't seen him too often, but she remembers him.   She remembers the day that he put together her tea cart.  She had met Bill before and I'm sure thought positively of him, but in one brief afternoon around Christmas 2010, he reached deep into her soul and they formed a bond that has lasted the test of time.  She felt in my brother the love he had available.  He struggled to love himself, he struggled to find someone who would treat him the way he deserved, he sometimes struggled to appreciate those who did love him and he struggled to find trust in his dysfunctional family of origin.  But one place he didn't struggle was connecting with children.   Sometimes people are very bright, but are clueless as to how to connect with kids.  But, that wasn't Bill.  He knew how to reach kids where they are, not where he was, but where they are.  I am decent at that, but he schooled me in that.  :-)   Hence, it wasn't too surprising when he found himself eventually gravitating towards working with kids in the Hazelwood School District.

He excelled in math and other logic based subject matter, but at the same time, he appreciated the simple things too.  In no particular order, here are some of the thinks he liked: he enjoyed hanging out with friends, dressing nicely, collecting and listening to music (a set that was uniquely him), collecting unique clocks and he loved baseball.  He pondered political, social and faith issues, even if he struggled with the answers.  He liked things and entertainment, but most of all, he cherished personal relationships.  He was complex in many ways, but he was simple in others.

How do I know him?  I will describe in a few ways below.

- I knew him as a troubled kid growing up in a troubled family:

  He was always a very sensitive kid in a family that generally didn't get him.  I'm not going to go into great detail and I'm not trying to speak ill of the anyone in particular, but there were a few negative things that I will share that influenced him
  • We grew up in a very dysfunctional family of origin.  Before I elaborate, I will say this: at the time you see your family dysfunction as uniquely uncomfortable/embarrassing, but as I have found out over time, family dysfunction is more common than we know.  Some are just better at concealing it and it varies in degrees in families, but I digress.  My dad had a rough childhood and had an anger streak.  What effect that had later?  Dad was an alcoholic and let's just say he wasn't always nice to my mom, even to the point of getting physical.  
  • My dad grew up in the foster care system and ultimately was a product of a strict no-nonsense old German foster parents.  It was a system by which what the dad says was law and you didn't ever challenge or question. Anyway, what my dad learned was the old school 'deal with it' type of attitude and felt opening up, expressing feelings and counseling and the like were a sign of weakness.  In dealing with his own kids, he 'appeared' to have little understanding or interest in really understanding them.  As long as they appeared to be doing well in school and didn't cause him grief, having to deal with the school or embarrassment all was well.  Sadly, he was the type that be more likely to demean or criticize his kids rather than praise them.  I dunno, maybe it was 'toughen them up' attitude that he'd learn from his foster dad.  But, in a way, it was I don't want to hear from the school about problems.  So, that meant if someone picks on you, you don't fight back as that would get the school involved and therefore he would have to deal with it.  So, in a way, it was a lose-lose.  You deal, but I don't want your dealing to cause me any trouble.  Now, I truly believed he cared about his kids, but wasn't really given the best tools to project it.  I've come to understand that often times people make mistakes not on purpose, but instead on ignorance.  If you didn't hear your parents outwardly express love to you as a kid, you will be less likely implicitly understand to do that.  
  • We had 5 siblings, one working parent for much of my childhood and that parent blew money on alcohol.  That obviously didn't leave much for the kids.  So, we were sent to school looking poor/poorer than classmates.  In other words, targets for ridicule.
  • Our house looked torn up/out of order at times as a function of the dysfunction and it made it harder to bring people over.  Some of that was of having eight people stuffed into a small space. Some of that was having rambunctious kids full of energy and some of it was monetary neglect. 
  •  I suspect that he was molested by a 'family friend' as I was.  He said there was a lot that he didn't remember and that itself upset him.  He actually caught onto the molestation before I put it together.  He was instrumental in pushing the 'family friend' away.  In other words, he protected me and my younger brother.
With these things working against him, I think he, like others, were at risk for problems later. In short, he was a troubled kid/person.  None of this worked in his favor when trying to make friends in school or for that matter being understood.  I will come back to his teen years and adult years a little later in this blog.

- I knew him as (at least somewhat) kindred spirit.  He was
  • Very sensitive and I believe intuitive.
  • One who wanted to do the right thing.  
  • One who was inclined to believed in God (or wanted to).  Were were baptized at the same time, when he was a Sophomore in high school.
  • One who took up running--both of us did Cross Country and Track in high school.
  • Struggled for acceptance at times.
  • Could be intense, but also had zany moments and could relate to kids.
  • Liked to try new things and mostly did, but sometimes was afraid to.
  • Questioned things, didn't buy the prevailing 'conservative' view, but didn't automatically buy the 'progressive' view either.
  • Had eclectic tastes in music.
  • Wasn't able to just ignore the hurt/pain/suffering in the world.  
  • Sometimes had a hard time letting things roll off his back.
  • Could be his own worst critic.
  • Was socially awkward early on and took into his adulthood to start to come into his own.
      For whatever reason, God blessed me with an ability to take more blows and recover I think.   
      I often wonder the following--we diverted in our 20s.  I got breaks, where he didn't necessarily get them.  Had the situation been reversed...

- I knew him as a kind and gentle soul:
  • He would often help others out before he helped himself out.
  • He loved kids and was able to reach them and make them feel important.
  • He might get upset or even a bit angry, but he'd never actually hurt anybody.  If anything, he'd be more likely to wonder if he did anything to cause it.  Even if he did know that he was wronged by another, he was likely to blame himself for putting himself in that position.
  • He was socially conscience.  When he wasn't stressed worrying about thing in his own life, he felt/pondered. Unfairness in society and the world.

- He was a troubled teen and troubled adult.

  • Given a dysfunctional family of origin and troubled circumstances, he was socially awkward.  At church he identified he seemed to get along best with the grown-ups.  He never felt accepted by the teens.  At school, he never really felt well accepted.  He struggled with making friends.  
  • Our parents divorced during his sophomore year and I suspect while he hated the dysfunction, the divorce probably hurt him more than he let on.  He tended to relate better with my late mom.
  • Near the end of his sophomore year, the pressures of a broken, dysfunctional family, failure in making effective connections, including dating, the sense that given the dysfunctional family environment he'd never have a chance, a dad was likely to be critical and not give credit, the general sense that he was a 'failure' and who knows what else drove him to take a whole bottle of Tylenol at the end of his sophomore year.  After he had his stomach pumped, he was put in in-patient at a local facility that deals with troubled youths and suicide risks.  I believe ultimately the message he sent was never fully appreciated by our parents, especially my dad.  Nor was it fully appreciated by the rest of the family.  It was almost like lets just sweep this under the rug and get him back home.
    • My dad thought it was the divorce and his having a rough cross country season, but that was never it.  It was always more than that.
  • Ultimately, he 'recovered' (at least to some extent) from the blows of his early childhood and teenage years.  He started at a Florissant Valley Community College and as soon as he could, he left for what is now called MU.  I believe he met his closest, dearest and most enduring friends there.  I had the pleasure of meeting Collette, Dan and Joe from his MU years and I think on some level, besides myself, were the family he never had.  This isn't meant as a slight to Heather, Nicole or Brian, or others I may not be thinking about at the moment, but I digress.  Anyway, he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Math.  He struggled to find a job that suited his talents and eventually found himself working with kids in the Hazelwood School District.  Though he loved kids, I'm sure he felt like a failure not directly using his degree.  
  • My brother was a very genuine, authentic person, but by worldly standards probably some would have said not 'successful' and I believe this wore on him.  This wore on him reaching out to people and this wore on him in how he felt he was perceived.  When you don't feel successful, unfortunately, it has a way of bringing you down and he wasn't able to rebound or recover from that.
    • Unfortunately, some possible mates aren't able to look pass 'wavering confidence'  and look at the soul underneath.  This in turn, can lower confidence, which can be a vicious cycle.
    • Dating can seem very cruel, the 'losers' seem to be rewarded for being jerks, while the nice guys seem to be ignored or just treated as an if all else fails option.
    • A genuine, kind and authentic person often is taken advantage of by those who don't share those values.
    • For worse or better, dating is harder these days. With people not being as connected by church, school, family, neighborhood as they used to, its hard to know where to turn.  I found my wife through and I'm fine with that.  But, I have struggled at times in my adulthood in dating.  Sometimes, the usual places just cut it and if your 'scene' and/or your group of friends don't yield anyone (or anyone healthy) for you, where do you turn.
  • Ultimately, after being repeatedly being taken advantage of, he became discouraged and this discouragement bled into his work.  I won't go into detail, but the one job he really did like-working with kids in the Hazelwood School District--was taken away from him for what I believe are political/budget reasons.  I lost a job before where cuts had to be made and I was the new person, without any standing on the team and therefore was an 'easy target' to get cut.  I believe my brother was subject to that.  He treated people right, but he wasn't a favorite and wasn't union either.  Therefore, when the perfect political came along to get rid of him and cut the budget came along, they took it.  He ultimately won his unemployment claim as they couldn't justify denying him it based on their petty politics, but the experience had left him discouraged and despondent.  I tried to get him to see that he was better than the d*mn petty politics, but you know, sometimes you can't reach someone when they are hurting.  He felt like the whole experience tarred him on his resume.
  • He had another part time job and ultimately, I think the weight of being taken advantage of repeatedly, being subject to politics in employment and losing his job because of it, not being where he wanted with regard to relationships or just overall "successful" just weighted him down.  He lost his part time job and I hate to say it, but looking back it was a matter of time as expenses and options, the weight of feeling like a failure, and not feeling loved or like people cared (when I know it was different) got the best of him.
As my brother moved along in his life, he 'disappear' for weeks at a time.  That is to say, he wouldn't answer calls or reach out when he needed to.  One time, I ambushed him at his place as I was concerned about him and he reassured me things were fine.   Unfortunately, I was in a very spot in my marriage at the time and I was facing having to find a new job myself as my company moved its operations mostly to Utah, so I wasn't fully attuned and being that he'd disappeared for weeks at a time before 'resurfacing', I wasn't 100% there the way I could have been.  Anyway, downward drift started at the end of 2010 and continued into April and then June of 2011.

One morning in mid to late June of 2011, he texted me something which got my attention in a worrisome way.  I called him the next morning and left a message that if he didn't me back in about 5-10 minutes that I'd send the police out his way.  I don't remember what it was, but obviously that's beside the point.  So, he called back shortly thereafter to reassure me that he was just venting.  But, obviously, I had suspected otherwise.  So, in dealing with my own financial/job issues and failing marriage, I was obviously distracted and could not devote as much attention as I could have to his deteriorating will.  I say this not to blame myself--as I know nothing that I could have done would have changed the trajectory of his life--but just as a recounting.  I know I was there for him to the extent that I could be given my own life issues and I know I could tell him it was partly sunny outside and he would have replied, no it's very cloudy.  Anyway, long story short I got a text from him around July 7th or 8th, 2011 saying something that included, "I feel like I'm dying".  But, based on his prior texts and prior statements, it appeared to be life sucks, I feel like I am dying inside, I hate life type situation.  As I indicated previously, it was a very trying and distracted time for me, so I didn't put two and two together, especially since he reassured me on multiple occasions that he had venting in such situations.  Unfortunately later that July, I got a call from my mom stating that he was found lifeless in his apartment.  I called the police to verify, you know my mom, God rest her soul, was an excitable sort and had been known to jump to the worst case scenario.  Besides, you know when you get a call like that, you don't just say okay wow sorry to hear.  You do what you can to verify.  Unfortunately, the police verified that.  I had felt guilty that I hadn't checked on him sooner, but you know, but hindsight is 20/20.

The year that followed for me was let's just say was a living hell.  I got enough strength to pull myself together, do him a eulogy and make sure he was remembered respectfully as well, but as anyone who loses a close family member to suicide realizes it, especially if you don't get to see them in a casket, it is a surreal experience where you struggle for closure.   At times, you know it brings you down to a bad spot, especially if you are going through you own troubled (divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment,...).   Knowing him and knowing how bad he was hurting and being very down myself, I feel like but for the grace of God and a change of circumstances....  But, I digress.

I wasn't there when it all ended for him and they couldn't definitely call it a suicide, but based on what I knew about him, the direction things were going, his deteriorating frame of mind, a note that he left--which usually I suspect people leave clues in their words--I think if he didn't 'actively' try to end his life he took prescription and medicine together and really didn't care what happened afterwards.  Did he know that he was going to die?  Can't say for certain what his exact mindset was on the day he apparently mixed drugs and alcohol.  Maybe it was I don't care anymore.  Maybe it was, I am just going to do this as I am tired of the pain?  Who can say?   But based on my understanding of my brother and my own moments that followed, I can say the following--bear in mind this is my own understanding of it:

  • Losing the will to live and not taking care of yourself is a passive form of suicide.
  • I believe someone who is pondering it, may reach out, but their own sense of humiliation and shame might get in the way.  That's why you get unclear or mixed messages.  It's not like they happily or loudly announce, "I'm going to end my life today".
  • Think of the path to suicide as a series of steps to the basement.  From what I see, most people wouldn't leap down all the steps at once.  Instead like walking down the steps it is a series of blows that take a person closer to the full way down.  Sometimes the final step is a final blow.  Sometimes it is just the weight of all the blows finally crushing them and they "snap".
  • I believe people don't actively wake up and say, "I'm done" and end it like that.  I think it is a tortured struggle between doing what they know is not right and fear of the thereafter vs. staying in a painful life situation--physically, emotionally and/or mentally.  
  • Even when actively ending their life, I believe some people are still conflicted--overdose vs. suicide by gun for example.
  • If you are positive someone is considering it, DO NOT let them tell you tell you that everything is fine, no matter how they reassure you, especially if they have a long history of depression.
  • Above all, always let them know you are there for them and be willing to be resented by them for doing an intervention.

When I decided to write this, I was at Disneyworld in Florida and it was 2am in the morning and I watched The Breakfast Club and heard this song and it clicked: It's time to write about him.  Something told me while you know you've moved forward and adjusted to his passing, that I needed to tell his story for a few reasons.  
  1. To help those who knew him better understand things.
  2.  To give him the respectful treatment of more than a few paragraphs at a eulogy. 
  3.  To help those who are struggling in there own life identify and related.
  4.  To let him know wherever his spirit is, that he is not forgotten.
I am honored and blessed to have known William Richard Shepard as my brother and to have had the honor of sharing that earthly bond with him for 42+ years.   I believe the world is a better place in at least a small way with his having been in it.  If it be God's will, I hope to see him again one day in the way, way distant future.  As much as I hated it, I feel blessed that God entrusted me to give him his final words, his final resting place and his story to be told.  God bless you Bill.

I hope these word prove beneficial to others.

-- Rich

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The insane voice, installment 3: Deep thoughts by Rich Shepard

My favorite 'deep thoughts' of all time.

1.  When someone owns up to a mistake to me, I tell them that the mistake doesn't make them a bad person.   Instead, I note the fact that they are a bad person and being such makes them one.

2.  Stay out of trouble, but if you don't, don't get caught.

  • Or at least give me the video of it.   (Ben Welsh)
3.  Cats are self-propelled feline units propped up by four sticks.  Dogs are self-propelled canine units propped up by four sticks. Humans are self-propelled Homo-sapien units propped up by two large sticks and a butt of varying size.  :D

4.  When in an argument with a loved one or enemy, just accept ahead of time that you are a bad person.  Often just letting them know that you realize that you are a bad person and that you are okay with it destroys their momentum.   This works especially well with kids.

5.  You know the famous jingle, "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?".  That's too easy and boring a question.  The real question is what would be too over the top to do for a Klondike Bar? The following list is a sample list and far from all-inclusive list of things that would be way too over the top to do for a Klondike Bar.
  • Homicide
  • Robbing a bank.
  • Setting off fireworks in front of the police station.

6.  When the creepy voiced narrator from "Forensic Files" tried to tell his kids and grand-kids bedtime stories, did they get upset and have a problem sleeping?

7.  If God hadn't wanted us to chase away nature (birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.) he would have given them wings to fly off and legs to run off with.

8.  There is a bring you daughter or son to work day, why isn't there a bring your pet to work day?

9. If denying a homosexual couple a gay marriage is considered discriminatory, would denying a straight couple a gay marriage be discriminatory also?   Should a homosexual couple be allowed the option of a straight marriage as well or do they only get to choose a gay marriage?

10.  No matter how angry you are at someone homicide is not the answer.  Besides, you'd be depriving yourself of the opportunity to keep on "get back at them".  :-)

11. Do people in black and white movies dream in black and white or color?

12. Does the lady who professed a deep, almost disturbing love for her Craftmatic Adjustable Bed, still love her bed or have they sought an annulment? 

13. What if our lives where just part of a someone's super detailed and complex dream?

Observations on shame: Shame and codependence

In my previous entry on shame, Observations on shame: "The Shame Cycle", I touched upon a destructive force called shame and how it keeps us in a negative rut or cycle.  In this entry, I will again talk about shame, but I will focus on a particular effect of shame in our lives.

We look at this cartoon and we laugh a little bit about how absurd it is.   The kid in this cartoon blows a small mistake--dropping lunchbox on the way to school--out of proportion.  Instead of just accepting that he made a minor flub, he takes on the role of the black sheep of the family over it.  In other words, he makes it about his role in the family.  His own personal shame is causing him to view the situation improperly.   In AA, this would be considered or referred to as a form of "stinking thinking". In other words, he is viewing the situation through the lens of his role in the family due to his own unspecified personal shame.  The irony is that his counselor, Dr. Baer, probably picked up his lunch and is laughing about this small incident has thrown him into a crisis of codependence.

The panel above in black in white we see as absurd codependence based on shame.  However, when we go through our everyday lives without truly having processed our history, are we that much different than the little boy who 'disgraced his family' by losing his lunchbox?  I contend that many of us, if confronted with in black and white with our own words and behaviors would see codependent behavior fueled by shame.

So what exactly is connection between shame and codependency?  I will first digress and differentiate between shame and guilt.  From the May 30, 2013 Psychology Today online article "The Difference Between Guilt and Shame" comes the following:

Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.
For the sake of discussion, I will refer to shame and guilt interchangeable as each can be equally disabling.   Anyway, the connection.

Shame --> Damaged Self-Esteem or  Doubt --> Strong Need for Confirmation and Approval  --> Doing What it Takes to Get or Retain that Approval = Codependence which manifests itself in basing some or part of our actions and behaviors on fulfilling that need.

Examples of shame/guilt leading to codependence:

Example 1:
You go through a divorce and in the process, cause pain for the children.  You feel shame or guilt over a failed marriage and the hurt that is causing your kid(s).  This is especially true if your kid(s) are acting out.  You know from your religious/moral background and upbringing what is acceptable behavior for your children.  Also, you know on some level what boundaries they need.  But your guilt or shame bleed into the situation, leading to lowered esteem or doubt and you begin to question what you 'know' or were taught.  Kids are very intuitive and they can sense this and they start probing for weak spots.   When they find the weak spots, they exploit them, often with questioning of authority and misbehavior.  This doubt on the parent's part and adjustment to settle down the situation.  Hence, the divorcing parent becomes embroiled in codependency with his or her kids.

Example 2:
Someone close to you--mom, dad, brother, friend--dies at an early age or commits suicide.  On some level notice he or she was having problems beforehand, but it didn't necessarily click the magnitude of the problems.  In hindsight, it seems as if warning signs were there.  When we are trying to get by everyday, not everything is clear.  Someone says they are unhappy or aren't feeling good.  But, we know like with cold, the appearance of  'symptoms'--such as tiredness or slightly irritated throat--beforehand doesn't always portend a cold.  Similarly, if the loved one had sent such signals beforehand and pulled through, it is easy to see the sickness or depression as just another bump in the road.  Anyway, guilt over "not being there" the way we THINK we should have can be very disabling.  This can spill over into other areas of our lives.  Well-meaning family can give us 'advice' going forward and being in a weakened state and feeling bad, we may seek their validation or approval and it can be easy to slip into a pattern of orienting our actions to please them, rather than doing what we need to for ourselves.  This is especially true if the family member(s) are opinionated and tend to be controlling.  In other words, they use your shame or guilt against you.

Anyway, the keys to keeping shame or guilt from bleeding into codependence can be found in answering the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself extensively stressing over whether the other party(s) approve your choices/actions.  That is to say, are you more focused on whether a choice or action is the best or most logical choice OR are you focused on defending the choice or action to others?
  • If saw this exact situation playing out with strangers would how would you assess or advise in the situation?  If your assessment or advice is different than that which you'd give yourself, then chances are you are blocked by your own self-doubt.
  • Are you willing to do the unpopular thing, which you 'know' to be the right thing, or does the fear of being 'unloved' tend to get in the way?

Shame can keep us from making or repeating bad choices.  Guilt, when not displaced, can also redirect us to doing the right thing in the future.  In and of itself, neither is necessarily a bad thing.   However, each can be a destructive feeling or force if they bleed into our relationship with others.  While each can give us guardrails in our dealings with others, they shouldn't control or interfere with how we interact with others.  It is important to look beyond them and look to what specific circumstances and dealings with others dictate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Disconnected - Unplugged in relationships and our lives.

Usually a song develops meaning for me with its lyrics.  On a rare occasion, I will connect with a song more profoundly with the accompanying video.

A number of years ago, I saw the video for Nickelback's "Savin' Me".   In the video, a guy is on his cell phone oblivious to the people and traffic around him.  It really gains focus when he guy nearly steps into the path of an oncoming bus.  He was saved from certain death by another man who was attuned to the situation.   The guy who was nearly killed is awaken to the world around him.   In a way, he's both connected and disconnected.  He is able to see how much time everyone has remaining in their life (an invisible countdown timer), so in that way he's strangely connected to the world around him.  On the other hand, he is in a very strange place.  He is disconnected from the hive so to speak.  He's outside the normal flow of life.

I connected with this video in a profound way.  It's funny we live in a world of millions and billions of people.  We are surrounded by people at work, on the road, at play, etc.  Yet on a very deep level, there are just moments in which we feel separate from the world that surrounds us.  There are moments when I feel like its just me and God with others around me just being 'noise'.  An extreme form of this is called depersonalization disorder.  Anyway, it got me to thinking how easy it to get 'disconnected' or detached in relationships and in life.

Anyway, I will address the symptoms, causes, costs and treatment related to being/feeling disconnected (as I see it):

   1.  Symptoms.
    • Shutting down.  I believe when we feel disconnected we tend to shut down.  I don't know if it is a feeling of isolation or vulnerability or both.  Probably both.  But, as a kid, I remember playing with roly polys aka "pill bugs".  When a pill bug feels like it is under attack, it rolls up into a ball.  In a way, that's just what we do when we shut down.  Sometimes we are defending ourselves against a purposeful hurt, but sometimes we are protecting ourselves from the danger of the situation.  In other words, this is the flight response.  Suicide--intentional or deathwish-- I believe is ultimate form of shutting down.  That is to say, preventing ourselves from getting hurt or hurting ever again.  
    • Striking out.   This actually is much like shutting down, except instead of passively "rolling into a ball" like a roly poly, there is a tendency to strike at the perceived threat.  In other words, something is in the way of our shutting down and 'striking out' is meant as a mechanism to remove the person/situation which is in our way.  In other words, this is the fight response.
    • Detachment.   Arguably, "shutting down" and "striking out" are symptoms of disconnecting that one has either some level of control over or at least awareness of.  I believe there are truly cases in which people are traumatized to an extent that their mind temporarily or permanently goes on auto pilot to the degree that they stop being fully aware of reality.  That is to say, they are psychologically detached.

   2. Causes/why we do it.
    • Traumatized.  It can be one or more severe instances like a sudden loss of a loved one or seeing someone die before our eyes.  It can also be chronic, less extreme, yet damaging instances, like abuse or molestation as a child. 
    • Ignored/Marginalized.  In any relationship, when we sense that 'our voice' is being ignored or marginalized, eventually, we stop trying to express ourselves.  In other words, if there is no benefit to trying to 'connect', it is only natural to 'disconnect' or stay disconnected.

   3. Costs.
    • Spiritual.  Our sense of serenity is damaged or non-existent.   Our sense of purpose may be damaged or gone.
    • Psychological. We are one to stress. anxiety, depression, 
    • Physical.  A sense of disconnection, if it is long term can lead to the following physical issues: High blood pressure, digestive problems, and overall compromise of our immune system function.
    • Relational. Feelings or a sense of disconnection in our lives can lead to empty, unfulfilling relationships.  The can also lead to frustration and resentment and ultimately cause us to continue the disconnection cycle.  Relationships die or fail causing us to feel more disconnected which in turn leads to further problems connecting with others.
   4. Treatment/strategies for overcoming.

    • Counseling.  Whether it is a licensed counselor, a minister, a priest or other spiritual advisor, it helps to have someone versed or heavily exposed to what it means to be disconnected, how to help one reconnect and strategies to prevent further disconnection.
    • Deliberateness.  It is so easy when we are feeling disconnected to turn inward, to turn away from others, to shut down, to avoid risking feeling uncomfortable.  But, that's just the time to reach out to others.  Anyone who has seriously participated in recovery/support group of any value realizes this.  I believe that most people find after the fact that they feel better for having gone to church, men's/women's group, 12 step group on days they really don't feel like dealing.
    • Closeness.  In a day and age of social media presence, it is easy to have dozens of 'friends' online, but what is more important than having a 'large circle' is having a smaller better connected circle.  Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, it is important to focus on ourselves and the few people in our lives that enrich us.  That doesn't mean excluding others, nor does that mean just 'taking' from others.  What it means is focusing on a few healthy, close relationship where we can let our hair down and be ourselves.
    • Externalness. It is easy to feel disconnected when we are caught up in our own worries, but when we take time and focus on helping others, it helps us to forget feeling disconnected, like we don't matter, etc.  That doesn't mean we are trying to escape necessary introspection or processing, but rather we take time to get out of our head.

In this world, with so many people, so many problems and so much distance--even in crowded places--it is easy to feel like a cog in the wheel.  But, it is important to remember, no matter how disconnected we feel, ultimately what matters is how we feel in the eyes of our Higher Power (God).  If we see ourselves as meaningful and having purpose in the eyes of our Higher Power, then we have a good foundation, a good start for being connected.