Dear Friends and Readers,
Life is moving at a seemingly fast and relentless pace, which is of course my doing. The last five months of work have been performed primarily to pay off a substantial debt which was created by my mismanagement of money.
I realized almost two years ago when I wrote my first blog about my grandfather who was a gambler who gambled away his white walking cane, the physical metaphor of his blindness, that I too was irresponsible with money. Even though I was not a gambler I was mismanaging my money and creating similar results. I thought that I had escaped his gambling addiction until I went on vacation to Paris and didn’t have any money to spend until half way through the trip when my paycheck was deposited. I then spent every penny that I had and came home to a turned off cell phone and a negative bank balance. I had to borrow $30 from my sister to turn my phone back on. It was an anxiety impoverished moment. That was late August of 2015. Two things happened since that trip to Paris. One was that I began writing this blog which was then named the “Addict Writes” and on September 12, 2015 my father died.
The blog has provided me an opportunity to share personal events with the intent of helping those in similar positions. The first blog that I wrote , Grandpa and Paris, was about my irresponsible, costly and impoverishing relationship with money. Many of the subsequent blogs were about my father and my feelings about him.
As some of you may know, my father sexually abused me when I was a pre-teen. His death in 2015 was a release and a bitter moment since he had never apologized for his abuse. I don’t miss him, since I had no relationship with him for years. My only regret was that I was not there during the years he lay sick and dying in a nursing home. I say this because I later realized that I not provided him the opportunity to say that he was sorry, but he had had decades to do so, but he never had. I did ask him 30 years ago why he had never said he was sorry and his response was, “I didn’t think it was wrong.” I wonder if he still felt that way as he was dying. I will never know.
This past Sunday was Mothers Day and I got to spend a little time with my mother. I was happy to see her happy. She has a sweet childlike disposition now that she is older. I too am now considered old and when I look at her I see myself and hope to learn something from her passage through time. I realize, hopefully not too late , that I have never really known my mother. We have never been close to each other for a myriad of reasons, but mostly because of what happened between my father and me. She took sides, and for numerous reasons chose to believe him and not me.
Through out our lives that division has broadened and narrowed, but never overcome. Now that she is almost 82 I wonder if we should have that discussion, but I cannot foresee it happening and I fear she will deny my truth until the day she dies. Perhaps it doesn’t and won’t matter. I don’t know. Nevertheless, I strive to derive something of value from my senseless and horrid years of abuse to help anyone who has suffered any form of parental abuse. Which leads me to the pictures of the foxes.
Over the past two months I have participated in a life transforming course conducted by Landmark Education. This course encouraged me to take full responsibility for everything that had ever happened to me, including my parental abuse. The course first established that I was living under the illusion that my happiness was a function of external circumstance. In fact it is not. Course participants were asked to look at how we had perceived a chosen experience and what story or meaning we had created around it.
All Landmark Courses stem from the premise that every thing in the world is empty and meaningless-until we add meaning or “story” to it. It’s those stories that direct our actions -our lives. Once you identify the story you have created around a particular event, each participant has an opportunity to analyze why they created that particular meaning or story about any incident or occurrence in their life-good or bad. Over the past 7 weeks I had many opportunities- through the Landmark Happiness Seminar to analyze my stories.
Every story about any experience is accompanied with bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts and words. For instance, I saw that happiness for me was associated with accomplishment and when happy I say to myself “I got that right!” When happy, I also feel my eyes twinkling and my face muscles springing to life with an unsuppressable smile. Similarily when afraid, sad, anxious or irriated there are accompanying body sensations, emotions, thoughts and words. When I am afraid my fear is about the consequences. My heart beats rapidly and my breath is ragged and uneven. When I am sad, my body is bent forward and my head is bowed there is tension in my shoulders. My breathing is shallow and nearly non-existant when I am sad.
It was valuable to recognize the body sensations because, I saw that any combination of body sensations could trigger an emotion and vice -versa. More importantly, I could catch myself heading into an emotional break down and stop myself from doing so by simply accepting what was bothering me and choose to take action rather than take a downward slide or being revved up in anger. I could slow that breathing, raise my head, acknowledge what I was telling myself about any particular experience and choose another path.
Sometimes the stories we create are empowering, oftentimes they are not and here lies much of human suffering, including my own. One of my major stories surround my parents and their actions. Through this work and lots of therapy over the years, I can say despite my parents actions, that I know that they loved me. They might not have had good coping skills; they had their own unhealed traumas and their actions did not express love, but in my empowering story they loved me, because they also did a lot of very good things for me, like give me an exceptional education. They were “bad” parents, “damaged ” people but I maintain that they loved me. Any other “story” or belief leads me, has led me to dark places- like my addiction and other self-destructive behaviors.
During the past 7 weeks, I have completely owned that ” life ” is about perception of my experience. My perception maybe informed by my past, my education, but it need not be limited by it. This freeded me from my “heavily invested stories”and left me with full responsibility for how I percieve life. As a result, I am in awe and inspiration about my world.
On the day, that I internalized this life changing realization that my happiness was not dependent on external circumstances I was on the train to from Baltimore to D.C. It was very early in the morning and the sun had just begun to rise. I had been lamenting about how much trash and rubble was strewn along the railroad tracks, when all of a sudden I saw a family of foxes with two fox pups playing with each other. The mother fox looked on with what I interpreted as love. It was my sign that it was a brand new day, even on the same train that I take every day. I quickly created a new story “there is always awe and wonder everywhere” it just depends on one’s perception or story of what you are experiencing.
Ask yourself what stories are you heavily invested in? Do these stories empower you or disempower you? Is there an equally valid story or interpretation about the same experience that could empower? If so, choose the empowering story.