Author Archives: chris

Into the Ocean Once More.

5/17/16

Hey Love.

So our collective life has come to a place that neither of us ever expected:  About 2 months ago I visited Mom.

Yeah.  I know what you are thinking.  You’re wondering how the hell I could open myself up to that ocean of pain ever again.  You are questioning whether I have done this out of some deep, old need.  And some part of you is also feeling a bit betrayed.  Why the fuck would I ever acknowledge the woman who came at me with a knife when I was just a little kid?

Those answers are tough to put into one journal entry.  I guess I should just tell you about what caused this and how it went.

Back in November of last year, I wrote her a letter.  It was born of a true desire to provide her with some sense of closure for our lack of a relationship for the past 22 years.  I told her that I felt like I understood her better now… the difficulties she had raising all of us with her own haunted past and a marriage that was disintegrating.  I didn’t tell her that what she did was acceptable.  It wasn’t.  I simply acknowledged that she had a great struggle and I had a better understanding of how challenging it is to be a parent.

I didn’t expect her to write back.  She did.

She thanked me for my letter and asked to keep in touch.

We exchanged a few letters – mostly about the kids (whom she has never met).  She even sent me a Solstice greeting card and expressed appreciation of my path into Buddhism.

Then, in one letter, I mentioned that we were in the state for a sports tournament for one of the kids.  She wrote back and asked if she could see me.  I spent a few days thinking about it.  I even went to see my Therapist – who I haven’t seen in over a year – and talked it through.  I came out knowing that I could handle seeing Mom if only because I was prepared to walk out if she became hurtful.  I had no expectations.

When I did visit her, we had lunch together and talked about my work and about the kids.  We talked a little about Buddhism.  Then we went to her apartment and she talked about the past.  She layed a lot of blame… she blamed her parents, her marriage, my Dad… even herself.  It was like watching someone touching a hot stove… wanting so badly to connect with the vulnerability and yet terrified of the pain it causes.

I listened.  When she blamed Dad, I felt my insides grow tight… so I breathed and imagined myself opening and relaxing into the pain.  It helped.

Then she was trying hard to think of a word that I thought I knew and so I said the word.  She looked at me with her brow furrowed with strong disappointment and said coldly “No.  That’s not it.”  She looked off into the distance, trying to remember, then gave up, looking down at her hands and mumbling about her memory.

When she looked at me with anger, I felt a jolt of anxiety.  But I was able to open again quickly and just watch her.  When she looked down and blamed herself, I suddenly realized that she was not angry at me.  She was angry at herself.  She just didn’t have the ability to control how it manifested.  Which was exactly what I struggled with for so many decades.

My heart softened and I truly felt for her.  She is in her 80s… she likely won’t ever be able to let go of that anger and pain that she thrusts into herself each time she fails to be perfect.

When it was time for me to leave, I stood and bid her well.  She reached out quickly and grabbed my hand.  She stared into my eyes and I realized she had tears in her own.  She said to me in words edged with desperation, “I am so sorry that I could not be the mother you needed me to be.”

I wasn’t sure what to do.  So I hugged her.  I told her that I would see her again.  And I left.

Later, I reflected on her words and realized that her apology was something that, a long time ago, would have given me some sense of closure.  On this day, it did not.  The reason, I realized, was because I had already forgiven her.

Somehow… somewhere… through this ever-so-long process… I had found what I had actually been searching for all these years.  I had found a release from my past.

Let me clarify.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t still have flashbacks.  PTSD doesn’t just “go away”.  It’s just that when those images and memories come up, the feelings aren’t as powerful.  And now I have the ability to be present with those feelings without adding a story to them or trying to bury them or wrangle them into some other emotion.  I can be with the raw feeling and honor it with my direct and sustained attention.  After a short while, the emotion dwindles until I cannot locate it any longer.  And then I do this process again when it returns at a later time.

I also think that this journal has been a very big part of the healing process for me.  Talking to you, my younger self, in a compassionate and understanding way has helped me to develop a sense of loving kindness to myself – long ago, today, and for whomever I am in the days to come.

I still have no expectations regarding this relationship with my mom.  She might very well call me in a fit of rage from her vulnerability hangover and tell me to go to hell.  Yes, that would hurt.  And yes, I would handle the feelings, draw boundaries and define what’s an acceptable relationship, and then walk away if necessary.

Right now, her emails and phone calls are filled with an ongoing desire to explain why she did what she did.  She wants my forgiveness.  I will find new ways of telling her that I have forgiven her, over and over again.  But sadly, I don’t think it will give her the relief she so desperately wants.

What she really wants, I think, is to forgive herself.

So here we are, Kiddo.  Full circle.  A journey of a life time:  Finding the strength to pull away and then slowly forging the courage to reconnect.

Where you are right now, you may not understand or agree with where I am right now.  You still have so many wounds to heal and the very big marathon ahead of truly, deeply, accepting your humanness.

When you have been underway for many years, you will finally grasp where I am and where I am headed.  This journey actually isn’t a destination.  It’s a process.  It’s a long, slow, terrifying and beautiful swim through the ocean of my fear.  And as I find the courage to dive down into the darkest depths, I am beginning to see that under that fear is profound sadness… and under that sadness is something so vast that it is beyond my comprehension other than to give it the simple name of absolute tenderness.

There.  That is the birth place of our true courage.

I hope you will come swim with me.

The Warrior Can Cry

Hey Kiddo,

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote.  I’ve gone through these letters and seen pieces of my journey over the years and the lessons which I have known, intellectually, and could speak of – but still struggled to embrace on the deepest level.  I can say honestly that I am doing much better in that realm. And I’m also human with how often I forget my own worth and the worth of the people sharing this planet with me.  But overall, the steps have taken me far.

I no longer “lose my temper”.  I get angry, certainly.  But other than dropping an F Bomb on occasion or speaking with an edge in my voice, it’s pretty much resolved.  No more yelling. No more throwing things.  No more “seeing red”.  It’s been over a year and I’ve had plenty of moments that, in my previous state, would have “justified” blowing up.

It’s not that I don’t feel angry.  It’s just that I’m much quicker to see the pain beneath the anger and allow myself to not freak out about it.

I still see so many kids – and adults – like you were… angry, armored, and ready to fight.  I also know that under all those battle scars and layers of protection, there lies a terrified child that wants to stop feeling constantly betrayed by people.

I am in a very different place in my life now.  Yes, I’m surrounded by loved ones and loyal friends. But the biggest change was in my ability to understand that my expectations of others was the sword which wounded me.  I wanted everyone to be “as they should be” and to honor their word… without recognizing the number of times when I would lie (or withhold the truth) to protect myself.  I wanted people to see the good in me despite my “blast radius” when my temper would ignite.  And yet, I could not see their own worth and forgive them for their humanness when they failed me in some manner.

I was on a quest to find people who could love me the way I wanted to be loved.  Instead of creating the relationship which would foster this and which had room for the other person’s limitations and pain.

I’ve finally come to understand that when I am caught up in this story in my head – the story which tries to figure out why this is happening (or happened) or how to stop the pain – I am often trying to figure out what to DO.  I am trying to decide on a course of action, or a justification for my anger, or grab ahold of anything which will allow me to solidify these feelings so that I can DEAL with them (otherwise known as “manipulate” or “ignore” them).

Anything – anything at all – other than simply BEING with the feeling of pain.  Because the idea of being in pain was (and sometimes still is) a terrifying alternative to most humans.  We are wired to change our circumstances and persevere.  We cannot accept situations where there is nothing we can do but experience the pain.

I know what you are thinking right now: I will never give up / give in / surrender.  Like the experiment with the dogs and the shock that I wrote about earlier.  You will fight until there is nothing left of you because that’s how you are.  You are a warrior.

But in order to know real love, Scrapper, you gotta be able to take off the armor and put down the weapons.  You have to be able to open up to that vulnerability and risk the pain.  And when you get hurt again (because I PROMISE you will – over and over again), you have to learn how to be present with that pain.  And that you CAN be present with it and not be destroyed by it.  You are NOT the dog that gives up and succumbs to Learned Helplessness.  You can be with your pain and not be owned by it.  You can acknowledge it and be kind to it and, in doing so, see what actions (if any) can be taken.  But now, these actions will be born of truthful seeing… not reactive defensiveness that is designed to run away from, ignore, or change the pain into something more manageable.  Something less… painful.

I know, I am sounding like a broken record now.  If you read through these letters, you will see the same message in different words over and over again.  This is because it has taken so many years of iteration for me to actually believe this utterly important concept.  Each time I write about it, I feel like I get a little bit closer to truly integrating it into the core of my being.  And when the pain rises up, I get better at just being present with the feelings until they get the attention they crave… and then they dissipate enough for me to function. Until they need attention again.

All I can tell you is this, Kiddo:  When you learn how to be present with your own pain, you will begin to learn how to be present with other people’s pain.  And when you walk down that path, you will know the most powerful feeling in existence:  Compassion.

You will see that we are not all these separate entities that we think we are.  We are all interconnected and every one of us is trying our hardest to navigate this life and find happiness.  We just mess up the journey often by confusing happiness with security.

That last sentence there… read that over and over again.  It’s going to be a very big light bulb for the rest of this life you are living.

I will leave these letters for now.  Although I expect that I will return again to read them and gleen what I can from the lessons I have learned – and relearn them again.

I don’t have to wish you the best here because I happen to know how things turn out.  But words of compassion are never wasted.  So I do wish you love and resilience.  I wish you peace and understanding. And I wish you the ability to let go of the story and simply feel compassion for your pain.

The armor is rusting.

The sword is dulled.

The wounds have healed.

The warrior can cry.

Fragil and Resilient

11/29/14

Hey Kiddo,

Just so you know… as you read these letters… I don’t have it all worked out as yet.  I still fuck up plenty.  I lose my temper and I get loud.  I swear.  I yell and then I feel like shit afterwards because the people around me don’t deserve it.  It’s not as often.  But it’s there.  And it impacts my relationships.

I am still struggling with this.  It’s definitely not as frequent.  I lose it every couple of months now instead of every couple of days.  The hardest part is the aftermath.  Even if the people around me forgive me, I have a hard time forgiving myself.  I feel a deep guilt… which is better than the shame I used to feel.  Although I also still feel the strings of doubt clinging to me about whether I am worthy of love.  The good thing is that I can identify this and talk myself through it.  Worse case, I make an appointment with my therapist and she helps me navigate it.  The energy is best spent on establishing tools to manage my anger and diffuse it before it explodes… not on questioning my value (which can rob me of the confidence to succeed this).

I’m reading an exceptional book called The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.  It’s about a science journalist who struggles with an autoimmune disease and embarks on a 1 year journey to engage her brain in a way to heal her body and address her symptoms.  She uses therapy, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction meditation, yoga, and acupuncture.  I’ve tried the MBSR breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation around observing my feelings… and they have actually been very helpful.

I’m putting quite a bit of attention and effort into identifying my feelings as they come up… observing them… and breathing through them.  I start and end each day with a short meditation.  And I practice the breathing almost hourly throughout the day.  Combining these with getting to the gym to lift weights every day and my latest passion for swimming… I am a good step along the path.

And I am certain I will mess up again.  Because this is not a state of perfection.  This is a very long path towards peace.  I will stumble.  And I will get back up again and keep going.  This is the balance of being human.  I am fragile.  And I am resilient.

When you are in this place, Kiddo, and you think that nothing can preempt your temper because it flashes so quickly and explodes beyond your control… know that there will come a time when you can slow down this process… when you can feel it begin to rise… and you will be able to be gentle with that scared part of yourself that is lashing out because you are terrified of being hurt.

Fragile.  And resilient.

The River of Loss

10/23/2014

Peter Gabriel – Washing Of The Water

River, river, carry me on
Living river, carry me on
River, river, carry me on
To the place where I come from

So deep, so wide, will you take me on your back for a ride
If I should fall, would you swallow me deep inside
River, show me how to float, I feel like I’m sinking down
Thought that I could get along

But here in this water, my feet won’t touch the ground
I need something to turn myself around

Going away, away toward the sea
River deep, can you lift up and carry me
Oh roll on through the heartland
‘Til the sun has left the sky
River, river, carry me high

‘Til the washing of the water, make it all alright
Let your waters reach me, like she reached me tonight

Letting go, it’s so hard, the way it’s hurting now
To get this love untied
So tough to stay with this thing, ‘cuz if I follow through
I face what I denied
I’ll get those hooks out of me
And I’ll take out the hooks that I sunk deep in your side
Kill that fear of emptiness, that loneliness I hide

River, oh river, river running deep
Bring me something that will let me get to sleep

In the washing of the water will you take it all away
Bring me something to take this pain away

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written to you, Kiddo. Life has a way of intercepting my intentions and commandeering my processes. As they say, Life is what happens while you are making other plans.

In the past few months, my life has been in something of an upheaval. A very good friend of mine has ended our friendship of more than a decade. I understand the reasoning… but that doesn’t resolve the pain in me. Only allowing the grieving process to run its course will do that.

The hardest moment in this process was realizing that my view of our relationship was not the same as my friend’s view. The span of difference in our discrepancy was significant and made me realize I had made some big assumptions. The process of mourning requires me to not just grieve the loss of the relationship… but the erroneous beliefs I held.

I went through a tough time of hurt and anger before I realized that I was missing an important part of the process. I needed to actually allow myself to MISS my friend. To embrace the sadness… the loss… and giving up the future we will never share.

To help me through this process, I wrote a letter to my friend which I never sent. It contains three lists: Those things I am sorry for (because I own the part I played in this separation); Those things I am thankful for; and those things I miss to which I must now say goodbye.

It took me 4 days to write the lists. One entire day was spent sitting on my back porch, just processing… reliving… crying… letting go.

Every so often, I reopen the letter and add to the lists… especially the things to which I must say goodbye. Those are the hardest to acknowledge. But they also seem to help the process the most.

The saddest things on the list are actually not the just the things I miss… but the future we will never share. I hadn’t realized how much hope I had placed on this relationship’s shoulders. This friendship had seen me through some dark times and I guess I expected that it would always be there for me to lean on. I find it ironic that I could have a life filled with many other wonderful friends and a deeply supportive family… and yet this loss can, at times, make me feel quite lonely.

Understand this, Kiddo: When you grieve the loss of someone (through death or separation), you are grieving the loss of someone who will not – who cannot – be replaced. There will never be anyone in the world who relates to you the same way. No one you will ever meet who will fill the same combination of needs for you. No person who will ever mean to you what that person meant in your life.

So you have a right to mourn. You have a right to flounder about and feel lost for awhile. Your fear of abandonment will rise up and try to darken your loss into anger and pain. This is normal for a short time. Then you must take the reins and let yourself miss the person.

You will get your bearings eventually and those wounds will slowly heal. The river will run its course.

Saving Myself

5/4/14

Wow. Has it really been so long since I wrote to you?

I’ve been pushing through a lot lately. Back in therapy working on more unresolved feelings from my past. It’s sad when something comes up in my current life and my reaction is directly tied to my childhood. All these years later… and so much effort in my quest to become whole again… yet still the scars of the past haunt my present.

Here is my latest challenge.

I have been wrestling with a need to save my friends for a long time… when it really hasn’t been them I have been trying to save. I’ve been trying to save myself when I was a child. This is why abused people often cling to abusive mates… because they are trying to change the mate so they can change their past feeling of helplessness. They are willing to risk their lives in an attempt to prove that they can actually control the other person’s nature. Because as a child, this was how they handled their situation – do everything possible to control it so that I, the child, am not victimized yet again.

When someone I love is suffering, it is very hard for me to not jump in and try to fix things… or fix them. The belief that someone is capable of overcoming their situation with help (even if they don’t want it) is a particularly powerful lure for my need.

So it’s a process of owning the fact that it’s my own need that drives this response in me. I can’t save my friends. But I can love them… I can offer them support that doesn’t compromise my boundaries, force them to change, or enable their own situation. I can feel for their suffering without condemning them for not doing something about it. When I can be in this place, I will find greater peace between us… and a healthier relationship.

To do this, I must deeply accept that it isn’t them I have been trying to rescue all this time… it is my own child-self. Every time I have done this, I am attempting to prove to myself that I can or could have controlled being a victim. I want to rescue them for the deeper reason that no one rescued me.

You will face these moments over and over again in your life, Kiddo. You will dive in and do whatever it takes to fix the problem… to fix your friends. All I ask is that you step back for a moment and ask yourself who it is that you need to fix. Because decades later, I am still trying to figure this one out.

Love,
Me

Your Temper and Flame

2/22/14

Hey Kiddo,

This is addressed to the older version of you… who has left home and is finding a new beginning away from the darkness.

Let’s talk about temper.  I’m going to try and word this carefully so you can be open to chewing on it… because it’s a tough topic with some even tougher ingredients.

You grew up in an abusive environment and because of this, your needs were not being met.  Your mother is wrapped up in her own pain and cannot recognize you as an individual… she needs to intimidate and dominate you because her neurotic need is control.  The only way you could create enough space to be yourself was to rebel against her and reject her.  She met this rebellion at first by beating you.  When that didn’t work, she disavowed you… essentially “unmaking” you in her own eyes.

On your end, you mistake your toughness for emotional resiliency.  But the truth is that emotional resiliency comes from believing that you are worthy of love no matter your mistakes and that you can dare to feel your full range of emotions – yes, even sadness , fear and pain – without compromising your strength or your worthiness.

You have distanced yourself from your needs because they could not be met.  Which undermines your sense of self and of confidence in yourself… because your “self” has been locked up and put away in order to protect it and to find safety.  But this comes at a terrible cost.  Because the vacuum it leaves needs to be filled with something.  So you have replaced it with an idealized image of yourself – that which you should be.  This idealized image drives you to be better… to protect yourself… to hold power.  So that you will not be harmed gain.  So that you will succeed no matter what.  You will conquer… or you will exist without any needs.  Because in your mind, needs are weakness.  Your desire to achieve this idealized state is more than a want… it drives you.

Right now you are trying to reign in your temper with raw willpower and discipline.  This idea of whipping your feelings into submission is not healthy… because it doesn’t allow you the ability to *outgrow* your temper.

The key to your temper is in your belief about what should or should not happen.  When you were in an abusive environment, your temper was sometimes necessary to protect you from abuse.  However, when you now lose your temper at a small incident, it is because you have a claim on what should or should not happen – even at the smallest level.  An honest mistake by you or someone else triggers a stream of anger and intense feelings in you because your idealized image believes that you do not deserve this.  Life owes you a break. Right now, as you read this, you are denying that this applies to you.

In these moments when you lose your temper for situations that are not dangerous, your temper is based in your idealized image.  Your fear keeps you rigid in your belief that you do not deserve this kind of treatment and therefore it should not happen to you.  This conflicts with reality which is that these kinds of things can and do happen… and you do not have control over them.  You have to resign (I know how much you hate that word) to this fact and deal with it.

How do you counter this?  You have to accept your limitations and allow for other’s limitations.  You have to ask yourself what claim you are making at this moment… and is it based in a “should”.  Is your imagination conjuring up more dire consequences than might realistically happen?  Can you survive the outcome of those consequences if they come to pass?

You are heading into a safe place where you can create new relationships and seek out health. To do this, you have to ask yourself these questions when you feel your temper begin to spiral.

You have needs and wants that were not being met.  Later in life, you will continue to have some of your wants left unfulfilled (thankfully, most of your needs will be met).  The key to this is to not confuse your needs and wants with entitlement.  When they are left unfulfilled, you will tend to think of them as more than needs or wants… you will think of them as claims.  And when these claims are unmet, you will push them down… hide them… and further distance yourself from your true self.

I know this sounds like psycho-babble.  But it’s a painful journey many people have made before you.  And there is no quick cure.  It requires attention to your real self… your real needs… your real desires.  And the ability to accept that you will not always get what you want or even need.  But you will still survive because there is some part of your flame that didn’t get snuffed out.

Keep moving forward and know that your ability to feel a full range of emotions is your saving grace.  Eventually you will discover that this is the foundation of your real strength.

You have seen this in your own words written do many years ago.  I leave them for you here.

“Spark”

I was once a piece of darkness

Everything about me fed my blackness

Nothing escaped my void

No light no sound no feeling

 

But there was always that miniscule spark

That speck of something so small

It barely cast a shadow

 

But it did

 

And my darkness reached to snuff it

To carelessly flick it away

And barely cast it a glance as it dies

 

But it didn’t

 

It felt my touch and it burned hotter

It burned my darkness

It seared and it scorched

It flew straight into my void

And it burst into flames

 

It fed on all the light that I had swallowed

It burned and raged in utter defiance

The darkness shriveled at its touch

 

The fire fed itself

 

The brightness and heat cast itself outward

Attracting light and warmth from without

 

Sometimes the heat is too powerful

It can singe those who stand too near

The light cannot give it direction

 

But given enough heat, the light will follow

I touched a small spark and became a flame

All light and sound and feeling

It’s About You

2/2/14

Hey Kiddo,

They say you can’t truly appreciate what your parents went through until you, yourself, are a parent. I think I have to agree. I think it takes being a parent and wrestling with all of your unresolved demons while trying so very hard to not pollute your own kids with the hell you experienced for you to get a better understanding of what your own parents tried to accomplish. Connecting with your parents’ and their struggles can help you better grasp why they did what they did. It can help you forgive and let go. Which is not about letting THEM have peace… but about letting YOU have peace.

What I’m going to write here is NOT an excuse for her actions. You are still a kid and you are not expected to understand this (in fact, that’s one of her biggest mistakes which sparks her anger). All I’m going to do is throw this stuff out there and hope some of it sticks for later on… and helps you to make sense of all this bullshit.

1) She lived through her own child hell. Her parents were just as physically and emotionally abusive as she is. They were her mentors. They taught her to be just like her.

2) Her pain isn’t about you. It’s about her. Which is unfortunate. Because the majority of being a parent should be about the kid and THEIR needs.

3) Unlike you, she didn’t have either the ability or the opportunity to separate and find a sense of just how sick her upbringing was. She may have had moments of insight where she realized that this wasn’t right… but she didn’t have the support to keep walking toward that concept… or the courage to step away from the sickness which was the only form of “love” she could grasp.

4) She didn’t have a safe childhood either… so she didn’t know how to give you one.

5) If she accepts that you are just a child and couldn’t possibly know any better, she would have to accept that SHE had been just a child and that her parents were the source of her pain and terror… and that would mean being angry and even hating them for awhile. It can be easier to hate your parents as a kid that it is as an adult. Especially if your parents are dead and you have no reconciliation possible.

6) Just as Dad doesn’t have the ability to protect you and the other kids from her because of his own issues – at least until he finally told her to leave, Mom doesn’t have the ability to protect you and the others from her own pain and fear.

7) So much of what she does to you is because deep down inside, she is terrified that she isn’t worthy of love. She is afraid that she is expendable and doesn’t matter. Because this is what her parents reinforced every time they refused to acknowledge her existence due to some error on her part. Love, in her world, is absolutely conditional.

8) When she drinks, it’s to numb this immensely deep pain inside of her… so she can get a moment of relief. Except that when she is angry and drunk, the only way to handle that pain is to externalize it… to convince herself that everyone and everything around her is responsible for her pain… and that it’s okay to lash out against it. She thinks it’s you… but it’s her own issues that cause this. She blames you for making her angry… which is like a powder keg going to a bonfire and blaming the sparks for its explosion.

You’ve got to know that these reasons do NOT lessen the evil she has done. And that’s what it is: Evil. To take your pain out on innocent children is evil. There are few things more evil, in my opinion. Just try to keep in mind that evil isn’t born. It’s not a person. It’s a forged way of seeing things and then acting on that vision. It’s hammer is the pain you experience and it’s anvil is the pain you don’t process.

She has faced moments too numerous to count where she had a choice. Her choice was to hold on to her pain instead of getting help to deal with it. Because the journey into the pain was simply too much for her. So she is controlled by it and throws it at the people around her whenever she feels like she might get hurt again. Which is often.

I hope this helps, Kiddo. At this point in my life, I feel like I can start slowly connecting with her pain so I can forgive her with more than just words. She won’t ever know this because all these decades later, she still won’t speak to me. But even now, this isn’t about her. It never was.

Love,

Me

Safe & Sound

12/14/13

Hey Kiddo,

As you know, I’m not a particular fan of modern pop music. So when my kids suggested I take a moment and watch a video with Taylor Swift (who isn’t of particular interest to anyone in our household) sing a song she co-wrote with the Civil Wars for The Hunger Games movie called “Safe & Sound”, I was immediately impressed by the simplicity and haunting nature of the song. In fact, I was grateful for the introduction to the Civil Wars who are now one of my favorite folk duos.

Anyway, the song was something of an earworm and I found myself humming it over and over again. It took awhile for me to actually pay close attention to the lyrics… and then it seemed to burrow into my heart.

Since you haven’t heard the song yet, here are the main lyrics of Safe & Sound:

I remember tears streaming down your face
When I said, “I’ll never let you go”
When all those shadows almost killed your light
I remember you said, “Don’t leave me here alone”
But all that’s dead and gone and passed tonight

Just close your eyes
The sun is going down
You’ll be alright
No one can hurt you now
Come morning light
You and I’ll be safe and sound

Don’t you dare look out your window, darling,
Everything’s on fire
The war outside our door keeps raging on
Hold on to this lullaby
Even when music’s gone
Gone

Just close your eyes
The sun is going down
You’ll be alright
No one can hurt you now
Come morning light
You and I’ll be safe and sound

Like I said… haunting.

This is one of those songs that will sneak into my ‘shuffle all’ playlist and, on occasion, catch me in a vulnerable moment. When this happens, it inevitably drags up some dark memories with some equally dark feelings trailing behind them.

Memories of experiences you, my younger self, are still living through. Like the nights when you hide in your room, tears streaming down your face, trying to drown out the sound of her yelling at Dad or one of the other kids. Being woken up in the middle of the night to her drunken screaming. Pushing your back against the wall in bed… staring through the dark at the line of light under the door… waiting for the shadow of her feet to pass by… praying she doesn’t burst into the room with that look of maniacal rage and an uncontrollable need to hurt someone. Because you have nowhere to hide. And the belt she uses can reach across the bed no matter how fast you scramble.

To you as a child, this is the war outside your window. Only closing your eyes won’t make it go away. And the light of the morning didn’t mean you were safe.

Her shadow almost killed your light. Until you learned how to lock it away and fight like a beast to protect yourself… hurting others with abandon because you couldn’t afford to feel anything lest she find that hole in your armor and once again, you would have nowhere to hide.

Today, I look back on this and feel such pain for what you went through… and for the people you hurt. Some of them were innocent bystanders who were your target because you needed to feel some kind (any kind) of power. Later, it was the other wounded people who you hurt… other bullies who you bullied because it seemed like justice to you… failing to realize that they were suffering just as much as you.

I ask myself what I could possibly say to you to make you change your ways back then. Honestly, I don’t know. No one could have convinced me that taking off the armor of unfeeling and putting down the weapons of anger, hate, and vengeance could possibly make me stronger. It simply didn’t fit my definition of strength.

Don’t mistake my words, Scrapper… letting go of these defenses won’t make you invulnerable to hurt. But allowing yourself to feel and to connect with others in a way far beyond simple loyalty (as deep as it may be) means one day you will have allies who won’t shy away from your scars.

This process will bring healing… even as painful as the journey will be to return to this place you live in and finally, truly, endure the feelings you are burying beneath your armor. But I will come back for you. And I will never leave you there, alone, again.

This is what will make the light you carry inside safe and sound. Finally.

 

This sucks.

Hey Kiddo,

I’m going through a time right now that’s rather painful.  Not all the time… but at least daily I struggle with the deep sadness from a recent change in a close relationship.

There are times when it’s so powerful, I have to stop for a moment and just let it wash over me.  I have to let it be and experience it or it will transfer into my old standby emotions of anger and regret.  These are the feelings that take over when I leave pain and sadness unprocessed.  It took me a long time to recognize this… but now I am aware and can take measures to redirect my focus back to the original source of the feeling.

I don’t like it.  In fact, it sucks.  But it’s beyond my control and I have to let this take its course.  I just wish it didn’t hurt (aka “suck”) so much.  Letting pain do its thing and “sitting with it” takes a ton of faith that eventually, the pain will ease.  Some days are worse than others and it can make anyone wonder when the hell it will ever end.  Or at least suck less.

So this is me dealing with this.  Tossing and turning at night as my brain subconsciously tries to find a way to not have to deal with this (aka “fix it”).  Handling inopportune occasions when the feeling is so strong I can’t speak and tears threaten to fall.  Experiencing moments of respite where beauty rises into my vision… only to have it diminish into the grey of sadness.  Trying really hard not to get annoyed with how long this will take to process (aka “haunt me”).

Yeah, this sucks.

But the alternative is worse.  The other branch of the road well travelled in my history was to deny the pain.  Convert it into anger and blame.  And if that wears off, then shame and regret can take over and leave their taint on how I see myself.

You see, with time, pain that is given attention and space to exist will diminish (although it may not seem like that at the time).  However, with time, unprocessed pain can pile up… distort your perspective of things that seem unrelated… overflow into uncontrolled outbursts (aka “temper tantrum”)… and, if left unaddressed long enough, separate from the memory of the experience which inspired the pain and leave an orphan feeling that still resides but is so much harder to deal with because it lacks context.

I am so done with that.

So here I am.  Hurting.  Crying.  Dealing.  Living through this.  And eventually, healing from it.

If I can tell you it’s worth it from this place I’m in right now, then you should believe it.  Because it is.

And it also sucks.

The Battle Inside Your Skull

I’ve been writing all these letters to myself and I can’t help but wonder about the other misfits out there.  I know you are there. I have met some of you.  Others I see when I walk down the city street.  You are standing off to the side, leaning against a wall, staring out into nothing… a warrior who fights a non-stop battle on the inside of your skull.  The pain leaves wounds that others can’t see and so they think you have an “attitude problem”.  You struggle between giving up and letting the river of pain-killers wash you away into an ocean of numbness… and lashing out at everyone and everything around you that had a hand in building this pit of hatred that poisons you.

I remember when I held my anger and hate up as a righteous banner.  It drove me forward instead of succumbing to the escape of unfeeling.  I used it so often that I began to see it as a powerful tool and the thought of giving it up was absurd.  Why would I give up the power that keeps me alive?

Then I came to realize that I was alive… but I wasn’t living.

The comprehension of that sentence didn’t really sink in until I had kids.  I saw what I missed out on… that untainted innocence where life seems full of exciting possibilities and the safety of being loved no matter what encourages growth and allows for mistakes.

I know for a fact that I have messed up as a parent… what parent hasn’t?  But I worked (and continue to work) almost obsessively to overcome my own childhood while raising my kids.  Ideally, I would have done most of that work before having kids.  But it was my children who showed me what was possible and it was my love for them that pushed me to get help.

If only I could have taken what I saw in them and show this to my younger self in such a way that my younger self could actually see and understand it… and not push it away as an impossible objective.  Impossible because I wasn’t ready to give up the power of my hatred and anger.

I don’t expect that these words will matter much to those who are where I was at that time.  But perhaps there are some of you who have stepped down the path towards your potential and are more open to this concept than I was then:  Your hatred and anger are NOTHING compared to the power you will hold when you know and give love and compassion.

This kind of power isn’t the kind you use to manipulate people.  And it doesn’t protect you from being hurt.

What it does is create a deep core of certainty within yourself that you are bigger and stronger than anything that can hurt you.  Not that it won’t hurt you… only that it won’t stop you.  It won’t destroy you.  And this knowledge isn’t a dark pit that swallows joy because it doesn’t trust the impermanency of positive feelings.  It’s a deep well of still water that holds on to every beautiful moment and quenches your pain when you are hurt.  It shares and receives love through the act of compassion and connection.  It allows room for feeling sadness, anger, and fear.  But it tempers these feelings with the knowledge that these feelings are temporary as well.  Beauty and love are still possible.

However, here’s the catch to all of this:  You have to trust yourself to be able to handle the full range of feelings… and survive the pain that seems unbearable… the pains of abandonment, broken trust, guilt, a sense of worthlessness, and more.  You have to be able to dig into these feelings and face them.  But you don’t have to do it alone.  I know you think you do.  Being alone protects you from betrayal.  And yet being alone also keeps you from connecting with others and growing the love that can replace your hate.

If you are in school, there are counselors available.  Depending on the size of the school, there may be more than one to choose from.  If you are afraid of talking to someone who might report to your parent(s), then talk to your doctor or pediatrician.  They are required to keep what you say private.

If you are an adult, there are many professionals in the field of therapy for you to consider.

I’m not going to tell you that all therapists are alike.  They certainly are not.  I feel utterly fortunate that I found one who knew how to work with me.  But until you push yourself to try and meet a few and see if there is one you can start the (very) long trek with, your fear of betrayal will keep you from throwing light into that dark pit and facing whatever comes out.

If anything I have described here touches a chord in you and you want to take the first, hardest step of the journey, here is a database of Therapists that can get you started.  Look through and find a few that are local and send them an email.  Many of them either accept insurance or have sliding fee scales if you are on limited income and almost all offer a free initial consultation so you can see if there is a fit.

Don’t get caught up in the details.  Your brain will only use that as a reason to delay your act of reaching out.  Just click on the Email button and send out a line or two.

Here’s a start for you:  Hi, {name of Therapist}.  I found your contact information online.  Are you accepting new clients?  If so, do you offer a complimentary initial visit so that I can see if we can work together?  Thank you, {your name}

It’s literally as easy as that.  Then, when they email back, they might ask to talk to you on the phone.  It’s okay.  They want to be sure that they feel qualified to help you.  And at the first visit, feel free to ask tons of questions.  Although if you ask a probing question about their personal life, they may explain to you that it’s best to focus on you.  This is not just normal, it’s an important part of the process.  They are not there for a friendship.  They are there to be your mirror… your consultant… and your champion.  They don’t want you to focus on them.  They want 100% of the focus to be on you and your journey.

So give it a go and put your hiking boots on.  Put down the banner of hate and anger.  And start your journey away from the battle that doesn’t belong to you.

Your Peace Is Waiting

10/5/13

Hey Kiddo,

I’ve been distracted by work lately and haven’t had a chance to write to you.  But I still think of you often.

Today I watched the autumn leaves fall from the trees like colorful paper butterflies in a dancing descent.   I love this time of year.  The smells are rich and the colors vivid.  Where spring breathes life into everything and makes my heart beat faster with anticipation, autumn calms me and is a season of reflection.

Your moments of reflection are different than mine are now.  So much of your inner thoughts and feelings are dark and harsh.  You strive to make up for this with unvoiced fantasies where you play the hero and are untouched by the poisonous people and emotions surrounding you.  Always, your stories are tales of strength, valor, sacrifice, and survival.  You hold on to these stories because you want to believe that you are capable of this level of perfection.

Eventually, you will forgive yourself for being human.  And then you will embrace your humanness and see it as something beautiful… flawed… and resilient.

When this happens, how you talk to yourself will change.  Right now, your fantasies are heroic… but your inner voice is merciless.  You replay your mistakes over and over again.  You try to rewrite the outcome and vow to not make the same error ever again.  And as much as you will deny it, you are equally merciless with the people around you.  You just do a better job of hiding it.  Or you tell yourself that it’s okay for them to mess up… but you hold yourself to a higher standard.  What you don’t realize is that the standard you expect is inhumane.

Your anger is a daily emotion that lies buried beneath even the most exceptional days.  It seeps into your dreams and warps them into nightmares of pulse pounding anxiety, haunted abandonment, harrowing battles, and wrenching betrayal.   This happens so frequently that you sadly believe it’s just a fact of life.  It isn’t.

Your life will change.  Not all at once.  It will take years and years of deep engagement with yourself along with the help of a talented therapist and a profoundly supportive and forgiving mate, children, and a few close friends.

Your words to yourself will be kind and accepting.  Your compassion will ease the harsh feelings that try to rise up when you make a mistake.  You will forgive yourself for your limitations and yet still strive to better yourself.  This last part is important… because you confuse anger at lack of perfection with trying to be better.  But it actually holds you back from real improvement.

Please understand that these words I share with you are not judgment on your character.  You are in the midst, or coming out of, terrible circumstances that require you to protect yourself.  You are doing the best that you can possibly do to survive.  It will be a long time until you feel safe enough to challenge your habits and see that they are no longer necessary.  But this won’t happen until you are actually safe.  Use this as your gauge.  When you take stock of your life and you honestly believe that the people around you cannot hurt you more than you allow them to, then you have enough power to grow.

Until then, you must do what it takes to survive.  Bottle up those fragile parts and protect them until you can find someone to trust.  Then uncork and gently explore them.  But give yourself time and space to do so slowly… with care.  Your desire to dive in and wrestle the memories that haunt you can create an ocean of pain.  Tread lightly and you will instead find yourself navigating a gentle rain… that sometimes becomes a downpour… but not enough to drown you.

As you read these words, know that I admire you.  I am proud of your passion and your tenacity.  I feel for your struggle to hold back the tears.  I am saddened by the pain you carry but also inspired by your strength.

Most of all, you need to know that you succeeded.  You found the courage to reach out and ask for help.  You learned to trust.  Your nightmares diminish and are filled with dreams of wonder and colorful creativity.  And those scars inside fade into memories that hold compassion instead of regret and derision.  You won’t forget.  You simply won’t suffer.

Hold on, young warrior.  Your peace is waiting for you.

Love and Respect,

Me

The Demon’s Climb

Hey Kiddo,

I won’t lie… You’ve got some tough times in front of you.  But you will succeed in pushing through.  One day you will weave a story about being a demon who is fighting like mad to climb out of hell.  But all the other demons are pulling me back down.  They tear and rip at me because I am trying to be other than who I am.  I am trying to climb that molten cliff to the very top… where the silver light glints against the clouds… where the glowing angels reside.  I want nothing more than to be one of their number.  So I fight and I climb.

But even when I manage to claw my way far enough above where the other demons cannot reach me, I find my wounds too deep… and my strength to weak… my very nature fights me.  Even if I were to reach the top… the angels would never accept me.  I am a spawn of darkness and they are children of light.  They will sense my fear, pain, and hatred and cast me off the edge to plummet back into the black pit.

I know this.

And yet I still climb.

It is as much my nature to defy my destiny as it is to acknowledge it.  I will climb until I die.  This is my story.

But the story isn’t done.

Here’s the thing, my young friend:  Those angels are not on the cliff above you.  They are that spark of defiance within you.

Remember the time you tried to slit your wrist?  Just as the blade touched your skin, you were overcome by nausea… your hand wouldn’t move… the droplets of blood burned as they welled up but you couldn’t draw the blade any further.  Your body revolted and you threw the knife across your bedroom.  You were enraged at yourself.  You failed.  You were weak.   You couldn’t even do this ONE THING.  You despised yourself.

You were also very wrong.

That weakness you felt was actually strength.  It was the deeply buried seed of defiance that rose up and seized your hand.  It would not allow defeat at the hands of death… even if those hands were your own.

This seed is something that you tap into on occasion… when you are alone and your mind starts threading stories together.  It’s the heart of your imagination.  Buried under all of that hate and rage lies a source of such powerful creativity that it will do anything to keep existing… to keep reaching out… to keep creating.  Death would halt this process.  And so it must defy your command.

When you finally step away from the judgment of others, and allow yourself tap into that place unhindered by self hate… by stepping through the doorway of vulnerability… you will find a source of such passion and energy combined with (interestingly enough) peace and acceptance.  You will reach into this source and become one with it.  You will reach outside of yourself and share it… teaching others how to find this inside themselves.

This is what stopped you from ending your life… this creativity and defiance.  It is who you are.  One day you will realize that you won’t have to fight and climb that cliff anymore.  And the question is not whether the angels will accept you… but whether you can accept the angel already inside of you.

Faith and Control

Hey Kiddo,

Let’s talk about faith.  You’re going to struggle with this one… because you find trust a difficult act.  It comes from being lied to over and over again by someone who you should have been able to trust.  You have a tough time believing things you can’t measure or see with your own eyes or touch.  You want clear answers.  Fantasy is fine for entertainment… but when it comes down to making real decisions, you want the facts.  Because the facts allow you to make better decisions… and more accurately predict outcomes.  Prediction is important because then you can be prepared… and protect yourself.  In the end, it’s all about control.  You need it.  It’s your sanity.

Flash forward a few decades and from all of my experience and accumulated wisdom, I can tell you this:  Control is an illusion.  The irony is that you are going to have to open your grip on this one in order to handle what life throws at you.  If you keep clutching at it, you will only lose the sanity you hope to protect.

You cannot control other people.  You can influence them for good or bad… you can harm them or help them… but in the end, you cannot change them.  That’s up to them.

You cannot control what life gives you.  You can prepare yourself for situations and you can increase or decrease your chances of good or bad occurrences based on your choices and actions… but when these things actually happen, you will find your actual role was limited.

What you can control is how you react to people and situations.  You can control what you choose to focus on.  You can decide how to interpret what, at first glance, appears to be an intentional slight… or bad luck.  You can make the choice on whether the person standing before you is an annoying person… or a person who is struggling with their own issues and trying like hell to cope.  The way they accomplish this may not be your way… but the root cause of their actions and opinions may actually be closely aligned to the root cause of your own problems.

The need for control will haunt you for a long time.  It will keep you from being able to say “I have done enough” and will be the dark whisper in your soul that says “I am never enough”.

Eventually you will see this poison for what it is.  But seeing is only the first step.  Then you must believe it.  Embrace it.  And in doing so, you will begin to know faith.

Know this, however… faith is never without doubt.  Doubt, in fact, is the forge of faith.  Without it, you would become fanatical and you will cease to question your certainty… you will believe yourself to know “The Truth”… and condemn those who do not.  This is spiritual stagnation and the suicide of growth.

Hold on to your doubt.  It will keep you human.  It will guide you when the path seems too sterile.  It will allow the green growth of possibilities and creativity.  It will be your ally.

Instructions for a Bad Day

7/6/13

Hey Scrapper…

I saw this video called “Instructions for a Bad Day” from an amazing man named Shane Koyczan, who took his horror and made it into a gift.  I wish that you had read or heard something like this when you were going through your hell.  Sometimes it’s all you can do to get through the day.  So here I will record it in hopes that you will find it when you need it.

Instructions for a Bad Day by Shane Koyczan:

There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the gray sky clean. Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is, whether we see them or not – the sun and moon are still there and always there is light.

Be forthright. Despite your instinct to say, “it’s alright, I’m okay” – be honest. Say how you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity. Be lucid in your explanation, be sterling in your oppose. If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone – that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion.

We hungry underdogs, we risers with dawn, we dismissers of odds, we blessers of on – we will station ourselves to the calm. We will hold ourselves to the steady, be ready, player one. Life is going to come at you armed with hard times and tough choices, your voice is your weapon, your thoughts ammunition – there are no free extra men, be aware that as the instant now passes, it exists now as then. So be a mirror reflecting yourself back, and remembering the times when you thought all of this was too hard and that you’d never make it through.

Remember the times you could have pressed quit – but you hit continue. Be forgiving. Living with the burden of anger, is not living. Giving your focus to wrath will leave your entire self absent of what you need. Love and hate are beasts and the one that grows is the one you feed. Be persistent. Be the weed growing through the cracks in the cement, beautiful – because it doesn’t know it’s not supposed to grow there. Be resolute. Declare what you accept as true in a way that envisions the resolve with which you accept it.

If you are having a good day, be considerate. A simple smile could be the first-aid kit that someone has been looking for. If you believe with absolute honesty that you are doing everything you can – do more.

There will be bad days, times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for an easy way out. There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending. Instances spent pretending that everything is all right when it clearly is not, check your blind spot. See that love is still there, be patient. Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end. Ignore what others have called you. I am calling you friend. Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis. Silence left to its own devices, breed’s silence.

So speak and be heard. One word after the next, express yourself and put your life into context – if you find that no one is listening, be loud. Make noise. Stand in poise and be open. Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on. In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again. Everyone is blessed with the ability to listen. The deaf will hear you with their eyes. The blind will see you with their hands. Let your heart fill their newsstands, Let them read all about it. Admit to the bad days, the impossible nights. Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but have come back. They’ll tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack disappear you can even wear your sorrow – but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.

Everyone knows pain. We are not meant to carry it forever. We were never meant to hold it so closely, so be certain in the belief that what pain belongs to now will belong soon to then. That when someone asks you how was your day, realize that for some of us – it’s the only way we know how to say, “be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm, slowly now – let go.”

Surrender

6/3/13

Hey Kiddo,

I’ve been writing quite a few of these letters lately.  It’s where I’m at… things are a bit hectic as I work through my current life’s challenges and I find that it helps keep me grounded to dig into myself and process old wounds.  It’s not fun… but after the initial pain of rehashing, it gets easier.  And it tames the memories.  That’s the most important part.  Because old feelings left unprocessed will haunt relentlessly like a ghost left without justice.

So I dig up some of those memories that still hold pain or self berating (you’d be surprised at how many of these have accumulated over the decades) and I give myself space and time to lean into them.  It sucks.  Let me tell you that.  But you should know that I don’t blame you for not doing this.  You weren’t in a place that was safe to do so.  As you read this, you might think that you are brave enough to try anyway.  But your understanding of the term “brave” and my own understanding are very different now.

I used to think that being brave meant fighting back… or doing risky things… looking death in the face and standing my ground.  I always knew that a person needed to feel fear to be brave… you got that one early on.  But somehow for you, brave has always meant some act of defiance.  Am I right?  “Better to die fighting” is your motto.  Every inch of you is a scrapper.  I am proud of your tenacity and sheer willpower.  You grab life by the horns and wrestle it into submission.  It’s how you handle all that fear.  Which definitely makes you a type of brave – I’ll give you that.

There’s another kind of brave that I’ll call “Deep Courage”.  Deep courage is foreign to you and as you read this, it’s going to make you feel repulsed.  If you are paying attention, you may even notice your upper lip curling a little… perhaps your nostrils flaring.  You will feel betrayed.  That’s okay… forge on.

Here you go:  Being deeply courageous means sometimes surrendering.

Remember back in my letter about therapy?  How the only way to face that ocean of terror is to let go of control and let it happen?

Well, it’s more than that.  Letting a feeling happen will be a good step.  However, surrendering to the feeling will take you to a whole new place.  A place where the feeling doesn’t need action.  Where you feel no blame or judgment.  Anger is unclothed to reveal fear and sadness… and loss.  And eventually, at the heart of it, love.

Sounds like New Age bullshit, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I know.  But I’ve lived this.  It’s been a long journey with so many stumbles… with moments where I felt like I was fighting for my life.  And you know what?  I was.  Because what you are doing right now, Kid, is surviving.  You haven’t learned how to really live yet.  You haven’t had a chance to.  You’re too busy trying to protect yourself – with good fucking reason.

You don’t trust people yet.  You think you do.  But most of what you feed them is lies.  Because you are still scared of being betrayed.  And betrayal is worse than a knife wound.  Right now, the level of vulnerability that is required for deep courage is out of your reach.  And you know what?  Even today, I still struggle with this.  I’m no fucking Buddha.  It’s a daily effort and one I fail at more often than I succeed.  But that’s okay.  Because I know where it is and I know I can get there.  All I need is space and time… and trust.

That’s the path, Kiddo.  Buckle up that armor and get back out there.  You have a road to walk.