Category Archives: Letters

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

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

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.

Me and the Tortured Dogs

11/8/14

Hey Kiddo,

I’ve found myself back in therapy for the short term. I’ve been struggling with a deep loss and getting through the grieving process. This therapist has seen me through some very difficult navigation. So I decided to get some input from someone I trust to be forthright and yet also compassionate.

My therapist was particularly on game that day and didn’t let me get away with any shit. As painful as that is, I truly appreciate it. I realized that this is something you simply cannot get from your friends… because they care too much about how you feel about them. They won’t dismantle the little lies you use to cope – because they either cannot see the lies, or they are afraid of hurting you… of exposing you to the sadness and pain you are trying to run from.

I had a hard time handling the feelings that were coming up towards the end of this appointment. I didn’t want to go into it and my therapist called me on it. I was pushing the feelings away because they were too much for me to handle then. I said I couldn’t go into this with so little time left. I didn’t want to melt down and then leave. So we booked a double appointment the following week… to give me more time to process.

On the way home, I thought about why I have such a hard time going into deep feelings and then leaving the therapist’s office… about why it is so utterly difficult for me to show pain or sadness in front of people. I think it’s because it is such a vulnerable moment for me. And when I was young, I was harassed for it by my own family. To show such feelings creates a risk of being judged and belittled. This was something that my mother did frequently and which was so very difficult for me to handle. Unfortunately, my response was to cry more… which caused more criticism and emotional abuse from my mother. It was a vicious cycle that left me feeling exposed and weak… unable to defend myself. Helpless.

That’s the word… helpless. It’s my bane. I have very low tolerance for dealing with that feeling. My default is to DO something… anything other than sitting with that feeling. As you know, Kiddo, your own actions were to separate yourself from your feelings… you buried them deeply and lashed out at those around you. Anything was better than accepting the pain.

I recall an experiment that was done by Martin Seligman around Learned Helplessness. Caged dogs were exposed to shock in a manner that was unpredictable. They were in a constant state of heightened anxiety… and at first, they tried to do whatever they could to stop the shock or predict it. But after time, they came to a breaking point. And when they came to this point, they would do nothing to try and stop the shock. Even if it was as simple as walking to the other side of the cage where there was no shock. They had reached a point of Learned Helplessness.

I remembered this experiment. Along with hating Dr. Seligman for torturing those poor dogs, I also understood that you can go crazy trying to predict “the shock”. I was a fighter… to give in to the shock went against every inch of my being. I would rather go insane trying to figure it out. Acceptance, in my mind, was defeat and a loss of your very soul. My brain would go into overdrive trying to figure out a way out… trying to bargain my way to a resolution. Anything other than sit there and give in to the pain.

I understand now (although still struggle with accepting) that there are some moments in life where you simply cannot stop the shock. You have no power. No choice. You are helpless.

The only thing left to you, at this point, is to accept the shock and focus on the few things you can actually control. You do not have to give up your soul. But you also don’t have to go insane. You have to let go of the bargaining because it will only eat away at our sanity.

My therapist calls it a tolerance for certain feelings… loss, helplessness, unresolved relationships, sadness, and yes – pain. Loss requires grieving. And part of grieving is the bargaining process. I am an expert at the bargaining process. So it will take time for me to let go of this tactic, which at this point, must be hard wired into my brain.

I can be more than those dogs who endured the torture of the unpredictable shock. I can choose to allow the helplessness to exist… and yet also let it fade away as time begins to ease the pain. I do not have to be defined by that time when there is nothing I can do. It does not make me weak or unable to defend myself in the future. I can choose to accept it and move past it.

I can tolerate it.

So can you, Kiddo.  So can you.

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 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.