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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Did Somebody Hit Me Over the Head?- How I Repaired My Life, Part 2

This part of my life, from age 14 to 22 or so, is the nutty part. This is where I went off the rails. I really can't explain what happened to me. It's as though somebody came along, whacked me over the head, and I just sort of  slept my way through this part of my life.

This was a time in my life when my ego was forming and was at it's very worst. That false sense of self that we present to the world. We become the lie. I was certainly not immune to this. If we tell ourselves lies often and long enough- there is a dangerous chance that we may actually begin to believe them. This is who we become.

Years ago in New Orleans, I was sitting in a coffee shop trying to sort out and convey these life events that I am writing about now. I wasn't able to do it. It sounded like a pity party because I simply could not see the value in all of the bad things that had happened to me. I hadn't found any solution yet.

I am writing here now because all of that has changed for me. I see tremendous value in all of the bad things that happen to us and even in some of the bad things that we do to others.

One caveat that I would like to warn you about here. There is no solution in taking on a victim role. Even if it is justified. Victims get hijacked. I don't care if you grew up in this worst house on the planet with parents dealing dope and turning tricks. That kind of environment would certainly have a negative impact on you. However, there is no solution in self pity. We simply take stock of what has happened, how that has negatively effected us, and we plot an emotional solution. It doesn't matter if your father beat you up 100 times- we are here to get well- and getting well will not require us to wallow in self pity or demand apologies. Your dad beat you up. That is over now. It is time to fix us. Heaping shame on someone else for their mistakes will only cause more damage and waste additional time. How do I know this? Because I have made every one of those mistakes.

We want to spend our energy on getting well- not wasting time demanding apologies because our fragile egos think we need one.

I don't think it's really necessary to list all of the stupid things that I did in this time frame. But I think I need to describe it a little. So I will just speak about many of these things in a broader sense. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I was routinely drinking and smoking pot. I was still playing sports but my grades started to deteriorate. I was sneaking out at night and stealing stuff, shoplifting mostly, and returning home before dawn. I was still playing sports but I wasn't doing too well.

My father had moved to Idaho and was working a new job and that provided a little relief for me. The war zone between my parents had a temporary cease fire. After only a year or so after that move, our family moved to Idaho. So the cease fire, as it turns out, was rather short lived.

Idaho was like getting tossed in the deep end of the pool for me. I didn't like it. I often look back on my life and think that I developed a bad attitude that I carried for a long time- shortly after my arrival in Idaho. I was 15, going on 16 that year.

I quit smoking pot after arriving in Idaho. I never really liked it anyway. School was so much easier in Idaho that I didn't have to do much to get by. Sports were far less competitive so it didn't take much to land on the varsity football and basketball teams. I landed a decent job after school during the weeknights and I bought a hot rod. I wrecked it in a drag race, drunk- 6 months after I got it.

I got in a lot of fights with my parents. Some physical and violent. By the time I was 16, I started fighting back. That slowed my parents down. My childhood from age 8 to 16 was just another part of that war zone my parents called a marriage.

Drinking was becoming a bigger part of my life. I graduated in the bottom third of my class, primarily because I just didn't care. I had no plan beyond high school. I was living my life day to day, unconsciously. My father got caught cheating and that was the beginning of the end. That happened the night before I graduated from high school. The day of graduation, I was drunk. In fact, I think I went on a three day drinking binge about that time. I went to work for my uncle in Wyoming that summer and my drinking just continued to get worse. So that was my theme all the way through college and into my working life. I drank to feel better about myself.

I didn't examine this behavior of mine until some 25 years later. This was that unconscious part of my life where I developed an out of control "survival" ego that was completely self absorbed and self centered. All I ever really thought about was me and I think I learned this because my parents were so fully self absorbed themselves. As long as I got what I wanted- that was all that mattered. In fact, I didn't even know that there were people who didn't live this way. I just assumed that everyone took care of their own best interests in some dog eat dog- sort of fashion.

Deep down, I never really felt good about myself. I always thought I was a bad human being and I honestly thought I was responsible for the war zone that was my parents' marriage. I compensated for all of that by drinking. Drinking became my biggest coping mechanism.

I had developed some other issues as well. I didn't have the slightest clue on how to have an intimate relationship, yet here I was running around and dating women, doing all of the stupid stuff that young adults do. I had anger issues and abandonment issues. Think about this. The only relationship guide I had was my parents' constant fighting and their marriage. Wouldn't you have just loved to date me? I was a neanderthal.

It is a quirk of the human ego, that we all think we are incredibly smart. This is a shame- because as a result of this vast intelligence that we think we possess-we sure create a lot of heartache and damage. Imagine how much better off we'd all be if we collectively decided we were stupid. We would be forced to behave with humility and kindness. We would be a whole lot less judgmental because we had already decided we didn't know much. We would be humble and kind because we would know our place as students rather than teachers. Oddly, I think the world would be a much kinder, gentler place- if we could all simply agree that we really don't know how to get along that well. That we are all a lot less smart than we think we are.

So that's it. By 22, I really didn't know much about anything but I thought I did. In college, I had switched majors twice. In 1982, I graduated from college. From full fledged juvenile delinquent to police officer. As odd as this all seems, it makes perfect sense to me now.

Addictive personalities constantly want to to change the way that they feel. I was one of those types. I chewed tobacco, I drank daily, I gambled every chance I had. I couldn't engage in drug use because it was such a no-no for law enforcement (polygraphs) even though I knew a couple of cops who did.

Relationships were impossible. I had no clue how to "have a relationship.". I just knew I didn't want to fight every day like my parents. I figured that much out.

I think I tried very hard to be a "nice" guy in as much as I was capable. I still had a conscience.

I became a cop shortly after my 22nd birthday. It was January, 1983. I had a lot to learn and life doesn't really care if you are ready or not- it just does what it does. The world turns.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Life's a Candy Store, How I Repaired My Life, Part 1

In order to write something of value, I am going to have to speak honestly. A lot of what I am going to say in these essays is intensely personal.

There is simply no other way of conveying truth. Very rarely, and certainly not within my family or circle of friends, do people expose their innermost vulnerabilities. People have been taught not to disclose their innermost emotions. Most people see disclosure as a weakness that leaves them wide open to attack and ridicule. Undoubtedly, we have all felt the sting of that.

But my mission here is to convey how I acquired all of my inaccurate beliefs and how those beliefs negatively impacted me later on in my life. So please try not to judge my family or myself too harshly as you read this- everyone was trying to do the best that they could. 

My parents both came from rural Montana. They both lived on farms with large families. Other than their own personal experiences coupled with strong beliefs and hard work- they really didn't have much     in the way of formal training on how to raise children. Most importantly, they each came from families with moderate amounts of dysfunction and bad beliefs. That point is key to this story. In fact, I never paid too much attention to the levels of dysfunction in my parents' families until I realized the importance of it. Once I understood dysfunction and how it is passed down- I have tried very hard to find the causes of it in my parents. In many cases- I've been able to sort out why they behaved in certain ways and still behave in ways that have not changed much over 40 years or so.

All behavior is learned. My parent's dysfunctions and bad beliefs had to come from somewhere. Of course this makes sense- their dysfunction came directly from their family and personal experiences. Throughout this piece, I am going to refer to these beliefs and how they positively and adversely affected me. My father was 22, my mother was 20 when I was born.

As a young child, I had very high energy. Most members of my family have told me this. I remember some of it- but generally not prior to the age of 4. Had I been born years later, they might very well have diagnosed me with ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In the early 60's, nobody had heard of such a thing. Thankfully. I often wonder about the effects of prescription drugs on brains that are still forming.

So I was a handful. At the age of 3 in Minneapolis, I ran away and was picked up blocks away- by the police. I have often wondered what my mother thought after losing a child like that. Incidentally, she has never me what she was doing that required so much attention that I could effect an escape. People make innocent mistakes- sometimes I think our culture goes completely overboard criticizing honest mistakes.

My father and my mother were unprepared for parenthood. They were kids raising kids. I am comfortable saying this because as I grew older, I began to witness the levels of dysfunction that they exhibited. I could see they had problems. Even as a child, I think I lost credibility in their decisions.

My parents fought like cats and dogs. They were constantly yelling at each other and sometimes this erupted into physical violence. One of my earliest memories was watching my father drag my mother out of the house and then rough her up in the dirt driveway of the house we were living in. Of course, that behavior sounds insane today. But in those days, domestic violence was tolerated, if not expected. The arguments were frequent enough that I began to form my earliest bad beliefs. Two of those beliefs I carried for the rest of my life.

That yelling and violence were acceptable ways of dealing with people. Most importantly, I began to believe that I was responsible for my parents' anger with each other. Often they would direct their angry emotions at me- often enough- that I began to believe that I was somehow the cause of their problems. I developed that belief early enough that I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I felt tension anytime my father, mother, and I were together. Relief came when my folks would spend time with their families, or my grandparents. With witnesses around, my parents were far too prideful to disclose the truth- that they really just didn't like each other too much. They were always on their best behavior because part of our family dysfunction was to never tell anyone that you were having problems.

There's a huge problem with people who don't fully disclose the truth. They are never able to obtain useful, intervening, or helpful advice when you pretend everything is fine. This level of personal dishonesty or non disclosure poses problems that lead to even more dysfunction. Interestingly enough, hitting one another seems to have been pretty common in both of my parents families. Remember what I said about all behavior having been learned?

So my folks put their best face on and pretended that everything was ok. They could lie to their families, and maybe even themselves, but they couldn't lie to me. I knew what was happening even at age 5 or 6.

So those are the two most significant bad beliefs I acquired. I believed confrontations including anger were acceptable. I also believed that I was responsible for my parents' unhappy marriage- that maybe I was a reckless, hard to discipline ADHD type kid that adversely impacted their marriage. That it was my fault. Because of that, I felt my first twinges of guilt and shame. I never felt fully comfortable with myself after that.

My parents were actually pretty good people that simply had no skills for solving their problems or avoiding new ones.  I know that now. They got a lot of things right and they tried very hard to be a family- I knew they were trying. They didn't give up even when they failed repeatedly as a couple. I am very grateful for that lesson, I learned resolve and truthful intent because of them.

For the most part, my childhood was a happy one. Our family moved to Butte, Mt. and I began to participate in sports and trying new things. Skiing, golfing, piano lessons, braces. That sort of thing. My parents were always trying to be good parents and even as a kid, I recognized that. In the end, there was always more fighting. Fighting about money, fighting about houses, fighting about families. My father began to drink a lot and I remember him coming home drunk often. One Christmas Eve, he got drunk and very sick, he was ushered into the bathroom by my mother. Ultimately, he would break a huge mirror that night in the bathroom and another fight broke out that continued thru Christmas Day.

My father had two emotions. Laughing and angry. Oddly, that is what I remember the most about him. As time went on I would see a lot more angry and a lot less laughing. He never talked about his feelings- ever. Nor did my mother. That was a huge part of my family dysfunction- my parents had no idea how to handle their emotions so they just bottled them up. Or drank them away.

In fact, the idea that people self medicate with alcohol, pot, and legal medications is an absolutely insane idea that has reached epidemic proportions. Do we engage in all of that self abuse because we have no other effective means of dealing with our emotions?  You know what I think.

If there ever was a town that encouraged dysfunction it was Butte. As my parents' fighting grew worse and worse, all I wanted to do was get away from them and our house. I spent every waking moment away from home. I was playing pool in bars regularly, golfing, bowling, and gambling, (I had a job picking up range balls) being a funny guy in class and getting in trouble with the nuns at my Catholic school. I engaged in a lot of attention seeking behaviors now that I see all of that clearly. I started chewing tobacco and stealing regularly from grocery stores. I had my first drink at age 11 and I loved it. I drank at our Italian neighbor's house every chance I could. I learned how to play poker. I started stealing tobacco when I had spent all of my summer funds. I got caught stealing when I was 12 or 13.

Strangely after my run in with the Butte cops and subsequently, my angry father, instead of stopping my career of shoplifting- I vowed instead that I would never get caught shoplifting again. I never did.

One other thing happened that would have a huge impact on me later in life. I witnessed a stabbing, a murder in a Butte bar. When they brought the drunken suspect out and put him in the squad car, I can honestly say that at that very moment- was the very first moment that I ever felt hate. I don't know why exactly. I do know that my career choices later in life, would bring me back to that moment.

I loved living in Butte. The Butte of my childhood was a busy, wide open town that all but ignored most laws. Butte certainly shaped me. I never wanted to leave. I have to be honest and say that I was a fully engorged- childhood delinquent. I hid most of that delinquency from my folks. But the copper mine was shutting down and everyone was leaving Butte. So were we. My parents were fighting constantly over a house they were building in Missoula. We were moving soon. It was the summer of 1975.        

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How I Repaired My Life, Introduction

I don't think that anyone learns anything from theory or hypothetical situations that never occur. I never did. I have no memory of some theory or of some incident that never took place. There is no resultant experience. Nothing to draw on. People learn from doing. From succeeding and failing. They feel and they remember that feeling- that is where learning comes from. They might learn from others who are willing to tell the truth about themselves- but only if they share common bonds with you.

So people learn from doing and from feeling. They can store facts and numbers that were learned in a classroom- but chances are- they won't feel those facts or numbers.

I remember songs from the 70's. I feel them when I hear them. I remember how old I was, where I was, and how I felt about them. It is this sense of feeling, of learning, that I will share with you.

How do you know what I'm about to say here is the truth?

Because nobody shreds themselves on a blog and delivers it to the world. There is simply no reason to do so. When people shred themselves and lay bare all that is bad about them- we discover truth. Once we have uncovered the truth about ourselves, we can accept what is bad about ourselves as so many do,  or we can make repairs. We can improve our condition. Nobody can do this except you. Well, with the help of a tour guide.

We learn from the good things in our lives, of course, and we seek to feel those feelings over and over again. Sometimes we cannot recapture them. Sometimes we lose them. When we lose those feelings, can we recover them? Can we find new and better feelings to repair or to replace them?

What's so far-fetched about seeking repairs? Things in our lives such as our houses, cars, appliances, even our relationships, all wear out over time. That seems normal to me. When the belt slips off your dryer and it quits working- you diagnose that and you fix it. Don't you?

So the things that are working properly in my life, or your life, don't need repairs. Those are the good feelings. But the things in my life that are not working- need repairs. That's where I focus.

I am no longer ashamed of the things that are bad about me, the things that need repairing. Without them, I would have learned nothing.

Everything that I am about to write about my life and about myself is true. I am doing this because it is the truth and there is something to be learned from people willing to tell the truth. I have to take the chance that what I am about to disclose about myself will help you. I hope that it doesn't embarrass you.

I am going to write this piece in four parts, or in blocks of my life up to and including the beginning of my 5th block. I am 52 years old. I am the fire sign, Sagittarius, for those who are curious. I am a risk taker. That's why I'm here. Here's a link that sums up who and what I am. I am no astrology buff, but I am in awe at how accurate these things can be. 

I am going to try and write one part per week. I have to be wrapped up by the first part of July. My RoadKing whispers to me. *Editors note- things don't always go as planned.