Search This Blog

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.        

1 comment:

  1. waiting for more and so pleased that you have returned to this site....