Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dealing with My Shadows...all of them.

Apparently I like beer and wearing funny hats (K.Kesgard)
I promise that this blog won't always be about serious topics or passively aggressively yelling about buses, but I also said in the beginning that this wouldn't be always about sports and soccer either. As a writer, I believe there are times where you have to push beyond your bubble and talk about subjects that make you uncomfortable. One of my high school teachers always told me "You can never get any better doing the same thing every day," but I did make her laugh when I said in response, "At least I could be an expert on repetitive behavior." It might have been really funny at the time, but considering that I just turned 50 at the beginning of this year, ruts are what you avoid while driving, not what you want your life to be about. Sometimes, living that is easier said that done.

We are all products of our environment - the experiences and situations encountered to get us to this very moment in time. It's easy to wax nostalgically and say things like if I had made different choices or followed different paths, things might be different; but we are where we are because of the path that got you to where you are. That might sound really confusing, but as I've gone through various incarnations of self help and counseling, it all seems to fall back upon the above statements. Life seems to follow the exercises of pondering the alternatives while often regretting or processing the options that were followed. Combine this with the fact that life itself is in a state of near constant flux with new chapters popping up regularly, it is no wonder that many struggle with the simplest of tasks. Our world has gotten more open with technology and communication that brings the world closer, but information gathering can be like drinking from a fire hose. It's easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted just trying to keep up, but many of us learn skills when we are younger to help us adapt and deal with it all.

So imagine if you will that your younger skills were developed simply to avoid being whomped on, literally or metaphorically. I had always thought my earlier days were relatively happy with the usual challenges that crop up growing up as an oddball in the land of potatoes, but the reality was that I lived in constant trauma. My mother, herself a victim of years of abuse, had surrounded herself with egotistical, aggressive men after she divorced my father, and the impressions of their actions fell deftly on my psyche for years. She, being the product of years of Catholic school and repression, laid her own recipes onto the table, so you could safely say that I dealt with trying to get through my days in one piece. When I left for college, my sister became the target and she rebelled massively as was her style, but she was also unhappy that her one source of normalcy in the house was off to other horizons.

This was taken right after my men's group training in 2015.
I also grew up around men that never really expressed any emotions outside of anger, and when other feelings came up, it was time to bottle them up as unproductive or unnecessary. Emotions aren't important at all unless they help you get what you want or hurt somebody else. This whole story plays out a nice narrative when I move to the big city and work for a living. While there are plenty of tasks we do because the managers tell us we need to, having control over your own path can be liberating and freeing. For those of us dealing with trauma, however, it can be a life sentence of indecision and buffering; if you are fed messages that you aren't good enough or worthy for anything and nothing is really happening, it's easy to believe the clippings. Because it was difficult to trust yourself or much less others, I found it easy to be friends in many groups at a surface level. When it came time to talk about places and people from the past, I could dredge up enough happy stories from college and some family anecdotes to piece together a back story. Dating, on the other hand, was a different story because that forces you to either be truthful and hope you can live with the judging or conveniently share bits and pieces in a way to craft out a plausible past. I didn't think it dishonest, it was more fashioning the best foot forward to make the best impression possible.

The problem with this track is it's easy to lose track of yourself if you aren't being truthful to who you actually are, especially when you finally meet someone that you care about and love more than anything. You have to put away the facades and best impressions, because that person will see you for who you are, warts and blemishes and everything. I lost my mother to cancer in 2005, and while that might be a tragic development for some, the fact is that she caused it by giving in to a lifelong addiction to smoking. I went from grieving about her into a wonderful relationship, and I never gave myself a chance to process any feelings or emotions, especially not having the good examples on how to process them. So take some well placed guilt, lack of emotional processing, years of trauma impression and go into a relationship dynamic that is challenging for even the most healthy soul, and see what happens. As much as I didn't want to, it was easy to replay traumatic events when the right influences were put into play.

I tried years of self help and meditation to try and quell the shadows, but it was hard to process what was going on without a sounding board. I finally found a therapist that was exceptional at listening and challenging me in the right ways to get me to trust and finally open up, but I wasn't able to continue with him after some insurance challenges and him suspending his practice temporarily. Where I have gotten the most traction in this situation is starting to do men's work in 2015 at the advice of a dear friend. Most men have trouble in relationships with other men, and so the thought is being able to break down the barriers and process emotions with other men in a healthy way can be beneficial for all involved. I went through extensive training through the Mankind Project in May 2015, and later on, I joined into a group with other men where I meet weekly to help process my issues. It's not therapy, but what it does is try to teach respect and accountability while also making it safe for men to process what they are feeling in a healthy way.
Coffee is good, but it doesn't answer everything about life

It's tough for me to type these words because much of this isn't really common knowledge to many, and the few paragraphs that I am typing here barely scratch the surface of what I dealt with while younger. But I need to share this because the biggest reason why I do men's work is to become a better man. I understand being human and making mistakes, but I also know that being a better person means being authentic and genuine with your thoughts and actions. Shadows - those parts of us that we don't like to deal with because it's scary, fearful or uncomfortable - keep us from being our full self, and so it's important to confront them. That, however, is more easily said than done because when there is stress, frustration, emotion and everything in between, it's difficult to remember being our better self and we say or do things we immediately regret. Being a recovered Catholic, there are a few things that I know better about me than anything - I can get stuck in my brain really easily, and I can do guilt like nobody's business. But guilt is essentially nothing more than the shadow distracting you from what is important.

I don't want to talk like I'm an expert on this, either. I'm still in the early stages of dealing with it all because it seems so overwhelming at points and I have flashbacks and issues that crop up regularly. And while I admit men's work has helped me in many ways, it might not be the answer for others. What I do know about this is this - we live in a complicated, angry, frustrated world right now where it seems like the perks often end up with the ones that talk the loudest, get angry the most and demand everything. The truth is that while we might not get everything we think we deserve in life, it's easier to be receptive to those gifts that do come our way if we are being the truest versions of who we are. Finding that true version of who we are should be the life's goal for everybody, and that starts by not living in fear, anger, and guilt. I tremble as I type that because I often forget that simple message because it's easy to get caught up in the trappings of our world, but keeping that in mind is the easiest way to find the gold inside of each of us that we should be showing to our world. Thank you for reading, and until next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment