I keep running into this theme of husks and kernels. A husk is a protective outer shell. The kernel is the valuable meat inside in need of protection from the elements. Husks are essential only to the degree that they protect something worthwhile within. Without the kernel, a husk is suitable only for discarding and recycling.
Roles are husks. Relationships are kernels. My family possesses husks only. There are no relationships in my family of origin. When my “father” told “his favorite daughter” to “call a cab” and was going to abandon her at the emergency room he and his wife, my “mother”, landed her in, the pretense of any real relationship was over. The role of “favorite daughter” is clearly worthless and was obvious at that moment. To have to beg for a ride was humiliating and removed any delusion that they ever truly cared about me. The masks were removed and my eyes were opened.
I used to feel strange that I had no real relationship with my brothers. I saw other adult siblings that seemed close and I wondered what was wrong with us. However, at the age of 30 or 40, it dawned on me that my mother had zero relationship with her brothers. Where was I supposed to have learned such a skill from?
In the same way, religion is the husk and spirituality is the kernel. Religion is rites, rituals, traditions, and dogma. However, without relationships and spirituality, religion is worthless. Who wants to receive communion from a pedophilic priest? Without the ethics, morals, that kind of thing, the emptiness of religion is obvious, suitable only for discarding. I saw in the Orthodox church people coming into the front door, avoiding the service, and going straight into the social room. As an ex-Protestant, that made no sense to me. Why would anyone go to the trouble of driving to a church when they believed none of the dogma? Relationships. All their friends and family attended. I saw babies blessed and then never again brought back to the church building. Huh? Why would they do that? Because Grandma was a member of that church her whole life and she was going to see that child blessed before she died. Never mind that the parents believed nothing the church teaches; it was all about keeping Grandma happy.
On the one hand, it is easy and only obvious that people would throw away an empty husk. But giving people empty husks places the burden on them. It is easy, in some ways, to walk away from my family of origin because they offer nothing of value. I am not rejecting anything real and I know it (and I believe they know it, too, on some level). But the empty box they handed me, “favorite daughter,” is awkward, bulky, heavy, and burdensome. It is my job to call Granger landfill (my psychoanalyst) and pay for its disposal. In other words, I have to clean up their mess. Resentment is perfectly normal and inevitable in such a situation.
I believe that sometimes our decisions have far-flung consequences. I am not joking.
I just realized that a choice I made in middle school has pretty much determined the course of my life.
When I was young, my brothers were creating problems: drinking, doing drugs, getting their girlfriends pregnant, etc. (Are they going to get married, have an abortion, keep the baby? OMG. Drama, drama, drama.) I remember thinking to myself that I would be the Harry Truman of Birth Control (as in “the buck stops here”). I remember thinking, “I know how miserable I am. Why would I ever want to create someone this miserable? This stupidity ends here. I am the end of the line. The reproductive train stops here.” I wasn’t even in high school yet.
I expressed my determination through a suicide attempt. Then, through dating a man 16 years older than I was who was newly sober. Then, marrying him and supporting his sobriety until death did he part.
Whatever my family stood for (stupidity, illegal behavior, substance abuse, etc.), I took a common-sense stance against. I distinctly recall thinking, when I was 15, “If and when I ever get a car, no one will ever smoke weed in it or leave pot seeds in the ashtray.” One of my brothers had been jailed for exactly that nonsense. I also recall being 18 and thinking, “If I ever get a place of my own, I will never allow any illegal activities to be conducted in my residence.” I felt as if I had to be a serious hard ass to simply be a law-abiding citizen. It felt ridiculous and totally necessary.
Now my remaining living brothers have cirrhosis and have learned little, if anything. Time has marched onward. They have aged without maturing, grown older without getting any wiser. Their dysfunction has now been passed down to their descendants wholesale, unhealed and unredeemed. Their children are having various difficulties and having zero idea as to where they come from.
I have never had a real relationship with any of them, nor desired one. I deluded myself into thinking I had a relationship with my parents but the accident last summer and my mother’s letter last fall disabused me of any such notion. I can’t imagine making that mistake again.
My decision still stands. And I am now realizing that it has colored all other decisions to this day. I have worked very hard at my own physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. I have never been willing to take on the consequences of their bad behavior because of some genetic connection. I have always worked hard to be clean, sober, and wholesome (there’s a word never heard anymore). Read anything by Gabor Mate. It is very easy to just take on the subconscious crap of one’s upbringing and claim it as one’s own. I refuse.
One of the main things I have learned lately is that my problems are everyone’s. The shame I was raised with actually belongs to other family members and does not belong to me on any level. We subconsciously take on the issues of our families. It is completely inevitable. It is called “karma.” Some of it we create, but much of it we inherit. There is nothing I could have done as a child that would have earned the venom of my family members for so many years. No child could.
Here I am, trying to heal myself emotionally and spiritually. I believe my healing could, theoretically, heal family members. But if it does, they will have no idea where it comes from.
I took a stand in middle school not to participate in my brothers’ stupidity. That decision still stands to this day. I do not regret it at all. It just stuns me that the choice of a 13-year-old still is valid over 40 years later. I wish I could tell that teenager, “You go, girl!”
I am routinely overwhelmed and sick of it.
I have spent my entire life feeling overwhelmed, like, “This is just too much for me.” I now realize that that is my childhood trauma talking. Children can’t handle adult responsibilities. And various parts of me got stuck at a pretty low level of development. I asked my shrink a couple of visits ago when she thought my primary trauma was, the age I was. She said, “In utero.” Greeeeeeeat. I have all the adult confidence of a preemie.
Here’s the flip side. I have been obsessed with the topic of denial lately. I have seen it in myself and others. Here’s a clue you are in denial: when other people warn you about something and you do not heed their warnings. Been there, done that. A topic will never arise in your mind until your subconscious is ready to deal with it. Period. You can’t make it happen.
(Don’t get me wrong. I believe that denial should be broken, not respected or coddled. If you truly feel that someone cannot handle the truth and you should “respect” their denial, my suggestion is to avoid that person. If you are aware of something they don’t want to deal with, even your very presence will piss them off. Denial is not the same thing as ignorance. Some part of them knows the truth and their tolerance for your awareness will be zero. People can sense levels of awareness. Always keep in mind that the stage after denial is anger.)
The last shrink appointment offered a lot of hope. I have been reading a book by Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery. The book talks a lot about reconnection being part of recovery. I had only glanced at later chapters and it depressed me badly. I have a very low trust level of humans, others and myself. How am I supposed to create these magical, connected, secure relationships when I trust no one? She said, “You don’t need anyone else.”
“You mean I can do this myself?” I responded.
“Yes. Or you wouldn’t be aware of these issues.”
The light bulb went on in my head. “Oooooh. If I wasn’t ready to deal with these issues, they simply wouldn’t rise to the level of awareness.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” she replied.
My adult self may lack confidence. Other people may have varying levels of confidence in me. But my subconscious is saying, “Let’s do this!” I feel encouraged a little bit in a twisted way. Sometimes, it feels hard to get all my pieces on the same page. Can I do this, that, or the other thing? My subconscious is saying, “Damn straight, you can!”
I’ve been thinking about denial a lot lately–and I do mean a lot.
I am a believer in Dr. Phil’s assertion that “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” But say you are in denial about something. How on earth can you figure it out?
In science, there is this stuff called “dark matter.” What is it? Scientists do not know. They can’t see it. And that begs the question, “Then how do they know something is there?” Because, whatever it is, it has mass and sufficient gravity to bend light. They are not looking at the dark matter itself, but rather its consequences or after-effects.
And such is true with everything.
In Al-Anon, there is this pamphlet entitled, “Alcoholism: A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial.” There is a newer, slightly expanded version, but the old version is still, and always will be, true. Alcoholism is presented as a three-act play. Act one: alcoholic does stupid crap. Act two: people clean up the alcoholic’s mess. Act three: repeat act one, with the consequences of the alcoholic’s behavior increasingly serious. Nothing meaningful has changed and everything gets more severe with every passing year. What’s the solution? For the other actors, beside the alcoholic, to stop protecting the alcoholic from any and all consequences of their behavior. Period. Denial protects nobody from anything ever. The consequences are real, regardless of whether or not they are acknowledged. You don’t have to see the problem to be stuck with dealing with its consequences.
Here’s the fun part of denial: it only affects that individual, person, family, culture, whatever. All outsiders have no problem seeing the false assumptions with enormous clarity. We can all see each other’s blind spots without a problem. How do you find your own blind spot? Ask around. Trust me: your unaffected family members and friends can see your blind spots effortlessly. And you can see theirs.
I believe our culture is erupting because nobody wants to deal with their issues. We don’t see the denials of our families, communities, and nation. But newbies see everything. Recent immigrants (and small children to hilarious effect) can see our blind spots instantly. Just like we can see their hypocrisy instantly. Nobody is free from hypocrisy. We all have our blind spots. Nobody’s value system is free of some internal conflict.
I started going to psychoanalysis precisely because I was dealing with huge emotional problems that all the cognitive behavioral therapy in the world did not touch. The crippling shame. The total lack of meaning in my life. The lack of a will to live. Honestly, my attitude was simple: if this does not help, I will kill myself. I cannot live live like this for another thirty years. I was saying and doing things and sometimes hurting other people and thinking, “What the hell? Where did that come from?” If you cannot change what you do not acknowledge, I was officially screwed. It was a last-ditch attempt to make life meaningful and perhaps even worth living.
I am so glad I did. I know where my emotions come from now. The mystery is gone. I am no longer blatantly self-destructive (tearing out my fingernails and toenails). I feel like my anger is properly placed now. I am dealing honestly with my issues and feel a new sense of potential usefulness in this world. I have truly ended my “relationship” with my family of origin. I have some freedom now.
How did I figure out where my denial was? The consequences of it were destroying my life. I was (and am) no longer willing to bear the burden of my family’s dysfunctional garbage (emotionally or physically). I thank Gabor Mate, Pete Walker, and Laraine Sorrell (my psychoanalyst). I owe these people everything. It is a debt I can never repay.
I have been unbelievably depressed lately. This is what denial is meant to protect everyone from. When nothing works, you end up like me basically.
I thought that maybe I should avoid meditating. Clearly, it is not making me happy and it just doesn’t address the overhwhelm I feel. It doesn’t give me back my lost hearing aid or pay my student loans.
So what compels me to meditate? I have had a taste of synchronicity. I have bumped into things actually going right. I cannot stop connecting the dots, even if I want to.
I am now utterly convinced that human evolution is propelling me forward. Every gain in consciousness at the individual level is felt and somehow rewarded more cosmically. Some things cannot be un-seen or de-understood. Every gain in awareness includes and transcends the previous layers. Multiple atoms create molecules, multiple molecules create organs, multiple organs create humans, multiple humans create families, which create communities, which create entire cultures. Even plants grow toward the sunlight. Like a snowball rolling down the hill, time doesn’t shrink it, but only enhances it. And, if an avalanche is big enough, it can bury an entire village.
Our sub-conscious debris rises to the surface to be healed. How do we heal it? A safe space must be created, be it therapeutic or meditative. Otherwise, the trauma pinches off our life energy, stunts our growth and/or well-being, and stirs up havoc in the family, then the community, etc. Read anything by Gabor Mate.
I am in a mind-blowing amount of pain. I would do anything for a little denial right about now. But, if I have learned anything, no feeling lasts forever. I wish this pain would either kill me outright or bear some real fruit soon. Simply feeling this pain (minus any resolution whatsoever, as far as I can tell) is enough to make me not want to wake up in the morning. It is that bad.
Connecting the dots can be annoying and yet feel revelatory.
I lost one of my hearing aids, which I just got. Will I replace it? This could be thousands of dollars.
But it has sent me into an emotional tailspin. I have enough money to replace it without a problem. I also have enough money to get another car when the time comes. The car I have now is a 2004, given to me and Barry in 2015, probably the hardest year of my life, but that’s another story.
What’s my problem? Perhaps I don’t feel worthy of such an act of self-care.
But I have been thinking about my life lately. I have never had a strong will to live. I have prayed for years to not wake up. Growing up, I felt like nothing was about me. Being a wife, ditto, especially as Barry’s health declined.
Then it hit me: I do not feel like I have ever truly lived. Now, my life is about me and I am back to being in my early twenties, not knowing what I am doing or why I am doing it. But living alone and being widowed, it is all about me. I annoy myself endlessly sometimes, but it is all about me. Why would I defend a life where who I am or what I want has always been irrelevant? Why would I invest my time and energy into someone I have never cared for (myself)? I remember being in my twenties and eating very hurriedly. It was mystifying to me. I felt a perplexing need to get the food in me as quickly as possible before I would get full. Why? I have spent my entire life trying to get things over with, to just be done with this or that.
As a child, I was intellectually gifted. I was able to skip over many normal stepping stones or mile-markers in my development. Guess what? That never works. It was pure survival at the time, but now I am developmentally lagging in basic emotional maturity and assorted little things, such as a will to live.
I have a friend who wants to go on a road trip with me. Why anyone would want to go anywhere with me makes no sense to me on some level.
But I will go with her because I love her. She has been my friend for over thirty years. And–this is the big part–I don’t want to be like Barry when he retired. We had some some money, enough to travel. I told him, “Now is the time. We have the money and you are still healthy enough to travel and that will not always be the case. If you want to go to Aberdeen Proving Grounds and look at the tanks, now would be the time, before the Huntington’s prevents you from doing much of anything. If you want to do this, let’s go.” He said no. I now realize he may have been struggling more than I understood at that time. I really don’t care where my friend and I go. I’ll go anywhere with her.
But realizing that I deeply feel like I have never truly lived explains so much. Why I don’t care about anything. Why everything feels like such a burden. I am not happy to be here. When people say life is worth living, that is a meaningless sentence to me. Does not compute.
My mind is sharp, but I feel that it has never benefited me in the slightest. The intellect is an excellent tool, but it cannot provide purpose or meaning. It can’t make you care.
I would like to have intuition. I would like to just, somehow, know things. I want access to those invisible realms of information. Thus far, I have been unsuccessful.
However, I do have something else: deductive reasoning. I have always been very logical. Also, as I have gotten older, I have an increasing yardstick for what is normal. I give my psychoanalyst credit for some of it. I actually go to her and ask, “What would a normal, healthy person (complete with boundaries and self-esteem) do in this situation?”
Remember “Sesame Street”? The tune goes, “One of these things is not like the other…” You look for what is different or missing. You don’t need intuition, just observational skills. I always had those.
I’ll give an example. When I was about twenty, I was still living with my parents. One day, my brother Bob came into Michigan. He was off with friends. I asked my mother, “Does Bob own that big pick-up truck?” “Oh, no, he’s making big payments on it.” That meant he had made little to no down payment on it. “Do Bob and Jan own where they live?” “No, they pay a lot of rent.” I knew how much money he made. How on Earth would I know that? He bragged about it! He made $25/hour straight time with plenty of overtime and his wife made the same. Between the two of them, they were probably pushing six figures–and living hand-to-mouth like working-class stiffs. I wondered where the money was going. I knew he liked to play poker and lived near St. Louis. Maybe he was gambling. Or doing drugs, which seemed like a possibility. I did not know where the money was going, but pure logic dictated that it was going somewhere. About six months later, he got caught with the cocaine. Ma thought she was creating sympathy for Bob. Not so much. Logic told me that something was not right. When there is a disagreement between my mother and logic, always, always, always go with logic. Delusion versus reality: which one to choose. Pick carefully.
As time has gone on, I now look at situations and ask myself, “Is there something missing in this picture? Is someone missing? Is there an obvious topic of conversation not being brought up?” I have learned to listen to what people say and do not say, which is often more important and relevant than what they do say. I have learned that the only questions worth asking are the ones likely to piss people off. If no one can get offended by the question, its answer is likely not relevant. When you ask the right questions, people get very upset. That’s when you know you have nailed it. Ding ding ding.
Notice that logic does not require access to alternate dimensions. I do not need supernatural access to the intuitive realm. I would still like to develop intuition. Don’t get me wrong. But I have found alternative means of reaching conclusions out of sheer necessity. I know how to make do with simple observation and simple common sense.
I’ve been reading Stephen Cope lately, books about performing your great work in life, whether it be about writing a book, dying for a cause, or rescuing people. The books emphasize how personal and deliberate the activities are.
They keep emphasizing what I have been saying for the past couple years: whatever it is, it must come from within. Period. It cannot be imposed from external circumstances. It involves conscious sacrifice. It always involves conflicting, if not downright contradictory, values demanding one’s allegiance. Which one to choose? It must be a choice. It is less a decision than a recognition of what one must do, regardless of of success or failure. I cannot not do it. This goes along with what I have been realizing the past few years: whatever I do must come from within. A goal regarding something I think I should do will be derailed at the first inconvenience. The first stubbed toe will be sufficient to make me rethink whether or not it is a good idea.
I spent the first fifty years of my life doing what I thought I should do. It was empty. You can’t make something have meaning that it just doesn’t. Living according to someone else’s value system does not make life worth living. I can attest to that. The question was what I wanted. I felt like I never had the freedom to even ask myself what I wanted until Barry passed. Then everything became all about me. Clueless me.
I told a friend that maybe I wanted to take our future road trip to the Dakotas. I had heard a lot about Native American spirituality and various haunted locations. I figured out this past weekend that what I am looking for is a place where I can sort out what is coming from within versus all the memories with all the associations I encounter in Lansing. What the heck do I feel? I need to be somewhere no one knows me, where I am not encountering everyone else’s agenda. So I kept coming up with answers like Deadwood or Fargo. I’m sure she thought I had officially lost it.
This all dovetails with my belief that we already know what we should be doing. The challenge is to uncover the truth that perhaps we are born with. Your destiny won’t feel like, “Oh boy! This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” It will more likely feel like, “Crap. Yeah, that sounds about right. I have to do this because no one else is in this exact position I am. This is what I was born for. And it is the only thing worth dying for.” I am reminded of Golda Meir, an Israeli Prime Minister. She was one of a handful of people instrumental in creating the modern nation-state in 1948. She was looking forward to spending some quality time with her grandchildren, after having neglected her own children to help build the fledgling nation. She was basically begged to run for the position by some of her fellow pioneers. It was not a dream come true. She reluctantly agreed. That is true performance of duty.
What I am talking about is the opposite of blind obedience. Hitler never killed a Jew in his life. He had a whole culture full of good, obedient Catholics and Lutherans to do his bidding. For every Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there were hundreds of mindless, religious minions. Religion was a highly destructive force in Nazi Germany in the bigger picture. Most churches extolled blind obedience. The Nuremburg trials were a turning point in human evolution. Every single Nazi had the same defense: I was just doing what I was told. The trials settled once and for all that conscience is an infinitely higher value than obedience. Obedience is a survival-based value: it is what you teach a toddler so they do not run out into the street and get killed by traffic. This is why religions thrive on blind obedience: it creates unthinking, less-than-human people. Authority is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. When authority has spoken, the thinking has been done for you.
Obedience is easy. Duty is gut-wrenching. It is deliberate sacrifice. That’s why it must come from within.
Trying to write a book has thrown me for a loop. My idea is all about connecting the dots. You can call it “insight”, “knowledge”, or give it another name, but we are all dong it, or at least trying to do so.
What I believe is that we already have the knowledge that we seek. Have you ever noticed that when someone says something that is true, it is less new knowledge and more of a recognition? When someone tells you something that you need to do, the feeling is, “If I could do that, I would have done so. Tell me something I don’t already know.”
What stops us from knowing what we already know on some level? Trauma. Distraction. Socialization. We are taught to know things that are wrong or taught not to listen to ourselves. And then there are all the competing interests clamoring for our attention. Our culture is so ADD it is ridiculous. Let us always remember that there are corporations that greatly benefit from deliberately directing our attention to benefit their ends.
I have heard that physicists believe the universe has to have eleven dimensions in order to make the math come out right. What lives within those other seven dimensions (given height, width, depth, and time as our current dimensions)? I say demons, angels, ghosts, inter-dimensional spirits, “gods”, aliens, and anything the mind can conceive of. It’s all out there somewhere.
How to access our knowledge? Some ideas include psychoanalysis, intuition, shamanism, seances, and, oh yeah (the biggie), meditation. Anything that includes the archetypal, the pan-human, and I am not even sure what else. One common theme among differing religions and cultures is the idea of eliminating intoxicants. Anything that prevents access to obvious, current knowledge and common sense is not a good idea. Even the cultures that experiment with altered states of consciousness are very controlled in their use of intoxicants, like ayahuasca. They acknowledge the hazards of going on inter-dimensional trips without an experienced guide.
I can meditate day and night and might not access much. Rather, I should say, I can only access that which is mine to access in the first place. Everyone has their own gifts that can be developed. I can go deeper into myself, but your area is probably much different than mine. Thirty years of dedication and training would only make me an expert at my very narrow realm. I call it the “Nutty Professor Syndrome.” Have you ever met a real genius? I have. Arthur Helweg. He taught anthropology at Wester Michigan University. Wonderful human being who could not dress himself. He would come to class wearing plaid pants, a striped shirt, and one of those jackets with patches on the elbows. So funny. It takes a real genius to make something complicated look “duh” obvious. But if you use all your brain cells over here in some specific area, the remaining areas get starved for attention. No one can be good at everything.
Maybe I have been asking the wrong question. Perhaps a better question is, “What do I need to know now?” Or perhaps, “What is the bigger picture I can help others with?” I don’t even know what the question is yet.
I have needed a lot of reassurance lately.
Sometimes, I have a shockingly low level of self-confidence. I have an MBA. I took care of everything for my husband with Huntington’s Disease for years. I should have ample confidence.
What’s up? Now I am actually feeling my feelings. In my 20s, my most common thought was, “I don’t have the time or energy to deal with this. I just have to do it.” I particularly remember an incident within a few years of getting married. We were having financial problems and I panicked and told Barry how I was feeling. Then he started reacting to my emotions. My thought? “Crap. The last thing I can deal with is his reaction to my feelings. I need to not share what’s going on with me ever again.”
So I did things, regardless of my feelings. I got a lot done, but growing emotionally was not one of them. I was too busy surviving.
After Barry passed, all I had was time. Time to process. Time to heal. And I’ve been doing the best I can. But, superficially, I make no sense. People are mystified at someone who is so articulate and yet has no self-esteem.
My lack of family support has had far-reaching consequences. Now I have good friends. But I feel behind.