Every day, something reminds me of how vital it is for us to heal and recover from all trauma and harm and the consequences of subsequent obsessions.
I read something yesterday that said we should treat everyone like they are sacred until they begin to believe they are. That would be the ideal way to live, wouldn’t it? It would certainly solve a lot of problems in our world, individually and collectively. I’d love to commit myself to that. I’m certainly going to try, and, of course, I’ll need to remind myself always. It’s so easy to be impatient with people, but we all could use a little patience from others. We’re trying. We’re doing our best. Breaking the cycle of continuous damage to ourselves is a divine process.
I’m sending love to everyone and wishing you the very best, an abundance of all good things! Stay safe and well. ❤️
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” – Khalil Gibran
I’m about a week late for Valentin’s Day, I know, but things got hectic.😄
Anyway, let’s talk about weddings and marriage.
Marriage affords you all kinds of rights, privileges, and benefits, right? My son says it’s a bribe that gets the government more taxpayers and soldiers— the assumption being that married couples will procreate. Of course, it’s what they hope. Only decades ago, young, fertile women had a tough time getting a tubal ligation procedure. Doctors willing to perform it would not do so without her husband’s permission. There are people who’d still deny you birth control if they could.
Naturally, too, divorce comes with consequences. Some women wore that “divorcee” label like a scarlet letter disgrace. Real-life Alan Harpers support luxurious lives for partners who kick them out while they can’t afford even a decent life for themselves. I’m sure there are situations where people deserve their downfall, but it’s often wholly unwarranted.
Even a young widowed female is often judged harshly as a single parent as if she had any choice in the matter. I can attest to that. Other mothers are wary of you, often not even knowing how you ended up a single parent. All they know is you don’t seem to have a husband, and though you don’t deserve to be penalized for that, no matter the reason, they prefer the company of other married women. Your child gets ostracized in the process.
Oh, don’t worry, I fixed all that when my son was in the first grade by baking chocolate chip cheesecakes for the school’s annual food festival. The moms and teachers couldn’t resist that cake. 😉 And my son remedied it, as well, by being funny and smart. Eventually, we made many friends, but society is far more comfortable with the traditional norms.
Admittedly, I love the idea of marriage and being someone’s wife but not necessarily its reality.
Similarly, you can include me among those who love the “idea” of a wedding. As for being the center of attention on an anxiety-filled day of continuous pressure, no, thank you, but you go ahead; I’ll watch.
FANTASY vs. REALITY
When I was a little girl, I told my mother I’d never get married—that I was going to be so busy, I wouldn’t have time to be anyone’s wife. At the same time, I was enchanted by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and madly in love with Prince Charming. He sang:
Do I love you because you’re beautiful,
Or are you beautiful because I love you?
It was a fascinating dilemma for my underdeveloped brain. That song and others from that musical are still on my iPod.
So, I am at least somewhat sentimental, don’t you agree? To be honest, I posted the live performance of “Marry You” above not only because I like the song but because Bruno Mars reminds me of my first “real” boyfriend.
But do me a favor now. Picture your fantasy of an ideal wedding. Got that picture in mind? All right, well, in my family, one wedding reception ended with both male and female cousins entangled in a brawl with people at the wedding next door. One male cousin pulled out a gun. The other (male) went crashing into the ladies’ room mirror in search of someone to fight. At another reception, two of my middle-aged cousins rolled around on the floor, fighting for the bride’s tossed bouquet. And then there was the time the priest stopped the ceremony to wait for my father to finish loudly explaining to his grandson (my son) how to use his new camera. 😮
But there are the moments that move you, for sure. I got all teary-eyed once as someone I’d known my entire life proceeded to the altar with the man she wouldn’t give up on no matter how tough the road got. They are divorced now, and I can’t say I blame her, but you get the idea.
OH, BUT THE BEAUTY OF IT ALL!
What I do love is the planning of a wedding. Of course, I love to plan. I am a novelist. No, I wouldn’t want a job planning weddings, but I’d get psyched creating a dream wedding to marry off my characters— unique destinations, gorgeous flowers, creating an ambiance, picking out cake. I love cake! (Maybe you remember that from above.) And then the music for the special dances and the party! The poet in me comes alive with music, and my emotions are all over the place. Laugh, cry, dance, sing—it’s all good. I’m a fan of all kinds of music, including classical wedding music, which I also have on my iPod.
And you know what else is beautiful?
The devoted couples who happily grow old together. Yep, it’s all so beautifully romantic. I have the utmost respect for the men and women who’ve decided on the person they want to spend forever with rather than continue to look elsewhere for ego gratification. Since childhood, I’d witnessed so much willingness, even eagerness, to be unfaithful. What makes life magical is the bond between people and everything they create together.
(This playlist includes some of my favorite classical music for weddings.)
So, what did I do when I finally got married, you ask?
My fiancé and I went to a judge’s house on Long Island. It was just the two of us, the judge and the judge’s wife, and we couldn’t help laughing like school kids that we were getting married, but it was perfect. I cherished every moment.
He was a kindred spirit that I treasured with all my heart, and the desire or willingness to replace him has yet to come. I liked being married to him, well, most of the time. I also wanted to be spoken for in that there was less explaining to do when I had to say no to an advance. What I liked even more than that was the ultimate realization that you don’t need to explain. 😉
For lyrics to this song (because I love the lyrics), go here.
Smear campaigns. Some of you are familiar with them. It’s when someone is desperately trying to destroy another person’s reputation, beginning with his or her credibility. It’s not a situation where one caring person is confiding in another out of concern. It’s a hateful mission where the motives are insecurity and a need to do damage control.
I often speak out on this subject because I’ve seen it happen between friends (really frenemies), coworkers, lovers, and family members. The saddest thing is when it goes on in a recovery group where everyone is there to work on themselves and help each other. Why would you isolate and destroy vulnerable people who have likely suffered from narcissistic abuse and are working to correct learned behaviors?
It happens a lot. A friend of mine is a target of this right now. I’ve been a target myself in the past.
For some, including me, the obvious solution is to get out of this person’s circle —abruptly, if necessary. If it’s impossible to avoid them entirely, I’d have as little contact as I can manage and refuse to participate. It’s easy to let them charm you when you’re hoping to resolve things, but confiding in them or pouring your heart out is usually a mistake. Just protect yourself. Let them say you abandoned them, rejected them, whatever they need to tell themselves. You don’t owe them a damn thing.
You may say, it isn’t right to have to sacrifice other relationships in a group by removing yourself. I think of it this way. Anyone successfully recruited in some war against you has never been in your corner. Your real friends will come to you. They will have your back and likely sever ties with the character-assassinating troublemaker. Sometimes people will go along with the narcissist to remain part of the crowd (like high school), but that’s not your problem. People believe what they want to believe.
I know it seems unfair, having to surrender without a fight. This person gets to win, and you don’t get to set the record straight. Let me repeat, TOXIC, as in detrimental to your health and well-being. Not worth it. If you’re dealing with the kind of person I’m talking about, you can’t fix it. The more you try, the worse it will get. Think “troll.” Yes, it’s like dealing with some internet troll. You’ll never get them to see things your way or empathize because they don’t really care about you. They’re not able to put themselves in your place. They’ll even take pleasure in your pain.
Humility is your friend here. Let your ego take the hit and move on. You trusted the wrong person. Cut your losses. You’re going to get good at this, and you’ll soon know to avoid these people like the plague, so you’re never in that predicament again.
Experiences like this are traumatic, but they help you learn and grow. They force you to look at whatever part you played in the whole mess, even if it was merely taking the bait from time to time. When we do that, we can easily say and do things that are ordinarily beneath us and, in doing so, strengthen the narcissist’s case. That’s why I say, drop the ball and run. It’s a trap, where you’ll always be damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
You’re dealing with dangerously fragile egos here. Because of what they experienced in life, they consciously or subconsciously, came to believe there is not enough love to go around. They see attention and admiration as a limited commodity. They need to feel they are more worthy and deserving of those things than you are, and second to none. They have to tell themselves they are the favorite, numero uno, the chosen one in every scenario. There are many reasons you may pose a threat. It can be anything. The damage control they do is to convince themselves and others that you are not better or more worthy because if you were, they couldn’t handle that. Underneath it all is an inner child seething with rage.
I’ll share a little story that explains, on a much lighter note, about taking the bait. My mother-in-law used to criticize me on unimportant things. She’d say something like, “She has everything in that diaper bag except the kitchen sink.” That would upset me because, like all new mothers, I wanted to believe I was handling things well. Instead of getting upset, I could have said something like, “Oh, no, the sink’s there. Check the zipper pocket.”
Here’s the key. It’s no fun for them if they can’t bring out the worst in you.
I’ve found it helpful, too, to figure out how I might have handled things better and how I can come out a better person. That’s not to say you weren’t a nice person before, or that I wasn’t, just that we are always striving to get better. What I’m saying is, when people tell you, “don’t lose the lesson,” that’s the critical part. That’s how you win. Continue to do the next right thing, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Live your best life and strive for greater understanding. What’s going to happen is, people will eventually know not to mess with you.
As someone in quarantine who thrives on isolation, I had to reflect on that recently, and I was inspired to divulge what I concluded, partly to see if anyone could relate.
For the longest time in my life, I believed writing was my destiny or my calling, and that there was never any choice about it. It made sense because I started doing it when I was eight years old and kept on no matter who or what happened in life. It was automatic and the equivalent of breathing (almost ). Romantic relationships were usually complicated since I gave so much to writing and didn’t want to make that same type of investment in potential partners.
My marriage was different because I had a child to raise, and my maternal instinct took over, allowing me to devote myself to my husband and my son. That became a permanent bond. With others, it was most likely I’d eventually back away. Real friends were the only exception to that, and even with my nearest and dearest, I can shut down in the moments I need to and remain in my little bubble until one or the other calls upon me. (This COVID lockdown has me in shutdown mode more than usual.)
So, what I realized is, there is a high probability that I started writing for one simple reason. It allowed me to escape to a world far removed from reality. And that was where I wanted to be. It was never that I didn’t care—more like I cared too much, and I knew it, and it hurt.
As a child, like so many children, I was blown away by The Wizard of Oz. I grew to love role-playing and parallel universe fiction. When role-playing games became on online obsession, combining these two elements, I was among the obsessed. What more could I ask for than the opportunity to vanish into a fake world of my own choosing and explore it fearlessly without ever having to face any consequences?
It’s a weird thing to explain because, from the moment I could fully experience it, the real world has thoroughly fascinated me. I immensely enjoy being out there whenever I am. But, yes, in the general sense, I prefer fantasy to reality. I always have, and I know I’m not alone in that. It’s not a sad thing, not to me. You can be happy and sad, laughing or crying, talking up a storm or perfectly still, and it’s all good. I love and embrace it all, but when I can’t deal at that particular moment, I don’t. I thought it was the poet in me who felt that way, but maybe it’s just me.
I’m not sure if any of it is normal, but becoming aware of it did make me feel selfish. At the very least, it made me realize I have been selfish at times. (Ironically, I had to get in touch with reality enough to understand how deeply flawed I am, and to begin working on it.) That work began years ago and continues to this day.
Still, I had to ask myself this question. If what I had wanted all along was to escape reality, why did I base some of my work on things I’d witnessed or experienced?
Well, for one thing, I compartmentalized my feelings and traumas. The people on the page were not real because I’d turned reality into fiction. I was playing God, and, most importantly, I was in control. I needed to be in control. (The focus of my work, by the way, has now shifted to 90% fiction.)
The good news here is, everything is all about learning and growing. It never stops, and because of that, I’ve become increasingly grateful and so incredibly appreciative of the people in my life.
It’s much easier to be “present in the moment” when you know to cherish it! I find that these days, I genuinely care without needing anything in return. So, I’m not all bad.
I suppose the need for self-protection will override progress when necessary, mostly out of habit, but in this life, if you’re committed to improvement, you will achieve it!
One day at a time? I used to wonder why people with thirty years of sobriety or more would say “recovery” was one day at a time. For a newbie, yes. I got that. But those of us with more than five years? I’d say, “Well, I’m committed to my recovery. I’m grounded, and I’m not going back, I promise you.”
So, I have twenty-four consecutive years of “abstaining.”
I often forget exactly how long it’s been because it truly is one day at a time.
A Disease of the Attitudes
It’s never been so much about the physical compulsion for me. I never had a hangover, let alone a blackout. I didn’t do rehab or detox or spend time in jail.
Addiction, however, is a disease of mind, body, and spirit. I came across that explanation on Hazeldon.org, the other day, and I wholeheartedly believe that.
Before his death in 2016, educator/counselor/motivational speaker John Bradshaw authored many books on what he believed to be the root of all addictions—codependency. Codependency, in his view, was toxic shame. I’d also heard it referred to as the “Disease of the Attitudes.” It is trauma induced, but there is also a lot of learned behavior, as many people grow up in dysfunctional families.
The disease has many manifestations. In short, something or someone has control over us to the extent that it clouds our perception and impairs our judgment, making life on life’s terms unmanageable.
Under these circumstances, we begin to exhibit narcissistic behavior, something that is common in our society to varying degrees, and more common, it seems, in addicts/alcoholics. 12-steps programs seek to correct that very behavior, along with the self-centeredness and self-obsession. It is not to be confused with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, although there are people in recovery who have that affliction. More so, addicts are people who have been abused by narcissists, including those with NPD. How narcissistic we become likely depends on the amount of time we’ve spent putting up with our narcissistic abusers. We catch their “fleas,” so to speak.
Sadly, we emerge with feelings of unworthiness. Down deep, we feel inferior, so we tell ourselves whatever we need to say to ourselves to maintain the delusion that we’re not only worthy, we’re better. We don’t even realize we think we are better, and yet we communicate that to others. We act as if we are unique and more important than everyone else, and we’re oblivious to all of it because we take ourselves way more seriously than we should.
We don’t know who we are, so we choose a mask, and we wear it. Denial can be such a comfort.
On a subconscious level, we are fiercely determined to preserve our delusions and denials and protect all of our “secrets.” We may become bullies with an eye out for any perceived threat. There is a constant need for damage control.
We use people. They help provide the attention, admiration, and validation we need, and they help support and promote our altered perceptions of what’s real.
We become con artists who can convince anyone of anything, turn things on and off as needed, and find a million different ways to seduce people. We learn that sex is not the only way to do that.
Often, too, we lack empathy. We are self-obsessed and so unable to put ourselves in someone else’s place. We’ve lost the connection where we feel what others are feeling. Our agendas keep us busy, along with trying to control everything, including how we are perceived by others. Maintaining the delusions and denial is nothing short of exhausting.
And we don’t hold ourselves accountable for our actions. Instead of learning from our mistakes, we make excuses. We get tangled in a web of lies we’ve created.
So, when we finally arrive at that place of surrender, we are broken. We’re needy and vulnerable. We crave attention from others. It’s a drug, and whenever someone complies, it’s a temporary fix. It doesn’t work because, like any other drug, the euphoria fades, and you remember the pain and torture of what you truly fear. Hence, we need fix after fix.
Why There is More Danger Than We Realize
As an addicted person, we have, at least, some awareness of the danger we pose to ourselves. We may, at some point, realize the harm we cause others. We take risks we would not ordinarily take. However, there are some more insidious pitfalls that we never see coming.
Our “needs” will lead us to toxic codependent relationships that can put us or keep us in dangerous situations with severe consequences. People inclined to use our fragility against us will instinctively take advantage, and we will unintentionally draw them to us. Sometimes, they suffer from the same affliction, except they are true narcissists who will apply what they’ve learned to get what they want. Their desperation is so great, they can’t see past it, and neither can we.
These are predators who will love bomb the shit out of you and play to all your vulnerabilities by telling you precisely what you want to hear. They’ll idealize you, place you on a pedestal, and you’ll let them do it because what they offer is what you want. And the moment you’re not doing what they want you to do, they’ll begin to devalue you. It can be a frenemy, a lover, a co-worker, a family member, or even another person in recovery. When they can no longer control you, they’ll insult you in passive-aggressive ways, threaten to abandon you or lash out with cruel vindictiveness you’ve never seen the likes of throughout your wretched existence.
So, why is this important to mention?
It is unfortunately common. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve lived it and I’ve blogged about it, It’s also madness. It will leave you traumatized and shocked, feeling emotionally raped. For the most fragile people, it’s caused mental breakdowns, even suicide. It’s hard to explain how this sort of bondage messes with your head, but all rational thinking goes right out the window.
The good news is, once you become aware of what’s going on inside of you, your needs will begin to change. You’ll get better and better at spotting the red flags, and your boundaries can protect you.
You Can Do It
It may take a bit of perilous soul-searching and coming face-to-face with the terrifying darkness lurking within, but we can fix this. Real narcissistic abusers (NPDs), however, cannot.
At the same time, not everyone is ready to plunge into that seemingly endless abyss where we face painful truths about ourselves and endure the grueling process of healing. We deliberately avoid it, or we scatter a little bit of dirt to the side and then dart off in another direction, taking cover until we feel grounded enough to dig a little deeper. Some people, sadly, will never be ready.
As for the rest of us, damn the lies! We got sick and tired of the drama and the feeling of dread whenever the phone rang. We were ready to love with our whole hearts, leaving the agendas behind. Hey, it’s not as easy as living in denial, but we knew we had to get better, that we had to do better. We can only be honest with others if we’re honest with ourselves. For that reason, we have to know what’s real, and, over time, we’ll peel off layer after layer of untruth. We want to make life decisions as informed individuals with ever-increasing clarity.
Sooner, rather than later, we come to learn how to stop taking ourselves so seriously, which I’ve discussed at length in another blog. I talk about embracing your vulnerability, but, the truth is, we have to know what those vulnerabilities are, so we can protect ourselves when itreally is necessary. When we fully accept that we are all just struggling humans, equal in importance, the shame that drove us to desperation will begin to dissipate.
I’ve come to notice that most people don’t like it when I say we are equal in importance and that no one is superior to anyone else. For sure, it’s not a popular thing to go babbling on about, but I do it because it’s part of a huge problem in this world — the less who contribute to it, the better.
We’ll get rid of that all or nothing mentality, too—winner takes all. We must have flexibility and balance in our lives.
In this process of recovery, we come to understand the importance of examining our motives and expectations in every situation. We may find they are not reasonable or realistic, and that we can’t trust our egos. People without clarity of conscience don’t question themselves. They won’t say, “I’m glad I caught that. I can refrain. I can resist. I can do the right thing.” They’ll keep doing what they’re doing, often not understanding what they’re doing or why.
We’ll be able to put ourselves in someone else’s place and take care with our words. For example, I’m always wary of leading anyone in the wrong direction, so I’m very direct. Sometimes because we’re kind to people, they think a romance is possible. In the past, that wouldn’t have bothered me because, hell, I had another fan to add to my collection. It fed my ego. Today, I am sincere in not wanting to hurt anyone. I’ve become interested in people for who they are and not for how they validate me.
I’ve also found that the maturity and wisdom we gain in “doing the work” allows us to resolve conflicts like adults because we are open, and we genuinely care about others. I don’t mean engaging with those that have no concern or regard for us and who will only do us harm. Nope, we’ll be avoiding people like that. In the past, it was too easy to lead us, to fool us, to enslave us, and that’s just not happening anymore. It’s essential to continue strengthening our boundaries and to pay attention! Know how to differentiate between genuine compliments and someone who is love bombing you because they have a fast-lane agenda. Shut down the love bombing. It’s a trap. We must hold on to our serenity and our peace. Newsflash: Love bombing doesn’t only happen in romance.
Anyway, we won’t be wasting time and energy on damage control. Instead, we’ll be acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, not making excuses.
Of course, we don’t always have it down to the point where we’re invincible. It’s a constant effort that gets more automatic with time, but we never stop being vulnerable. We have to be patient with ourselves and our healing process and also with the healing journeys of others. (That’s a lot harder than it sounds. 😉 )
So, what’s in the way of our surrender?
I’ve often heard, “But I can’t go to those 12-step meetings. I’m not comfortable.” Another deterrent for some is what they’ve referred to as “the God thing.” Someone in recovery suggested they are egotistical if they don’t subscribe to the most popular concept of God. Others seemed to invalidate a person’s sobriety and solid footing, claiming he or she was on the wrong path.
Let’s talk about the religious part first. Those who have other perceptions of God are fully aware that greatness surrounds and exceeds us all. We are in awe. Aside from that, I personally believe all the good around us and within us is God, and that God can also be conceived as “Good Orderly Direction.”
As so eloquently stated by Louisa Peck in her blog, A Spiritual Evolution, “Good Orderly Direction is more than the antithesis of fuck it; it’s the antithesis of ego. It is a form of caring, of knowing that your choices matter and seeking those that will feel right in the long run.”
Regardless of where that “good orderly direction” comes from, it keeps you on the right path. It’s there if you want it to be, and it’s where I direct my infinite gratitude. We can’t fall into the trap of trying to impress the masses. Let them do what works for them. You do you.
As for the social anxiety. I have it, too. We don’t like it when we’re not comfortable. That’s why we’ve turned to other methods of coping with reality—using drugs, alcohol, and other things to the point where we know something’s not right with us. It’s good to push through; yes, we won’t ever get comfortable by avoiding the problem. But if you can’t do it, you can still get with the program or benefit from its wisdom.
You can read the literature, work the steps, and learn a better design for living, and you can do it in the way that is best for you. What we don’t want moving forward are obstacles to our healing. Nothing and no one should prevent us from taking back our lives and restoring our sanity.
Recovery is an ongoing, permanent pursuit requiring a day-by-day commitment to better choices, requiring continuous reminders of, that’s not the way we do things anymore. We are never beyond reproach or incapable of making mistakes or bad judgments and reverting to old patterns. You can be physically sober for decades and still be an ass.
The learning, growing, and healing never ends. I love that we know better than we did in the past.
What I believe is; we should be consistently evolving. And every person we know has something to teach us whether they have no time in recovery or fifty years.
Appreciating who and where you are while also understanding who and what you’ve been is a good thing. We deserve the truth, don’t you think? And we’re worthy of it. We don’t have to be who others taught us to be when we came into this world. The people we looked to for guidance did what they could with the best of intentions and whatever awareness they had. It simply wasn’t enough.
If you are defending the rights of others who
are denied whatever privilege you enjoy, does that mean you have a savior
It’s one of many questions I ask myself, given the fact that I’ve been doing this since I was twelve. It was instinctive then, and it’s instinctive now because I don’t want to live in a world where bigotry seems to be the norm. Whether people were happy or unhappy about this stance I’d taken has never made a difference to me.
I have also questioned my own motives at
It’s not about being politically correct. As far as I’m concerned, it is simply right, and I’m so confident of that that I’ll stick to it no matter who or what I stand to lose in the process.
Is it about tolerance? Nope. I would not even list that trait among my qualities, since there is much I can’t and won’t tolerate, including things that may seem unreasonable to the culprits, and yep, one of those things is the cruelty generated by prejudice. So, in choosing friends and partners, there are plenty of deal breakers, sure, but their origins will have nothing to do with it.
Who am I to merely tolerate people anyway because they weren’t born with my skin color, ethnicity, sexuality or socioeconomic status, or happened to be taught some other religious philosophy? There is simply no part of me that believes whatever I was born as makes me superior to another. Nor is there any part of me that wants to deny people justice or the rights and equality they deserve.
That’s my two cents’ worth, and I’m not claiming to be the bigger or better person than anyone who opposes because I’m simply hardwired this way. Besides that, I have plenty of faults. Barbarity just isn’t one of them.
I’ve accepted, too, that impartiality doesn’t help you win popularity contests. Gaining acceptance and fitting in are often about forming alliances based on race, gender, religion, orientation, ethnicity, political beliefs, and so on. There are those who consider me naïve for stubbornly hanging on to this neutrality like a Pitbull with a pork chop. Others may chalk it up to me having this willful, rebellious, antagonistic nature. Either way, some individuals feel I am wrong and are perplexed by my fierce defense of the “other side.”
I can honestly live without such flimsy alliances. Most of those alliance-forming factors are not a basis for forming an opinion. And when people come back at me with, “Stereotypes exist for a reason,” I say, “That is still what they are, stereotypes. You don’t know someone until you do.”
Anyway, here’s my story.
My father was born in Campochiaro, Italy. He came to the U.S. with his family when he was fifteen years old. They lived in Woodside, Queens, which was a predominantly Irish neighborhood. Italians were not welcome. They were called everything from dagos to greasy meatballs. Italians had initially been greeted in some places by “No Italians Allowed” signs and had to change their surnames before anybody would hire them. My dad always worked, rarely taking sick and vacation days. He married a woman of Spanish descent, born in Havana, Cuba. She also came to the U.S. as a teenager, and they met in a class where they were both learning to speak English. Like him, she made sure she remained employed and dependable. While they were still newlyweds, he fought for our country, on the front line, making the rank of Sergeant, and he received a Purple Heart.
By the time I came along, there were plenty of Italian families in Woodside. Italians had made the acceptance cut. Spanish people were the new threat, committing the crime of paving the way for other Hispanics. Because of my mother, my siblings and I were told to “go back to Cuba,” a place I’d only visited once when I was three. They called us spics. And the main culprits of this bullying were, surprisingly, Italian.
My mother lied about being Spanish to strangers, saying she was Italian. She thought she’d be perceived as another one of those wetbacks coming over to the U.S. for a handout when she, in fact, came here legally. She also refused to speak Spanish at work to avoid being judged.
Some people will tell you it’s all about paying your dues, earning your place. Irish people experienced oppression and persecution before the Italians did, and once everyone got over the Spanish neighbors, they were directing their venom at the Indians, Pakistanis, and so on.
Regarding black people, I’ve often heard the argument, “Well, we did what we had to do to earn respect.” My answer to that was, “But you weren’t brought here in chains and forced into slavery. You’re not being discriminated against anymore. They are.”
Understandably, people of cultures that have been oppressed feel a kinship with their own, especially when the oppression continues. Who could blame them for supporting and defending one another?
If you go through life as a member of any oppressed group, which includes women, you see the global and systematic imbalance, the unfairness, and the cruelty. One example is women believing other women when they share experiences about rape and abuse. Some men hate these women for making their gender sound like monsters and feel they’re being blamed because they are also a man. The thing is, we should all want the truth and due process, but some must adamantly defend their “group.”
What I’ll never understand is people being okay with anyone facing the type of scorn, ridicule, and discrimination that tore their own hearts out. I don’t understand anyone being okay with it period.
My extended family on both sides had their own prejudices, to say the least. Meanwhile, my curiosity in wanting to get to know all these non-white people was insatiable. I kept seeing that I had beautiful experiences and encounters with them. When I was twelve, my favorite bands were The Temptations—five black soul music vocalists and dancers— and Santana, featuring a hot Mexican-American guitarist. (Santana’s music is defined as Latin-infused rock with salsa, blues, and African rhythms.) On The Temptations’ Puzzle People album, there was a song called “Message from a Black Man,” and God knows what my parents were thinking when I amped it up and sang along with the lyrics. But I really wanted to hear that message. I felt compelled to.
During my high school days and later on in other community-like settings—even recovery circles—it was apparent to me that some people showed a preference for making friends with people who shared their background. I certainly got the impression that they felt superior to anyone who was not “one of them.” And to this day, when I go to the doctor, and I’m sitting in the waiting room, white people look delighted when I sit beside them. Maybe if they knew all the details of my ancestry, they’d scoot away. Who knows? 🤷
It’s all part of the world’s obsession with
sameness—feeling safe, secure, and comfortable primarily with people they
believe are exactly like them. The common assumption seems to be that whatever
a person was born as, whatever belief system he or she inherited, that is the
right one and the best, and the only one that matters.
It’s right up there with other concepts I
don’t understand—like the enjoyment of shaming people or delighting in
someone’s suffering because revenge is supposed to be sweet.
And the idea that we’re supposed to feel more
outraged or upset when something happens to someone who was born in the same
country we were born in or who shares our ethnicity, race, etc. As if bad
things happening to people in Syria or some other place has nothing to do with
Suffering is unbearable, no matter who
suffers. I hate to see it.
Hey, I’m all for the celebration of culture, but people who share my origins don’t have an immediate edge with me. Heritage is fascinating, including my own. I enjoy listening to people talk about it. Accents are intriguing. I love seeing all these fantastic places and trying out different cuisines. But I identify with being a global citizen and human being more than being an American or anything else. That’s crazy and even awful to some people, I know, but I can’t help that, and I’m not sorry about it. I’m glad.
People go to war over bias and entitlement.
They discriminate and violently target others based on the very same.
I will admit that as a white female, or a female perceived to be white anyway, I’ve had experiences where black teen girls started fights with me for no apparent reason. But so have white women! I’ve also met some nasty-ass gay people, but I’ve met even nastier straight people. And while I was raised as an Italian/Spanish Catholic white girl, the worst incidents of sexual trauma, harassment and assault throughout my life were at the hands of white, Italian Catholic males. It’s never meant that every white, Catholic Italian guy was going to be like that. As far as I’m concerned—no matter what group you’re talking about—it takes all kinds. There are good and bad people on the right and the left, good and bad men and women. What I see with a lot of people though is, when someone not like them hurts, appalls, or devastates them, it is a reflection on that group culture. They won’t stop to think of the people of their own kind who have done the same thing or worse.
People caught up in the opposing mindset don’t like to hear that there are good and bad eggs in every bunch. They have this blind loyalty to their kind. When it comes to others, they often know only the stereotypes or what they’ve read in the news or saw on TV. Without having any real relationships with the people from whatever culture they shun, their impression is based on limited experience.
Not having shunned people who weren’t like me gave me an advantage in life. I always had that frame of reference. Even the people I agree with politically are not necessarily people I like. People I don’t agree with aren’t always people I can’t love.
To be honest, though, whenever there is a reunion, high school or whatever, I know by now not to go because nothing changes with most people. For me, there is no joy in seeing people hold on to this ignorance, these old ideas, and this hate for certain cultures. The end result is, people you love with all your heart say the most appalling things without batting an eye and think there’s not a thing in the world wrong with it. It’s their normal, and it’s heartbreaking.
Bigots, for one thing, are people with inferiority complexes who flipped the coin and developed superiority complexes instead. It’s an unconscious or subconscious survival strategy. At every turn, they have to prove their superiority and so refuse to be perceived in a less than flattering light. If you represent them or are a part of their group, you have to measure up to their standards which means looking, acting, and thinking like them because they need to believe that everything about them is right—better than anyone else, even perfect. If you are their child, sibling, niece, nephew, whatever, your job is to fulfill expectations or be mocked, rejected, and shamed. They resent you for causing them shame.
So they’ll make fun of the kid with the lazy eye. They’ll tell someone he or she is retarded because they don’t understand the kid’s behavior. They’ll shun someone for not being pretty or call somebody fat because they think it’s the worst thing anyone can be. Since they are so into their own standards of beauty and perfection, they quickly find what they perceive as imperfection in others. Yet, they don’t notice their own shortcomings.
I once heard a child ask this about one of my
adult relatives. “Why is (so and so) always making fun of people?”
Some will defend the behavior, saying we’ve become weak as a society. Those individuals believe being mocked toughens you up. It doesn’t. It makes kindhearted people forever sensitive, insecure, and self-loathing. The ones who did get “toughened up,” so to speak, are merely bullies of the present day, bullying their own kids and the other adults in their lives.
Their values were handed off to them by their parents, and there’s an ingrained belief that their parents could never be wrong. They’ll say, “Well, they raised me, and I didn’t turn out so bad.” (In many cases, they didn’t turn out so good either.) But the evil they know is less frightening than uncertainty. It’s the perfect justification for passing this crap onto their own kids. It’s worse, too, when the parents are deceased because then they feel they can’t say anything unflattering about the dead. (Maybe the fear is the ghosts might hear you, but don’t quote me on that.) Whatever the deal is, you have to pretend these people were not only good—they were perfect. And the stuff they did wrong, which had been previously acknowledged, will now be denied.
In these families, you either get on board, or you take your broken heart someplace else.
I’ve talked about all of this with my own child, who attributed the lockstep mentality to a fear of not belonging, not fitting in—most importantly, not having that total acceptance from their loved ones. I can’t answer for why my own convictions became more critical than that acceptance, but they did. I can say I chose my soul over their acceptance, rejecting their mentality no matter the cost.
Getting back to those people who say they
turned out just fine, well I did, too—after clawing my way back, inch by inch,
step by step. After fighting to learn and grow and heal for many, many years.
That doesn’t mean that my parents or someone else’s parents wholly screwed up. No one is perfect, but if each generation learns from the one before, we can not only do better, we should.
Here’s the thing. We can all be wrong. At a
certain point in my life. I had to question whether everything I knew was
wrong—everything I was taught. Because
ultimately, only the truth serves me. Denial has cost me, and many others, I’m
sure, way too much already. It’s self-destructive to allow it to continue.
We can never take things at face value or
count on what other people teach. Children must be allowed to think for
themselves and form their own opinions. They need to know they will be
unconditionally loved and accepted without buying into your total mindset,
without having to live the life you have envisioned for them.
So, to wrap this up, I believe that every culture should be celebrated. Certain people get tired of hearing it, I know, but we are one, big, beautiful, and colorful family, and, no matter whose heritage we are celebrating, I’m in.
Some photos of Woodside Queens, New York
“We all have a divine mission on earth. Let that mission be to inspire love and embrace the light within. Let that mission be to have peace in our hearts as we create heaven on earth. Let that mission be to seek empowerment through transformation and to breathe joy into everything we do. If we allow these things to be our mission the golden light of the sun will shine on our souls and change our world forever.”~ Michael Teal
From the time I was a child, I’d heard that people born under the sign of Scorpio couldn’t forgive others. They held grudges forever, and these diabolical creatures, when wronged, were never satisfied with sticking the knife to their enemy (figuratively speaking, of course). They had to twist it from side to side.
Yikes! I happen to be a Scorpio (as if it matters), and this isn’t a blog about astrology. It’s about what I’ve learned about forgiveness, Pluto be damned. (Yes, Scorpio is ruled by a rock that is no longer considered a planet, so that tells you how much stock you should put into these things.)
Further, believing such a thing about yourself and committing to it is demoralizing, self-sabotaging, and self-destructive— not just for people born in the latter part of October and earlier part of November but for anyone.
The good news is, I was never doomed to be an unforgiving Scorpio or anything else I didn’t want to be, and neither are you! Nobody can tell you who you are, and you alone define your limitations. Our wills are more powerful than our experiences if we want them to be, and it’s a safe bet they’re more powerful than any effect the sun may have had on us at the time of our birth. The whole idea that we can’t help being who or what we are and have no control over it is utter nonsense. We can do whatever the hell we want, and we alone are responsible for what it is we decide to do.
Besides that, if we want to recover from our afflictions and tragedies, we need to heal and learn and grow and continue to evolve until our dying day. For this reason, we must come to understand forgiveness and the vital part it plays in our lives.
Those of us who’ve been in twelve-step programs for one affliction or another have likely come upon literature that explains the whole forgiveness thing better than I can. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states that, “Resentment destroys more alcoholics than anything else because deep resentment leads to futility and unhappiness and shuts us off from the Sunlight of the Spirit.” Addiction Treatment magazine notes that “Harboring anger can encourage you to be in a constant state of anxiety, which then can cause numerous physical health problems. Too much stress and anxiety can lead to cardiovascular issues, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and other potential ailments.”
Now, if you ask me … (You are asking me, right?) Forgiveness involves coming to terms with the truth.
For trauma survivors, like me, that’s not as simple as it sounds. All our lives, survival instincts had kicked in when necessary, leading us to strategize, justify, deny, etc.—whatever we had to do to cope. We may have even learned to deceive others with or without realizing, because we were deluding ourselves. That’s quite the dilemma when coming to terms with the truth is the only way to determine our level of responsibility for what happens in life.
Bear with me now because the first time someone told me I needed to own my part in everything that happened to me, I was royally pissed. If that included some horrific thing I surely didn’t deserve, it seemed downright cruel.
Well, when it comes to trauma survival, the idea of ‘owning our part’ is indeed cringeworthy, but it’s about addressing the issue of what we might do differently going forward. It’s the same question we’d ask in any other life-altering experience that leaves us shaken. The wording is appropriate when applied to the more typical betrayals or arguments—people hurting and rejecting one another in the way imperfect humans do. Either way, if we are the victim of someone else’s bad behavior, self-evaluation doesn’t mean the culprit is absolved of wrongdoing or that he or she is any less vile. It’s not to say that you or anyone else is okay with what happened, or that you are required to understand the reprehensible motivation behind what this person did.
The things that happen to us in life, good or bad, are learning opportunities that can increase our awareness about the world we live in, about others, and ourselves. No one says it’s fair or easy. Children can learn it from loving adults, what to do, what not to do, going forward, understanding that what happened wasn’t their fault. The acquired knowledge does not guarantee anything, I know, but it certainly helps. That’s what we’re owning.
You may have heard it a million times, and it’s still true: forgiveness is, first and foremost, for the one who suffers. It takes place so that whatever or whoever has hurt you no longer owns you or has control over your life. It’s a letting go that allows you to live and breathe and move on, survive and thrive by not allowing the perpetrator to cause you more suffering than you’ve already endured.
Excluding any justice sought in a criminal act, it didn’t take me long to see (even as an evil, menacing Scorpio) that retribution happens to abusive people without any help from me. They are their own worst enemies, and, sooner or later, the piper catches up to collect what he is owed. Some people balk at me when I say this, but I’ve learned to send love whenever these damaged souls come to mind. They surely need it. When I was at my absolute worst, I needed it, too. I still do. In fact, we all do.
However, despite all I’ve said here, nobody can tell you how to handle your feelings. We can talk about what works for us, with the hope that it might help someone else find the peace and joy that we’ve found, but that’s as far as it goes.
There were many times I’d witnessed a person expressing anger and grief over a traumatic experience, and others got upset about it. The others, in response, would say things like, “Well, I have a friend who went through that, and she had counseling, bla bla bla. She’s fine now, and maybe if so and so did that, he or she wouldn’t have to dwell on it and could move on.”
Well, no, people don’t necessarily react to trauma in the same fashion, so expectations of how people should behave are absurd. As for therapists, there are some who make it worse by revictimizing, or re-traumatizing because they don’t deal effectively with the repercussions of trauma. If you’re lucky enough to find the right counselor, therapy is excruciating work that leaves you raw and vulnerable to your very core. You have to be ready for it and strong enough to see it through.
So, yeah, no one has the right to decide for another person when it’s time to stop being angry, and to forgive and let go. Anger, like every other stage in the grieving process, must run its course.
If a person is never ready to stop being angry or forgive, it’s not for me or anyone else to judge. Healing is an ongoing process that, for all we know, may continue beyond this lifetime.
As I see it, we don’t forgive for the sole purpose of appeasing others. We do it when we’re prepared to rescue ourselves from the onslaught of continual suffering. And that’s where, in situations that are not so cut and dried as to who did what to whom, coming to terms with the truth helps determine our level of responsibility.
In any case, we cannot allow people to deny our reality of what we experienced or accept their spin on it if it has no basis in truth. We don’t want justification for what cannot be justified or for others to minimize the damage. We may be guilted and shamed into keeping quiet or making concessions, but to do so would impede our progress. Deciphering what is true and what is not is more important than appeasing others who need to deal with their own wounds. Their place in the healing process is different from ours, and we can’t wait there with them. We have work to do.
For us, the secrets and lies must end. It’s a fight for our well-being and our sanity. We’ve already endured the pain of silence. We’ve suffered too much already from the consequences of denial. We went through years of being protectively dishonest. We told ourselves we were okay when we weren’t yet. We said we’d survived while our brokenness continued and thought we were thriving when we were hanging on by the seat of our pants. We can’t afford more delusions about any of it. We have a right to be well and whole again.
It is critical that we stand up for ourselves and find out who we are as opposed to what other people want or believe us to be. It is crucial that we slowly and continually peel off every layer of the false self we present to the world, that we become more and more honest with ourselves and others.
After that, forgiveness exists at different levels, all of which amount to some form of healing and resolution. Perhaps it is forgiveness for resolving differences, where two people have worked through it, allowing the truth to sort things, and their relationship to resume with a clean slate. Maybe it’s forgiveness for peace, where you don’t have to trust this person again or have what you once had, but you’ve relinquished the hard feelings. And maybe it is purely for self-love and healing, and it doesn’t involve having to deal with that person again.
No matter how it plays out, we’ve taken our power back. It doesn’t mean we won’t be triggered when we see the same thing happening to us or to someone else in the future, especially when those people are silenced or dismissed. But we will be whole again.
All I can say is, if I’d bought into that nonsense of being unable to forgive, I’d be permanently screwed. It would have kept me from rising in my power and from the ability to summon my courage and my strength whenever I need it.
People run from life in many ways. We can want a hug so desperately and yet recoil from it. We can crave love more than anything and build fortresses to keep it away. There’s this idea that the more bridges we burn, the harder it will be to go back to the things that caused us pain. Sometimes, that is true, but, at the same time, we keep looking for that place where we belong, and, in some situations, trying almost too hard to fit in, until we accept, with a great deal of shame, that we need to move on. Reaching out to people is overwhelming and terrifying, but we try it, and when we feel unheard, we vanish again. So many goodbyes––until we don’t want to do the relationship thing anymore or the intimacy thing or ask anyone for help or love or whatever the hell we need. Intimacy doesn’t seem worth any of that, and we lose interest. We shut down, close our doors for business, and thrive in our safe, predictable worlds.
We wonder if we are crazy, but people tell us only sane people question their sanity. Sometimes we think we’re monsters, but we come to learn that monsters feel no guilt, no shame, and no love. We do love, from a distance and we absorb the world’s pain.
In my twenties and beyond, I kept changing my name, my hair color, my address, my phone number, my job–you name it. It was as if I couldn’t run fast enough, couldn’t hide in a safe enough place. Without realizing it, I was running away from the trauma of childhood and teen years.
At some point in the healing process, something tells you that you don’t need to hide anymore. You don’t need to run, so you try not to. What’s unsettling is how far you can come in your healing and still get thrown back there in a heartbeat.
Progress can seem slow, but it keeps happening. I’m not a patient person, but I’ve learned to be patient about healing. I’ve had to, and I love healing because I’ve reaped its rewards. Often, I look back and ask myself, “How did I survive, being such an idiot for most of my life?” That may seem harsh, but in light of how far I’ve come, it makes sense. We can’t fix what we don’t know is broken. We can’t benefit from learning the truth about ourselves until we feel safe in rejecting the lies.
As survivors, we want this healing for everyone while needing to learn, too, that people are only ready when they’re ready. And it’s painful when we love people who need desperately to heal but remain trapped in their fear. Sometimes we wish we could absorb every bit of their agony; even it means holding on to all of it ourselves because we know we can handle it. We have.
We can’t get stuck in that inability to forgive either. It’s understandable because we witness so much unnecessary cruelty toward ourselves and others, and we don’t know what to do with that. For instance, how do you come to terms with the fact that someone willfully tried to destroy another person, or that person’s reputation, or his or her life, that they did everything in their power to annihilate another human being?
What I realized, quite a long time ago, is that revenge and punishment are not up to me. Divine retribution happens without the least bit of my help—no matter how we interpret divinity and even if we are divinity in the sense that we represent it in the universe. It works that way because we can’t destroy people without destroying ourselves. If it’s destruction we want, it’s destruction we’ll get, and it’s never one-sided.
A better solution is to keep following our path and goals and let go of the burdens people give us to hold. The weight comes from feelings of not belonging or being worthy and accepted as we are. It comes from others mischaracterizing us or our actions to suit their agendas and punishing us for not being who they need us to be, not wanting what they require us to want.
We have to find our own happily ever after. It’s undoubtedly not the same for everyone, and that’s another place we can get stuck—wanting what we don’t have and realizing it’s not even what we want but what we think we’re supposed to want and have. Most people want to find that special someone, get that dream house and job. From the time I was eight years old, what I wanted was different—maybe, in some ways, the opposite of what everyone else wanted. It took me a while to realize that I have everything I’d ever wanted or needed in my life and, while I may have moments of feeling sad for another or sad for the world, I am happy.
One thing I’ve always known is to never give up. It does get better, a little at a time, but it gets so much better. Our survival not only gives hope to others but sharing our experiences allows us to help in their healing. We help each other, yes, and we give each other the love that’s been so hard for us to ask for or accept.
I’m not a religious type, but the prayer below has always been my favorite. It can certainly get you through it. ❤️
Brave Wings is a new online magazine that focuses on the human condition—whatever we experience in life that helps us learn, grow, and evolve. Sharing perspectives about healing and empowerment can be exciting and helpful, but we also want to provide entertainment and fun while sharing the beauty of creativity.
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You made me laugh,
And I forgot all the tears.
You helped me up,
And I forgot the times
You let me down.
You were hatred,
Just as surely as
You were love.
You were everything right
And everything wrong—
You were everything
I had to let you go,
And it freed me.
Still, I’m sad,
For I know
Who you might have been.
I know you so well…
But you do not know me. – Kyrian Lyndon
from Remnants of Severed Chains
I had a dream about you last night and woke up crying. I couldn’t sleep after that.
In the dream, you were angry with me—full of anger, full of hate. You had shut the door on me and left me out in the cold. I kept calling to you with a child’s unbearable anguish. You didn’t hear.
At some point, I cried, “Help me, daddy,” and finally, you came. I thought you were going to hit me or hurt me with your scarred and violent soul, but you didn’t. You hugged me. Well, you didn’t just hug me. You gave me the kind of hug I’d wanted from you since childhood, the comfort I always needed, and I didn’t want to let go.
I miss your smile and your jokes, Dad, your handsome face, and all of your wisdom, but I have to ask. Does a father realize he is the first man a girl gives her heart to completely? The first man she trusts blindly and devotedly? Did you realize?
I used to think I was hard to love.
Whatever people said—men especially—I wanted to believe them. Deep down, I didn’t. Not a word. And every time a man took something from me that I didn’t want him to have, every time a man tried to silence me, belittle me, or make me doubt myself, I punished him, pummeling him with words and crushing him with goodbye. I could be angry with them but not you.
What if things had been different between us, though? Would I had been less vulnerable or had the confidence to be my authentic self, knowing I was worthy and lovable? Would I have chosen more wisely? Would I have stopped running and hiding, oblivious to my weaknesses and my desperate needs? Would I have respected myself more? Might I have found someone I could love, for real? Someone who could have loved me back? Because I didn’t let them … I made sure they couldn’t.
Well, no matter, that’s all changed now. I picked up the shattered pieces of my heart and began to love myself.
It’s hard not to feel that twinge of emotion when I hear father tributes of the heroes who boosted confidence and taught children to believe in themselves. I honestly wish everyone could beam with that pride, feeling safe, content, and protected in that eternal bond.
It’s easy to defeat someone when you have all the power, when you are on a pedestal from the start, and you make all the rules. You can create vulnerability and punish the very same, though you don’t mean it. You can erase one’s humanity because of your denial, your self-loathing, and your shame, though you’re not aware. You can damage a person almost beyond repair. And, after the wrecking ball, cleanup of that wreckage rests solely on those tiny shoulders. Yeah, those shoulders get bigger, but somehow it all gets harder and more complicated.
I cleaned up that mess, though. The void lasts forever, and many people can attest to that, but I got those things I needed. It just takes ongoing effort to hold on to them.
And by the time I had a child of my own, I knew all too well what a child needs. I was able to give him that, but I couldn’t give him YOU. Oh, he’s brilliant and kind and funny, and so very loyal. Like you, he’s hard and strong but with such a tender heart. He needed you, and he still needs you, though he’d never admit it now. He’d been shattered right along with me, but we rose to the challenge, and he loves with his whole heart like I do. I’m proud of him, and I’d like to think you’d be proud of him, too, but it doesn’t matter now.
Look, maybe you didn’t give me what I needed, but you gave what you had. I saw a brave and modest man, generous with assistance and advice—a hero to many, and I know why they love you. I know why I loved you. Sure, it’s easy to love someone when you think they are perfect; when you hold them up on a pedestal and pretend they are everything you need and always wanted. You fell off that pedestal when I was twelve, Dad, but I loved you so much, flaws and all, and I still do. That’s unconditional love, and though you couldn’t give that to me, you still get it. Because guess what? You deserved that, too, from the people who didn’t give it to you.
Yeah, I knew why you were the way you were, though you accepted no excuses from me when I fell short. You could never understand me, but I understood you. Though you couldn’t hear me, yours was the loudest voice I’d heard in my entire life—a voice that continued to bellow in my ear for a lifetime. It kept me from standing up. It kept me from fighting, and it kept me from winning until I did all those things because I couldn’t lose any more. I climbed in spite of you, because of you and for you, because you couldn’t do it yourself, and I understand that.
When you were angry, devastated, and tortured, I tried to tell you it would be okay, that I was sorry for you, and that I loved you, but it seemed too much for you to bear at the time. Then, in the end, I forgave you, and you forgave me. It took a lifetime, but we got there.
Sigh. There are many things we never got to do, Dad, and it’s too late now. You’re gone. But I do have some fond memories of you that I will cherish always.
And here’s what I wish.
I wish I could go back in time with you—to those boyhood days when you were punished severely for no good reason—when you were invalidated, shamed, ridiculed, and ignored, just to tell you how awesome you were, and all you could be and do with your life. I’d say I believe in you, and that you have everything you need to succeed. I would say over and over that I love you to the moon and back, so you would know how worthy you are of that love. And maybe you would have grown up to be what you wanted, and have felt no shame. Then when it was your turn, you could have done the same. You would have known I was not an extension of you and didn’t have to represent you or your ideals. Perhaps you would not have expected such a conformist “go with the flow” type of kid who didn’t make waves but sang to a song you couldn’t possibly hear. You would not have lost empathy. You wouldn’t have cared how others saw me or what they would think. You’d have simply treasured me for the person I am. Imagine that!
The aching in my heart is that I want that for everyone. I wish all men and women who didn’t get what they needed as children would give that and get it back in abundance however they can. And I’m infinitely grateful to every hardworking mom and dad who gets up every day ready and willing to get it all right, including you.
Rest easy, Dad, and know you will always be in my heart.
“Children are the most fearless souls on earth.”― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!
“What other people think of me is none of my business.”
Yes, I’ve heard that, too, but I agree only in part. We still have to be accountable for our behavior, and it doesn’t help to stubbornly insist we are fine—and that whatever we do is okay regardless of how many people say otherwise.
It doesn’t mean we have to believe every negative thing anyone says about us. It’s more about the willingness to consider what others have to say, whether we like what they’re saying or not. It’s about our responsibility to learn, grow, and evolve.
Everything comes back to balance for me, but when you’re able to set aside ego and keep an open mind, discernment about what to take personally and what to blow off becomes easier.
You can surely tell if something is malicious or plain stupid.
For example, and speaking as an author now, we put our work out there before a world that seems divided on just about everything. Everyone has opinions, not all of them based on reality or given by someone who has a reasonable frame of reference. Someone may read about a tragic event and say it isn’t an accurate portrayal. You can write something that did happen or describe someone that was very real, and someone might see it as a misrepresentation because that’s not what they’ve experienced. People also have personal biases and triggers. And, yes, sometimes the reason they don’t like something has more to do with them than you. I have seen fellow writers get two-star book reviews for reasons that had nothing to do with the book. Some trolls will say negative things merely because they can.
But most of our antagonists or legitimate critics in life, personally and professionally, are people with their own agendas who may or may not have a vested interest in us. And sometimes, they are right on the money.
Unfortunately, however, some people fear criticism so much that they’re not able to live their dreams or find true happiness, They may put a toe in the water but never dive in.
What I have to say may help. It’s worked for me.
Change Your Relationship with Criticism
Years ago, I grappled with panic attacks and debilitating pain. I read somewhere that I could change my relationship with pain by changing my perspective on it.
That helped tremendously, and I soon realized you could do that with just about anything.
Criticism, like pain, isn’t comfortable. It feels horrible, and we don’t like feeling horrible, so we tell ourselves we can’t handle it.
Take yourself out of fear mode and the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness. Acknowledge that you’re not comfortable. Tell yourself you can handle it, then decide how you will do that. You want to find the solution, control whatever it is you can control, and let go of whatever you can’t. Stress only makes things worse.
You’re not alone. What’s happening to you is happening to others, maybe even at the same moment. So many people have been through it. You are no different from any of them and no less capable of handling it. Maybe it seems so much worse because it is happening to you.
Take Yourself Off the Pedestal
On a professional level, people could tell us a thousand times about all the famous people who’d been rejected over and over before the world realized how amazing they were. Many will say, “Well that won’t be me. Oh, but, what am I going to do if it is? How can I control that?”
You can’t, and it’s not easy to get past all that righteous indignation you feel. Someone is criticizing or rejecting you or your behavior or your work, and you instinctively want to defend yourself. You become angry. You feel sad or ashamed. It hurts.
Understand first, that you are not the exception to every rule.
In recovery circles, we laughingly refer to ourselves as “just another Bozo on the bus.” It may sound a bit harsh, but it’s a way of humbling yourself, and taking yourself off the pedestal. I like to think of myself as just another writer, another voice in the choir, and mostly just another person trying to learn and figure things out. That’s an accurate description. We are babies in this astounding old universe, and it’s okay to accept that we’re all vulnerable—not only to the force of nature and random happenings but to each other.
When we respect that, we don’t see people as enemies and haters. We see them as people struggling to survive, like we are.
You are not this person the whole world is watching, and with ridiculous expectations, all the while hoping you will fail or die. I know we meet some nasty people in life that make it seem that way. It’s not surprising that we end up seeing people through such a negative lens. But let’s refuse to believe anyone is that obsessed with us or that petty.
No matter what’s happening, we need to believe that the world is with us, and that the universe supports us.
And with this shift in perspective, there’s little need to be competitive or combative, no need for drama or denial or damage control.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of better things to do than spend my time and energy doing damage control for the sake of my ego. It’s a full-time job, really, with plenty of overtime—controlling how the world sees us and everything that we do. In fact, the business of hiding an inferiority complex behind some shield of superiority is downright exhausting. It becomes impossible to admit you are wrong and say you are sorry. It has you taking credit for all the good in situations and relationships but none of the bad.
Listen to Learn
Do you enjoy a challenge? Do you love to overcome problems and obstacles? I know I do. Understanding that you can do better helps. Wanting to do better can save your life.
Sometimes, we are lazy about fixing stuff. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much work. The reality of life is harsh and can bring unbearable pain. Denial is much more comforting.
I can tell you that, in the past decade, many people have praised me for things I once sucked at, and that’s because somewhere along the line, someone provided me with valuable insight. I was willing to work at it, and so I benefited in the end.
Every critic is a teacher, planting seeds for our improvement and healing.
As far as I can tell, we have to keep listening to learn. On both a personal and professional level, there is always room for improvement. I am obsessed with learning more and more about things that have affected me in my life—things that tripped me up when I had to deal with them in others or myself. I want to learn all I can, not because I’m looking to point fingers but because awareness is everything. I’ve loved those big hallelujah moments where I’ve said, “Hah! So, that’s what’s been going on!” Those were game-changing, life-altering moments. I can’t help feeling grateful for every one of those opportunities.
So, fall in love with the process of learning, growing, evolving, and recovering. It helps us to succeed more and suffer less. And do it with the understanding that this is precisely how it’s supposed to go. Everything is an opportunity for growth, and even shitheads can make valid points. Embrace it. Accept it.
It’s all part of a divine process that is always happening, and we are both a part of and a child of that divinity.
Reality to me is the dusk,
Prevalence in the shadows.
It is cloaking,
In a world of darkness.
It is torment.
It is restraint.
The beauty of the peaceful lull amid the
Trees just before sunrise
Lies in contrast with the hazy tumult of my
I am in awe of every vision.
I bask in the passion of every caress.
Every bit of air I breathe is a godsend.
I could listen with the stillness of the ocean
To the waves amid a blue-violet sky.
I could dance with flair and gaiety to the music
With a glow that illuminates me.
There is no one else I’d rather be—
Unless it were to love you.
You are all that I crave.
Sometimes people are not getting whatever it is they want from you, and they’re not fully aware, or embarrassed to say. They want love, sex, friendship, attention, admiration, approval, money, an acknowledgement, an apology—whatever. Other times they are making assumptions and, for whatever reason, they would prefer to stick with their assumptions rather than get to the truth. They may say, if you confront them, “Oh, no, nothing’s wrong,” or “it’s not you,” thinking that will keep you on the hook. Or they try to shame or silence you, maybe even become passive-aggressive instead of seeking a solution.
What I take from that is, “I can’t risk feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable, or possibly having to admit any wrongdoing or, gasp, apologize. You’re not worth that to me.”
Reaching out to people when we’re feeling something’s wrong can be difficult. In doing that, we’re putting something on the line. We’re willing to be vulnerable and take the risk because that person means something to us. I keep that in mind whenever anyone reaches out to me because I honestly don’t know if, in the past, I’ve ever made a person feel they’re not worth a genuine resolution. If I have, I’d never want to make someone feel like that again.
In any relationship, you need two people to give a shit. At the very least, it’s a matter of mutual respect. If someone can’t be honest with you, if they can’t take your concerns seriously, if they can’t deal with your anger if that should come up or your frustration, then this is not a person who is invested in or committed to the relationship. Nothing about the relationship can be authentic when things don’t get resolved. It merely allows for a superficial connection that will always have some tension, even when we try to focus only on the good and having a nice time or a nice conversation.
Close relationships don’t become what they are by silent treatments, grudges, hoping to punish, or wanting the other person to suffer. They become that way because of genuine caring and a willingness to resolve and forgive on both sides. I believe you have to give each other the chance to make it right or clear up any misunderstanding.
In truth, the people who genuinely care will care about what makes you happy, what makes you angry, what frustrates you, and what hurts you.
And, at some point, it’s time to let go of the others—stop fighting for them because hanging on can be heartbreaking, and it hurts your self-esteem.
The sad thing is, and I see it all the time, the day will come when it’s too late to resolve things with someone. The person is gone forever and sadder still, they’ll just be hoisted up on a pedestal and history will be rewritten. The one who chose not to resolve will remember only the good and times when they were close, but that’s isn’t love. That’s creating the person they are comfortable with, not the one who is human and flawed— maybe even a little broken, but worth so much more than they realized.