Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

The last gifts have been wrapped and put under the tree. My son and my wife have both gone to bed, and I sit here early on this Christmas morning and ponder what it is I truly want this year.

For most of the run up to this Christmas I have been dreading the day and its arrival. Now that it is here, however, I am at last ready for it. I am ready for the anticipation and the joy in my son's face when he opens a package to find something he asked for as well as the disappointment he will no doubt express when he doesn't get everything he asked for.

There will probably be a few packages under the tree with my name on them, but I have already received the best Christmas gifts I have ever been given - an opportunity for redemption, a chance to redeem my life and live it as it always should have been lived. Not in fear or guilt but in love and joy.

What made that gift possible was a possibly even greater gift - the gift of one person to another. One person who could easily have treated me with resentment and even hatred but instead showed kindness and compassion. She gave of herself and of her self. In the process, she pointed the way to my self and helped to set me on the road to wholeness.

Heidi, mere words of thanks do not seem adequate. You rose above your own cares to offer me encouragement and friendship. That gift is beyond measure. I truly believe you were sent by God to help me find my way out of the wilderness. For that, I will always be grateful.

My wish for everyone this Christmas and in the new year to come is that each of you will find such a friend. They are hard to come by, but when you do find such a friend you are truly rich beyond compare. This Christmas, I count myself amongst the richest men on Earth. I have a family that loves me and a friend who encourages me and allows me to be more than I have ever been. I am truly blessed.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Steps Forward . . .

My first week of therapy is now behind me; today was my fourth session in just eight days. It has been quite a roller coaster ride already, and I feel as if I am enrolled in an intensive crash course designed to explore the psyche.

Oddly enough, I measure how good a session was not by whether I feel better afterward but by whether I cried during the session. Today I cried.

Monday I did not cry, and I viewed the session as a bit of a setback. My therapist (it still seems odd to me to use that phrase) said she sensed me teetering on the verge of closing off again from my feelings. I knew it as well. I was retreating back into myself.

But as my friend reminded me, we had discussed the probability that there would be times when these reversals would occur. And I had already concluded in my own mind that on any given day it did not matter whether I moved forward or backward as long as I kept moving and did not stand still. For to stand still is to stagnate and to stagnate is to die.

I think my biggest challenge in the early going is not to expect too much out of these sessions and also not to expect too little. I have always tended to do one of two things in my dealings with the world around me: set myself up for disappointment by creating impossible expectations or protect myself from disappointment by setting my expectations so low that I am willing to settle for nothing.

My expectations or at least my hopes started out high because I looked at this latest attempt at therapy (having tried a few times in my 20s) as a fight for my life. Not so much whether I live or die but whether I truly live or merely exist. I tempered those expectations by remembering how many years I have lived in pain, in fear, and in loneliness: hurt by the crimes against my youth, afraid of what I'll find inside me or what others won't, alone because I could not get close to others and could not seem to let others in.

As I have relayed some of the events of my youth and their effects on me to my therapist, the tears have flowed freely. But the telling and the crying take a lot of energy, so on Monday I pulled back a little. Whether to give myself a rest, to protect myself in my vulnerability, or for some other reason, I do not know.

What I do know is that today I cried again. The things I talked about, the feelings they stirred in me hurt deeply. But the tears felt good. I was hurt but I was alive. So today's was a good session.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thoughts on Therapy

Yesterday, I began what promises to be a long journey toward better self-awareness, self understanding, and perhaps most importantly, self forgiveness and self love. I started therapy.

The first visit, an assessment, I was told, was painful and covered a lot of ground and a lot of feelings: feelings of abandonment, of failure, of hopelessness, even of dying. So much for small talk.

I have come to see this as my journey back to life, and I know it will not be an easy one. As my wife has said, there may be times when I take one step forward and two steps back. I know that and I think I am ready for it. As long as I keep moving, then the journey will continue. It is only in stopping that danger lies for it means I have retreated to the familiar, even comfortable status quo because it is pain I know.

It is said that without pain we cannot know joy. As I bring the pain of my youth and my adult life into the light and hold onto that in hopes I will one day know the joy.

A friend of mine sent me a picture of her and her boyfriend smiling and embracing life. They are my model for they have shown me what happiness looks like and what is truly possible. I hope one day to return a picture of me and my family smiling back at them. May it be so.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Random Thoughts

I've always had a hard time making friends. I suspect that is because I see a friend as someone more than a person to talk sports or politics or music with. To me, a friend has always been someone with whom you could share your deepest hopes and fears and dreams, even more than perhaps you can with your spouse.

I am at present lucky enough to have such a friend. How long the friendship will last, given the intensity of the things we sometimes talk about, I won't try to guess. She may decide the friendship needs to end in order to preserve her own sanity, and who could blame her? Certainly not I.

Tomorrow, I begin the journey of a lifetime as I begin what may be weeks, months, or more likely years of therapy to help me dig up and expose to the light issues that date back to my childhood. My friend has been a support and encouragement in this process that lead to my decision to seek help.

As I told her, for too long I have been treading water, and I am now starting to get tired. Therapy is my chance at a life preserver before I get too tired to grab it. While there are no guarantees in therapy, I am certain I am lost without it. I look at this as the fight of my life and for my life. My friend believes I can make it, and I am very appreciative of that belief in me.

For too long, my life has been nothing more than going through the motions. For some time to come, it will be a day by day process, but with the help and support of my family and of my dear friend, I can come out on the other side and one day walk in the light instead of hiding in the darkness.

Be well.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Slippin' Into Darkness

The title of the old War song seems appropriate these days, as that is what I feel is happening to my life.

I don't know how to explain it except that it feels a bit like walking in a fog with limited visibility. Each step must be planned and taken carefully lest you slip and completely lose your balance. That is my life at present.

I have been unable to explain to my wife or my son what is going on. I don't really know how. So we dance this uncomfortable dance of trying not to say or do the wrong thing, dancing to a tune none can hear.

Instead, I have burdened the one true friend I feel can understand these things to the point where if she were to tell me should could no longer be my friend I would understand and probably tell her she is doing the right thing. Assuming, of course, I could stop crying long enough to get the words out.

Crying has been one of the more interesting and frightening aspects of this descent. I have never been a very emotional person, always saying what I thought was the right thing but never really feeling anything. I had all but assumed I could not feel, I had buried things away for so long.

But in the last two weeks I have cried, more than I have in the last 20 years, I suspect. Two boxes of tissues in two days. If I'm not at rock bottom yet, I can see it from where I wallow.

And when I am not crying, I'm nearly comatose. I look in the mirror and I see the epitome of what they used to call Buster Keaton, "The Great Stone Face". Only sadder.

I am now in full-blown survival mode as I try to get from one day to the next until my first of what i suspect will be many sessions of professional help. To those who are standing by me, thank you. I'm sorry for what I have put you through. If God believes in me, perhaps things will one day be a little brighter. Until then, I struggle to find my way through the darkness and the shadows.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my 52nd birthday. With apologies to Charles Dickens, it is the best of birthdays; it is the worst of birthdays.

The best: I have a friend who has helped me try to reconnect with my inner self, which has been closed and shuttered for so long. I have a family that loves me. And I am lucky enough to have a decent job in these job economic times.

The worst: The realization that I am a self-destructive individual who tries to sabotage everything worthwhile in his life (including, I fear, said friendship) because of a deep-seated feeling that I do not deserve anything good in my life and a long held sense of worthlessness.

I am supposed to go out tonight with friends to celebrate my birthday, and I worry about which side I will show them. Will I be able to show them a happy side? Or, as I fear, will they see the way I feel: like a car dangerously close to being out of control whose brakes have already failed as a steep downhill approaches?

Right now, I have no clue. When I don't feel like crying I feel, in the words of Pink Floyd, "comfortably numb".

Because of that up and down, part of me feels there are better days ahead. Another part, however, senses that the worst is still to come. Then the fight truly begins. God give me strength.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Birthday Gift

In two days, I mark my 52nd birthday. (Celebrate seems a bit too strong a word at the moment.) My wife has asked me what I want for my birthday, and I can think of no thing I need or desire, except that which is currently out of the financial realm of possibility. Plus, a motorhome would not fit easily into a box.

Actually, I have probably already received the best birthday gift I have ever been given - the gift of another person's friendship. Given the circumstances under which we met (as explained in an earlier post), it is surprising that we became friends. The speed at which we became friends is perhaps even more surprising.

Today, I got the news from my friend that she will be leaving the company for which we both work January 2 to take another, hopefully more lucrative job. It is sooner than I would hope for, although I certainly understand and support her reasons. Thankfully, it is a little later than I was afraid of. I believe we will remain friends, although the circumstances will change as I will no longer have the instant gratification of being able to pick up the phone and call her as we are both working. That may be a good thing, at least for her.

For several years in the 1990s, I was in the habit of throwing my own birthday party, cooking dinner for those who came, and giving them presents rather than receiving them. In the spirit of that somewhat short-lived tradition, I want to give a present to my newest and deepest friend. It has been some time since I tried my hand at poetry, so I hope it will not offend or come across as too cheesy.

Ode To A Friend

When inner darkness threatens to engulf
That which beats within me
You bring much needed sunlight
And shine it on my icy soul.
Your understanding countenance
Rekindles the fading spark inside
And breathes new fire into dying embers
Saved from myself again.

I am rescued from despair's dark depths.
Your kind thought, verbally caresses
Restoring in me the strength
To do battle once more and face the coming day.
You selflessly give the greatest gift,
Accepting me, warts and all, this unholy, ungodly mess
And show me my better, most possible self.

Whether Philia or Agape or some of both, I do not know.
You hold me tender in your thoughts and words
And I am washed clean by my tears
Raised up by your kindness
You honor me more than I deserve
This crowning achievement made possible
By a gentle heart I can never hope to repay.

My meager gift so sparse compared
To all that you have given
But I give it freely, gratefully, with thanks.
For what special tribute, far-reaching accolade
Do I wax so freely and without abandon?
No more and certainly no less than this -
You called me friend.

This badge of honor I most proudly wear
Today and all of my tomorrows
Until that which flows within runs to dust.
This gift you offer me I now offer back
and call you friend.
To be so much and nothing else, it is enough.
For I am rich beyond compare.

Happy birthday to me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The True $pirit of Chri$tma$

The temporary insanity know as the Christmas shopping season is upon us. The day known as Black Friday in the retail world came and went with better than expected sales and just one minor disruption: a man's death.

A temporary worker at a Long Island Wal-Mart was trampled to death, not because he refused to honor a rain check or a competitor's ad but because he could not open the store's doors and get out of the way fast enough to avoid dozens of crazed shoppers trying to be the first ones to save 25-percent on next year's "Oh, I forgot we even had this" item.

Wal-Mart will rightly come in for its share of criticism and condemnation for not anticipating and properly preparing for this type of situation . Based on the events of the last several Christmas shopping seasons, any responsible retailer could have foreseen that it was only a matter of time before someone was killed.

In fact, several other retailers, such as best Buy, did foresee this possibility and were prepared appropriately. Wal-Mart, however, rolled back common sense when they rolled back prices for the start of the shopping season.

But the blame is not Wal-Mart's alone. We as consumers are as much to blame. Our need to always have the latest and greatest whatchamacallit fuels these shopping frenzies and increases the likelihood each year that such tragedies can occur until this year one finally did.

For a number of years it has been all over but the shouting. Now it is official. We have truly lost the meaning and perhaps as importantly the spirit of Christmas. The holiday is at last best marked with "Merry Xmas" rather than "Merry Christmas".

Christmas, of course, began as a day to mark and celebrate the birth of Christ. But even atheists celebrated the season as one in which to promote peace on earth and goodwill toward humanity. The Christmas season was a time when we each stopped to reflect on our better sides and on our hopes for a better world.

Now, all of that seems gone. A man has died. Unlike the first Christmas-related fatality two-thousand years ago, this death will not be followed by a resurrection.