Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Older I get

When I was a kid, I was a bit out of the ordinary. I really enjoyed politics and political discussions. And I loved political arguments.

When I was younger, such arguments seemed to be about the merits of a position and the reasons for that position. This new century, coming as it does in the midst of this so-called Information Age, has seen a change in such arguments and not for the better.

The Information Age, bringing with it almost instantaneous access to any kind of information and the 24-hour news cycle has all but killed true political debate and with it thoughtful reflection. Instead, reactions are nearly as instant as the stories they respond to.

We have become a knee-jerk nation. Instead of truly considering and debating positions, our political leaders and their followers call each other liars, morons, and sometimes worse. I'm not surprised that nothing gets done on what many see as the major issues of our day: health care, immigration, the economy.

There seem to be fewer and fewer reasoned voices on either the left or the right. Because of that, the party in power is doomed to failure from the moment they take power. Every two or four years, I think the pendulum will swing back in the opposite direction, and both major parties will be so dizzy from the constant shifting, they won't be able to clear their heads long enough to get anything done, at least nothing worthwhile.

When I was in my 20s, I had a friend call me a radical and say that I would get more conservative once I got older. I don't think I have except when it comes to my view of the prospects of government accomplishing anything.

I have become very disillusioned about our government, primarily because they always seem to talk about doing something and then fail to follow through and actually do it.

Sadly, I don't think either major party has a recipe for success. Government for government's sake (what those on the right might argue the Democrats are all about) is not the answer. However, the less is more, hands-off and abdicate all responsibility approach of Republicans and Libertarians is no answer, either.

I have lived long enough not to trust the private sector to police itself or do anything to benefit the greater good. (Anyone remember Enron, Three Mile Island, the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez crash?) However, I have no confidence in government to act to rein in the excesses of private enterprise.

And so, in the midst of my middle age, I have lost interest in politics and political debate. The political era I reveled in during my youth is gone. Maybe it never really existed. Part of me wonders if perhaps it is finally time for us to admit that this Grand Experiment, as Alexis de Tocqueville called it in Democracy in America, has failed. Money talks, and the rest of us are silenced.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scar Tissue

In this week's session, my therapist and I talked about the emotional plateau I've been on for a little while now and the difficulty I've had truly freeing myself up emotionally.

I likened it to the notion of emotional scar tissue, tissue that is somewhat malformed yet is in some ways much stronger than the original tissue it replaced.

As I have thought back through the years to the memories of my childhood, there is a distinct line that seems to indicate where my childhood effectively ended. In pictures I have of me as a three-year old, I am laughing and smiling at the world around me. In pictures of me as a nine and ten-year old, the smile is gone, replaced by a sort of grimace intended to represent a smile but falling well short.

In-between, I all but shut down emotionally, only displaying emotional in the most intense moments, when I could no longer hold them in. It was a defense mechanism designed to protect me from what was going on around me, but it became a prison, a barrier that kept me from being able to fully engage with the world around me.

In discussing this with my therapist, I have come to think of it as something akin to my growth (emotional in this case) being stunted. I either forgot or never learned how to play with or interact with others. My world became what I read in books, heard in songs on the radio or stereo, or made up in the fantasy worlds I created in my head as a means of escape and of holding onto hope that there was a better life for me somewhere else.

I guess one could think of it as a sort of emotional fetal position which protected me, but the fallout of this was that I remained distant from people. I was not able to get close to them and did not let or encourage them to get close to me. Fear of rejection and of abandonment were at play here, the reason for which could fill another several posts, I suspect.

I recently connected on Facebook with someone I worked with many years ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. In an exchange of messages, she mentioned knowing that I was sad while I lived and worked there. And I was, although I foolishly thought I was hiding that so well from the world around me.

I was sad because I wanted to get close to people and have them get close to me. I was afraid at the same time that people would reject me once they knew what I was really like because I had tried so hard and for so long to suppress that. Beyond that, I lacked the emotional tools to encourage or develop meaningful friendships.

I have moved to a better place these days. My therapist says I can go back, through the scar tissue, to retrieve those emotions buried since childhood. I expressed the concern that in retrieving "good" emotions from that time I would end up bring back all of the "bad" emotions I tried so hard to bury. She says i can choose which emotions to bring into the present from that time, but a part of me still isn't sure.

In the meantime, I continue to inch forward, become more aware of who I really am, where I've been and where I want to go. Who I am is a sometimes funny, sometimes introspective, and sometimes absent-minded middle-age man who is learning to better enjoy life and learning to like himself a little better on the way to perhaps one day loving himself.

Where I have been is the emotional equivalent of bumper cars, a ride that has left me bumped and bruised and slightly impaired but still here. As Elton John sang, "I'm still standing."

Where I want to go is a place and time where I am able to freely express my emotions and not hold them in until there is no more room and they burst out in some sort of explosion. I hope to reach a place where I feel free to feel or not feel instead of sometime thinking I can't feel. I haven't quite gotten there, but I think I can see that place in the distance.

I am not quite ready to commit to the notion that I am happy (that just sounds too hopeful), but I will say I am fairly content these days, and for me, that in and of itself is a big victory.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Out of Sync

For years, I have struggled and failed (sometimes miserably) to develop emotionally. My therapist says that more than likely my emotional growth was stunted early in my childhood, out of necessity and a need to protect myself from the trauma around me, while my intellectual side was given free reign to develop. My emotions have been struggling to catch up ever since.

Growing up, my intellectual side developed to the point that I became almost a walking, talking game of Trivial Pursuit, even before the game was ever created. My cousins teased me, calling me "Professor," not realizing how much it stung, nor was I able to tell them. Instead, I tried to laugh it off, even while realizing the label meant I did not and would not fit in with the rest of them.

That does not mean I never expressed emotion, but because of the ways in which I developed and did not develop, emotions were only expressed when reaching the highest peaks or the deepest valleys. In other words, the emotion or feeling had to be so strong it could no longer be held in check; emotion was never something I freely expressed otherwise.

My lack of emotional development meant feelings had no place, no room in my everyday world because they were not on the same plane as my thoughts. It has been much like a right-handed person trying to do something predominantly with his or her left hand; it is extremely uncomfortable, and the effort usually ends after a short time.

For the past 14 months, I have been trying to uncover repressed memories and feelings and to free myself up emotionally. I feel I have made some real strides in that time, but occasionally things happen to remind me of just how far I still have to go.

Tonight, I lapsed into defensiveness when Teresa asked me whether I had taken care of something she had asked me to take care of on several previous occasions. For one reason or another (forgetfulness, procrastination, or a combination), I had not completed the task. I suppose that at some deep level I have an imprinted memory of coming under attack as a child, to the point where defensiveness is almost a reflexive reaction. Teresa called me on it, I recognized it, and we were able to defuse the situation before one or both of us was hurt.

This episode was a stark reminder of how much work remains to bring my emotional and intellectual sides into balance with one another. However, writing this actually helps to bring the two sides closer together.

My therapist this week said that this blog serves as a connecting thread between the intellectual and the emotional side. Here, I am able to write about things I have great difficulty expressing verbally, thereby getting the emotions out and not keeping them bottled in. At the same time, I am able to think about what I am trying to say and about how I want to say it, thereby exercising the intellectual side.

The thread connecting the two is tenuous at times, but there is a connection. I feel at times like a car whose wheels are out of alignment. But now, at least, the wheels are all turning in the same direction. Usually, anyway.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Primal Scream

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to find a secluded spot and give in to my need or urge to scream, something my therapist thought might help me to loosen the lid on long repressed feelings. Well, I did. And I didn't.

I did not find that secluded spot, but I did scream. I screamed and I screamed while driving in the hills. At the time, though, it felt like the only things loosened were my fillings, as I ended up with a headache and a slightly sore throat.

My therapist says the headache is a symptom of very deep and repressed emotions from my childhood. She may be right. I do know that after my screaming I also had a desire to rant, or to borrow the name of a 1990s band, rage against the machine.

What came to mind was part rant, part rap, part poem, all in short, choppy phrases, something my therapist said was akin to how a child might react and respond to the situations I experienced growing up:

O, God!
No, God!
Why, God?
How, God?
What God?
Where God?
Whose God?
Which God?
When God?

While a few of these phrases have been added after reflection, most of these phrases/questions came to me in the moment immediately after the last scream. A crisis of faith, a cry for answers, a plea for relief, maybe all of the above.

All I know is that I have traveled further (and perhaps farther) in the last 14 months than I had in the previous 52 years of life. The screaming and the brief rant/rap that followed show me still how far I have yet to go.

My head tells me I should just let the past go. My heart, though, says that for better or worse that past is a big part of who I am and of how I got to this place in time. The answer for me lies somewhere in-between.

In the battle to protect myself as a child, I numbed myself to everything around me, which kept me at arms' length from nearly everyone who ever entered my life. Now, I need to dig through the scar tissue to get back to the emotions nearly cut off so long ago, so that I can make my peace with the past, be fully part of the life I now have, and look forward to the future.

I may never truly reach that point, but I have already come further than I dared to hope was possible, so there is hope. And as long as there is hope, there is life.