Thursday, April 20, 2006

Love Thy Selfless - Part 2

Love Thy Selfless - Part 2

Some friends of mine are going to a workshop in early May.  I’ve attended this workshop on many occasions in years past.  The title has changed little of the years: “Taking care of me and my relationships.”

Yes, it is one of those.

I am not one for group therapy, under normal circumstances.  I also abhor and deplore the depicting of group therapy in movies and on TV.  They are based in fact, I suppose, but are so far removed from my reality that I cannot equate the two, at all, on any level.

Regardless, (note the correct use of the word regardless and not that sad aberration “irregardless”) I try to go to this biannual workshop at least once per year.  This time, I cannot go.  Finances and personal reasons dictate.

One of my very good friends described this exercise as a personal tune-up for the soul, or words to that effect.  He is not wrong!

Usually, I’ll be thinking about it and preparing for months before the event.  It was in this light that I wrote Love thy Selfless – Part 1 not long ago.  Tackling this Part 2 has been brewing in my brain since.  

I have considered writing an open letter to the people attending the workshop.  Some of them will be new and others are old friends.  It would be a way for me to participate, thus working on myself, even if I’m not physically present.

But what would I write?

The single most recurring issue is, obviously, one of self-acceptance.  The reasons are as varied as the people in attendance, but the core is the same.  It seems we all have difficulty in accepting ourselves on some level.

Try to love someone when you just can’t get past his or her faults.  Damned near impossible!  Those of us in therapy, and many who aren’t but should be, often have complex issues to deal with that are inherently self-damaging.  

Some of us just plain hate ourselves.  This is more common than we think. Heck, we’ve even coined some phrases: “I just hate myself”, “that was so stupid of me”, “I’m such an idiot.”  Who among us hasn’t used at least one of these sentences?  

It’s not a full-on hatred, mind you, but it is a light form of self-inflicted punishment.

But this is acceptable, and even encouraged in some ways.  For example: anyone caught saying “I’m brilliant” will soon be met with scorn, possibly envy, definitely ridicule but mostly utter contempt.

I don’t want to revisit Part-1, suffice to remember that society plays a large part in our behaviour, especially towards our selves.

Trying to abstract society is almost a losing battle… almost.  It is an issue, one of many.

So what’s the right question, but more importantly in what context?   I did ask, as a conclusion to Part 1: what’s an issue and what ain’t?  I struggle with this daily, either in therapy or in my everyday actions.  But even here, there are two steps: research and realization.

First the research: context yields different angles to the same question: money, society, social mores, career, work, women, self-image, drugs, alcohol, smoking, overeating, not eating enough or worse eating badly, the list goes on…and on.

I’ll pick two very different examples from the above:

I don’t have a problem with drugs as I don’t use any hard drugs, but a case could be made for my popping Motrin™ like they were Smarties™ when I slip a disk in my back about once a month or so.

I don’t have a consumption problem with smoking or alcohol, yet a case could be made that I have a personal deep-rooted aversion to both, thereby making it a subject that is hard for me to talk about.

So one is possibly an addiction, the other is quite the opposite.

Are these real issues that require my attention?  And when?  I cannot do everything at once, obviously.  Then a second angle opens up: that is to prioritize these things, which in itself could be an issue! But anyway…

Basic psychology tells me “what do I think?”  In fact, the odds are very good that if I don’t think about something at all, it’s probably not an issue!  If it returns on a regular or semi-regular basis, that’s a good indicator that something is amiss.

Let’s talk about my back for a minute.  I slip a disk – it actually gets herniated, in my lower back on a semi-regular basis.  The slightest movement can set it off, yet when I’m careful, all is well.  Shovelling the driveway, for example, is not a problem, reaching for a doorknob can be!  The resulting pain is too much to bear for any length of time. Sometimes I lock up completely.  So I hit the analgesic/anti-inflammatory pills, hard!

Is the issue then with drugs?  Or is the real problem with my back?  Furthermore, could it be a problem with my weight?  I am carrying too much of a gut, which in turn pulls on my back muscles enough that any false move will get me a herniated disk.

Taking care of myself then implies not so much reducing my drug intake, but rather my body mass.  The drugs are then a stopgap measure and a clear indicator that something else is wrong.

There are many such indicators and one must separate the wheat from the chaff as it were.  As my example illustrates, what we find to be obvious is hardly ever the root cause.

I will mention a trap, in passing: There is such a thing as too much analysis and “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” (Sigmund Freud)  I should know. I’m really good at over-analysing.  More separation needed I guess.

But when do you know?  Psychology is a lot of hit and miss. But sometimes, you literally trip over something so big and so basic, that it explains a host of behaviours in one swoop.  And this is the realization.

When I was a kid, in school, I’d have a tendency to sit in back of the class.  Furthermore, I was always sickly, with the obvious lack of attendance. I’d get ear and sinus infections all the time.  It is, even now, unclear why I had so many infections.

My dad’s job would take him all over the province and we’d move at least once every year, often twice a year.  He was a victim of his own success, really, turning red ink into black.

So I’d wind up in a new school every year, sometimes mid-year, and I’d often be plunked into special-ed classes when available.  One thing was for certain I was clearly retarded.  Unfortunately for me, deaf or not, I was bright enough to realize this and was all the more shattered because of it!  

But was I really retarded?

It later dawned on me, on everyone really, that having sinusitis all the time meant that my head was blocked up in this mass of painful and deafening goo.  I couldn’t hear, much less understand, anything that was going on up front!    Eventually my infections cleared up, with massive and recurring doses of antibiotics.  By the time I was in grade-6 I was actually testing at a grade 8 or 9 level.  

A surprisingly simple thing really, yet my self-esteem in this context was essentially non-existent throughout my childhood because of it.  

I had forgotten all of this.  Or maybe I put it aside, locked away in my brain so that it wouldn’t affect me.  A legitimate defence, but one that would contribute to further damage down the road.

For example, early on, I would get into fights all the time.  I may have been deaf, but I was also savvy enough to know when someone was making fun of me.  Later on, when I got some decent hearing back, I had the same prompt response with words instead of fists.  As some of my friends will attest, back then I could “nail” anyone with a quip or a well placed insult.

I realized it was not pleasant at all.  Sometimes, when anger welled up, I’d level my talent against family and friends.  This just would not do, this wasn’t the person I wanted to be!  It took me over a decade, to kick this belligerent habit once and for all.  

All this from recurring sinus infections when I was a kid.

Kind’a makes you wonder don’t it?


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