Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Evolution of a Tough Exterior

Back in the day racing bikes, and by ‘bikes’ I mean bicycles, were made of steel. Shock-repellent, built to withstand the elements, the rocks that were inevitably to strike, the falls, the crashes and collisions. Steel is strong, rigid and unbending. Built to take a blow.

But steel is heavy and hard to maneuver. Due to its weight it takes effort to move it. It will take a lickin and keep on tickin but at the cost of a lot of expended energy to move it.

Subsequent designs brought to us aluminum. Much lighter and more maneuverable, still a bit rigid but definitely getting better. Certainly it will not take a blow like steel but it is getting lighter. Perhaps a period of sacrificing a bit of 'strength' as a trade for offloading some of the weight and therefore requiring less energy to drag it up those hills.

With the advent of carbon fiber the construction really starts to change, little by little. The concept of what is strong, what is tough begins to evolve. We are moving from heavy and rigid construction designed to repel that which hits it (imagine if you will bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest) to construction that is built to absorb the blows and protect the posterior area of the rider (think crumple zones in cars).

Carbon Fiber and Titanium. Light and maneuverable. Shock absorbing rather than shock repelling. Built to absorb the blows and protect the rider. Very light so it requires much less energy to operate.

A new, different and more gentle concept of what it means to be tough.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Glue that Binds the Family Together

I need to know, I need to understand how it is that this phenomenon exists that tells us that it is acceptable to need help, to be hospitalized for physical illness but it is shameful, unacceptable, weak to need help, to be hospitalized for mental and emotional illness.

We readily accept that we cannot cure by sheer force of our will a broken bone, diabetes, cancer, and so we seek out medical help, we talk to our friends to get referrals to doctors, we do our research, we involve our families, at least we have no problem telling them. When we walk into the hospital to have our broken bone x-rayed and set we walk in with our head held high, we are not embarrassed, we accept, hell we don’t give it a moments thought that we cannot fix this ourselves and that we need medical intervention or it’s not going to get better. Broke my arm, go to the doctor and get it fixed.

I know, I know, I am asking that age-old question. And yet this strain of thought persists. We don’t readily admit it. If a friend tells us of their own mental anguish we don’t think twice about instructing them to get help. But when we’re feeling our own mental and emotional anguish, when it is our child, our spouse who is dealing with depression, with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse then somehow it becomes shameful. We cannot accept this version of ourselves or this version of our child, a person who is attached to us, who is an extension of ourselves, a version of a person who cannot ‘handle’ life, who is somehow not ‘strong’ enough to tackle what life throws at them.

And so when we walk into that psychiatric and substance abuse facility it is under cover of darkness, under a cloud of shame. We do not walk in with our posture ramrod straight and our head held high but we shuffle in quietly, not wanting anyone to know. Nobody calls all their friends and family prior to entering a 30 day rehab stint to tell them that they’re going into rehab and “hey I’ll see you in month, please come visit me if you can” and when we get out our friends and family are not lining up eager to ask us about the experience. “So… tell me all about it, who’d you meet, how was the food, any eligible men, women there?”.


I come from a family where substance abuse has tunneled its way into the very deepest core, it has become one of the threads, that connects, that defines this family and I’m not just talking about my immediate family which is to say my husband and son and my brothers and sisters. My father had a terrible problem with alcohol, his father had a terrible problem with alcohol, some of his brothers had a problem with alcohol, some of his sisters married alcoholics, some of my cousins on my father’s side are alcoholics and I know that at one time or another in their lives a couple of my brothers had a problem with addiction and one of my sisters had a long relationship with a man who had an alcohol problem. Alcoholism has become the glue that sticks to, that binds, that joins all branches of this family together and it keeps attaching itself to members generation after generation after generation.

Substance dependency has attached itself to my son.

There is no doubt in my mind that the glue has found its way onto him through me. I cannot speak to genes, this may or may not be true although I will say that I have found nothing, no piece of literature that convinces me that this so-called ‘alcoholic’ gene is a scientific fact. It is a theory. I only know that somewhere along the line I rubbed up against him and left traces of the glue on his skin. But it isn’t really like that.

Somewhere along the line my psyche rubbed against his psyche and left traces of the glue in his mind, in his soul. The mental and emotional ‘stuff’ that was injected into me as the result of my having an alcoholic parent rubbed up against him, was transferred to his mental and emotional control center by his simply being with me, by simply living in, being raised in an environment by a person who was raised in a house with an alcoholic.

It is not necessary for the X- factor (that’s me) to be an alcoholic themselves to pass the glue on. The X-factor merely has to have had the experience and not bothered to get the help they needed before having their own children and passing on, however unwittingly, the glue.

I never got the help I needed because I was ashamed and I would not accept that first of all I could have an emotional problem. The shame ran deep in my house growing up as it does in so many homes where substance abuse has taken over. I would not accept that I needed help, although frankly if I had managed to figure it out years ago I would have had to figure it out all on my own because again, denial runs deep and strong in these homes. But slowly through the years it became somewhat apparent even to me that it might be just the tiniest bit possible that I was suffering the effects of living with an alcoholic. But I could fix it myself. Through sheer will-power I believed that I could fix it myself, or rather through sheer force of will I believed that I could control my oftentimes volatile behavior and I did, for a number of years I pulled it together, got it under control and got to thinking that I was ok.

Funny thing happened on the way to the forum. What is controlled through sheer force of will on one side of the room will manage to find its way out through the cracks in some other wall in that same room. If it throws itself against the wall on the left side of the room and cannot penetrate it figures this out immediately and simply goes to the wall on the right side of the room. No big deal. Can’t get out this door? I’ll try that door.

Problem is and unbeknownst to me at the time my son who was in his formative years of physical, intellectual and emotional maturity was caught up in all the wall-banging and he was getting thrown around the room with me, by watching and hearing and feeling what was emanating from me.

The sins of the father (and oftentimes the mother).

Don’t let anybody ever tell you it’s a gene. It is NOT just a gene.

He is ashamed of himself. Ashamed that he needs help, ashamed that rehab is probably on his very imminent horizon, ashamed that he cannot, through sheer force of his own will beat this addiction. And I cannot convince him that it is not he who should be ashamed but all of us who came before who refused to look, who refused to acknowledge, who continue to willfully and wantonly refuse to look this demon of our family in the eye and say “Enough! It ends here.” There is no shame to be felt in finally deciding to exercise by sheer force of our own will the choice to exorcise the demon that has to this point been welcome in our home.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Don't Want To Be Perfect

This notion of perfection, I cannot handle it, I can’t do it. Many organized religious doctrines indicate that our life is, or at least ‘should be’ a striving for the perfection of God, to be ‘like God’, to become ‘like God’. I don’t know what this means. I don’t know what it means and so I would be, will be striving for something that is out of my reach. Attempting to model myself after some ideal of which I haven’t even the slightest hint of a definition. Any concept of perfection that I can devise on my own can only be flawed because I’ve never seen perfection and I am not perfect. I know the word ‘perfection’ but I’ve never actually seen perfection.  Have you?

We acquire this thing called ‘wisdom’ as we move through life, grow older, deal with the ups and downs, gain perspective, let go of what we cannot, strive to pay attention only to that which we can and I wonder in all of this striving, this hanging on and letting go, I wonder if I really need this thing that appears to be somebody else’s idea of ‘wisdom’. Sometimes I think the acquisition of wisdom is just one more intellectual feather in our intellectual cap by which we measure our spiritual progress.

Ah yes, I am gaining wisdom she thinks to herself and therefore I am getting closer to perfection.

What is that line again? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!

If I am not careful I could really start to believe all those people when they tell me that I possess this ‘wisdom’ thing. It happens and it makes me wince a little, that momentary jab in the pit of my stomach that is discomfort. That feeling tells me "don't fall for this!"  If I attain to, if my desire is for our general concept of wisdom I might be inclined to start thinking that I’m a hell of a lot wiser than I really am and the effect of that will be (trust me on this) a constricting of my sphere of perception. I will stop looking and listening for others and start thinking that yeah, I’ve got it pretty well figured out.

When I start thinking I have it figured out I stop listening for what others hear, I stop feeling what others feel, I stop paying attention, I close my mind and my body to the experience of others and in doing this I stop allowing new experience for myself, when I do this I restrict my own opportunity for the endless possibilities of experience to be had.  I close down rather than open up.  I slip out of 52" high-definition, widescreen color and into 12" low-definition small screen,  black and white.

When, as regular old and flawed people, our minds meet over a shared feeling, when our hearts connect for that instant in mutual acknowledgement of shared experience, shared feeling, whether it be in joy or pain, when we truly ‘know’ the other in this way then we are truly and definitively the image of God. I do not see where ‘perfection’ or intellectual ‘wisdom’ has any part in this.