Earnest Hemmingway, Reality TV & Partying

I had a dream a few nights ago and in that dream I was contemplating the Earnest Hemmingway Novels I’ve read. In my twenties, I went through a Hemmingway phase where I read a good portion of his works. I’ve also recently come to the conclusion, that I’m not now, nor ever was, a fan of his writing. I was trying to remember what it was that got me into reading him and I think it stems from him being popular with my friend group. For context, we were also watching a lot of Woody Allen movies. But the conclusion I’ve come to about Earnest is, that he was perpetuating and embodying the tenants of toxic masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity as a Lifestyle

The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes. Hemmingway was travelling around with his buddies, drinking too much and getting into fights. He wrote about war, fishing, bull-fighting, death, extreme independence and romantic encounters, topics saturated with masculinity. All of these topics and themes resonated with the type of man I thought I needed to be, at that junction in my life. But what I hadn’t taken into account was, how these personifications of masculinity were causing me to ignore the person I actually was.

I had been strong-arming my personality into a box that just didn’t fit me. Mostly because this was how I was taught to be a man. But maybe more importantly, because I wanted to be loved and accepted by those around me. What makes this so sad is, that there was always a low hum of anxiety, just beneath the façade of my masculine veneer. I was scared of the anger I was harboring, but also I was scared of myself.

The macho attitude I was displaying, along with my unforgiving personality, turned me into, the types of people who’ve abused me in the past. In short, I turned into my abusers. This was where my anxiety was coming from. One wrong move and I was likely to be cut off from everyone and thing I knew and loved.

Reality TV & Partying

The insights I gleaned from my dream was, that the ways that Hemmingway was living, with the drinking, the partying and all the drama that’s attached, was a lot like what reality TV has become. The only difference is, they had slightly different social norms in his time.

For example, I imagine that displaying your masculinity was what was popular at the time. So for Hemmingway, running with the bulls was probably a way for him to show off how manly he was. If you filmed it and formatted the trip into a half hour or hour show, throw in a little drama and you’d have a pretty good reality TV show.

And for the most part, minus the extravagant trips, this was what was playing out in my family. Something I’ll go into more detail later on this post. The men were putting on the façade of being ultra masculine, and shutting off our emotions in the process. While the women were looking to feel connection or taken care of and seen. But they were too scared to open up emotionally to the angry and abusive men, who had already severed emotional ties with the women. This was because this is what we thought the women wanted.

Why I was Living this Way

The more I think about it, the more miserable I was. Sure, I had some good times. But I was usually drunk, or having fun at the expense of somebody else. The rest of the time I was mostly worried about being around other people. Unable to relax or feel a part of what was going on around me. Worried I wasn’t who I should be. It was isolating and strange. So why was I living this way?

From what I can tell now, looking back in hind-sight, I was trying to be a-part of the culture I was steeped in. Being a product of the 80’s, I was definitely taught that men were tough, violent and in charge. These were their most prized attributes. These qualities however, were not how I wanted to act or be in the world. They were used in my past to raise me and I remember all too well the fear and isolation they created. The last thing I wanted to do was to perpetuate what had happened to me. But it seemed to be what was expected of me as a man. So I acted that way in an attempt to feel a part of the culture and people surrounding me. And it worked for a while.

Being My Own Person

But as I said above, it was fear and anxiety producing. Being and acting the ways my abusers had, went against the vision of how I wanted to live my life. I did not want or need the extreme independence and lack of connection with others that had been modeled for me. I wanted to love and be loved by those closest to me. But this was impossible while I was living the toxically masculine life.

So in order to be the person I felt I was and the one who was being stifled, I had to give up the image of what I was taught a man should be. And this was no easy task.

Getting in Touch with My “Feminine” Side

I found myself criticizing myself for being too “feminine”. Or not looking the stoic, powerfully in charge personality I was taught a man should be. The unyielding, unforgiving, authority figure who was prone to violent outbursts, was something that was modeled for me time and again. But the forgiving and accepting person I was trying to embody, I was taught were the traits of women.

Though it was never specifically taught to me that genders had inherent traits, culturally it was something that was reinforced. In my family, the women, just like the men, were petty and mean most of the time. But we still subscribed to the beliefs that women were soft, vulnerable and caretakers of the men. While men were hard, in charge and were not allowed to show vulnerability.

I’m not totally sure where this mentality came from. In my parents generation, the man was still supposed to be head of the household. The bread winner and the person calling the shots. And the women were supposed to take care of the family and the men.

Old Ways of Navigating Relationships Leads to Stifled Ways of Being

From this dynamic, I observed a lot of unhealthy forms of self expression. The men in my family were angry most of the time. Often around how the household was being run. While the women were expressing themselves through what they could buy.

What was and is so frustrating about watching this dynamic play out is, we are so much more than the one or two roles we play in our closest relationships. When we’re reduced to a stereotype, we lose dimensions of our personality. This can lead to resentment. Also, taking out our pent up anger, due to limiting our personalities, on others in our relationships. This was the root of a lot of discord in my family.

This was due to dynamics in play such as, men weren’t allowed to be vulnerable. And women weren’t allowed to take charge or question the man’s authority. For me as a man in my family, this meant taking on too much responsibility for others and feeling overwhelmed, without knowing when to take a break and care for myself. From what I saw with the women in my family was, that they were frustrated with feeling powerless. So they acted in petty and spiteful ways to take out their frustrations on those they felt powerless to.

How We Handled Stifling Our Emotions

But in order for the men in my family to bury their vulnerabilities and for women to cover over their frustrations, we drank. This was the easiest way to not have to feel what we were so afraid to express. Of course, nothing about what we were experiencing was easy. But we’d rather drown our problems than take a hard look at what was causing them.

How I Retain My Masculinity While Showing My Vulnerabilities

This was a difficult lesson, with a steep leaning curve. It had been taught and reinforced, so many times in my family, the lesson that men were not ever vulnerable, that the wall I had built around my emotions was almost impenetrable. Luckily for me, with the aid of a friend I awoke into my emotions. But the path was most definitely a rough one.

When I began letting my emotions in again, I had the emotional intelligence of an eight year-old. This was around the time my abuse started. So my emotions had been frozen for little over two decades. I remember clearly that when I started to feel my emotions again, they would all come flooding in at once. And they were all intense. I didn’t know what emotion I was feeling at any given time, because I was never shown how to give names to my emotions and let them be without trying to stifle them.

But the longer I stayed with my emotions, the less intense they became. When I first started feeling them, it was as though they were all bundled together, like a knot of live wires. And every time I tried to untangle them, I would get a shock. But the more I untangle them, the clearer it became which emotion was which. Even though I was vulnerable to the shock of feeling the once overwhelming emotion. I’m now able to feel emotions that were much too powerful for me to experience before. And I believe what has helped me the most has been, support from friends and family and meditation.

Support from Family, Friends & the Greater Community

The support I received from family and friends was pivotal. Knowing that I could just be me, without the toxic masculinity and still feel accepted, was what allowed me to discover who I was. And not only allowed, but accepted and loved for who I was becoming. This was what gave me the courage to drop the masculinity armoring and allow me to let the emotions in.

But it’s been a slow process. And one I’m still learning how to adjust to. I had a life’s time worth of lessons on toxic masculinity to unlearn. And I had none of the resources with which to unlearn them. I went searching for them in earnest and many of the resources I’ve picked up along the way are listed here in this blog.

Sites such as The Good Trade have done so much good in helping me to get in touch with the more sensitive aspects of my personality. They have a wealth of articles that give advice on how to navigate emotions and emotionally charged situation.

Tara Brach was another great teacher that I found along the way. Her talks helped me to understand that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. Hearing others’ stories have helped to give me a sense of hope. Hearing that someone else has been through what I’m going through and hearing how they managed the experience, has been a huge source of relief and sense of community for me.

Meditation

And finally, meditation has helped me to stay in my body while my emotions are coming over me. This may seem like something insignificant, but every time an emotion came on that was over whelming, I ran from it by dissociating. I ran so often, that when I finally sat down to sort through them all, they had become the mass of tangled, live wires I described above.

Sitting and learning to handle a single emotion and separate them from the unsorted emotions has been invaluable to understanding my emotions. Also how to handle them with care. And the longer I stay, the easier it becomes.

Final Thoughts on Masculinity

If you’re in the same boat that I was in, and I imagine that it’s not all too uncommon, don’t worry. It’s difficult to feel the pressures from our families and friends, and not to mention from society and culturally as well. A place where masculinity is given a much higher value than it can be worth. So if you’re feeling a little uneasy about how you’re seen by others, maybe it’s worth your time to investigate where these feelings are coming from and what you’re doing that makes you uncomfortable.

Are you doing something that you don’t really like doing because it’s what’s expected of you? Maybe there’s a trend you’re apart of, that you got involved with to feel some belonging. If you examine these places and you find that you aren’t enjoying them as much as you feel you would like to, it may be worth asking yourself if doing them is a true expression of your personality. Here is where you can find where your true passions lay. And being masculine isn’t a bad thing. But when it gets in the way of who we truly are, then we may need to explore why we’re holding on to it so tight. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Charging Bull, Wall Street” by carlossg is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Relax, You Don’t Have to be Dying to Take a Sick Day

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it.

I’ve recently been reading a travel book about New England, to get to know Boston and the region a little better and to relax a bit more in my place of origin. Also to look for some places to travel to, maybe for a weekend or a day trip. While I was reading the bio of my people, I was informed that we are known for or thriftiness and our being industrious. This struck me as odd. Mostly because I don’t see New Englanders as having these traits in abundance. But the more I thought about it, the more the evidence started to pile up. I just couldn’t see the forest for the New England Foliage.

My family in particular are very thrifty. We will go a great distance to find the best prices and deals on the things we buy. I remember many a car rides to outlets and discount retailers, looking for a bargain to bring home. And I think we did it mostly for sport. For the bragging rights, to say we got the cheapest price. We are intense about the things we do. And the intensity we bring to shopping, we bring to other areas in our lives as well. Which brings me to number two on the list, our work ethic.

Being Intense on the Job

Thinking back to the travel book, I was realizing how spot on their assessment was. At least of my New England family. Growing up for me, hard work was a given and to relax was to be lazy. There was no tolerance for those unwilling to pull their own weight. This was made clear to me in one of my first jobs as a bus boy in the restaurant my mother worked for.

I was probably 13 years old at the time and my only other working experience was when I had delivered news papers. I never experienced a traditional work environment before and especially not one as tough as a kitchen. On my first day, no more than 3-4 hours into my shift, my mother pulled me aside and yelled at me for being lazy. I was 13, three hours into my first shift and at the only place I had ever worked and I was already expected to know how to preform my duties and do them perfectly. These were the expectations that were set for me and my family. We definitely needed a lesson in how to relax.

How We Look Doing What We Do

Looking back now, I understand how connected my performance was to how my mother viewed herself moving through her work environment. In her eyes, I was a direct reflection of who she thought herself to be. And the one thing she was not going to tolerate was being correlated with being lazy. This was where my work ethic was forged.

So I worked hard. Mostly because I wanted to feel accepted and loved. But I worked from a fearful place. One where I was afraid to relax for fear of being seen as lazy. I adopted my family’s serious demeanor because I wanted to be seen as someone who doesn’t play games. Someone who gets the job done and does it without having to be told how. Also to garner respect. Because this, I was taught, was the mark of a man. But this way of living left me with an intensity that made me slightly mean and definitely unapproachable. And little in the way of tools to help build solid foundations for relationships.

In a more recent experience, while at work, I was being told that I was working too hard. Also that I was difficult to talk to because I had an air of undeserved superiority about me. This wasn’t the first time I had been told I was difficult to manage either. I was let go of a job that I was particularly good at because I didn’t have any people skills. This was jarring because it flew in the face of the values I had been raised with. Which was that working hard and productivity are first priority. Everything else is inconsequential. Being able to relax was at the bottom of the list. But what I was coming to learn was, I had been mislead.

Listening to Our Bodies & Learning to Relax

This type of intensity doesn’t come without its toll. More recently, I decided to take a day off from work because I was exhausted. I had just worked two doubles, back to back, 12 hour days and was feeling worn out. So I called in to my work place and told them I needed the day. They said “I hope you feel better”, and I got back to taking some much needed rest.

Later on in the day, when I was speaking to my father about taking the day off, he was growing agitated with the topic as we discussed it. He was asking probing questions about my decision until I finally asked if he felt uncomfortable with what I had done. Calling in without actually being sick. He said he was and that it was something you just don’t do. He also told me that I don’t work that hard anyway so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to muscle through the day. Unhealthy to say the least.

Well, as the week progressed, I was feeling worse and worse. I worked through the last two days of the week, but by the time Friday night came around, while I was finishing up dinner I knew I was definitely feeling ill. I knew that I would wake in the morning feeling sick and that me taking the day off in the middle of the week was most likely my body telling me that I was tired, stressed and getting sick. So it’s time to take care of yourself and relax. Something I’m not used to doing and if it were up to my family, something I wouldn’t do at all.

Take the Day, Trust Yourself

My body was telling me something that I have been ignoring for far to long. Me and my family have been neglecting our physical needs for as long as I can remember. “Muscling through it” should be at the top of our family crest. And if the need to feel belonging wasn’t drive enough for me to try and work myself to death, I was also being guilted into working more than my body could handle. All because it was making my family feel “uncomfortable”.

I had been stripped of my autonomy because it was too difficult for someone else to see me as being unreliable, or even worse, lazy. Even though I was receiving nothing but encouragement from my places of employment. I was 13 all over again, trying to live up to an impossible standard at the expense of my better judgement and overall health. This, I declared, was unhealthy and unreasonable. Something needed to change in my life and I was the one who had to put it into action.

Trust Your Intuition But Know Your Limits

This is where I am deciding to take the time if I feel I need it. There are some things I’ve come to know about myself. I know I’m a hard worker, to a fault. I take pride in a job well done and usually, enjoy the work. But I can push myself beyond my limits. Knowing these characteristics, I am now able to search for feelings and flags around my work ethic.

How this looks in action is, if I’m thinking about taking a day off, I first need to trust that this is coming from a caring and trustworthy place in myself. This way, when the voice of my family chimes in with phrases such as, “you don’t work that hard anyway” or “don’t be lazy”, I can challenge those thoughts and the emotions of guilt and shame that make me uncomfortable and accompany my thoughts. I can then sit in the dis-ease and make a decision based on what is best for me and my body’s needs. Not the expectations of my family.

These are the healthy self-care lessons I was never taught. And they’re ones that I’m deciding to implement while reparenting myself. It isn’t easy, but neither is the alternative of working myself to death. And I’d rather be in a healthy mental space than buried under stress from the unachievable standards of a dysfunctional past.

Finding the Support to Make the Change

And none of what I’ve laid out above would have been possible if it wasn’t for the healthy support I received from my friends and role models along the way. For instance, my therapist has been a huge wealth of support for me. If I didn’t have a trained professional who was able to give me another perspective asides from my dysfunctional world view, I don’t know that I would have been able to see outside of what I was steeped in. The unhealthy values of my family.

And without a friend to text, or to grab a beer and burger with to talk about what’s happening in my life, I could have easily withdrew. Losing out on a much needed perspective shift. Or some understanding and empathy. And these are the elements that I was missing when I was too afraid to connect. Especially because connecting with others has meant being hurt and taken advantage of in my past.

Luckily for me, when I decided to change my way of living, I had a few friends willing to stand by me through the change. And it was these friends, who allowed me to change without the judgements or criticisms, that showed me what it felt like to be supported. Something that had been lacking in almost all of my previous relationships.

Why Support Matters

Because if it wasn’t for my newly found support, I would have gone on living my life as though I had to meet the impossible standards of my past. The standards that said it is not only normal to work 6 days a week and that 12 hour days are the norm, but it’s also expected. And not that difficult.

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it. That’s why we need the kind of support that says, “you look tired, when was the last time you had a day off?” Otherwise, life is a difficult mess. And it’s from this mindset that I want to approach how I budget my resources. With self-care being at the forefront of my assessments. And this is so much easier when you have people in your corner cheering you on. Reminding you what the healthiest version of you looks like.

Because we need these reminders when we wake up after working two, 12 hour days back to back. The reinforcement that gives us the nudge to pick up the phone and text or call our boss to tell them we need to take the day off. Reminders to tell us to do what’s bet for us.

Take the Day & be Kind

If you’re anything like I am, when you decide to take care of yourself you’ll be inundated with guilty thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult enough feeling fatigued and vulnerable when we are feeling sick or super stressed. Then add on the guilt and feeling that you’re failing in some way and we’re making an already bad situation worse. So remember the kindness that we’ve cultivated in our relationships with our supports. Once we do that, we can then extend that kindness to ourselves.

And don’t forget to relax! I know this is a tough one. Especially by those who are riddled with feelings of guilt for feeling as though they’re underachieving. But it is an essential part to feel your best. Nobody has ever guilted themselves into a healthier version of them self ; ) Recently I’ve come up with a few lines to repeat to myself with the help of my therapist. These are there to remind me that it’s okay to relax. And maybe most importantly, to take it a little easier on myself.

So keep an eye on your self and your energies, emotions and physical being. Rest when you are tired, eat when you are hungry and take the space you need to feel your best. If you need a mental health day to recoup, take the day. Nobody knows what you need more than yourself. It may be a big responsibility, but it’s a rewarding one. And head over to The Good Trade if you need some inspo on ways to relax. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “sick day” by jamelah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Minimalist: Knowing When We Have Too Much of Something

I often wonder how to cut down on my consumption of products. I like the idea of being a minimalist, but this doesn’t show itself in practice. For example, I was sorting through my recipes recently, when I realized that I have a lot. About 260 recipes in all and that’s not including the recipe websites I have book marked! I only make a handful of these recipes regularly, seeing as how I’m on a budget until I pay off my student loans. The plan is, to start rotating in new recipes when I’m able to spend a little more money on my food budget. Because when I was buying whatever I wanted, to make my meals, I was spending upwards to $700 a month 0.o No bueno. But looking at all these recipes has me wondering, where is the limit? When have I amassed too much of something?

When is Enough Stuff, Enough

Amassing things is something I’m good at doing. I’m not alone, to be sure, but still, it leaves me feeling a little guilty. I love the feeling of a clean, well organized and open area. But most of the time this is not how my space looks. Some of this is not my fault. I currently live with my father and step-mother, who also have a habit of collecting things. And I don’t feel as though it is my place to dictate how things should be handled as far as the daily maintenance of the household and collection of stuffs is concerned.

I do however want to do my part to chip in and help keep our shared spaces clean and decluttered. This is something I’m really good at. This was a trait I picked up from my mother, who excels at all things cleaning. Though I must say, that she, like myself, can take it to the extreme. I think this is where the idea of wanting to be a minimalist comes into play. But in between my cleaning binges, I’m really good at collecting items that I have a plan for at some later point in the future.

Or, the things I need to sort through get put to the side because I need a chunk of time to execute my project. Time that I just don’t have. This is usually due to over committing myself to projects, or being too ambitious with my plans. In both cases, the result is the same. I keep putting off the projects I want to get done.

Sort Through Your Basement

An extreme example is, I’ve been putting off going through the stuff from my last apartment that has been taking up space in my basement for the better part of a decade. No bueno. There are some items I want to keep, but I feel that most of the things I own, I’m going to donate. And in my attempt to be as sustainable as possible, my plan is to list everything on a site like “Offer Up“.

This way I feel a little better about not dumping a pile of stuff in a landfill some where. But this also requires me to, take photos of all my stuff, create a sellers account, list items with descriptions, then keep an eye on my inbox for potential interested parties. This, with all of my other obligations and commitments, just seems a little too much.

However, in the spirit of being a minimalist, I DO want to do this as sustainably as possible. So where is the balance? How do I achieve my goals without killing myself in the process? And if you’re like I am, when you go, you go hard. I think the answer is in something that my father tells me all the time, but I was too busy doing to stop to listen.

Go Slow, One Thing at a Time & It’ll Get Done

This is some basic advice that I was just unwilling to accept. However, while I was growing up, I was often told I was lazy. I was already having a difficult time feeling belonging, so I thought that if I worked myself to death, then I’d gain the approval I was searching for. This, however, did not go as planned. I ended up pushing myself past my physical limits as well as setting my standards too high. In short, I was a mess.

Since moving in with my father, a part of me was resentful of how little he seemed to do during the day. He was retired, which in my mind and my upbringing dictated, that he has a whole day to be “productive”. Something my family valued more than most things. This was a lesson I was taught from an early age. Being productive meant gaining approval. But there are a few things that I’ve learned that aren’t healthy about this statement.

When I stopped to listen to my father, I learned that he had done the exact same thing that I was doing. Only he was going harder than I was. Sure, I was working six days a week at two jobs to pay off my loans. But my father was working seven days a week under more difficult conditions than I was. This was an eye opener.

At one point, he said he was rushing around waiting on three people at a time when he realized that he was making mistakes and feeling like no matter what he did, how hard he worked, he was never going to meet the mark. That’s when he decided that he was going to slow down and take it, “one person at a time, they will wait”. And it’s true. People will wait. So will our tasks. And this is where our actions meet the minimalist ideal. We just need to give ourselves the permission to slow down and feel uncomfortable that others are waiting on us. And extend this mentality to all our tasks. One thing at a time.

You are Not How Much You Produce

In my family, on my mother’s side, we are constantly on the go. In a state of perpetual motion. It’s kind of amazing to watch actually. For example, my mother knows how to pack a day so full, that there is no down time. Every moment is filled with some errand or project that needs doing. This usually translated into some sort of shopping trip or returning bought goods to stores. This is how I learned not to be a minimalist. By filling my down time with shopping trips and projects, labeling them as “being productive”.

The more we felt we needed to do, the more items we consumed. The tenants of being a minimalist weren’t even on my radar when I was taught these lessons. And they sure weren’t on my family’s either. But if we stopped for long enough to see what we were doing, why we were so focused on buying things to feel productive, we may have realized that we were really running from our fear of not being approved of. And in a way, by stopping long enough to see we are running from our emotions, we become task minimalists. Taking control of our time and relieving the stress that comes with a super busy day.

Relaxing in the Face of Rejection

If you’re seeking approval through you’re productivity, then you have to keep producing to feel approved of. This is not sustainable. But learning to relax in the aftermath of learning that you are not how much you produce, can feel overwhelming. This was/is something I struggle with. I often feel guilty if I’m not being productive for fear of being seen as lazy.

So the first step is to relax. Let go of your to-do list. This is at the heart of being a minimalist and this will look a little different for everybody. But I’ve come to know it as self-care. I recently read an article from The Good Trade that has labeled this type of relaxing as slow living. I agree with them in what the article lays out as a practice for being kinder to ourselves through going slow, though disagree that the term “self-care” has become “meaningless” according to their article. Either way, they have some great points.

Mostly about cutting out the things we’re over committing ourselves to. This falls in line with my minimalist ideal while, as the article says, freeing up time to pursue the things and hobbies that really matter to you. And this falls in line with my dad’s saying, “one thing at a time.” Letting go of the guilt, of feeling like you’re letting someone down by not being as productive as you feel you should be and take your time doing your tasks. The benefits? You’ll get more done, probably faster than if you’re trying to multitask and make fewer mistakes as well.

Boundaries With What We’re Planning & Reigning in Our Emotions

And once we learn how to slow down our impulse to produce and gage what’s truly important to us, we can start to embrace the minimalist ideals by decluttering some of the things we’ve been collecting. For me this means being able to step into my basement and get the urge of wanting to organize everything, all at once, under control. It’ll get done, one thing at a time.

I recently had another experience with wanting to plan out my future all at once when I was looking at the types of houses that are available for me to build. I was looking at photos of “pole barn houses”, as they are a more affordable option in building your own home.

Interior of a Pole Barn Home from: Taglevel.com

As I was looking at the photos and texting with a friend who is also in the same place as me in wanting their own home, I started to feel the excitement of the possibility of building my own home. It felt like a pent up energy, of wanting to accomplish something. As I was getting excited, I kept opening more browser tabs and before I knew it, I had ten open tabs and was looking on Pinterest while texting with my friend. I was working myself up, not realizing that I needed to slow my roll a little.

Then I stopped. I recognized how I was feeling at that moment, of being swept away in the emotion, and gave myself the permission to not have to figure it all out then and there. And it kind of felt as though I was being bullied by my emotions a bit. As though my emotions were in control of what I SHOULD be doing. This carried undertones of how my family used to handle their emotions. A legacy I do not want to carry with me into my future.

Be Patient & Know That it Takes Practice

That being said, it took a while for me to get to a place where I could be patient with my emotions. In the past I would react to my emotions almost immediately. This made for some uncomfortable situations. But allowing yourself the space between your initial emotional wave and the actions you take, you’ll find the emotions are easier to handle.

Slowing down helps with this process. I cut down on my caffeine intake drastically. This helps me to stay in my emotions while listening to another’s point of view. This is critical for people feeling as though they are feeling heard. Because if you don’t feel as though you are being heard, that’s when the emotions start flaring up.

And in the spirit of being a minimalist, the simpler the conversation, the more likely everybody will feel heard. This is how we stay open, slow down and take things one step at a time. There’s no need to rush to feel approved of. We’re already enough. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A pile of stuff that wants to become a kitchen” by siepert is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Trauma, Blueberries & Recovery: How the Past Informs Who We Become

I’ve covered a lot of ground on this blog. Much of my personal history is written in the pages of this space. I’ve also experienced a lot of trauma. Only some of which I’ve talked about here. This post is a little different than my others, in that I’m going to talk about trauma and the effects it has on our ability to feel, give and receive love. As Jay-Z once said, “it’s a hard knock life”. And the longer I live, the more I see the damage we incur from these knocks. We’re all hurt to some degree and we all deserve a little compassion. So let’s take a look at some of my hurt and how I’ve dealt with it. Hopefully, others will find some comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

My Song

When I was young, my family life was pretty good. My mother’s father was my best friend. We would sit in his den, watching baseball games together on the weekends when I was very young. We lived in the poor part of a very wealthy town, that makes most well-to-do suburbs look a little shabby. And I had a family that was supportive and seemingly loving.

That being said, there was violence happening in our family as well. The men in my family were prone to yelling at whomever wasn’t listening to them, while throwing breakables at walls to punctuate their rage. Also there was a lot of physical corrections being made in the form of spankings that were carried out with enthusiasm and zeal. And if the men in my family were terrifying, the women were just as scary.

Words were their weapons. As well as condescending judgements and withholding love. Also, setting a standard so high in order to gain their regard, that no matter what I did, I would never add up. Not to mention the emotional neglect. And this was the cycle. We were constantly hurting one another and not realizing the damage we were doing because we were so shut off from our emotions that we could barely feel anything. This was trauma inducing to say the least.

The Trauma

By the time I was halfway through my eighth year, things in my family began to fall apart. My aunt had developed an aggressive form of skin cancer that ravaged her body. My mother was the one who took charge and aided my dying family member by taking care of her through the worst of her struggles. I can remember watching my mother stick metal spoons in my aunts mouth to depress her tongue, while my aunt was having grand mal seizures. She had a mouth full of jagged teeth due to this practice. They did this because it was believed that the person having the seizure would swallow their tongue. Medicine has thankfully come a long way.

It was around this time that the fighting between my parents began to escalate. There was more yelling, more cutting words and more dinner ware being shattered. This happened until they finally called it quits. But by that time, my mother had been taking my sibling and I to the neighboring state, most times at 1 AM, after my mother got off from work, to comfort my deceased aunt’s family. This was where my abuse began.

Nighttime Visits

After having witnessed my aunt lose her violent battle with cancer, wasting away to a ghost of her former self, my family fell apart. I was spending more time with my deceased aunt’s family in an unfamiliar setting, away from all my friends and family, save for my mother. But that was about to change.

I don’t remember when these visits started, but at some point during the summer, my uncle had taken to coming into the room where I was sleeping in the dead of night, 2-3 AM, and pulling me from bed. I would later develop an obsession with vampires because of these visits. Usually he would yell at me while drunk, about what it means to be a man like a drill Sargant. I was living in constant state of fear for my life, not knowing how to keep myself safe. The first of many times he did this, he poured water on my groin and then violently rent me from my bed. He then punished me for “wetting” the bed. Making me clean up “my mess”. I have never felt terror like the night I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, not knowing what to do or where to go.

This painting sums up how I felt after my family divided while incurring all of the violence and trauma I was going through. Figure with Meat, Francis Bacon “Figure with Meat” by lluisribesmateu1969 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Later, I told my mother what was happening, taking a chance after being given strict instructions not to tell her by my uncle during his drunken rages. But when I told her, she turned her back on me and walked away. It was at this point that I was left completely on my own with zero support. I was eight and had experienced events that some people, thankfully never experience, and others that were usually spread out over a life’s time. And I experienced them all within six months and with no one to take care of me or to support me, at eight years of age. This is where my emotions left me. Frozen to keep me safe. It would take decades for me to feel safe enough to open to these emotions again, to defrost.

Living with the Trauma

As I aged, I would experience more traumas at the hands of my family. Only now I was old enough to start taking matters into my own hands. I stopped going to school by the time I was 14. My family life was deteriorating rapidly as well. My step-father was abusive and addicted to pornography as well as drinking too much. Something my entire family did and did well.

And, the apple did not fall far from the tree. By the time I was 15, I was drinking and staying out all hour, also addicted to pornography and looking to have a good time. Of course, this was what I was telling myself. But I was really terrified to go back to my house because I would most likely be abused. Either physically or psychologically and the neglect was a given.

By the time I turned nineteen, I got the boot from my house because I wasn’t going to college. I had stopped going to school by the time I was 14 because I was unable to be around others without feeling tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety. But by some miracle I was expected to go to college and do well. So I got my first apartment with two friends that were in similar situations and was on my own.

On My Own with Friends

Our first apartment wasn’t too bad. But we were living on our own, with zero life skills. I remember one of the first nights at the apartment, I came home from work and the fridge was completely filled with 40s. There was no food. Only beer and videogames. And that’s how it was most nights. We drank to manage our anxiety and fear. The only tools we had to navigate our out-of-control lives. We would eventually get the boot from that apartment inside of a year living there. Our neighbors, as it turned out, were selling heroin. So clearly, in the mind of my landlady, we were selling heroin as well.

We moved from that house to a temporary house that was going to be torn down in a few months time after we moved in. It was better to live there than to be homeless, so we moved in. This was the apartment that I lost my childhood friend to drugs. He didn’t die, but he was spending more and more time with his drug dealer than with his other friends. He moved out into the garage and started cutting ties with us. After that we became strangers to each other. Not an easy thing to experience, and only one of the many friends I would lose along the way. But what made this so difficult was, he was the only friend I had that was support from before my childhood trauma began. Losing him was a big blow.

After that apartment, we moved into an apartment that was too small for us, so I squatted in the entre way. Again, better that than to be homeless. That apartment was dirty. We had trash drifts in areas of the apartment that were up to our knees. I later upgraded to a bedroom when a roommate moved out, but that was still hard living. Another friend of ours moved into the entre way. Again, much like our first place, it was filled with booze and videogames. We also lived across the street from a bar that we frequented. This did not help in the drinking department.

Moving Up, Sort of

From there I moved again a few times, but by this time I had met my now ex-wife. We worked in adolescent group homes. Me at the one for boys and my ex in the one for girls. I was still emotionally numb from the undealt with traumas I had incurred when I was eight, but I somehow stumbled my way into a relationship that was somewhat stable.

I was still drinking regularly, about 100 pounds over weight and still viewed women as sex objects. I’m not sure how I managed to find someone to be with, because I had zero luck when it came to relationships. But we were together for about eight years.

Unfortunately, things still looked the same for me. I was in a state of stasis. Unchanged from the ways I had been living from the time I had been abused as a child. I was just coasting along, unable to appreciate what I had due to me being so numb from my early childhood and family trauma. So when I started waking from my emotional cocoon, things took a surprising turn.

Waking Up into My Emotions

Oddly enough, it was somebody that I worked with that started me down the path of waking up emotionally. I can’t explain why it happened with her, but there was a combination of feeling heard, with an empathic understanding and willingness to be vulnerable around me that made me feel awake around her. Also feeling safe with my current partner gave me the stability to open emotionally again. I was so used to being told how to feel and what was going to happen for me, that this was something completely new. There was a possibility present that I had never felt before.

So I started spending more time with this woman, in hopes to gain some of that emotion that was missing from my life. Looking back I would have done things differently, but I didn’t stand a chance. I was eight years old again with her, dealing with 24 years of trauma that had been piling up at my doorstep. To say I was in over my head is an understatement.

I realize now that what I was experiencing was finding a friend, friendship. Someone who had been through some of what I had been through and understood. She had her own list of trauma that she was dealing with. The term, “real recognize real and you lookin familiar” describes some of what I was feeling for the first time in a quarter century. But these feelings were all new to me and I was just tying to stay afloat.

My ex did all the right things however. She got us into couples therapy and desperately tried to find out what was happening with me. The only thing I knew was that I was feeling again for the first time since I was a child. I didn’t know what I was feeling, but I was feeling again. And finally, after I had come to a place that was relatively still waters for what I was experiencing, in one night heavy with tension, I stood in the kitchen with my ex and asked her if she wanted to try to make our relationship work.

I had no idea what was happening to me, but something inside of me knew that I needed to give our relationship another shot. But she was unwilling. She said that I had had an emotional affair with the other woman. And that, she couldn’t forgive. I didn’t know what emotions were, let alone know them enough to have an affair. So we parted ways that night. And it’s important to say I don’t blame my ex for leaving. For all I was experiencing, she was dealing with her own struggles. No one was struggling more than the other.

After the Separation

I lived with the woman who helped me to wake into my emotions for a while. It was a good time for me. I stopped drinking, started exercising regularly, meditating and started thinking about my future, all for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel like I was drifting anymore. But not too long into the relationship she told me to leave. She couldn’t handle the weight of the guilt of how I ended my relationship with my ex. So I moved in with family, something I had been running from since I was eight.

I was working a series of part time jobs after moving in with my family. And I was starting over at the ground floor, looking to build myself back up. I started dissociating, which is a way for me to protect myself from the feelings that were too trauma packed to feel all at once. How I discovered I was dissociating was, I had crashed two cars on my way to work in the morning. One into a suburban fence, and the other on I-95. The only thing I remember about the accidents is suddenly coming to and walking around the flipped car on the side of the highway or crashed into a fence. I’m lucky to be alive and that I didn’t hurt anybody in the process. This was jarring.

Also, shortly after I moved in with my father and step-mother, I went into a manic state two times and tried to run to Maine to start a blueberry farm to win back my ex-wife. I thought that this was a reasonable reaction to feeling the loss of my former relationship. Again, I was eight years old, standing on the landing after my mother turned her back on me after telling her about my abuse. I felt completely alone and unsafe. If it wasn’t for an old roommate of mine who happened to be driving by me while I was running, I don’t like to think what would have happened to me. Again, lucky to be alive. Thanks Jon.

It was here that I was feeling the full force of my unfelt trauma from my childhood. I was looking for something safe, running from what was too difficult to feel. But they say the way out is through. So I stayed. I stayed in what was more than uncomfortable. Staying with what was traumatic. With family, with my feelings and most importantly, with myself. It was here that I really learned how to heal from what had been a life’s time worth of neglected and abused emotions. No easy feat.

Continuing to Heal

I’m now in a much healthier place than I’ve ever been. I’m still exercising regularly, meditating as well. And I’m eating healthfully and am at my ideal weight for the first time since I was a child. I have boundaries for the first time and am building new relationships built on mutual trust and communication. It feels really good knowing that I have my future in focus after a life’s time worth of running from my past. Knowing I’m here for myself, and as a friend of mine says, “I’m here, I care” to my emotional world, makes me feel like a whole new me.

The trauma I’ve experienced in my past is only a story now. Not something that makes regular visits. The support I have from the community I’ve built around me is also world class. I can’t say enough good things about the people who have stood by and support me through some of the most challenging times in my life. And none of this was easy.

If you’re dealing with trauma and the effects of trauma, at any stage of your life, know that you are not alone. I’ve found the help of my therapist to be the guiding light out of my darkest times. Because as Tara Brach says, “we were wounded in relationship, so we heal in relationship”. This talk from Tara Brach, Buddhist psychologist, was pivotal for me learning how to navigate my emotions again. If you’ve experienced trauma, please take a look at it and seek help. There are good people out there doing good work.

Reflections on the Past

These are only a sampling of the trauma I’ve endured. I’d also like to say I’m not seeking sympathy, only sharing what I’ve experienced in hopes it may aid somebody else in their journey. Because life gets weird. And without each other’s help, we can be overtaken by the difficulties we encounter. So take heart and know that you are strong enough for this life that was given to you.

Also, I’d like to take the time to apologize for how I treated all of the people I hurt in the past. If you are reading this and I’ve injured you to some degree, know that I am truly sorry. My past is no excuse for treating people the ways that I had. And for this, I am truly sorry.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to about what you’ve been through in the past, this article from The Good Trade goes over some online therapy sites that can help in your journey. So dear reader, this is where I leave you. Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about them down below. You’re the best and as always, Peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Plant in dried cracked mud” by Aproximando Ciência e Pessoas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Relaxing: As a Man This Isn’t So Easy

Recently, I’ve been making relaxing a priority in my life. Though this has proven to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Just sitting still was difficult. I felt as though I was supposed to be productive in some way. This led me to feel guilty about just being as I was. All of this seemed strange to me, seeing as how I used to have no problem relaxing. But when I thought back to those times I was relaxed, I realized I was usually in front of a screen, drinking a beer or mixed drink. Something I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing. So I thought about what most people consider to be a relaxing endeavor and I settled on taking a bath.

How Fixing My Bathtub Led to Me Relaxing

But before I could take a bath, I needed to fix the overflow drain on my bath tub first. I had tried taking baths in the past, only my attempt was thwarted when I realized a large amount of water had pooled under the bathtub drain. Then I watched a few videos that suggested looking at the gasket on the overflow drain to see if it was cracked. I checked the gasket and it seemed to be fine, except when I went to unscrew the plate, that held the overflow drain to the pipe, it was barely screwed in.

So I assumed this was the issue. I tightened the plate and went to my local hardware store to get a drain stopper for the tub and to get a second opinion. They said that should probably do it, but to give a call back if I’m still having trouble. So I paid for my stopper, left the store and hopped on the bus, eager to try my newly fixed bathtub. But something didn’t feel quite right.

What Taking a Bath Says About Being a Man

When I got home, I was excited to see if I had taken care of the issue. So I set myself to cleaning the bathroom (something that was long overdue) and try out my new way of relaxing. I cleaned the bathroom, and after finishing up with the tub, I popped the new drain stopper in and turned on the water. Hopefully the tub would fill, the overflow drain would do its job and I would be on my way to relaxing that evening. Fingers crossed, I filled the tub.

To my surprise, it worked! I had a working tub and it only cost me the price of a rubber stopper. Bathroom clean and tub working properly, I set out to a local store to buy a bath bomb to enhance my bath taking experience. But still, something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. But I left the house again in search of a bath bomb.

And I can’t remember if I Googled ways that men destress while I was on my way to the store or at home, but when I did, it was eye opening. The first page was filled with, not things men do to relax, but how a woman can relax her stressed out man. This was crazy to me! Somehow, men had outsourced the job of relaxing to their partners?

Taking Responsibility for Our Relaxing & Emotions as Men

I still couldn’t believe some of the advice I was reading, or rather, the audience it was directed to. “Give your man a massage” and “actively listen to your man” were some of the items suggested to calm down your stressed out man. Now don’t get me wrong, I feel that these are good things in general practice, but not as the only source of stress release for men.

As it was, self-care is something that is relegated to the domain of the feminine. Now de-stressing and relaxing are also the responsibility of women as well. This seemed strange to me. Upon further inspection, when I found a Men’s Health article about how men are relaxing, they suggested activities such as playing golf or hitting the heavy bag. This was also unhelpful.

One suggestion said to “Hit the sauna after you workout”. And later in the slide mentioned that men felt more relaxed after a therapy session if they sat in a sauna. The title and the content weren’t even correlated, leading to more confusion. No wonder men have a difficult time relaxing. With advice like this, it’s easy to see the disconnect.

It’s Okay to Like What You Like

So I went out for the night on a date with a woman I had recently met, with plans to take a bath in my newly fixed tub when I got home. We went to a local restaurant, then for a walk on a near by beach. The night went well and we parted promising to make plans to meet again.

After the date, I was on my way to try out my newly fixed bath tub. I got home, readied the tub, brought a few candles in the bathroom and settle in for the night. Ready to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness. I hopped in the tub after putting in the bath bomb and relaxed for a long while. It was better than I expected.

The scents and the feeling of lightness and the dimly lighted room all helped to set the the tone for a relaxing post date evening. While I was in the bath, I was thinking about how so much of what we like is determined by what others perceive is likable, depending on our gender or other measures that have nothing to do with how we feel doing them. For example and from my experience, it’s okay to like being in a hot tube as a man, but a bath is too feminine. This doesn’t make sense to me. You like what you like. And that shouldn’t be an indicator of anything other than, liking what you like.

Relaxing Shouldn’t Be Relegate to a Specific Gender

More to the point, relaxing and what we do to relax also shouldn’t be judged to be the task of a specific gender. It seems our culture has made the act of relaxing, the job of women. I’m not sure how this happened socially, but for my family, I think it has something to do with feeling taken care of.

In my family, the men were hard and the women were soft. It was the man’s job to take care of the family. And all the toxically masculine ideals that went along with the job. And the men had to always be seen as “strong”, physically and mentally, never “weak”. But what we perceived as “weak” was actually being sensitive, kind or caring. All of these traits, we collectively off loaded onto woman. Deeming them as “weak”, because we were too afraid to feel these traits. Most likely because they had been abused in us. All too often by those we made carry them for us. Creating an unhealthy power dynamic.

And these were the relationship dynamics I grew up under. As men we never spoke about emotions because that wasn’t our job. But unfortunately those we were carrying were stressful ones. For example, needing control, anger and unforgiving were a few of the default ways of being as a man. So, we were usually stressed and frustrated with those around us. This left us unable to relax.

When Relaxing is Provided By Something or Someone & Not Found In Yourself

As a man, I learned that relaxing was something I needed to acquire outside of myself. For me, this meant drinking lots of alcohol at night and sitting in front of a screen. Or eating something unhealthy and lots of it. This was also something I had modeled for me in my youth. There weren’t many trips to a local hiking trail, or time spent around a board game. We seldom spoke about feelings. And when we did, we usually told each other how they were feeling. This added another layer of confusion to knowing whether or not what we were feeling was actually true.

So I never learned how to just be, without help from something else. This lead me to adopt unhealthy behaviors. Habits such as smoking, drinking too much coffee/alcohol, over eating, using pornography. The list goes on. Whatever I could do to distract myself from sitting and just being, I would. But this changed for me when I fell in love with a woman.

Learning That Relaxing Happens From the Inside Out

Something switched in me one day when I was working with someone I truly felt seen and heard by. This combination made me feel as though I could finally be accepted and loved. I was in love with the idea of being loved as I was. That’s when I started meditating, stopped drinking and started other healthy habits.

Habits such as running and yoga. I was cooking more often and more healthy meals as well. I was cultivating a healthier lifestyle around the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Only I hadn’t realized our foundation wasn’t as solid as I had thought it was. She left me and I was left on my own. But fortunately for me, I had a host of healthy habits I had cultivated that would serve me well.

I continued to meditate and learned I could relax, on my own as I was. It wasn’t easy. And I still get caught in what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of cravings. But now I’m able to know that they are fleeting. The old adage of, “this too shall pass”, fits well this description.

Another way to look at it is from a post I read on New Buddhist, “It’s odd. Instead of feeling like I have to do something about it – if I just relax, recognize it for what it is – I find that it’s not such a driving force as I was thinking it was.” – Michael.

Find What Helps You Most

And finally, we all have different experiences and different circumstances in our lives. Finding the situations that trigger your stress is the first step to handling your stress as a man. In healthy and caring ways. There’s no need to muscle through your stress. Or to taking it out on others. Find what brings you peace in a way that’s in line with your needs. For me, it was taking a bath being surrounded by the scents I love.

For you, maybe it’s a walk in the woods. Or finding a cozy place to curl up and read a book. I like to listen to music in a ambient lighting, listening to a few of my playlists tailored to my moods. Finding what brings you peace will serve you well over time and lead to a healthier way of relaxing. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

If you have ways you enjoy relaxing as a man, I’d love to here about them in the comments section below! Thanks : )

Image Credits: “bath caddy with book wine in glass and scrub brush with foam bubble bath tub towel” by PersonalCreations.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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