Sep 25, 2011

My Little House

This weekend, my blog came up in conversation a couple of times.  (Let's not get into what kind of boring conversations that I dabble in that my blog is a hot topic.)  It made me think about my writing and I took a look at my recent posts.  I couldn't find any.  I realized that I have hardly been posting at all.  I've only posted once on this blog since the beginning of August.  I haven't written anything on my Darth Fatso blog since July.  I haven't even been keeping up with my Fantasy Football League blog - and I usually don't give up on that until the middle of the season.  I know that every so often I do one of these examinations and, for a while, I'll get more motivated.  But this time, something is different.

Something has been going on with me for a while - and I'm not entirely sure what to do about it.  It isn't exactly the same as the depression that I battled back in Tallahassee.  But there are some elements of that. I have hesitated to write much about it.  It is kind of personal and hard to just put out that for all three of you to read.  I remember, though, that other people have benefitted from me exploring my mistakes and stupidity in years past.  As the Demotivators poster states so eloquently, "It may be your life is merely to serve as a warning sign to others."  Shoot, my entire Darth Fatso blog is basically a giant therapy session. In addition, from some things I have heard from friends lately, I'm not the only one feeling like this.

I have developed a theory.  Well, its more like an extended metaphor.  Each one of us is like a little house.  As we grow up, our house changes to reflect our personality.  We plant little flowers and paint the outside like our favorite teams.  We hang banners and put garden gnomes out front.  It isn't much, but it is kind of who we are.  As time goes along, the people in our lives visit the house.  Some of these people make our house a little nicer.  Maybe they bring a nice potted plant when they come over.  Those people also can hurt our house.  They can bust out a window or smash into the wall.  They can peel the paint and rip up the garden.  Unfortunately, it seems like there are more people who fall into this second category.  More people are in the demolition business than the home restoration industry.

Those hurts are very real and have wide ranging effects.  As a child, we may hear from a parent, "Pardon me, sir, but apparently you think you are talking to someone who gives a s---," when you tell them a story.  Or someone may tell our friends, "Just nod and smile and eventually he'll stop talking."  That begins to make us feel like no one wants to hear what we have to say.  We start to wonder if everyone feels that way, which makes us pull away and worry that when we try to talk to someone they won't really care.  We may be ridiculed for being fat and unathletic.  It is combined with the way society treats and views overweight people.  Mix in constant rejection by the opposite sex.  A person starts to feel worthless.

"You're wasting your talents doing something like that instead of earning big money."  That means that unless you earn enough you are a failure.  "Why did you get the B?"  That means that even bringing home A's for years and being valedictorian isn't enough.  Perfection is the only way to get approval.  When doctors tell you that you that it is all in your head, rather than find out what is wrong, you begin to lose faith in doctors.  You feel you have to prove your injury for anyone to believe it - or that it needs to be really severe to deserve attention.  We all have these things happen to us.  Words, actions, attitudes.  They pierce us and wreck havoc on our house.  Soon, we learn that the way to survive this damage is to protect ourselves.

We build false walls all around our little house.  We plant huge hedges.  We construct a corn maze around our property.  We add giant decorative topiary in the shapes of our favorite animated characters.  In my life, I built these all around me.  I developed a very sarcastic way of speaking.  I was able to be brutal and cutting and disguise it as jokes.  I because extremely judgmental.  I felt that I was better than other people because I was smarter or more spiritually discerning or whatever.  I was completely oblivious to the fact that it was because I felt so inferior.  I would walk into a room and look around.  I saw the guys who were better looking than me or more fit than me.  I saw the girls who were too good for me.  There would be people who were more outgoing and socially comfortable.  I felt like a loser.  Over time, I started to find what made me feel better - my smarts, my Bible knowledge, my sense of humor.  Eventually, I started walking into a room and assuming I was the smartest in there.  Worse still, I would judge the others for it.

I turned to food as a solace.  Some of that was because that was one of the few things my father and I could relate about.  But a lot of it was a comfort.  I would when I was sad.  I would eat when I was happy.  I would eat when I didn't know what I felt like.  I found foods that made me feel good and soon reduced my diet almost exclusively to those things.  McDonald's burgers, Miami Subs steak subs, mozzarella sticks, desserts, soda.  And lots of pizza.

Even with all of those protective measures, sometimes pain would get through.  There were people who could still fire an attack that went all the way through the walls, the hedges, the Elmo shaped tree.  THOSE wounds were far worse.  They would cause more overreaction, more protection.  And those levels of defense often included pulling away from those people or becoming very angry or refusing to forgive them.  Bitterness sets in.  That poisons our relationships with everyone - making us even quicker to judge and slower to get over it.  That is where I found myself.

The last thirty months or so have been the most tumultuous of my life.  I have gone from working full time to being a stay at home dad.  I have lost 100 pounds and completely changed my eating habits.  We have gone through the most trying financial stretch of our lives (which is really saying something).  My rheumatoid arthritis flared up worse than it ever has been.  Heather's grandparents passed away - two people I had grown very close to.  I went through deep bouts of loneliness and depression.  I began to notice just how damaging my temper and sarcastic words were.  I heard my children repeating my comments and saw them copying my behaviors.  That forced me to change.  The solitude led to much self-examination and chances to work on my shortcomings. Through all of that, I have found that many of these walls and hedges and decorative foliage have been torn down.  My unhealthy coping mechanisms have been disrupted.

I have gone back to several people I hurt over the years and apologized for my behaviors and comments.  Recently, I went to someone and worked to repair our relationship.  I had said things that had hurt him and he had done things that had hurt people close to me.  At the end of the conversation, I felt completely different.  A huge weight had lifted off of me.  I had been carrying that anger and lack of forgiveness for years.  But, more than weight, it was almost as if I had seen a massive wall torn down.  And for the first time in decades, I saw my little house again.  It was battered and damaged.  And that terrified me.

As all of those protective coverings disappeared, I began to feel raw and vulnerable.  Things that didn't use to bother me hurt me now.  I got overwhelmed by the things I had to do.  Just trying to look at daily chores, work responsibilities, upcoming events seemed to cause a meltdown.  Last Sunday, I just sat on the couch and cried for what seemed like forever.  My head hurt and it felt like I busted a blood vessel in my eye.  The next day, my eyeball itched and burned all day.  All week I felt a little disoriented and weak.  Last night, something as simple as forgetting to cut the onions for on the grill started me crying.  It is an uncomfortable place to be.  I don't like it.  Of course, I am worried that people are going to judge me or call me a wuss.

The simple fact is that I have absolutely no idea how to function as myself.  At the age of 37, I am trying to learn how to respond to people, events, words, actions in a healthy way.  I don't want to go back to developing those protective behaviors - but I need to find a way to be less sensitive.  I can't retreat into the person I was before.  But I really don't know what to do with the person I am now.  For so many years, I lived in the corn mazes and solariums I had built.  I don't know how to live in my little house.  I never really had taken stock of it to see just how much damage had been done.  I don't think I really had even dealt with all of it.  I think that I had been so good at deflecting and distracting that I distracted myself.  I don't know if I ever really forgave my dad because I never really knew just how much he hurt me.  And I have been so busy hurting other people for the last couple decades that I never saw how hurt I was.  I've been wrestling with so much guilt about my bad actions and behaviors.  And now that I am reaching the end of that list of wronged souls, the last name on it is mine.

I know that you may not buy into all of this.  You may write it off a psycho babble - something I certainly believed for many years.  For me, though, it is very real.  It is still very new.  The fact is, I never really liked the person I had become.  I didn't like being arrogant and entitled and superior.  I don't much like this person either, though it is for different reasons.  I don't like him because I don't know how to control him.  I don't know how to function and succeed without dipping into my old bag of tricks.  I don't like the pain and turmoil.  But I'm not going back.  I have worked too hard and come too far to not see it through.  I know I have a lot of work to do, but it will be worth it.

In that conversation I mentioned, my friend said something profound.  We were talking about the process of breaking bad habits.  He said, "It certainly isn't easy.  It is extremely hard.  But so is losing 100 pounds.  And you did that. How much worse can this be?"  The essential truth to all of this is that I am not doing it alone.  I didn't lose that weight alone.  God gave me the strength, and He will do it again.  And I have a wife and family that loves me and supports me.  I have friends who genuinely care about me.  These people have seen through the fences and ivy and seen that little house.  And they love IT.  They love who I really am.  And they want to see me figure this out.  They can't wait to come visit the place when I'm done.

So as far as the blog goes, I'm sure I will get back to things eventually.  It won't be too long until I'm back to writing about UCF's ridiculous ability to get to the next level in sports or examining if the failure of green superheroes to capture the public's affection has something to do with the color itself.  And it won't be long until you are sighing and longing for the days when I was forgetting to write.  But for now, I have a little work to do.  Things are under construction.  I hope you'll like the renovations.

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