Monday, July 18, 2011

Finding Out What's Inside

“When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out – because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what is inside.”   Wayne Dyer

Recently I have been trying to finish cleaning out my garage which had become sort of a real life metaphor that represents the confused and cluttered life I used to live.  I feel like I need to finish cleaning my garage once and for all, and by doing so, I will free a piece of myself that feels like it is intrinsically linked to the condition of that garage.  That garage is like an anchor on a chain that is attached to me, always reminding me that I need to deal with it, that I can’t ignore it any more.  My garage became a repository for anything at all that my family didn’t have room for in the house, but truthfully most of it is my stuff.  Anything left inside a car probably got put in the “never-never land” of the garage, never to show up in the house where someone might use it.  It is full of boxes of stuff; old papers, our kids toys from years ago, fire gear from my career, tools I couldn’t find, lots of books, sports gear, the usual stuff. 

Sorting through those boxes, I sometimes find something useful or interesting.  This is similar to the process of self-examination and personal growth I’ve been going through, in that I also sometimes actually find something within me that was always there and is actually functional.  I found a couple of old journals from when my grown kids were young.  No doubt they won’t appreciate this, but I admit I peeked inside.  There were no surprises, or secrets I’d rather not know about.  What I found hurt me to read and I probably deserve that.  Not just because I peeked, but because having feelings is relatively new for me.  Today I get to feel the hurt. I need to feel the hurt because it teaches me.  I found comments in those journals about how mean I was to them.  I didn’t find any mention of what a great Dad I was, or how kind and thoughtful I’d been. 
My wife recently told me a very sad story about my kids and I, which I had been completely unaware of.  I don’t know why she had spared me the truth before, but had she told me in the past, I would not have had the emotional maturity and sensitivity to feel the significance of what I’d done.  I may have even scoffed, or dismissed it as insignificant, choosing to rationalize and live in denial.  When I used to come home from long fire assignments, I would isolate myself.  I remember doing that.  I just didn’t think anything was wrong with it.  Instead of sitting down in my big chair in the living room and letting my kids climb all over me, after a brief greeting, I’d say I needed to unwind, then I’d go lock myself in our spare room and start drinking.  Each summer during fire season, from the time they were born, this was normal for my kids.  They grew up with a Dad who showed them that he preferred the company of his own self, over his family when he came home from being gone sometimes for weeks at a time.   
What I had not been aware of that my wife informed me of was that when I used to lock myself in that spare room, my two baby girls would lie down on the hallway floor outside the locked door and wait for their Daddy to come out because they wanted me to show them some love.  They missed me and they wanted me to hold them, and tell them how terribly I had missed them, and to let them fall asleep on me.  Instead, I disappointed them every time.  My wife told me that she made excuses for me to try to help them somehow understand.  She said they would fall asleep there on the floor outside that door, waiting for me to come out.  I never knew this because my wife would pick them up and carry them to bed before I came out and saw them.  When she told me that, it was maybe the saddest thing I’d ever heard.  I felt that sadness very deeply and I cried.  I cried because today I feel the pain of being aware that I did that to my wife and kids.  I can’t imagine how sad it must have been for my wife to have to see our little girls waiting on the floor outside a locked door for their Daddy to come out.  Waiting for so long that they’d fall asleep disappointed.  The man I used to be never even thought anything at all about locking his self in a room, isolating his self from his family after being gone for a long time.  That was just how I lived.  The man I was then had to live like that because I didn’t know any other way to deal with life.          
I am not the same man who I used to be.  I couldn’t possibly be, or I would not have the life I have today.  I am told that I am a changed man by people who I’ve spent significant time with in the past and who still know me today, the most significant ones being my wife and my kids.  A friend who I coached High School basketball with used to sometimes say to me, “I’m never going to really get to know you am I.”  It was more of a statement than a question.  That comment puzzled me.  I had no idea what he meant, but it shouldn’t have surprised me.  My wife used to sometimes say that she felt like she didn’t really know me.  I had no awareness of how much I was shut down and closed off from other people. 
The relationships in coaching –both player/coach and coach/coach- are magnified because of the emotional highs and lows resulting from competition.  At the High School level the pressure intensifies.  Traditionally the idea of success is tied to wins and losses, and there’s usually some expectation to win.  The troubles the kids can get into, and the problems they may have are not just little kid problems anymore and they will affect the team.  There’s no staff to organize home tournaments, to do the fund raising, and to organize travel logistics.  Some parents think you’re fair game to second guess, criticize and even attack verbally or sometimes physically.  You’re in the public eye, and there’s nowhere to hide.  You see up close how the kids and the other coaches respond to pressure- what comes out when they are “squeezed.”  Being rather emotionally shut down, I probably seemed to be what might be described as unflappable. But really –and without any awareness of it- I was always just looking to avoid most any feeling at all because that was how I learned to survive emotionally as a young man.  If I couldn’t feel it, then it couldn’t hurt me was what I erroneously believed. 

Recently this same coach and I shared a dorm room for a three day weekend while coaching at a summer team camp.  We had some good discussions in the evenings that had nothing to do with basketball.  We talked about being men, about being a husband and a father.  It felt good when he said to me that he felt like I’m a completely different man than I used to be.  I realized I’ve become a man who another man can actually feel like they know.  I don’t know how I could have sustained a marriage for almost 20 years while being someone who nobody could really get to know.  That realization has inflated even more my already high regard for my wife.  She is truly the best person who I know, and I am a very fortunate man indeed.  Her presence beside me is all the proof I need that miracles do happen and that I lead a charmed life.   
 It took me almost two years to work through the 12 Steps that have given me this new life, this chance to live with peace in my mind, and joy in my heart. Those 12 Steps have saved my life.  If not my corporal life, then certainly my life as it is defined by all the good things that make up a life worth living.  I am no longer the man who for more than a decade was so lost he did not have one single dream wherein he recognized any person or place.  I am no longer the man who was so emotionally shut down that he had no clue what his wife was talking about when she’d say, “I can’t live like this anymore.”  I am no longer the man whose own Mother recently described him as being, “The only one who didn’t know how much of an asshole he was.”   Today I get to experience and learn from my feelings, both the happy and joyful ones, as well as the difficult and painful ones.  I have been born again in a way that is actually measurable in its visible rewards.  I am still reminded by my experiences almost every day that all I’ve really done is that which I was supposed to have been doing all along, and for that I deserve only the knowing nod of, “it’s about time.”  I am learning to be a kind, patient, and considerate man.  This deserves no special accolades beyond the appreciation of those closest to me who used to suffer along with me the man who I was before.  It’s a good thing that I am a changed man for if not, I’d certainly be alone.  Not lonely but alone.  There is a difference.  While there were some feelings I was capable of experiencing, I’m sure loneliness wasn’t one of them.            
When I say that I am a changed man, it’s important that I make the observation that the man who I used to be is still there within me.  Those character flaws which used to quickly rise to the surface, sometimes with the slightest squeeze are like my shadow; I will never be rid of them all together.  What I actually have today is a daily reprieve from the compulsion to be cruel, thoughtless, unkind and insensitive.  This daily reprieve is dependent upon the fitness of my spiritual condition.  Because I am human, I will sometimes make mistakes, the aim is for progress not perfection.  Every day I ask God for help.  In fact, other than praying for others that’s all I ask for, “Help me to be a good man today.”  The moment I begin to swell up with pride from thinking I’ve accomplished something, or that I know how this works on my own without Gods help is the moment my ego (E G O = Edging God Out) starts to lead me away from being humble. 

The practice of becoming spiritually awakened is a path I share with many others who are applying the principles of the 12 Steps programs in their daily lives.  These are not a program of derelicts, they are programs made up primarily of over-achievers.  There are a lot of very strong, very intelligent, very influential and very powerful people who are committed to practicing a 12 Step Program.  I personally know or am aware of teachers, lawyers, cops, firefighters, councilors, office managers, a judge, business owners, movie stars, probation officers, and doctors who go to meetings and work the Steps.  Whether you know it or not, the world is a much better place because of this.  In fact, if tomorrow the millions of people in the world who are doing this work went “back out” and became the people we used to be before we found a spiritual solution, the world would probably eventually be thrown into a state of total chaos and anarchy after a brief period of the most fun the world has ever had. 
(insert winking smiley face emoticon here for the humor handicapped)