morally right or justifiable. “feelings of righteous indignation about pay and conditions”
Just as soon as I read “feelings” in the definition, I thought, well, no one can argue with my feelings. But can they? Lately, I’m feeling an abundance of feelings about so many things. I feel like I’m in righteous overdrive. Is it the divided world we live in or am I an angry old man?
Things I Have Felt Righteous About (I typed a list yesterday and it disappeared. Now I’m forced to consider what counts):
Politics (lies and misinformation)
Dishonesty in relationships
Smoking around non-smokers without asking if it’s okay
Recycling (people who act like it’s way too difficult to separate their trash)
Climate change deniers
People who do not/will not listen
Friends, family, and/or strangers who take me for granted. The number of people who think they’re entitled to whatever is astounding. You forget to say thank you the first time you’re forgiven; after that, you’re on your own.
People who use religion to explain away their bias or hate
Laws or rules that make no sense or serve no purpose
People who fight socialism who do not even knowing the meaning of the concept
People who see others in pain and turn the other way
Abusers of all kinds
I’m going to stop there because I’m getting fired up.
Using That Energy
The simple truth is this: if you have anger, rage, resentment, fury, it has to go somewhere or it ends up sitting in your internal organs and festering. Should it go unchecked, it will fester to the point of severe damage. The best thing you can do for yourself is to channel that anger toward something positive. For me, writing is my outlet, my escape valve. When the pressure builds, I write. The other method is to exercise patience; patience takes a lot of energy. If your deliberate in your practice of patience, that energy will become something fruitful and thought provoking.
Case in point: I get angry with a sibling who calls me on a regular basis and talks and talks and talks, but doesn’t bother to ask how I’m doing. I let that steam build this week and I was going to let this family member have it. A piece of my mind was appropriate and there would be no holding back. (This individual does not read my blog, but I still feel compelled to keep his or her name to myself — family will know).
The phone rings and it’s the culprit. I listen. I seeth and I wait for the right moment to pounce.
I’m about to unleash the kraken and my sibling says, “What’s happening with you these days.”
If that lesson is not convincing enough to keep me from jumping the gun, coming out with my fists clenched and my chin out, I don’t know what is. Patience Christopher, patience.
Whether this individual listened to my reply . . . well, that’s a whole other matter. The other life lesson is this: we humans are only capable of so much change. The higher your expectations, the greater the likelihood of disappointment. Baby steps are all we can hope for.
What Do Others’ Think?
Like most, I pay way too much attention to social media. Whenever I’m feeling particularly righteous about something happening in the public arena (i.e., politics), I notice a post gets a lot less attention than say, a cute picture of my dog Paco. Or perhaps, people notice my outrage and agree with me; however, they made a vow to stay away from politics on social media and they’re sticking to it. That sort of gets under my skin. Waiting for a big election to come around is not the time to protest. Right now is the time to counter the false narrative.
The other side of it of course is that I am preaching to the choir: the people in my life who are my tribe . . . the people in my life that I respect and admire because they agree with me. In truth, there are a few people in my orbit who are on the fence; these people are not 100% one way or the other. These uncertain few are my audience when I go off on a rant. I know of two people in my close circle of friends who have come over to my side. It is for this reason that I will not stop putting the facts out there and presenting a raional, truthful, common sense perspective; in my opinion.
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
This is a difficult topic for me. I am strong and for the most part able to resist many of my impulses, but I have been fighting urges to act on the negative ones all of my life. Some impulses are positive and should not be ignored. For example when you see hunger and pain outside of your own community and you have an impulse to help, you should act on it. Warning: I may be a bit preachy in this blog.
Impulse defined: a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act (Google)
The Impact of Impulse Decisions on our Lives
The world is made up of a vast array of different personality types; some strong with good intentions and others, out-of-control and divisive. We have various tools at our disposal that help us to control aspects of our personalities that might cause harm or pain. For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to discuss impulses that have an impact on our own future, not necessarily the future of others. Obviously, our decisions affect and impact those around us as well; however, it is the more personal variety I am exploring today.
Decisions About Where to Live
Acting on impulses regarding where you live can have long lasting effects. How many times have you heard a friend say, “I could live here,” better still, how many times have you thought it or said it yourself?
Where you end up residing is by far one of the most important decisions of your life. Granted, wherever you decide to live, it is possible to leave; however, the amount of details that one has to attend to in order to relocate, are cumbersome to say the least. So much of your happiness depends on your external environment. This is one impulse that should definitely be checked and kept in control. Do your homework, visit and spend some time there, ask people who live there, write a pros and cons list, work-up a budget, and have a plan.
Don’t overthink it.
Our impulses often take us to dark places that are difficult or impossible to resist. For example, no one likes pain: psychological pain, physical pain, and or emotional pain. Our instinct tells us that we should do everything we can to make it go away. Unfortunately, many of today’s remedies are harmful to us and may have long lasting effects. So when you turn to the bottle for relief and escape, your mind tells you that it’s a temporary escape; you only need one cocktail and you won’t need it again tomorrow. I know too many alcoholics who went down that slippery slope with little or no awareness that it was happening, while it was happening. So many people die due to alcohol abuse and the casualties of abuse, every day, yet it’s hardly ever a part of the public conversation. You know why that is and it’s time to face the horrible truth. We mandate the wearing of masks, ban smoking indoors, and we keep transgender people out of certain bathrooms, but we allow excess drinking almost everywhere. No one has the right to put others in danger.
Regrets are usually a waste of time, but I have one regret which will haunt me my entire life: my marriage. My ex-wife was perfect in every way: beautiful, smart, trustworthy, loving, and devoted. We were never compatible because she was straight and I was closeted. How could she have known when I hid it so well? But my impulse was to snatch her up because she could provide the life I “thought” I wanted and should have. I could be a husband, a father, and we could live happily ever after. In what universe? When will people stop judging one another and start opening up to the many faces of love.
If you’re one of those people saying, “But isn’t it much better than it used to be?” shame on you.
I take full responsibility for the farce of my marriage, but I also blame the world around me that taught me to discard any other possibility. I have apologized to the woman I married many times; still, the pain I caused her will never be fully forgotten. I appreciate her love and forgiveness, because that and my integrity, are all I have.
Giving Birth to Children
I know that human beings, like all animals, are naturally meant to procreate and I’m certainly not advocating that we stop bringing children into the world.
However . . . I firmly believe that some make the decision to have children without thinking it through. Most of what I feel comes from my own experience of having a mother who had seven children in a very short period of time. She had little or no concern about how she would care for and feed her babies. My father probably had even less concern, sadly, I never got to ask.
I have a couple of female friends who consciously decided not to mother children. They gave it a great deal of thought and came to this very sound conclusion. Both have told me that they have been getting grief for their decision for years; some people think there is something wrong with them for not wanting children. I think our grief is misplaced, we should be focusing on those who decide to give birth and then either abuse their children and/or put the burden on others to care for them. Obviously there are exceptions, I don’t feel the need to explain what those are.
The Impulses I Fight Daily and How I Control them
I’m happy to share the impulses I have that I believe could be problematic in my own life. I view these urges as a weakness; controlling my destructive behavior has always been challenging. I know that I am harder on myself than I need to be, but the alternative is not an option. My intention is to let you know you’re not alone; fighting one’s demons is an uphill battle. Yes, the things I share are extremely personal; however, I hid my true self for over 20 years and that didn’t do anyone any good. Counseling has helped me over the years; however, I suspect my story includes a fight to the end. Giving you a glimpse of my journey helps me to try harder and heal from past mistakes.
Alcohol Abuse: I often mention alcohol in my blogs, therefore, I thought I should address it. I have been fortunate when it comes to alcohol. As I have said before, I occasionally enjoy a late afternoon cocktail and a glass or two of wine with my evening meal. If it’s a special occasion, I might have a second cocktail, but this is very rare. I have never had a problem with alcohol abuse, however, there are several reasons I limit my alcohol intake:
I like being in total control — my somewhat compulsive personality dictates my behavior
I prefer not to pay the high price of alcohol in a bar or restaurant.
There are times when I am out and driving (certainly not of late); alcohol and driving cannot happen
I drink slowly and enjoy my cocktail or wine.
I do not drink to become inebriated and can honestly say I never have (except at that one Bar Mitzvah when I was 12 years old).
I mention alcoholism now and again because I have several individuals in my life who are alcoholics. I do would not and do not judge those who have a difficult time controlling their alcohol intake; I am aware that addiction is a disease . It is painful to watch someone you care about spin out of control due to substance abuse. I have seen a tremendous amount of success with Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics/Marijuana Anonymous. To be honest, quick rehabilitation programs seem to be less effective. It is my understanding that alcoholism is linked to genetics. I’m not a professional abuse counselor and my opinion is just that. Please challenge me if you believe I have a problem with alcohol abuse.
Gambling: this vice is an entirely different story. There is no doubt in my mind that if I did not control my impulse to gamble, it would become a problem. Both of my parents loved and abused gambling. My mother incurred a massive amount of debt due to her habit; I believe my father was able to keep his impulse under control, but I have no doubt that he lost a great deal of money in his life; horse racing was his vice.
The most I have ever lost at one time, was about $1800 on a cruise ship. It was my birthday and stupid me was thinking: you have to win, it’s your birthday. Any smart person will tell you that you cannot gamble expecting to win. In this case I visited the ATM machine on the ship three times in one night. I told myself that I could go to the machine once and that would be my limit. Ha, that never works. Because I was so angry for losing that much money, I convinced myself that it could not and would not happen again. This is how I control my gambling:
I limit myself to three casino visits per year (I usually come closer to five or six visits).
My bank has a daily withdrawal limit on my ATM card.
I put a certain amount of cash in my pocket and I leave my credit cards and ATM card at home (harder to do on a ship, but even leaving the cards in my cabin, is a deterrent.
I do not live near a casino and that was always a conscious choice.
If the impulse is strong, I will often treat myself to a nice dinner instead.
Gamblers are judged harshly in our society, therefore, it is seldom discussed with friends or family. Instead, it is divisive and draped in shame. Even writing about my own battle with it is shame filled and upsetting.
Overeating or Impulse Eating: this too has been a lifelong battle for me. I love food; not just sweets, I enjoy savory food with as much fervor. I’ve written several blogs about my struggles with eating; to be frank, I have for the most part conquered this addiction. Portion control, meditation, and vanity, have prevented obesity. At this point in my life comfort is essential. If I eat too much, I am uncomfortable and in the end, it’s not worth the limited pleasure I might have gotten from two more ribs or that second piece of cake.
All of these impulses, although personal, affect the wellbeing of others in your life. Acknowledging you might have a problem, monitoring your behavior and seeking help, are all essential for success in overcoming these difficulties. As I write about my own struggles, there are a few realities that come to mind: the impulses I speak of effect many of us; more than society cares to admit, we cope with most of these difficulties on our own because of the stigma attached to them, and lastly, to be flawed and challenged is to be human. Never give up the fight; giving in or giving up, is the worst thing you can do. If you need help, ask for it.
I realize that I did not cover every impulse we struggle with in our lives. Admittedly, the stress most of us are under during this pandemic, only make resisting negative impulses more challenging.
I’m not sure when it was that I started feeling the pressure of doing the right thing. I do know two things:
I spend way too much time thinking about this. The right thing for me or for others; I think about both.
When I do the so called “right thing,” I sometimes spend time wondering if the right thing was the best thing.
Breaking down the issue, I think I can safely assume that #1 will never go away. There comes a time when you just have to accept who you are and what you can or cannot change. I live with a lot of guilt: gay guilt because I was closeted for the first 28 years of my life and I lied to a lot of people; Catholic guilt, having been raised Catholic and forced to spend too much time with authorities from the church; sibling guilt, being in the middle of 10 whole, half and step siblings; and DNA guilt — I am certain that I got the guilt gene, perhaps more than one.
When you put it into words, no wonder you find it overwhelming. Fortunately, I have found a way to tuck most of it away in little boxes that I can set aside and keep closed.
If you truly believe that people no longer care if you’re gay or straight or transgender or how you define your sexuality, do not read any further or even better, read with an open mind [There are actually people who have said to me, “Things are different now, nobody cares anymore. Right.]:
I count myself as one of the lucky ones because I came out at 28. I know gay men well into their seventies who are still closeted. I cannot imagine that kind of pain. So when I talk about doing the “right thing,” I mean what is right for you, not what others think is right for you.
I continue to feel that people look at me differently because I am gay. I know that I have family members who have very little to do with me because of my sexuality. Anyone who says they don’t care is lying to themselves and others. Yes it makes me stronger and more determined to be my true self, but it can also sometimes make you feel as if you’re living on an island. The messages on television and magazines have changed, however, we continue to live in a heterosexual world and I cannot imagine that changing anytime soon. Navigating that world can be exhausting and troublesome.
What does doing the right thing look like for you straight or closeted folks?
Show some interest, ask questions.
Ask to be a part of someone else’s world. My brother asked me to take him to a gay bar about 10 years ago and I was pleased and excited to show him a part of my life.
Read articles and books on the subject matter.
Be an ally whenever possible, it truly matters. It’s the reason we have come so far.
Just be with someone who needs you, often that’s all they need.
If you were raised catholic (I cannot speak for other religions) there were clear messages about the sins of the world. I went to Catholic Catechism and was basically taught that it wasn’t evil to think about someone of the same sex sexually; however, it was a sin to act on those thoughts — how’s that for a scary and confusing message. Too many mortal sins to worry about when you’re Catholic. A clear way to push someone into swearing off (sorry) one’s religion.
I have a number of half brothers and sisters and I have a step brother. I have a good deal of guilt about being a brother and not having a closer relationship with several of my siblings. We tend to want to spend time with people we connect with and we don’t always connect with our siblings. In some cases, it might be their spouses or partners that are problematic. Nobody wants to be put in the middle, therefore, I personally do not confront siblings about their problematic partners. Then there are partners that are more pleasant to be with than your siblings, best to stay away from that one. It’s difficult not to feel alienated and judged when you receive feedback about something said about you by a family member. The right thing for me is usually distance; stay clear of conflict, it’s painful and impossible to mitigate. Is this the right thing to do or is it the smart path? I admit there are times that I choose the easy way out.
Baby I was Born This Way
This is not just about sexuality . . . telling someone that you were born this way is often an excuse for explaining away a personality flaw. For example, I have a relative who is a compulsive gambler. He claims that he was born with a gene that makes it impossible for him to stay away from gambling. I can’t argue whether or not there is such a gene, however, I do know that when someone has a gambling problem, there is a way to get help and overcome the addiction. In some cases you have a choice about whether or not you care to address the problem. I am sympathetic about addiction (I have my own), but I also know that if you care about yourself and the people around you, you can seek help. For me, admitting that you need help and getting help can be the definition of doing the right thing.
The guilt one feels which cannot be named. This kind of guilt causes self-doubt, anger, pain, loss, poor decision-making, unhappiness, regret, and so on. You have to ask yourself difficult questions about why you feel guilty. Guilt is often an indication of a problem you may be having around a moral dilemma; did I do something wrong? How do I make it right? If you are the kind of person who lives life without guilt, well then, you needn’t concern yourself with it’s symptoms. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.
What is the Right Thing?
The “right thing” is different for each of us. We each have our own moral compass, our own values, and our own personality. Most of us know the difference between right and wrong; that might lead one to believe that doing the right thing would be easy, but we know it’s not always easy. When making big decisions, consequences are usually at play. Dealing with those consequences, is usually a better alternative than doing something that might not be right, which usually comes back to bite you in the ass.
A short story:
Many of us can recall a situation at work where the environment became toxic and difficult to endure; this has been a lifelong issue for me. For reasons too complicated to outline here, I tend to link employment with self-esteem; specifically personal failure. Rather than admit the time had come to walk away, I stayed and endured a great deal of emotional instability and pain. In several cases, I stayed for years. What this does to one’s physical and psychological well-being cannot be measured; however, the damage was greater than I care to admit. Had I cleared my conscience and walked away sooner, I might have saved myself from having several surgeries and the work of repairing a lost sense of self.
I am aware that doing that repair work is part of life and growth; however, I also believe that we often do damage that is beyond repair (i.e, divorce, in my case). Another life can be greatly impacted by your deceit.
What I have learned is valuable for me: think about possible outcomes before making a big decision; think about how it might impact others; think about the worst case scenario; and think about what is right. Some people just go with their gut feelings. That may work sometimes, but I have found that my gut is not always right. I may be so wrapped up in the desired outcome, that I’m not thinking about the process. The way we go about achieving a goal is as important as winning. You might not be happy with yourself if you got to goal by hurting people or being dishonest — we don’t always know the truth about ourselves and we have to face that truth.
“You know you have made the right decision when there is peace in your heart.”
It’s been a difficult week of reflection. I imagine some might say that every week in one’s life is difficult; however, I would argue that there are times in one’s life when thoughts are more negative, more self-critical, and harder to sort out. Sometimes the yin & the yang seem out of balance and it has more to do with your brain doing a number on you than anything else. Rebooting only works some of the time. Sample thoughts like: am I enough? What do I want for my future? What role am I playing in somehow making the world better for others? These are all normal thoughts for those who think and have a conscience. For me, at least at this point in my life, what I choose to let go of versus what I hang onto, is taking up more thinking time than usual.
I know that I write about “letting go” often. At different times in my life, letting go has been my biggest challenge. There are numerous reasons that this particular defense mechanism is important to me. When I have something weighing on my mind, it tends to be all consuming. I find it difficult to focus on other things in my life and it disrupts my sleep and interferes with my desire to be in the moment.
Getting older has been a gift in a way, in that maturity has helped me put many things into perspective. Things such as what is most important in life and why hanging on to things or people we cannot change, is destructive. When you have a fair amount of success “letting go” of a thing, an idea or a person, it helps you to see how freeing the process can be.
At one point in my life I was quite certain that I could never live outside of New York City. I could not imagine leaving the people and experiences I loved most. I forced myself to relocate by telling myself that I could always return to NYC if that’s what I truly wanted. Because most of us can adapt to almost anything, once I was in my new environment, I was able to see the benefits of being in that place. We tell ourselves that we’d miss certain “things” and that’s why we should remain. Then there is that other voice that tells you that if you leave, you are running away from something. In my case the theatre was keeping me in New York. I have always loved Broadway and could not imagine living far away from the Great White Way. In reality, even though I left New York almost seven years ago, I have returned to New York to attend the theatre every year. Now when I get tickets for a play, I am much more thoughtful about what I see and because I’m making a special trip, Broadway has become even more precious to me.
[I could go off here about how Disneyfied Broadway has become; however, I think it’s best that I spare you the rant. It only forces you to be more selective about what you choose to see. Most things can be traced back to the almighty dollar.]
Now that I am living much closer to London, I feel as if I get to enjoy a bit of both theatre meccas. The point is, when you care a great deal about something, it should not prevent you from letting go of something else; one does not preclude the other. There were of course factors tugging at me to remain in New York; I cannot same the same for Maine.
People are more complicated and that presents greater challenges. I met an older woman here in the Algarve who was originally from Ireland. She lives about 30 minutes west of Faro. She’s worldly, smart, loves food, and we got along fairly well. At one point in our friendship I realized that she was putting me down quite a bit. It was subtle, but she would often be condescending or passive aggressive. She a tiny woman, however, she’d raise her voice to speak over me or she’d tell me that something I felt or vocalized, was nonsense. I decided that I did not have to tolerate such behavior just because she’s older. I spent a good deal of time on a letter explaining how I felt. I thought a letter would be more effective because she could read it and consider my words (I know a lot of people prefer in-person conversations, but I believe that particular method is sometimes better as a second step). In the letter, I was careful not to generalize and I was clear and kind. I told her that I cared about our friendship and that I was hoping she would consider changing the way she sometimes treated me. One has to be very careful not to use absolutes in these situations. She responded fairly quickly, however, she did not acknowledge the contents of the letter. She basically told me that she was leaving town and that we would speak when she returned. I accepted her email as a positive sign. I thought this would give her time to consider my words. Obviously, it goes both ways and I was willing to listen and alter my behavior as well.
And then nothing happened.
It’s been eight months and I am not caving. This is the letting go moment when I say to myself is this woman worth my time and consideration? I tried and failed. There are times in your life when you just have to walk away and cut your losses — sound a little harsh? I think it’s a defense mechanism I have developed over time. The former me would get all worked up, make an angry phone call or send an angry email. I would beat myself up for saying anything at all in the first place. Then at some point I decided that if in fact I was going to be true to myself, I would have to come clean and say something. Keep in mind that when you are living in a foreign country, there are a limited number of people who speak your language and truly understand your culture. This sort of empathy is important for social interaction. I do enjoy having people around I can share experiences with.
Journaling your feelings helps when putting situations and interactions into perspective. It provides the ability to step back and process.
One of the things that I have starting doing is to cultivate good relationships and show gratitude for those that are nurturing and positive. For example: I have been in the process of getting a tooth implant for a year. There have been complications that are too boring and tedious to discuss here. Through it all, my dentist and her assistant, have been patient and supportive; I am beyond grateful that I found them. I’m a month away from getting the actual tooth, which I know will improve my life — chewing is essential. I have a visit today and I plan to bring flowers to both my dentist and her assistant. I’ve known them long enough now to know that they will not misinterpret this gesture. They will know that I am showing them my gratitude. Letting people know that they have had a positive impact on your life and that you do not take them for granted, is essential for building strong relationships. Replacing hurtful and toxic relationships with rich, fulfilling ones, helps in the letting go process. For some people it’s almost like getting over the loss of a pet, some people go right out and get another. It’s not something I personally can do, however, I do appreciate that for some people it is a way to let go.
By the way, I am not advocating for simply dismissing people in your life. Communicating, giving people a second chance, making sure you did not misinterpret someone’s behavior or words, and being aware of your own behavior, is very important. Letting go should happen when all else fails and the level of toxicity or pain is hard to bare or out of balance.
Practice, Practice, Practice
At times the thought of walking away from a relationship is much too difficult to even consider. It might be a parent, a sibling, your boss, a long-term friend; you get the point. In a case like this, you might have to let go slowly. Putting distance between yourself and another can be a good first step. If you normally speak to someone daily, you can try skipping a call here and there. If you go out every Friday night, you can suggest cutting back due to schedule conflicts. This is not dishonest. There is nothing wrong with protecting someone else’s feelings or being kind. Some people have no sense of self and others cannot see what is right in front of them.
What Happens When You Walk Away
A friend once told me that when you walk away from someone or something, the shadow (memory) of that person or thing is left behind. This will have a lasting impact. She used a wart as an example: if you have a wart on your hand for 20 years and you have that wart removed, your memory of that wart will be so strong it will feel as if it’s still there. If you choose to let go of a relationship, you will occasionally think about that person; in this way, you’re not totally letting go, but is it possible to completely erase someone from your mind and would you want to. If you believe as I do, that all of our life experiences and relationships are necessary in order to grow, then embracing that they were a part of your history and therefore, a part of who you are at this moment. It’s better to be grateful that you one, have the ability to learn from a person or thing and move on, and two, that our past leads us to the present.
Sometimes letting go of a person might be the best recourse; however, be prepared to grieve the loss. Even if the relationship was highly toxic, if it’s been a big part of your life for a long time, you will miss aspects of it: routine, company, validation; whatever it might have been, you will lament the loss. Allow yourself the time to grieve and know that when it’s over, you will be far better off. Congratulate yourself for taking care of yourself and for enriching your own life.
Side Bar: I have been enjoying a new show on Netflix called Terrace House. It’s a reality show, however, what makes it different is that it takes place in Tokyo and you get a sense of Japanese youth and the culture. I find myself laughing a lot and wanting more. Check it out.
Thursday evening I decided to have a big salad for dinner. It was a beautiful night and I wanted to eat out on the terrace facing the water. I opened a local red wine I had not tried before and I noticed the bottle seemed heavier than usual. I thought that maybe it was larger than the normal 750 ml and I did not think about it again. I poured a glass and put the bottle in the refrigerator on the side door. During the warmer months I refrigerate red wine so that it will last longer. When I’m drinking it, I take it out about 30 minutes prior to pouring so that it’s just a little cooler than room temperature.
After dinner I decided to have another half glass instead of dessert. I opened the refrigerator to retrieve the bottle and the entire shelf went crashing down. There was wine everywhere; the walls, the cabinet doors, the refrigerator — everywhere. The cabinet doors had just been painted last week and I was concerned that the wine would stain the doors. I acted swiftly and cleaned the cabinets first. Next, when I started picking up the large pieces of glass I discovered that the bottle of wine was not larger, but thicker. This explained why it was so heavy. Two things happened to my new kitchen: first, the bottle put a chip in the tile floor below the refrigerator and second, the refrigerator shelf cracked in six different places. The cleanup took me over an hour and I was sweating from head to toe. I walked into the living room, sat down and thought about the incident. It started with: why did I have to put the bottle into the refrigerator? I was fully aware that this was about to become a “let’s beat the shit out of Chris” session. I decided to practice what I preach and to let it go. I showered, read a bit, and went to bed. I slept like a baby. My kitchen is no longer in pristine condition and that’s okay. It’s sort of like the first scratch on a new car; you just have to accept that it happened and move on.
My new urbano azul cabinet doors; they survived the crash without red wine stains.
Studying human behavior has always been a fascinating pastime for me. I majored in sociology in college and the question was always: how does the behavior of others apply to me and what am I going to do with a sociology degree?
the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others.
“he will vouch for her good behaviour”
conduct, way of behaving, way of acting, deportment, bearing, etiquette; More
the way in which an animal or person behaves in response to a particular situation or stimulus.
plural noun: behaviours; plural noun: behaviors
“the feeding behaviour of predators”
I admittedly spend too much time trying to figure people out; individuals and groups alike. I make the same mistake over and over again; I usually believe people will react the way I do. We all know how ridiculous that assumption is. We’re raised differently, we learn from different people and we all have a different moral compass. If you think you’re more trustworthy or “right” than the next guy, that’s a huge mistake and it’s bound to get you into trouble.
Whenever I write about my family, I am concerned that I will alienate or offend someone I care deeply about. So once again, I will not mention names. Except this one time: My niece Nicole is close to giving birth to twins; very close. This is a very positive “family” happening and from where I’m sitting it appears that all of the people around her are excited for her. This will of course change the dynamic of Nicole’s immediate family and I consider myself a part of Nicole’s immediate family. Because of Nicole’s positive energy and desire to be a mother, the behavior I am observing and the words I have been hearing, have been upbeat and anxious anticipation, “When will they come, what will they be like, and how what sort of mother will I be?”
I am looking forward to the joy this boy and girl will bring to the family. My sister and her husband will be wonderfully loving grandparents, my nephew will be a terrific uncle and my niece will be an exceptional mother. Observing all of this from Portugal will be joyful and sad; sad because I am thousands of miles away. Thanks to modern technology I will be able to have frequent contact and I will be meeting my great niece and nephew in Baltimore this coming December. Although this experience is not new for me, never having had my own children has made having lots of nieces and nephews, very special.
The behavior of family members mattered more to me when I was closer in proximity; moving overseas has helped me put their love into perspective. It sort of always goes back to how being human makes us all different and trying to appreciate where the other person is coming from.
My close friends are all very different and I love that about them. I have not heard one of my friends disparage another one of my friends; this is important to me. They each know how much I love them and they are also aware of how much I love and admire my other friends. It’s been very important to share my appreciation for them and to show them how grateful I am to have them in my life. What I have observed in my friends is respect, admiration and loyalty. I’m not sure it would be fair or reasonable to ask for anything more than that.
I have also learned that when a friend behaves in a way that disturbs me, it is essential to share my feelings as soon after the incident as possible; waiting is unfair. Friends deserve clear communication and a great deal of consideration. Remember to listen. Also, remember to be loving and forgiving.
When I observe strangers, it is usually through a non-judgmental lens, unless they do one of the following:
fail to clean-up their dog’s poop
behave cruelly to animals
verbally or physically abuse their partner/child/friend in public
speak loudly on their cell phone
act extremely intoxicated or tripping out on one drug or another
display a weapon in a threatening manner
publicly display signs of racism, prejudice, anti-semitism, anti-homosexuality, anti-individuality, anti-freedom, hate or disregard for humanity.
Here are some of the things I say to myself when I am observing human behavior:
She talks and talks and talks and doesn’t listen to a word anyone else is saying.
If he leaves that pile of shit on the ground, I am saying something.
Why does she wait until the moment she is getting on the bus to take her money out to pay? She’s been standing at the bus stop for 20 minutes.
Who does he or she think they are?
Why doesn’t he just stay home?
Where does this person come from?
How can I make it stop?
I need to get away from here.
Why I Need to Stop
Just observing human behavior is fun; however, attempting to figure out why people say or do the things they say or do, is just plain unhealthy. We are so often wrong for the simple reason that we cannot be inside someone else’s head; it’s just not possible. Sure you may know someone a long time and their behavior may be somewhat predictable, but people do often surprise us and sometimes the surprise is positive.
What I’d like to more often, is ask why. Why are you raising your voice? Why are you pointing your finger at me? Why are you angry right now? I think if I ask because I’m genuinely interested, the response will enlightening. It’s important to not be patronizing or passive aggressive.
“Rob, I’m not sure what’s happening today, but you seem upset about something; can you tell me about it?”
“Trish, I’m not sure you whether or not you realize this, but your voice is louder than it usually is right now. What’s up?”
“Mike, some of the words you’re using are hurtful. I wanted to let you know that I’m confused about why you are saying these things to me.”
“Sue, what am I doing right now that is making you angry? I promise to just listen and hear you.”
Hard to imagine doing anything these days without feeling some guilt. An overwhelming number of articles, television shows, religious authorities, relatives and so on, telling us what’s good for us; who knows what’s best anymore. Truth be known, most of us know what’s good for us. We don’t need a know-it-all “expert” to share their opinion on how to live. Lately, I find myself almost offended by every Tom, Dick or Harry who tries to influence my next thought.
And it’s not just experts weighing-in. Social media are awash with opinionated people who get angry when you challenge their opinion; I’m not making this about politics mind you; I’m talking about every day thoughts, opinions or advice. It’s terrific that people are willing to share their good fortune or experiences, but one needs to accept that not everyone cares or wants to know. As a blogger, I think about this every day. I’m fully aware that a reader can skip over a line, disagree with a thought, or challenge an opinion. In fact, I welcome it. Like anything else, there are appropriate boundaries and we’re all guilty of occasionally crossing them. The art of discourse is a lost art and I for one would like to champion its return.
You have to find a balance between what you listen to, who you listen to, and listening to the voice within.
As trite as it sounds, I enjoy my own company. I’ve always secretly been critical of people who claim to be lonely — I just didn’t relate. Truth is, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning feeling very much alone. The difference is that the Atlantic Ocean lies between me and all the people I love. I didn’t imagine this move would be any different than any I have made in the past, but yes, it is far from the same. When you can’t just jump in your car and see someone in a few short hours, that’s a huge difference. The feeling didn’t last long mind you. I thought about a number of friends and family members who will be visiting soon and I felt better. I also thought about how I take those I care about for granted and of course, I now have a better understanding of what it’s like to be alone.
Lots of lessons here and many ways to cope. Revealing these thoughts to you is a first step. When friends and family told me that I was brave to make a move like this, I shrugged it off. I still don’t consider it brave, but now I know what they meant. So the next step is to search for meaning. I have been trying to protect myself from feeling love, empathy and sorrow. If I live in the moment and fully experience these feelings, what will they teach me and am I ready to learn?
Here’s what I know:
Loneliness is temporary.
There is truth and meaning in the exploration of our feelings.
Strangers can help fill a void.
Memories are powerful.
Loss of any kind hurts.
Accepting your truth is to be fully aware of who you are.
You may not always like what you learn, but you have to forgive and embrace.
You have to put yourself out there.
Be prepared for change.
Books can be delicious company.
I wrote this piece a few hours ago and decided that a cloudy, muggy day is a great day for the mercado (market). I walked in and the first face I saw was Myriam’s. I met Myriam my first week in Faro. She was born in Venuzuala, but she has lived in the States and still has family there. In fact, she just returned from visiting her daughter in Miami. Myriam lives about 30 miles away in Tavira and she has not been in Portugal very long. She manages a Brazilian owned coffee shop in the Mercado — great coffee by the way. Her warmth and smile were what I needed today, but what she shared with me, I needed even more:
Myriam asked me how I am adjusting to life here in Portugal and I told her what I was feeling this morning. She said, “I want you to read what I posted on Facebook this morning.” Reception is bad at the mercado and we both just about gave up on logging onto to Facebook and then this appeared on her home page:
La soledad espeligrosa y muy adictiva. Una vez que te das cuenta de cuánta paz hay en ella, no querrás lidiar con las personas.
Lonliness is very addictive. Once you realize how much peace there is in it, you will not want to deal with people.
Me: Enough said.
Friday on the beach with a good book and the sound of the ocean.
When you’re looking for reasons to be grateful and there it is, staring you right in the face:
As is to be expected . . . I’ve been second guessing my move to Portugal. I don’t mean that I lie awake at night regretting my move or wondering, “What did I do?” What I mean is that this is still very new (10 weeks) and I sometimes ponder if this huge change was the right thing to do. I think it’s perfectly natural to wonder and then this happened:
I bought a piece of artwork that needs framing and I asked a friend here if he knew of a frame shop. Funny thing here in the Algarve, when you type “frame shop nearby” into Google, it only lists a select few options. I’m not sure I understand why, but perhaps that will be another blog. Of course Pedro knew of a place, Pedro always knows. He didn’t know the name of the shop, but he pulled out a map and pointed to where it was. The smart thing to do would have been to take a picture of the map; however, I am not a Millennial (not by a long stretch) and so I often forget that I have that option — there is a probably an app that will link the map location with the type of shop and tell you the name of the shop, but alas, I wouldn’t know how to find that app.
I did, however, set out to find the frame shop. I got the general vicinity right (I could feel it) but after 15 minutes of going back and forth on the same three streets I finally gave up and went into a hair salon to ask for directions. The owner knew instantly that I was not a customer (stop laughing, it’s not that funny). I asked her if she spoke English and like most Portuguese people, she responded, “A little.” I joke about this because most people hear will respond that way and then speak beautiful English. I’m not yet at a place in my studies where I can even attempt to have a conversation in Portuguese. I asked her if she knew where the frame shop was and she seemed disappointed. Then she shouted to someone in the back room of the shop. A young woman stepped out and asked me what I was looking for. I told her and she said, “Come with me.” At this point I thought we’d step outside and she would point toward the shop. That is not what happened, instead, she crossed the street (I followed close behind sort of amazed) and then she crossed a second street (I was baffled), then she turned left and then right and there we stood in front of the frame shop.
As I said, earlier, I have been daydreaming about life back in the States; however, today I realized that I am home. I’m not sure I could be living in a friendlier, more welcoming place. A small act of kindness was all I needed for a lot of reassurance.
As my friend John always tells me, “Palms up to the universe.”
“There are only two things. Truth and lies. Truth is indivisible, hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it has to be a lie.” Franz Kafka
My mother’s lies taught me two things: First and most harmful, it was acceptable to lie, and second, secrets are impossible to keep.
I had a beautiful half-sister who died a horrible premature death several years ago; she was in her mid-forties. In fact, it was her birthday a couple of days ago and it was the anniversary of my brother Anthony’s death. My sister Grace found him with a needle in his arm on her birthday. She was already far gone by then and I’m certain, finding her (our) brother lifeless in her own home, must have sealed her fate.
Gasha to my left
My sister Grace or Gasha (the way we spelled it), as she was known to close family, was a troubled child. She wore thick glasses and was labeled “four eyes” by her siblings and peers. We also called her monkey because of her button nose; kids can be mean and her brothers and sisters were the cruelest of all. I am not claiming innocence; in fact, I may have been the worst culprit. Perhaps it was the secret I held onto that drove me to cruelty.
My parents argued a lot; in fact, they argued night and day. My father would come home from work at midnight and my mother would dig in her hateful claws. Having been exposed to this behavior early on, I worked hard to tune them out and fantasize about a quieter world that I knew existed elsewhere. My memory of their relentless rage goes back to pre-school and a time when I was too young to understand the complicated world of adult anger. One particular memory is vivid because it involved a lie I did not understand at the time; I may have been five or six years old.
Many angry words were exchanged during one very loud shouting match and most of those words were as difficult to comprehend as a foreign language. For some reason I held onto something my father said, “Grace is not my child.” At the time I thought it was odd for my father to say such a thing and so, I dismissed them from my thoughts. Every so often I found myself daydreaming and reflecting on these words. As I grew older and more inquisitive, I wondered why my father said this to my mother. I looked at my sister differently because of what my father said. I naturally wondered who her father might be, if it were not my father. I was not aware of an affair my mother had with her first husband while she was married to my father.
When I turned nine, there was a lot going on around me; my only living grandparent passed, my mother was divorcing my father and marrying my stepfather, and I was repressing my sexuality (I remember having some strong feelings toward one of my mother’s male friends). My mom and I would occasionally spend quality alone time together — rare because she had seven children. On one of these occasions, I decided I would ask her about Gasha. My mother had a way of drawing me in as a close confidant and then shoving me away. I can’t blame alcohol because she wasn’t a drunk, but her father was an alcoholic and physically abusive; perhaps it was his influence. As a child I longed for the kind of closeness where you felt honest love and affection — not likely to get it from my mother, but I never stopped trying.
We were sitting on her bed watching an old black & white film and she was running her fingers through my hair. I may have been as happy at that moment as I would ever be with my mom.
I looked up at her and said, “Ma, who is Gasha’s father?”
My mother pushed me to the edge of the bed and said, “Where do you get these ideas?”
I told her that I had overheard an argument she had with my father a few years earlier and she told me that I was imagining things.
“Who would Gasha’s father be if it wasn’t your father? Honestly Chris, I worry about you.”
I wanted to believe my mother, so I let it go . . . until a few years later when this happened:
I was having dinner with my father at the restaurant where he worked. Our meals were very special to me and we always spoke openly and earnestly. I’m pretty sure I was in my teens at this point. I had accidentally seen my parents marriage license and came to learn that my mother and father didn’t marry until I was three years old. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t bother me. My dad told me that they couldn’t marry because my mother’s first husband was in prison and there was a law about divorce and incarceration back then. He said that they married as soon as they legally could. I shrugged and decided this would be a good time to ask about Gasha. I sort of tricked my dad and acted like I knew for certain that Gasha was not his biological daughter.
When I asked him who Gasha’s father was he said, “Joe is her father, but I adopted her and so she’s my daughter now. How did you know about this? Did your mother tell you?”
I shared that I had overheard an argument between the two of them when I was a kid and he grabbed my face and squeezed my cheeks; something he did to show affection. He hardly ever said anything negative about my mother and I wish I could say the reverse were true.
When I asked him how she ended up with Joe while married to him, he said, “Your mother has always been a bit wild.”
Truer words had never been spoken. Now that I knew my suspicions about Gasha were true, I had to consider what this meant for my relationship with her, how I felt about my mother lying to me, and whether or not I should share the truth with Gasha and our siblings. I knew early on that it would not be fair to share the truth with her. It was my mother’s place to tell her the truth. I was tormented by the lie. I did not approve of my mother’s infidelity and I could not understand why she denied the truth all those years ago. In my mind, I could never truly trust my mother again — in truth, I doubted her always. I’m also certain that I felt betrayed by my mother and it has had an affect on every loving relationship in my life.
My mother did eventually tell Gasha who her biological father was. I’m not sure when or where it happened. My brothers and sisters found out at some point as well. It seemed to me at the time that no one cared about the indiscretion or the lie. I questioned my own reaction to it: had I made too much of it? Did it really matter? As an older adult I am obviously still questioning the lies I faced as a child and young adult — there were many others.
I recall often looking at Gasha and wondering who she resembled. When she would behave a certain way that was odd to me, I would explain it by considering who her father was or was not. Gasha had a severe eating disorder and made several bad choices in her life. She was angry, she isolated herself from those who cared about her, she refused to acknowledge her disorder, and she trusted no one. I cannot help but wonder if the knowledge that she was conceived during a torrid affair, had had a huge impact on her life and her ability to cope. Knowing her biological father was willing to allow my father to adopt her, must have tormented Gasha throughout her life; her self-worth was shattered.
My mother had a very complicated relationship with her and Gasha was resentful of the way she saw my mother treating the rest of us; she seemed to always feel slighted. I was aware of both the way she was treated and the way Gasha perceived it. I had conflicting feelings about my sister. There was a part of me that believed she didn’t belong and I’m not proud of those feelings. At the same time, I felt sorry for her.
Gasha’s downward spiral was difficult for me to watch. She married trailer park trash and she had a child with him. Freddie shot himself in the head early on in their marriage. I remember visiting her in Knoxville, Tennessee and thinking that there was hope that she’d come out on top of all the drama in her life. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Bulimia took hold of my sister in her early 20s and never let go. All four of my mother’s daughters suffered from some sort of eating disorder as a result of my mother’s obsession with weight. Gasha lived in complete denial — the disease and the consequences of starving one’s body of nutrients destroyed her life. Her two children suffered the most; watching her abuse herself on a daily basis, had to be impossible to observe. Out of respect for my niece and nephew, I will refrain from commenting on their current lives.
The question is, was it the lie that destroyed Gasha’s life or was it her personality and the circumstances of her illness? I guess we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that shielding her from the truth all of those years was not productive or right. If her biological father had stepped up and assumed his role asher father, might she have been stronger and felt more loved? I have to believe she would have embraced her father and adjusted to her circumstances. After all her two oldest sisters had the same biological father. But after being adopted by my father, Gasha, was instead forced into a situation she did not ask to be in and was prevented from being with a man she might have loved. I’m not a psychologist, however, I am fairly certain that Gasha was thrust into a situation that would have caused anyone pain and anxiety. It was a lot for a young person to take on and in truth, she had to endure the ramifications of this terrible lie, on her own. It’s a small miracle she was even with us into her forties.
When faced with the reality of a difficult truth or keeping a secret, always go with the truth. As hard as it is to share that secret and cope with its consequences, that reality is far better than living a lie.
“When you check your own mind properly, you stop blaming others for your problems.”
Many have shared their personal drug experiences, however, mine is particular to me. This piece is not 100% inclusive. The two I haven chosen to share are my first and my worst experiences. My hope is that my readers will recognize and heed the dangers of certain types of drug use. You may have to stay with me a bit before I get to the lead; my apologies, I’ll get there eventually.
I was that rare college freshman that didn’t smoke cigarettes or pot, didn’t drink alcohol, and had never tried illegal substances. If someone had shown me marijuana, I’m not sure I could have identified what it was. It had nothing to do with religion or parenting, in truth, as a child, I had never been exposed to marijuana or any other non-prescription drug. I had no idea how sheltered from “real” life I had been and then I moved into a dormitory (residence hall is the proper nomenclature).
There was so much pot in my dorm, I’m certain that I must of had a residual high fairly often. I was somewhat idealistic back then; convinced that if I smoked pot on Friday night, I would be taking acid trips by Sunday. I chose to stay away from drugs altogether, that is until I met Kim and Nancy. Kim and Nancy were Nursing students in their senior year at UNCC. They had posted an ad looking for a third roommate and by my sophomore year, I hated living in a dorm. I liked Kim and Nancy and they were offering the largest of three bedrooms in an apartment complex that had an outdoor pool. Certain that I had struck gold, I moved in. I have very fond memories of sitting around in the evening in front of the television watching silly comedies; reliving Kim and Nancy’s dating stories and horrors. They often rolled a joint or two and I would always take a pass when they offered.
This went on for months, but I was a bit curious about what it might feel like to be high. You never forget the first time and the first time was quite the event. I was pretty sick with the flu one night during an evening in front of the television. Nancy was practicing her nursing skills on me and frankly, I was happy to give in to her mothering. I was curled up in a quilt feeling achy and coughing my brains out. Kim was not quite as maternal; however, she was famous for claiming that pot was the remedy for just about any illness. She must have offered to roll me a joint six or seven times that night, before I finally caved. I figured that I was mature enough not to allow a couple of tokes to lead to drug addiction. Minutes later I was hallucinating. I’m still not sure whether it was the high fever or the pot, but I imagined two guys living behind my eyeballs conversing with one another about what was happening in my brain. It was surreal, strange and scary; I didn’t go near that shit again for years.
Fast forward to me in my early thirties. I was living in Manhattan, newly divorced from my wife, completely out of the closet, and fairly tired of my ho-hum existence. A new friend told me about a beach house rental share on Fire Island outside of New York City. I finally had some money in my pocket and the desire to live a little . . . perhaps live a lot. It was there that I made a friend whom I will not name. He was not like anyone I had ever met: he was a little more than 10 years older than me, he was smart, creative, and we really hit it off.
Our friendship led me to one of the wildest nights of my life; hence the title of this piece (I told you I’d eventually get to it). We would sit around at the beach house talking about the old Saint parties in Manhattan’s disco heyday. I was living in North Carolina when these parties took place, but they were legendary. Apparently, there was lots of drugs and other illegal activities. I learned that although the Saint no longer existed, Saint-at-large parties were scheduled several times throughout the year. My interest in experiencing one of these parties peaked and this was the friend who would make it happen for me. I was assured that my drug intake would be minimal and that he would be by my side the entire evening and for the most part, he was. The plan was to get a good night sleep and go to Roseland — the club where the party happened — at 4:00 a.m.
I’m not sure I can convey my excitement. I didn’t eat for a month so that I would be lean, I visited the gym more often than usual, and I shopped for dancing clothes; tight jeans and a muscle-tee. By the time the party came around I was primed and ready for the night of my life. My newfound freedom and sense of adventure had me thinking that anything was possible. I remember trying to take a disco nap, but I was way too excited to sleep. I was showered shaved and dressed by 1:00 a.m. and I had to sit in my apartment on the upper East side and just wait for 3:30 a.m. to come. I took a taxi to the club because I wasn’t sure what the subways would be like at that hour. When I arrived, I saw my friend standing by the club entrance. We embraced and we verbally and physically expressed our anticipated wild night.
I recall a long line at the coat check counter. I believe most people were retrieving their coats, as opposed to checking them. While we were on the line, my friend whispered that he had lost the drugs which were stuffed in his socks. My heart skipped three beats. My dream of dancing the night away was about to be shattered. We retraced our steps in this large, very dark lobby and there they were, on the floor, in the middle of this massive open space. I still can’t believe they were just sitting there in a small see-through plastic bag, for all the world to see. My friend grabbed the bag, high-fived me and we joyfully checked our coats. The plan was to take a tour of the club, purchase some bottled water and take the first of the party drugs in our stash. I had always believed in the importance of having mentors; people in your life who hold your hand and show you the way. Early on, I was very naive and afraid of many things — mostly because I didn’t know much about this world others experienced while most of us slept.
We toured the club with wide eyes. There were multiple levels, several different types of party music, a VIP lounge you could only peek into, and lots of half-naked men. I can still recall a short blast of chilly air each time the front and back doors opened. It was as if I was having the most vivid dream of my life; it was surreal and sublime and scary, all at the same time and I was loving every minute of it. At some point toward the end of our walkabout, my friend turned to me, handed me water and a small white pill and said,
“Take this baby cakes, and drink. Remember to hydrate throughout the night.”
I know for some, this is sounding enticing, but trust me, the worst of it is still to come.
This next part is a bit blurry, but I’ll attempt to lay it out for you. The ecstasy I had taken kicked in at some point and I was feeling pretty happy. While I was dancing, I saw someone I knew about 20 feet away on the dance floor. I told my friend that I’d be back and he said,
“I’m not leaving this spot. Come right back; I’ll be waiting.”
I found myself dancing with this friend and his friends and it was a blast. I noticed them passing a small vial and holding it up to their noses. One of them put it under my nose and motioned me to take it in; I was curious and stupid and did as I was told. I assumed it was coke, but at that point I was very high and didn’t care. Minutes later I found myself in the middle of this massive dance floor — honestly if was half a football field — and I did not recognize anyone around me. I asked someone where the restroom was and he pointed. Hoping to soon reunite with my friend, I joined a long line of men and several women, thinking that if I didn’t get to a urinal soon, I as going to wet my pants.
It took awhile, but I was finally standing in front of a urinal and to my surprise, it spoke to me. I can’t remember what the urinal said, but I can tell you it frightened me. It may sound funny, but trust me it was not. I later learned that I had done crystal meth, a very dangerous drug. It’s actually a tranquilizer used as a sedative for horses; strong to say the least. I glanced in the mirror on my way out of the restroom and my face looked distorted — I was paranoid and terrified. I went back to the dance floor to find my friend, but he was not to be found. It felt like I was going in circles; I kept seeing the same faces on the dance floor. I began to panic and moments later, my friend grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the floor. He gave me water and rubbed my shoulders. He told me to keep moving. I quickly calmed down; I closed my eyes and just felt the music move through my body.
The club was dark and the music was extremely loud and time appeared to be at a standstill, except of course that it wasn’t. At some point I looked over and my friend was dancing by himself and the dance floor around him was empty. I walked over and asked where all the people had gone. He replied, “Dear one, it’s 11:00 a.m.; they’ve all gone home.” We decided not to close the club down and headed for the coat check. My legs felt like they were weighted down with dumbbells and my mouth was extremely dry. I purchased water on the way out and drank an entire bottle before we got to the exit. The doors opened and daylight flooded in. I’m not sure why, but I was shocked that morning had come; the bright sunlight hurt my eyes.
I was glad to find my sunglasses in my coat pocket and although it was very cold outside, I was warm and fairly alert. We headed toward the subway and parted at the station; I was headed to the upper east side and my friend lived on the upper west side. I could not remove my sunglasses on the subway because the light was too bright for my eyes and I did not want to be seen. I sat in the corner of the subway car, slouched and paranoid, vowing that I would never do this again.
When I arrived home to my apartment I realized that my heart was beating rapidly and my mind was racing. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to die. I had never felt this way before and I was pretty sure I was overdosing. I was resigned to my fate. I started to clean the apartment so that when I was found, my apartment would be spotless. It’s difficult to understand why cleanliness mattered, but in fact, it was my reality at the time. I must have cleaned for several hours, thinking that at some point I would just collapse. I looked at the clock and it was 4:00 p.m. and it had been over 30 hours since I had any sleep. I showered, put on a tee-shirt and my underwear and crawled into bed. Before closing my eyes my last thought was this: my life has been full and I have been fortunate. I will not wake from this sleep, but that’s okay, I have lived a good life — I swear this is true.
I did not die that day. I did, however, learn a valuable life lesson about the taking of unknown drugs. I was one of the lucky ones. Many, many have been in a similar situation and perished. I don’t believe I am being overly dramatic. I knowingly took a drug without knowing what it was. The friend I bumped into on the dance floor must have thought I knew what I was doing; he was not to blame.
Something like this never happened again and I plan to keep it that way.
The trigger my mother squeezed on a .45 Colt rifle in the woods of upstate New York that summer night will be an image captured and cemented in my mind for a lifetime.
I’m the teenager with the shaggy brown hair unloading my stepfather’s jeep c.1973
I was an overweight, troubled, 14-year-old, with a great deal of anger. My stepfather, Frank, reluctantly accepted that I came with the package when he married my mother. I’m sure on some level he knew I was gay and that turning me into a “real man” was either hopeless or a waste of his time. But try he did, as often as he could. As far as my mother was concerned, on this particular dark night in the woods, he went too far.
As a family, we spent a lot of time camping in the summer. My mother and stepfather enjoyed being outdoors and it was an inexpensive way for a big family to travel. Frank relished seclusion in the wild, so we usually camped far away from the rest of civilization. There was a lean-to (three-sided housing structure) camp high in the New York Adirondacks called Pharaoh Lake. We would spend hours in Frank’s loaded-up jeep to get to the camp. We would have to get out of the jeep and hike the last hour because the trails were steep and rocky, it was too dangerous to ride up in the vehicle. To be fair to my mother, the safety of her children was paramount.
Our family trips would start out on a positive note. Frank and my mom were eager to get us out of the city and they looked forward to time with each other in their own private lean-to. Unfortunately, drama was a big part of my mother’s life and it almost seemed that she lived to create as much of it as possible. This trip upstate would be no exception.
My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973
We had a pleasant enough first few days: hiking, fishing, target practicing with Frank’s rifles; rifles he proudly displayed on the back wall of the open lean-to — I’m talking four or five rifles. We were instructed to stay away from the guns and I’m assuming he hid the bullets. Frank was stern and if you were smart, you did whatever he asked you to do; especially when he was drinking. I usually responded to instructions with a grunt or a nod.
My chores were fairly simple. I would be responsible for gathering wood for fires, sweeping up the campsite, storing the boating equipment; for the most part, doing these things without having to be told. For some reason, I never knew why, my mother was fairly agitated a few nights into our trip. She’d snap at any of us who had anything at all to say; especially laying into Frank (later in life she was diagnosed as bi-polar). She prepared the usual campfire meal of spam, potatoes and some canned vegetables. We all ate quietly so as to not upset her any further.
Dinner was over, my sisters cleaned up and darkness descended on the campsite. Frank stoked the fire with one hand and nursed a glass full of Canadian Club with the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag with a flashlight and a novel. I kept to myself growing up. My siblings liked to play cards and horse around; I wanted no part of it. I was no angel mind you. I was defiant and arrogant most of the time; feeling fairly superior and smarter than the rest of my siblings — they called me Big Cheese. My cocky attitude didn’t sit well with Frank. Whenever he had the opportunity, he’d try to set me straight. I was deep into my novel when I heard my name called several times. I walked out of the lean-to to see what was up. Frank told me to take the empty water cans to the stream to fill them. I asked him how I was going to do this with it being so dark on the lake.
With his back to me, Frank responded, “Take a flashlight and holler if you need help.”
My mom must have heard this and shouted, “Oh no Frank. He’s not going out on the lake by himself.”
We had a small boat with a trolling motor and the stream was a couple of miles from our campsite. I was fairly certain the man had lost his mind because it was pitch black on the lake and I was wasn’t very good at navigating the boat even in broad daylight. I don’t recall there was much of a moon that night. They argued back and forth for a while. My mother suggested that he send Frank’s son, my stepbrother Larry, who was a few years younger than I. Frank continued to insist that I go to the stream and I figured my mother would convince him otherwise. Voices were raised and my siblings all sat silently waiting to see how this one would play out.
Frank finally shouted, “He’s going Lou and that’s the end of it.”
This next part happened so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it at first. My mom ran to their lean-to and grabbed the .45 Colt. She cocked the trigger and aimed the rifle at Frank. The kids watched in horror as my mother ran down a list of reasons why she was going to shoot him. My sister Grace’s finger nails broke through skin on my arm and my brother Leo dropped to the ground to hide behind me; he would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Frank seemed genuinely frightened, although I’m still not sure if the rifle was loaded; Frank would have known. He actually had the presence of mind to point to us standing off to the side.
“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”
My older sister Kathy actually walked toward my mom to plead with her.
“Put it down mom, he’s not worth going to prison over.”
My siblings and I were probably all thinking what my sister was able to say. My mother eventually put down the rifle. Frank left the campsite with Larry and the water cans and was gone for quite a while. My mother apologized to us for scaring us. I secretly cheered her on, hoping I’d have one tenth of her chutzpah when I got older. My mother and Frank thrived on this kind of insanity and they’d usually kiss and make-up pretty quickly. But not this time. While Frank and his son were getting water, my mother instructed us to pack. It was our usual bedtime mind you; I was hoping she wasn’t serious.
When Frank got back to the campsite, we were all standing by the trail with our packed bags.
My mother said, “We’re leaving Frank. I’m done.”
He tried to reason with her, but she was fairly resolute. She let Frank know that we were going to walk down the mountain and find our way home. At this point his anger and drunken state prevented him from putting up a fight.
“Do whatever the fuck you want; I’m done too.”
We hiked in the dark for over an hour until we got to the road leading to the highway. I’m not sure what my mother was thinking; I’m not sure she was thinking at all. The six of us were walking on the road for maybe twenty minutes when Frank drove up beside us and told us to get in. It took some time, but my mother finally caved and we all climbed into the jeep. My mother was crying hysterically and some of my brothers and sisters were weeping as well. I was numb; wondering when and if the drama would end.
They argued parked on the shoulder of the road and then finally decided to pull into a nearby motel. We were six hours drive from home and Frank had been drinking heavily; there was no other option. I don’t recall getting any sleep. I was only 14 years old, but I was certain that I could survive on my own, therefore, I plotted my escape. Just as soon as we returned to Brooklyn, I was going to talk to my father and move in with him. I dreaded the idea of living in his dark and dreary studio, but anything was better than the life I was living.
The following morning, my mother came to our motel room to wake us. She told us that she and Frank had made up and that we were going back to the campsite. I’m sure that I rolled my eyes and silently protested. To my mother’s credit, she didn’t blame me for their argument. She kissed the top of my head and assured me that things would get better. She was optimistic and convincing and because I’d heard this before, I doubted her. I changed my mind about moving in with my father; I always did. As insane and chaotic as our household was, truth be told, I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere else. This was my life and until early adulthood, I believed it was perfectly normal.
Much of my youth is a blur; I guess your mind sorts it out for the sake of self-preservation. Today, quiet means everything to me and my primary goal in is to avoid drama. Admittedly, that’s not always the case; in truth, there is a little bit of momma in me.
Alternative fact: A different version of the story . . .
This particular camping incident is fairly vivid in my mind for obvious reasons; however, there is one part of the story that I am not sure about. My mom may or may not have fired the gun. There is a tiny part of my brain that has her pointing the gun up to the sky and pulling the trigger; you know, for dramatic effect. I figure one of my brothers and sisters will read this and tell me which version is correct. It just seems like something my mom would have done. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her. I don’t think she would have minded retelling the story; she wore these memories like a badge of honor.
Fantastic offer for the holidays
I have written about this beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Faro a few time and just learned that they are offering a Christmas package that would be a special gift under anyone’s tree. If you’re in the Algarve or coming to the Algarve, Mercedes is not your typical vacation spot. I took these photos just a few weeks ago when I spent some time there. Paco (their pug) is a wonder.
Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018
Check in: Dec. 23rd
Check out: Dec. 27th with late check out (subject to availability)
Breakfast included each day
Meals (wines: white, red and vintage port included with dinner Dec. 24th and lunch Dec. 25th)
Dinner: Dec. 23rd
Lunch: Dec. 24th
Dinner: Dec. 24th (traditional Christmas eve Portuguese dinner)
Lunch: Dec 25th (traditional Christmas day Portuguese lunch)
I was about 85 percent finished writing my blog this week and I began questioning why anyone would want to read what I had to say about coping with pain. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to remind myself that I wasn’t writing my blog for anyone else. That certainly makes it easier to put it all out there. I’ve been in therapy on and off, mostly on, for over 35 years. I’ve learned the kinds of things I have to say to myself or do for myself, in order to better deal with any kind of anxiety or emotional pain that I might be experiencing at any given moment. By now I know that there are certain times of the day, night and year that are more difficult for me. I also have a better understanding of how I respond to various remedies.
I do not suffer from clinical depression. I have friends and family members who have been diagnosed with the disease and so I know what it looks like. What I experience almost every day is your average, run-of-the-mill worry. It’s unpleasant, tiring, and I wish it didn’t exist, but I know that it’s normal. It’s hard to smile when I’m feeling badly. I know that the work I have done to mitigate that worry has helped me to achieve a certain amount of success and joy in my life. The way I see it, there are multiple ways to deal with any issue, problem, concern, crisis, situation; whatever you choose to call it. I’ve tried nearly every remedy known to humankind and I have figured out what works and what doesn’t work. When I find something that works, I write about it in my journal. It’s like anything else in life, if you repeat it several times and in several ways, it becomes more deeply rooted and hopefully, eventually, sticks and becomes part of your routine. There are good habits and bad habits; it’s the good habits you want to hold onto.
We’ve all had to deal with some kind of physical or emotional pain in our lives. How we cope with pain is different for each of us. Our coping mechanisms come from different places. Some of it is genetic, some learned, some a reflex reaction, sometimes a friend will insist that you do something because they believe it will help, and sometimes relief comes in the form of a pill.
Although I think physical pain can be difficult, challenging, and hurt badly, I will be focusing on emotional pain. Unfortunately, I’ve had way too much experience with both; however, physical pain requires specific remedies and I’m not in the business of spouting off medical advice.
Emotional Pain and What Works for Me
Meditation — I’ve tried many different types of meditation and by now, I know what works for me. I have a friend who can sit and meditate for eight to ten hours. Although I admire his commitment and patience, I know that I cannot meditate for more than 20 minutes without getting antsy and irritated. What seems to work best for me is just to sit quietly for 10 to 20 minutes. No music, no spiritual guide; just quiet. Early on I learned this method where you push everything out of your mind; I hated it and found it frustrating. What works best for me, is to allow whatever thoughts that come into my consciousness to enter and whirl about a bit. Some thoughts come and go quickly and others need more time. It’s not necessarily problem solving or closure; it’s more organic than that. It is a way of allowing the thoughts that need to surface to float to the top and make room for others thoughts. Making time for meditation is challenging. Early on I had to schedule it. After 30 years of almost daily practice, I now meditate without giving the practice much thought. The beauty of it is that you can do it almost anywhere, at almost any time. I can’t say I meditate every day; however, it is a tool I know that I can easily call on when and if I need it.
Therapy — I am a firm believer is the power of therapy. Most of my therapists (I’ve probably had more than 10) have been social workers. I did have a Freudian therapist early on, but he was 110 and not way too weird. For me it has always been about having someone who will listen. I need to talk and having a stranger who has absolutely no emotional or physical connection, listen, has always helped. A good therapist knows not to give you advice or even tell you what to do. A good therapist will ask the right questions which will help you come to a resolution or solution on your own. I once had a therapist fall asleep during our session — not good if your suffering from self-esteem issues. I fired him immediately and it felt good.
Time — “Time heals all wounds” may be some of the truest words ever spoken. The difficulty lies in allowing time to pass. Impatient people like myself want emotional pain to pass quickly and have little patience for waiting it out. But as you know, the healing takes place over time and what is learned about oneself and the loss, is what is truly precious and essential for growth.
Friends and Family — I received a sympathy card from an acquaintance in the U.S. yesterday. It struck me that this individual took the time to write me a letter/card about my recent loss. She seemed to fully understand the extent of my loss and expressed her concern and affection, eloquently. We all have people like this in our lives. Although I am an atheist, I consider myself to be spiritual. It is as if these people are angels and they seem to have great insight about emotional pain and what might help you heal. My guess is that these individuals have suffered and that they fully understand the human condition. That kind of empathy is priceless and should be embraced and appreciated. I am grateful to my friends and family members who show me love, kindness and affection. I am not ashamed or too proud to ask for it when I need it.
Pets — a gift to humanity. These selfless animals that love us unconditionally can provide a tremendous amount of emotional support. The hardest part is saying goodbye when their short lives end. (I’m at a B&B with Sasha this weekend. I come to see Sasha whenever I need a pooch love fix. Sasha carries around a rubber pig in her mouth. Having you wrestle the pig out of her mouth and throwing it as far as you can, gives her great joy — this is the best kind of therapy.)
Being Good to Yourself — Do nice things for yourself and it will help you feel better. I admit that there are times that I make an attempt to treat myself to a nice meal or concert and end up going home; however, I do congratulate myself for trying. An early therapist taught me how to say, “I love you to myself,” frankly it was awkward and difficult at first. At a certain point I actually started to believe it and now I recognize how important it is to feel this way about yourself. It will give you tremendous strength and comfort. It feels like the love of a true friend.
Temporary Escape — I recently suffered a loss and could not stay in my apartment overnight; I was way too upset. I went to a bed and breakfast for the night and slept. Sleep is very important when you are in distress. Sometimes just removing yourself from the place where all the memories are, can be helpful. Travel can also make coping easier.
Food — Good, delicious food works for me. I don’t mean a gallon of ice cream or gorging food; I’m talking about really good food, made with love and care. If I can cook, I’ll make it myself; otherwise, I take myself to a place where I know the food is beautifully prepared. A good bottle of wine only makes it better.
Recreational Activities — Doing anything physical makes me feel better: walking, biking, hiking, the gym, swimming, skiing, tennis; the list is endless. Do it with someone you enjoy being with and it’s even more therapeutic.
The Good that Comes from Coping
I hate when people say things like, “This will build character” or “Time heals all wounds.” Of course I know that it’s true, but it doesn’t make me feel any better to hear it. What I prefer to hear is, “I’m here if you need me or if you want to talk.” What that tells me is that they care and that they understand what I need. There are some good things that come out of coping or healing:
we strengthen our inner resolve
we prove to ourselves that we can overcome adversity
we become a little stronger and better equipped to handle adversity the next time around
we get to know ourselves better
it helps us to concentrate on lasting positive memories
we are able to congratulate ourselves
people who might be going through similar angst will be inspired
it reminds me that I’m human
it helps me to appreciate and be grateful for the many good things