Fighting Your Own Impulses

Or Imposing Self-harm

Max Vakhtbovych

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.

Health Decisions

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.

Relationships

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 really not good with impulse control Picture Quote #1

Resources:

When Loss of Self-Control is Really an Impulse Control Disorder, Family First Intervention, March, 6, 2019

Is Impulsive Behavior a Disorder? Healthline, May 12, 2020

Alcohol Abuse, Harvard Health Publishing, December 2014

If you don’t mind sorting through some bullshit and aggrandizing, there is some great stuff on Goop (sample below):

Question of the Week:

Have you acted on an impulse that ended up being a disaster? How did you fix it or are you still trying?

Smile Blog Revisited

Coping With Lockdown

The Western Algarve Coast

This blog is more for me than for you. I recently learned that the Portuguese government will extend lockdown until early April. On top of that, my vaccine is months away and the two jabs could get in the way of travel. It’s been a difficult year, however, I have come to realize that there are several things that I now do and can do, to make lockdown more tolerable. I made a list which I believe is best left in my journal.

When you put it all down on paper, it’s a full life. Last year I read interviews that were done with elderly people close to the end of their lives: when asked, “Is there anything you would have done differently?”, they overwhelmingly responded that they would have worked less and spent more time doing the things they enjoyed. For the most part, I’m doing the things I enjoy, in and out of lockdown. Excellent life lesson, especially for someone who believes that we get one shot at making it count.

I should add that I am acutely aware of those all over the world who are far less fortunate; gratitude helps keep things in perspective. I must admit this all seems a bit trite considering the current condition of humanity.

Spring has arrived here in the Algarve; it’s warmer, greener, and hope is in the air. That makes me smile.

“ALWAYS WEAR A SMILE BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHO IS WATCHING.”

Gracie Gold

I want to smile more. I do. One would think that this would be an easy goal, but trust me, if you’re not inclined to smile, deciding to do so, just like that, is a difficult objective. I was born cynical, but coming up in my world, how could I not be. I also believe this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Was I cynical because of my genetic makeup or did growing up in a tortured household make me cynical. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call it a draw and say that both factors are the cause. The point is, I have to work at smiling and how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

“Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset.”

Ileana D’Cruz

Some Ways/Places to Practice Smiling

  • Tell yourself to smile every morning. You can do it when you’re brushing your teeth. It won’t take any more time out of your busy day. Soon it will be as routine as brushing; you won’t even think about it.
  • Add a little caveat to practicing your smile:  make it so that you cannot smile unless you add something you’re grateful for. For example:  this morning, before I brushed my teeth, I thought about how grateful I was that I slept well and then I smiled.
  • Practice while you’re doing something mundane — like when you’re on the treadmill at the gym or while you’re riding in a bus or on the subway.
  •  Look straight into a mirror and keep smiling.
  • Practice with a friend or family member. Let them tell you what they think of your smile and accept the feedback. Is it genuine? Too broad? Too big?

Be Your Own Motivator

I have a friend whom I met at a gym in Portland, Maine. He was struggling on an abdominal machine near where I was working out. He saw me watching him and asked me if I knew how to use the machine. I hopped on and did a few reps (gym lingo for repetitions just to show you how cool I can be). Chomba is from Zambia, he studied in Europe, he’s in his 20s and he’s quite a specimen; naturally I was pleased to show him how to use the machine correctly. Like any normal man, I preened and walked away triumphant. A few days later I saw him using the same machine and he was smiling ear-to-ear. Honestly, Chomba has the most genuine and beautiful smile I have ever seen. I noticed him using the very same machine on a regular basis. I finally approached him and asked him if he used any other equipment at the gym. He shared a big laugh and thanked me for showing him how to use the machine. I said, “Chomba, because I always see you on this ab machine, I am naming it the Chomba Machine.” From then on I when I would see him I would ask if he had done his ab reps on the Chomba machine that day.

Weeks went by of just saying hello in the gym and I thought it was time to become friends outside of Planet Fitness. I approached him and invited him over to my place for dinner. I was having a dinner party and I thought he’d be a great addition to my guest list. Chomba was delighted and came to my place with a nice bottle of wine. Everyone at party fell in love with him. He’s the kind of person who lights up the room and makes everyone feel special. That night I learned that he was a motivator working out of Boston. His firm was hired by companies to motivate their staff (Chomba if I’m getting this all wrong I apologize). What I loved more than anything is that he did not boast about his work or his life. We had to poke and pry before he came clean. Chomba is a modest fella. By the way, Chomba models now (lives in Portland, OR — fairly new) and always stays in touch. I’m grateful for his candor, his loyalty and his beautiful smile.

What Chomba has taught me is invaluable. Essentially, you can be your own motivator. You can do what he does, but in your own head. You can get yourself charged-up and energized whenever you feel yourself needing a little boost.

Experiment

Having been a sociology student in college, I often love to go back to my roots and do human interaction (behavior) experiments. I occasionally spend the day smiling all day just to see how people respond to it. I also enjoy seeing if it affects my mood.

I have to say that I get pretty amazing results:

  • People almost always smile back.
  • It sometimes feels like you’re waking someone up and suddenly they seem to come alive.
  • It makes me feel lighter.
  • The results make me want to do it more often.
  • Sometimes it makes strangers laugh; especially when I smile really big. I’m thinking, they must think I’m crazy, but who cares.
  • There is a reason for the saying “A smile goes a long way.”
  • I am in the middle of a very frustrating experience with an upgrade to my apartment. The person responsible for getting the work done has been slacking off and it’s sort of driving me crazy. The project began 14 months ago. I decided to give him an ultimatum knowing that he might walk away from the job. Instead, when I saw him I smiled. It appears that is not what he expected and I believe he may be close to finishing the job. Yesterday, I received a call from a man who will hopefully complete the job this week.

Current Mood

One of the interesting things about blogging is how your mood and thoughts change as you work through a particular thread of thoughts. I woke today in a non-smiling mood. You may relate to what I’m feeling, except that I don’t quite know what I am feeling. What I do know, is that I don’t feel like smiling. I had an interaction yesterday that was troubling and it’s still on my mind. I’m pissed to put it bluntly.

I am going to work through these feelings and thoughts by forcing a smile and see where it takes me.

The next day:  the left home for a bed & breakfast about 90 minutes away. Sometimes it helps to be away from your familiar environment. I found myself smiling just as soon as I boarded the train.

Smiling is one of those things you can do to brighten your day and/or someone else’s day, and it cost nothing! Nada! Zip! Zero cents! In fact, studies have shown that it’s good for you too.

Image result for is smiling good for your health
Why Smile?

http://www.waynedentalarts.com The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. … The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.Jun 25, 2012

There’s Magic in Your Smile | Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge…/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

There’s Magic in Your Smile

Surprising Health Benefits of Smiling

Two things that help me smile: Giving when I can and volunteering my time. Never underestimate the power of compassion and charity.

Question of the week:

What makes you smile?

You Can Go Now

I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. I held my mother’s icy cold hand and I whispered, “You can go now mom.”

Mom and me. I know, I’m working that stache.

“Why don’t you feel good about this? Wasn’t it the kindest thing to do?” If my intention was to have my mother pass in order to end her suffering, that would have been kind; however, that was not my intention. In truth, I thought it was wrong to keep her hooked up to a respirator and I knew she’d try to hang on for as long as she could; mom was fiercely stubborn. We had a complicated relationship and I was tired of the drama; I was done. Before you start hating me, I’d like you to consider a few facts. For one, my mother had been in and out of hospital for several years and near death numerous times. She was resuscitated and even though she told my stepfather that she did not want to be, he went ahead and ordered it anyway. She had not completed the paperwork in hospital, no surprise to me or my siblings.

When I say that my relationship with my mother was complicated, I believe an explanation is warranted. In many ways, throughout my youth and twenties, I was the parent. My mother was a heavy smoker (even during her pregnancies), a gambler, cheated on my father, a thief (insurance fraud and groceries to name two), and she did psychological damage to all four of her daughters. Three out of four of my sisters had eating disorders due to my mother’s unhealthy weight obsession. I was constantly reminding her about the hazards of smoking, begging her to cut back on that and gambling, and soothing a great deal of her self-inflicted pain. So when I said, You can go now mom, it was after many years of shame and disappointment, as well as a strong belief that modern medicine was prolonging the inevitable. Some people will say that I judged her harshly; others will say that it does not matter how awful she was, I should not speak ill of her. You can be certain that my living siblings would attest to my account of our upbringing and the chaos she rained upon us as adults.

When she was alive she would actually say, “I know you’re going to write a book about me when I die.”

That was her way of telling me to wait. The irony is that I loved her. When family members would scorn her, I would jump to her defense. But deep down I believed that she was selfish, disingenuous and should probably not have given birth to children. True, she had an abusive father and she got pregnant when she was 16 years old, but that does not excuse the poor mothering; she knew better. I’m certain she knew better.

So when I told my mother that she could go, she had a week prior contracted an incurable blood disease in hospital, and she was in a medically induced coma. My niece was with me in the room and witnessed my mother’s reaction. Nicole was close to my mother, her grandmother, and she agreed that my mother would be better off letting go. Being that mom was in a coma, I expected her to continue to lie still; what I was to tell her was more for me than for her. After I whispered, “You can go now mom,” my mother violently shook her head from side-to-side. I’m not going to lie, it was unexpected and scary.

We shared this with her doctor, who shrugged and said, “It could have been an involuntary reaction or she could have been in the middle of a dream.”

Nonsense. My mother heard me and she was letting me know she didn’t want to die. The whole damn affair was extremely frustrating. Frank, her husband, had been ill for quite some time. He had dementia and other issues and he was in no position to be making decisions about mother’s life. The hospital was concerned about liability and nothing else. My mother remained in a coma for two more weeks until my stepfather gave the go ahead to pull the plug. Frank was not my favorite person in the world and considering how much he supposedly loved my mother, it was ironic that he spent most of her memorial service flirting with a younger blond.

As you can see, I haven’t been able to just shrug-off the experience at her deathbed. It’s been almost 10 years and I still see mom shaking her head violently. Perhaps I remember her obstinance more than her actual reaction. These demons we carry around are quite strong and they show their potency at times when we are most vulnerable.

Despite my resentment and anger, I miss her dearly. She gave birth to me and mothered me for over 50 years; if I didn’t have strong feelings, I’d be an amoeba. I miss how she eagerly took my calls, how she put up with my badgering about the past, her unapologetic sense of humor, her ability to make strangers feel better, her fighting spirit, the happiness she would always try to portray, the grace in which she dealt with losing two children, when she worked as a bartender until 2:00 a.m. every night to ensure there would be food on the table, her support for my education, the way she dealt with my sexuality, her reputation for being one of the best poker players in North Carolina, and her sloppy, but well intentioned cooking.

Perhaps I did want her to leave us peacefully and without guilt, perhaps that was my intention after all.

I dream about her a lot — another sign that her life and death matter. I do forgive my mother, but I have not forgiven myself. The takeaway for me: dream of her for the rest of your life, that way she will remain with you. And for you: None of us should throw stones, especially when personal perfection is so far from reality.

____________________________________________________________________

Nothing like homemade pizza. Two tips: 1)pizza freezes well and 2)use parchment paper on your pizza peel and you won’t have to worry about the dough sticking to it — remove parchment halfway through the cooking process.

Lockdown continues in Portugal. I’ve given up guessing how long this will last. Most planned holidays have been scrapped or rescheduled. Cuba in April is precarious; hoping the U.S. in May sticks.

Question of the week:

Does something from your past haunt you? How do you cope with it?

Infidelity Is Not For A Child’s Eyes

Adults can be terribly stupid, reckless, and naive; that’s fine as long as they’re not hurting anyone but themselves. Unfortunately, supposed grown ups sneak around deceiving one another without giving much thought to what children see and hear. The damage that is done, cannot be undone.

My Story

Our bedrooms were across the hall from one another, with a shared bath a few feet between us. I liked being near my parents room when they were laughing and loving, but I didn’t get to hear that very often. Instead, I fell asleep to biting words and hostile resentment. I wondered then as I wonder now, if they truly believed their closed door kept the bitterness inside.

I must admit, as a child, I mostly placed blame on my mother. She was always in control, she set the tone and made it clear that it was her house. Considering seven children slept not far from one another, her house was always fairly quiet from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.(the young ones were put to bed at 7:00 p.m.). That was until my father came home from work. As a restaurant worker, he kept late hours. I was never up to see him come in; I wasn’t asleep mind you. I would hear my mother verbally attack him as soon as he walked through the door. I’ve blocked out most of the vile things I recall hearing her say — it was mainly about leaving her alone to deal with us. He was a man of few words, English was his second language and he couldn’t always find words to express himself.

Physical and verbal abuse took place in my parent’s bedroom for the first eight years of my life (I’ve blogged about this in the past), but it was the final months that caused the most damage. I woke up one night to the sound of a man’s voice that was not my father’s. I laid awake quietly listening. It was masculine, but inaudible; from my mother I heard whispers and quiet laughter. I shivered in my bed and waited. My mother finally left her bedroom with a towel wrapped around her body. For some time, I heard only the sound of water running in the bathroom. The water stopped and a man I didn’t know, also wrapped in a towel, left the bedroom to join her. I was confused. I was fully aware that something bad was happening, however, I was powerless to act on it.

The same deception was repeated several nights a week. I told no one for fear of revealing a secret I wasn’t meant to know. I tried to push my mother’s cheating out of my mind, but it haunted me day and night. My mind wandered in the classroom and I became distant from my brothers and sisters. At night I went to bed, made myself as small as I could and mostly wept. My mother didn’t notice the change in my disposition; she was far too busy having an affair. An affair I wish I hadn’t witnessed first hand.

Over 50 years later I am still not sure how my father found out about my mother and Frank. It was messy for all of us for a time, but my mother and father eventually divorced and she married Frank. I never revealed to my mother what I saw during those painful months. However, I did confront my mother and Frank before they were married; I told them that I’d seen them kissing where the both worked. After all, I never did actually see them being intimate, it was circumstantial evidence that proved their guilt. They denied any intimacy, claiming they were only friends; more lies. I hated this man for exposing me to their disgusting deceitful behavior and I hated my mother for being a part of it.

When you’re eight years old and your innocence has been peeled away, you feel emotions you are unable to identify. I no longer trusted the people I loved the most. My father was abusive and neglectful, but I felt sorry for him. In my eyes he was a victim. Did my father’s physical abuse lead to my mother’s deception? Did he push my mother to the point of lying to herself and her children. It always seemed to be my mother who created the chaos and deceit. As far as I knew at the time, no one else in my immediate family knew of the affair. My oldest sister later told me that she had an idea that it was happening. She and my mother had a strained relationship; she hated her for valid reasons I won’t go into here.

Years of therapy revealed hidden anger and pain that stemmed from what I had seen and heard. I know now that extramarital affairs are common and that children often know that something deceitful is taking place, even if they were not exposed to the actual act. I wonder if mothers and fathers consider what a child might be going through when they engage in such deception? I don’t believe they do. They delude themselves with lies and pat themselves on the back for being discreet.

I won’t go into all the ways that my mother’s affair has impacted my life. I have made apologies to those whose lives I have hurt as a result of my own dysfunction and mistrust. The good news is that I am learning to trust again. I am learning how to forgive. I am learning about the power of a nurturing love. I am learning how a parent is obligated to protect a child’s innocence, not take it away. I am still learning why I have pushed away anyone who has tried to love me deeply and unconditionally. I also know that I can be quite righteous and annoyingly vocal. The work is difficult, but it must be done.

I have chosen to live alone as I work through these deeply rooted issues. The absence of drama at this point in my life is an absolute necessity. Keeping the noise volume low, allows for a more rapid repair.

It should be noted, I do not write to elicit pity, I write to enlighten those who may not know the pain they are causing or the hurt they are inflicting on their children.

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-infidelity/201305/should-the-children-know-youve-had-affair

Children of Infidelity . . .

https://www.gosmartlife.com/surviving-infidelity/talking-to-your-children-when-youre-on-the-rebound-from-infidelity

I’m happy to see researchers and specialists are writing about this topic. I’m still not certain most parents recognize the damage infidelity causes.

Location this week:

I was away from home for few days in the Eastern Algarve this week. Not very concerned about COVID-19 because there are no tourists in the Algarve right now. I like to think I’m doing my part by supporting the Portuguese hospitality industry. If you’re looking for a beautiful, reasonable, quiet sanctuary, I recommend this place:

Espargosa Monte de Baixo & Art https://www.espargosamontedebaixo.com/en-us in Castro Marim, Algarve, Portugal

Goodbye Brother

My brother Anthony and me shortly before his passing

Brotherly Love

You have to have a brother to truly understand the bond between brothers. My brother Anthony was a royal pain in the ass. He was confused, angry, reckless, often the victim, funny, loving, and he was my brother. Although not diagnosed as such, we are fairly certain he was bipolar and clinically depressed. We lost Anthony over twenty years ago (June ’99) and the “what ifs” and “if I’d known” still creep into my conscious mind quite often.

I don’t want this to be a eulogy or a lesson in dealing with loss. I don’t want it to be about what was or might have been. I certainly don’t want it to be about me. I want this to be about human failure and where it takes us. How do you learn to forgive another and yourself for just being human and why is that so difficult.

Anthony died of a drug overdose. He had been clean for a long time prior, however, a major life setback sent him out on the streets to purchase a lethal dose of heroine. My sister Grace found him lifeless, needle in arm. Nobody saw it coming.

Seven years prior we were walking on the beach in Puerto Rico; a conversation that shook me to my core resurfaces periodically. My brother was about to become a father. He had been clean for a number of years and he was very much in love with his wife. He was hopeful, excited, and cautious. Toward the end of our walk he asked me to make sure that his child was well taken care of if anything happened to him. I was a bit angry that he would even suggest that his passing was a possibility. He had worked so hard to stay clean and he was my best friend. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that Anthony knew he would not live to be 40. I was dismissive, but agreeable; never thinking I would have to honor that pact seven years later.

What a Brother Knows

Your brother knows what’s in your head better than just about anyone. I’m not sure I can fully explain it. It’s a combination of sharing the same history, the same space, the same biology, similar thoughts, and love; most of all love.

My brother played by his own rules. He was always in some sort of battle — with himself and everyone else. We were as different as night and day, but we understood one another. There was a good deal of chaos and pain around us at home and we processed it differently. I shared my feelings and frustrations and Anthony kept it all in. I would say the wall is blue and Anthony would say it was green and then we would fight about it until we were too exhausted to keep fighting. I was two years older with strong opinions and most of the family on my side (or at least I thought). Anthony was probably stronger physically, however, his respect for me outweighed his strength. When he got angry, things were destroyed. We shared a bedroom up until our teenage years; the damage from his rage could be seen throughout the room. My mother seemingly ignored it and my father paid little to no attention.

Sibling Rivalry

Anthony and I were competitive in different ways. I was determined to do well academically and Anthony loved sports; he lived for it. Not only did he excel, but he was the envy of most boys we grew up with. Everyone wanted Anthony on their team and no one wanted me. My brother was aware of the bullying I was subjected to. He would fight my battles when I was out of sight. I later learned that he did not want to embarrass me because he was younger and smaller. Fortunately, I learned this early on and I could express my gratitude and appreciation while he was alive. The older brother is the one who should be doing the protecting.

Seeing Yourself

Looking at your brother, is like looking into a mirror. In Anthony, I saw my own distorted self-esteem and misguided rage. One cannot help but see similarities in the way information is processed and although you see differences as well, strong character traits have an overshadowing effect.

How can you not be shaped by the traumatic death of a sibling? One moment you are laughing and sharing life’s secrets and the next moment they’re gone. You can examine your sibling’s life and find meaning in their choices, their successes and failures, their laughter and their pain, and their love. You can learn from them and love more deeply by fully embracing their faults and failures — you are a better for having shared space on earth with them. Your brother can help you to see who you are and accept your own humanity; even after they’re gone.

Lessons Learned

Losing my brother taught me more about my own life than just about anything else I have ever experienced. Mortality is a huge slap in the face. You can temporarily ignore it, however, in the long run, you are forced to examine it. You ask yourself the big questions like: why I am still alive, does fate play a role in my future, what did he leave behind that I can learn from, and can I be a better person in his memory?

They say a parent should never have to experience the death of a child. My mother was a strong woman; drama and hyperbole were her go to responses to just about everything. She used my brother’s death as another way of getting attention. It would have been easy for me to call her on it and push her away, but cruelty is not one of my personality traits. I was patient and attentive, hopeful that the impact of his passing would ease. She eventually came to accept my brother’s death; however, the self-blame and remorse never ended and followed her to her death. She lost my sister Grace a few years after Anthony passed, but for some reason, she saw that death as a merciful one. As one can expect, losing two children made her paranoid about losing other children. I had to constantly reassure her that I was not using drugs and being safe. I was very much aware of the fact that my own death would kill her. As it is, she was a young 78 when she died and I was certain she hastened her own death in order to gain some peace.

My brother Leo and I became closer as a result of Anthony’s death. We have scolded one another for reckless behavior a number of times. Neither one of us wants to lose another brother. Our shared love of Anthony and his memory, have forged an unbreakable bond. We can never fill the void Anthony left in our lives, but we can try our best to love and enjoy our lives as a way of honoring his memory.

Anthony left behind a seven year old daughter. She is now a woman with children of her own. It would be unfair to comment on the impact her father’s death had on her life. As her Godfather, I hope life provides the answers she needs in order to understand the hows and whys that allow us to move on.

My Brother’s Presence

A number of years ago I was riding a mountain bike in a Mexican forrest. At one point as I picked up speed and became lost in the moment, I felt my brother’s arms around my waist. His strength fueled my momentum and bathed me in hope and joy. I know it was only moments, but it felt longer. That was the embrace of a soul I was fortunate to know and love. Anthony was with me that day and has been with me since the day I meet him in his bassinet 59 years ago. It is a brotherly bond that can never be severed and I am a better man for it.

Anthony to my right and below that, Anthony to the left of Leo.

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My Head Still Hurts

 

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In my sister AnnMarie’s Port St. Lucy home, April 2019. Kat in the middle and AnnMarie on the right.

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This is my older sister Kat (short for Kathy, which she doesn’t like to be called). I love writing or calling her ‘my older sister.’ No matter how old we get, Kat will be my older sister. I know when she reads this she’ll say, “You fucker.” I’m going to tell you a story about Kat and me. What I am going to tell you took place 54 years ago, so I can’t swear by some of the details. What I can promise is that it happened and for some reason unbeknownst to me, the incident has come back into my consciousness dozens of times since.

 

A Hard Hit on the Head

I was not a well-behaved child.  Two of my older sisters, AnnMarie seven years older and Kat, six years, pretty much took care of me throughout my youth. My sister Marguerite is older, but she did not live with us; her presence in my life has been significant as she is my Godmother and we share the same father. When I was a small child, my mother didn’t have the time or patience to be a mom. AnnMarie was stern and Kat was happy-go-lucky. They took turns babysitting for me and my younger siblings. I had a lot of energy and I rebelled against authority, I still do — rebel against authority. My sisters knew how to handle me. AnnMarie only had to look at me a certain way and Kat would sweet talk and bribe me. They never had to play good cop, bad cop; as rambunctious as I was, I respected them. I also knew at an early age, that it wasn’t fair that I was dumped in their laps.

Early on, I was their play toy. They diapered me, dressed me up, paraded me around in a baby carriage, and smooched me until I screamed for them to stop.

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I was two years old and it’s a 58 year old photo.

I got older and a bit harder to handle. This particular memory is vivid and somewhat painful and bittersweet. I was about six years old and it was Kat’s turn to babysit. I must have been wired-up and not listening very well because I remember my sister was not her usual cheerful self — keep in mind that if I was six, Kat was 12. Considering all that she was responsible for, a fairly mature 12 year old I’d say. I recall an ultimatum:

Probably something like, “Stop horsing around or I’ll go get AnnMarie.”

I continued to act out and Kat grabbed a glass platter (Kat says it may have been plastic, but I honestly believe it was glass) and broke it over my head. The platter broke into many pieces and I stumbled, a bit stunned, and a little dizzy. Kat must have regretted doing what she did, but I didn’t notice any remorse at the time.

She said, “That shut you up.”

Admittedly it did, but only for a minute and then I got up and said something I have regretted ever since.

“I hope you die in your sleep tonight.” Or something like that.

She told me to go to bed and to close my bedroom door. I’m going to say it was about 6:00 p.m. We were normally sent to bed at about 7:00 p.m.; which I still think was too early. I got under the covers and wept; I wept for a long time. Kat didn’t come in to check on me. I’m sure it was one of those tough love moments I remember so well.

The guilt I felt about what I’d said to my sister tormented me. What if she’d died in the middle of the night? I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like. I actually believed that I had the power to make her die just by saying the words out loud. I knew that the only way to prevent her death would be to apologize to her.

Sometime later that night, I left my bed to see if she was breathing. I tiptoed into her bedroom and saw that she was. Relieved, I shook her shoulder and whispered her name. At that time it was okay to call her Kathy.

“Kathy, I have to tell you something.”

She opened her eyes and said, “What’s up Chris?”

“I’m sorry I told you that I hoped you would die. I love you.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I imagined what could have happened had I not gotten to her in time. My sister smiled and lifted the covers, motioning me to climb into bed. I sniffled and wiped the snot from my face with my pajama sleeve and crawled under her blanket. I don’t recall ever sleeping with Kathy before or after, come to think of it.

She pulled me close and said, “I love you too, now go to sleep.”

It was at that moment that I learned about forgiveness and the importance of my words. I don’t believe I have ever uttered anything that hateful again in my 60 years of living. Of course I have been angry and I have said things I regret, but I have never wished death on anyone — well maybe one person, but since millions feel the same way, it doesn’t count. I feel like I was given a pass that night. Either somebody wasn’t listening or some angel from above gave me a reprieve — whatever it was, my sister was spared and I am forever grateful.

As time progressed, Kat was my confidant. When I was bullied at school, it was my sister I cried to; when I thought something bad was happening inside my body, it was Kat whom I told; and when I was ready to tell someone that I was gay, Kat was the first person I shared it with. On Kat’s wedding day, there were three men who could have given her away (her father and two step-fathers), but it was I she asked to escort her down the aisle. When my sister’s only child had a full body cast removed when she was two years old, it was me my sister wanted by her and my niece’s side, at hospital. When my sister was arrested for carrying a gun without a permit, I was her one call from the police station. In my late teens I left home and needed a place to live and my sister took me in; I should also note that I had my Great Dane, Dana with me. I never told my sister that I was in a very bad place back then and that her love and generosity saved my life. She probably knew.

Like most close relationships, our has had its ups and downs. Blame and who has been right or wrong is not important. What matters is that we have a bond that comes from a life of sharing pain and joy. That bond should never be broken or taken for granted.

I have a special bond with each of my surviving siblings. I am closer to some than others; I imagine this is natural. Personalities, daily life, history, all play a part in the symbiosis of our relationships; however, what binds us is love and moments we have shared and will continue to share.

Kat never broke another plate over my head or put a hand on me after that incident. I can’t speak for my sister, but it’s my guess that we both learned a life lesson that day. We are fragile creatures and our time here is limited. I’m at a place in my life where I only want to celebrate our love.

AnnMarie, the stern one, a few years ago. My sister’s strength and steadiness is and always will be an inspiration to me. 

 

 

From Troubled Boy to Troubled Man

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Me when I was two years old (I know, I was adorable). That’s my baby sister Debbie on the right.

I am not writing this blog so that you will feel sorry for me. In fact, I am only able to write about this chapter of my life as a result of having learned lessons and having done the hard work of self-reflection; by all accounts an on-going process. One big lesson:  do not dwell on who is to blame for your misfortunes. It’s all about looking toward the future. I am happy, looking forward to new adventures, and a hot mess — yes, it’s possible to be all these things at the same time. My hope is that I might help those who feel psychotic, lonely and lost. There is of course the added bonus of empathy from those who know me well or are just getting to know me.

 

Looking Back

Do people tell you not to worry? “Oh you’re fine; you’ll be alright” I think I may hate that more than people telling me I’m too sensitive. We all know people say stupid things all the time and I’ve learned that, for the most part, they mean well. Self-reflection may be more productive then listening to the advice of people who do not know you. Reflecting on what I was like as a child has always helped me to appreciate where I am today.

As I boy witnessing chaos all around me, I was always certain that it was all happening because of something I had done. I’d like to say that I grew out of that way of thinking. I would like to tell you that my mother sat me down and told me that none of it was my fault or that an elementary school teacher gained some insight into my family life and whispered that I was not to blame. I’m afraid that didn’t happen. Deep down I knew that I was a horrible little boy whose sins were the cause of all the terrible things happening around me. Some kids believe this and they cut themselves; some kids start taking drugs when they are nine years old or drink booze till they’re inebriated at eleven. Some kids take their own lives. I retreated to dark places and hid my shame. I bargained with God so that it would stop.

God, if you make my mom love me, I’ll be good for the rest of my life.  If you’ll just make the noise stop, I’ll clean the whole house tomorrow. God, if you make me stop thinking about men, I’ll go to church. Growing up Catholic was confusing; I found myself wanting to repent.

The chaos continued and I continued to find reasons to blame myself and hate myself even more than I already did. This self-loathing went on throughout my childhood. I’ve shared an incident in a previous blog that I frequently recall just to remind myself how much better life is today. On my 10th birthday, before blowing out my candles, my wish was to die before my next birthday. I was too afraid to kill myself, but if I wished hard enough, I was certain I would die. I thought about death a lot when I was a child. In my mind, it was the only way out. I firmly believe that children should not be dwelling on death.

For the longest time I thought it had something to do with my sexuality; or at least that’s what I told my therapist. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a need that was not being met. As a child, I needed to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved. I’m certain most children feel this way. What was different for me, and I’m sure others, was that since not all of my basic needs were being met, I carried that longing into adulthood and continued to search for belonging, acceptance and love. Often, I looked in the wrong places. There were times when I was so desperate for it, I put myself in a compromising position to have it. What followed was self-loathing and a lot of pain.

Escape came easy during the day; it was at night that the demons were harder to run away from. Looking back, I guess I had pretty good coping skills. I would always tell myself that if I did well in school, my life would improve and it did, by leaps and bounds. I also took myself out of that very negative environment as early on as I could. Being on my own at 16 years old wasn’t easy, but I was free and able to make my own decisions; good, bad or otherwise.

 

The Journey

Getting from point disaster to a better place isn’t easy and there is no formula for making it happen. It’s a combination of exercise (physical and mental), goals (long term and short term), meditation, therapy, gratitude, keeping your eyes on the prize, moderation in all things, forgiveness, listening, letting go, being true to yourself, loving yourself, and looking forward — not an exhaustive list. I’d throw a bit of luck in there too.

You put all that down on a list and it’s daunting to say the least. I also try to congratulate myself when I complete a goal and I start projects by taking baby step. If you try to do anything too quickly, you will either do a half-assed job or you will fail. Take it slowly, do the best you can and pay no attention to those who tell you it’s not possible.

 

Looking Forward

You can’t hear me, but I am sighing. I am constantly sighing. The various meanings are below, however, for me, it has been about relief. I am relieved that I no longer (for the most part) feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I intend to be easier on myself, to accept who I am, to be more forgiving of others, to be more grateful, to spend more time resting, to see more of the world and do it with intention, to care less about the things that do not concern me, and to smile/laugh more.

 

sigh

/sʌɪ/

verb
gerund or present participle: sighing
  1. emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar.
    “Harry sank into a chair and sighed with relief”
    synonyms: breathe out, exhaleMore

 

Troubled Boy to Troubled Man to Loving Myself

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Stepping out on a Friday night. I have to remind myself to look in the mirror and smile; keeping in mind that if you are the best version of yourself you can possibly be, well then, you’re okay. Not quite as adorable as the first photo when I was two years old, but none the worse for the wear.

Publishing when I finish a thought rather than waiting until Sunday. I hope that’s okay with my readers. Happy Gay Pride everyone; we’ve come a long way and have an even longer way to go.

What is Love?

Better yet . . . what is love to me?

“He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” -Benjamin Franklin

 

 

 

I’ve blogged about friendship, fear, loss, sexuality and so on, and so I thought that it is time for love. Must be all this talk of Valentine’s Day, although it’s not quite as commercial here in Portugal. Maybe it is and I’m just not aware of it.

Who am I to speak of love? I ask myself this question because I have had several failed relationships over the past 40 years. Perhaps that makes me as qualified as anyone else to pontificate on love. It is essential to question and examine; searching for answers that will help us to better understand ourselves and the world we live in.

 

How do I know that I am capable of loving?

This may seem like an odd question, but it’s important for me to begin by acknowledging (to myself) that I am certain that I have loved and that I continue to love deeply. My earliest memory of a love that was extremely intense and painful, was a childhood memory. I was in first grade, so I believe I was seven years old. My father was taking a month-long trip to Italy, his birthplace, to see his family living in Bisceglie. He had never travelled overseas and he had never been away overnight.

Bisceglie, Puglia

 

In my mind, Bisceglie was far, far away, and dad was going on an airplane and he’d probably never come back. Where these thoughts came from, I haven’t a clue. I vividly remember missing him badly and praying for his safe return. This felt very much like love. It was a love so strong it remains with me today and probably will until the day I die — I think of my father daily. Admittedly, I never felt this same love for my mother. I did love my mother, however, not with the same intensity.

I use that experience as my “love barometer” and I can say honestly that I only feel that kind of love for a handful of people and Giorgio, my pet whom I lost a few months ago.

About Bisceglie:  I’ve never been. I want to go, but I have always said that I would experience my father’s birthplace with the person I intend to spend my life with. I think it’s time to let go of that notion and just go. I believe it will be an important journey.

 

When was the first time I felt love?

I was four years old and I remember my sister AnnMarie crawling into my twin bed. She was 11 years old at the time. She whispered “I love you” in my ear and I purred like a kitten; a feeling of love washed over me and I said, I love you too.

I believe I remember this particular moment because AnnMarie was a substitute mother to me when I was a child; she took very good care of me; I was her doll. Perhaps I am mistaking nurturing for love? Something tells me the two go hand-in-hand.

 

Can you teach people how to love?

I imagine this question has been asked since humankind recognized love and gave it a name. Love seems to be one of the characteristics we share with the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve witnessed it in so many different ways in many different species. The love for a parent, a sibling, a friend and for others of our own species. We express this love in many ways and we do things, good and bad things, as a result of feeling love.

It appears that forces exist that attempt, successfully or unsuccessfully, to destroy our ability to love. I would say that we are all born with that innate ability; however, human beings sometimes, for whatever reason, attempt to destroy another human being’s ability or desire to love — it is the root of so many of our problems.

I have also observed that some individuals seem to be born with the great gift of a heart that is so full they inspire others to open up their own hearts. Love can grow larger just as easily as it can be extinguished. We can doubt, question, betray, harm, and walk away from love; this appears to be a trait that separates us from other animals.

 

The difference between loving someone and making love

I have never believed that sex and love are the same thing. Sex is an instinctual behavior. All animals have sex or seek sex with one another. I assume it all started as a way to procreate and then morphed into a pleasurable act. I won’t go into all that here; this is a blog about love. I do believe that sex is one way of expressing one’s love for another, but obviously love and sex are not mutually exclusive. I believe it’s dangerous to mix the two things up. Doing so has certainly created problems for me in the past.

 

How love changes as you age

Perhaps love doesn’t change as you age, but what does change is your understanding of love and your appreciation for love. I have become cautious and fearful. Opening myself up to love someone deeply:  something I’m working on; I have a long list.

 

The joy love brings

It was only a few months ago that I lost my dog Giorgio. When I think about unconditional love, it is Giorgio that comes to mind. I am skeptical when it comes to human beings loving one another unconditionally; I may have to be convinced. I’m fairly certain that no one has ever loved me the way Giorgio loved me. I was his human. I have come to realize that only those who have had a devoted pet truly understand the bond between an animal and a human. I know it’s not just because I fed him and took care of him. It’s unlike any other love that exists and I am forever grateful for having experienced that love at least three times in my life. I’m hoping I get to have it again someday.

 

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Giorgio posing for my friend Mauro Fermariello, an Italian Photographer. So grateful Mauro captured Giorgio for me — this was a beautiful gift I will always cherish.

Scientific proof (link)

 

The Ultimate Love

I’m not sure where I heard it first, but I think Ru Paul says it best,

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

When I first heard this notion of loving yourself I thought it was rubbish and I dismissed it without much thought for a long time. Then in my mid-thirties, I was sitting with my therapist and she said, “Do you love yourself?” My immediate thought was I need to find a new therapist and then I realized how much I liked her and I seriously considered her question.

In order to answer truthfully I had to spend the entire week prior to my next session pondering her question. I returned the following week and told her that I unfortunately did not like myself very much. I figured out that this is how therapists get you to stay in therapy longer — it was a hook. I jest, she convinced me to consider where this was coming from and why. I could easily blame it on my mother; she gave me permission to do so when I told her I was seeing a therapist. It would be too easy to do that so I decided to try to alter my thinking. My therapist told me that I should look in the mirror and say, I love you.” I laughed about that for weeks and then I tried it one day. It was admittedly one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. Oh, I could say it easily, but not without laughing in my own face.

I made a conscious decision to say it to myself before falling asleep at night and to mention it in passing to myself at various times of the day — out loud by the way. After a while, like anything else, it got easier and I actually started believing it. I would buy myself flowers at the farmer’s market, put them in a vase and present them to myself with, “I love you Christopher.” Why is it so easy to do this for someone else, but so difficult for ourselves.

The newly enlightened me does it all the time now. I take myself to dinner, buy myself plane tickets, shop for new clothes and each time, I remind myself that I am giving myself a gift and a big hug. It no longer feels awkward or weird; it feels natural. The added benefit is this:

When  you love someone you want all good things for them. You want them to be healthy and happy and to feel appreciated. When you love yourself, you want all of those things for yourself. You begin to live a healthier lifestyle for the sole purpose of feeling good for yourself. And people notice this about you. They smile and say things like, “It’s great to see you so happy,” or “You look terrific,” or even better, they stop expecting you to have another person to complete you. They actually recognize that you can be happy and single at the same time. I came to this realization not too long ago and it is hands down one of the greatest life lessons I have learned. There are many more lessons to learn; however, the ability to love myself and forgive myself, makes everything else just a little easier.

 

 

 

What Does Happy Look Like?

[I’m traveling tomorrow, so I decided to publish this week’s blog early. Sunday, February 3rd’s blog will be all about the Canary Islands.]

 

 

 

Thoughts about happiness has been occupying a great deal of my time lately. I’ve been taking stock of my life and wondering the following:

  1. Am I happy?
  2. What makes me happy?
  3. What do I need to do to be happier?
  4. Is it okay to settle for happy moments versus overall happiness?
  5. Are my expectations reasonable? Why or why not?
  6. How do I assess my own happiness?
  7. Do others interfere with my happiness?
  8. Do I make myself unhappy?
  9. What does being happy feel like?
  10. What were the happiest times of my life?
  11. Who makes me happy?
  12. Why does being happy matter?

I’m not going to go through these questions and answer them one by one. I am instead demonstrating where my head is at this stage of my life and how might create my own present and future. I’ll be sixty in a few months and whether I like it or not, age factors into my happiness. It’s a milestone that forces you to take inventory and consider your future.

There are ways to address this milestone that may be helpful. The following topics will be tackled in order of importance in my life at this time in my life:

Health

Health is a difficult reality. On one hand I want to life as healthy a life as possible so that I can enjoy a good quality of life; on the other hand there are many choices that I make that bring me joy, however, these choices have a negative impact on my health. For example, my daily 5:00 p.m. cocktail. I usually only have one and I know that by itself, that is not a bad thing, but there are a couple of other considerations:  1) the cocktail contains empty calories with no nutritional value, 2) when I’m with friends, I will give myself permission to have more than one, and 3) I also have a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. I am not an alcoholic and I don’t drink to get drunk. Still, I know that I would probably drop a few pounds if I stopped drinking. Truth is I enjoy that time of day when I relax and have a drink and I enjoy the taste of the cocktail or wine. I have made the conscious decision to continue drinking and monitor my intake; try my best to keep it at two or three portions a night. I have a very similar relationship with food, which also brings provides for a good deal of my happiness. Most of what I eat is fresh, healthy and delicious; however, there is that ten percent of my diet that I know is unhealthy. Again, one has to know oneself and choose wisely. And get a regular check-up to be certain that your body can tolerate certain things.

Note:  It doesn’t help that two of my dearest married friends had cocktails at 5:00 p.m. and ate what ever they wanted and had/have very healthy and long lives. One of them just recently passed away at age 95 and the other is alive and healthy at 90. Of course I know that everyone has a different genetic make-up and many, many other factors contribute to a long and healthy life.

I have always said that I’d rather live to be 80 and enjoy the bounty of life, then live to be 90 and deny myself much of what I truly love. This lifestyle choice doesn’t work for everyone. I am happy to say that I am almost 60 years old and medication free. I workout five days a week and only suffer the normal aches and pains that come with aging.

It’s odd how little we talk about our own path. We usually talk about other people and their habits or we generalize about society as a whole. It seems that people are either ashamed of their choices or choose to hide them. I wrote about my drinking habits this week in hopes of getting feedback from my readers. Am I kidding myself? Do my habits seem healthy? Unhealthy?

Home

The first view is the backside of my apartment and it represents my morning view. This morning, I watched the lunar eclipse. I have a clear view of Faro, the mountains and the morning moon. This view inspires me and reminds me that I am alive and that each day is a new and different day. The morning light is filled with color and most of the year I can watch the sunrise from my terrace. I also have a magnificent view of the Ria Formosa. The Ria is every changing and dynamic.

The second view is just after the sun has set in the evening. This view is facing southwest from the front of my apartment. This view represents the quiet of the evening — soft, diffused light

 

 

 

Front views at different times of the day:

 

There is a spot in my dining room where I can see both views. Depending on the time of day, every view is different and new. It’s like slowly moving still photographs marking time. I stand in this spot at least once a day to marvel at the light and color.

Family

Family can complicate happiness. I love my family dearly and my happiness is all wrapped up in their happiness. I constantly consider the amount of control or the lack of control I possess related to their happiness. I can make my sister laugh or buy my brother a nice present; I can spend hours on the phone with my niece listening to her talk about esoteric adventures; I can daydream about how my mom would take us shopping as children, pass an underwear bin, grab a pair and put it over her head; and I spend a day remembering my three siblings who have left us, whose memories lift me up almost daily. What it all adds up to is how my family takes my happiness to a higher level. Without them I would be happy; however, not nearly as happy.

Friends

Good, good friends know when you are unhappy; they know it before you do. My friends question my emotional state of mind on a regular basis. My mind is always churning and when that’s happening I don’t always smile. When I’m not smiling, my friends get concerned and I have to reassure them that everything is okay. There are times when I am not happy — for my good friends, that’s okay.

I consider my good friends, my family. No doubt my good friends make me happy. Sometimes they make me sad, but I realize that peaks and valleys are a normal part of life.

Plans:  Travel, Entertainment, Dining and Adventure

Making plans and executing them is all about creating memories. I read an anonymous quote many years ago that went something like this:

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

Those words stuck with me and I have always tried to create moments or cement moments into my memory. Like the time I was mountain biking through a dense wooded area in Mexico. For a few moments I felt as free as a bird and more alive than I had ever felt in my life. It was exhilarating, I remember this happy moment as if it happened yesterday. I have many moments like this one and I recall these moments frequently.

Since arriving in Portugal, I have been creating these moments on an almost daily basis.

The Future:  Goals and Aspirations

I have come to realize that no matter how hard I try, there are certain “life concerns” that occupy my mind. When I’m in total control, rested, and have plans for the near future, I can keep these concerns in check and focus on my positive future plans. I also know that there are times when no amount of positive thinking or intervention by friends or family, can help put me in a happy place. When this happens I make myself as comfortable as possible and allow my thoughts to organically flow. The unhappy stuff usually passes pretty quickly when I allow myself to just feel or think whatever it is I’m feeling or thinking. I’ve learned that fighting my natural inclinations only makes me more anxious — know thyself.

I have fewer aspirations today then I had when I was younger. I can live with that.

 

A Funny thing happened on the way home:

My friend Susan is visiting from Maine for a few days. Unlike most of my friends, she reads my blog (as Bianca del Rio would say, “I ain’t mad”). So we were on a train to Tavira and I was talking about what I needed to include in this week’s “happiness” blog.

“I need to remember to make a note about how happiness directly correlates with being grateful, in my blog.”

We talked about how fortunate I am to be living this abundant life in Portugal. Not long after this conversation, we were sitting in the backseat of an Uber and the driver took us through a section of Faro I had never seen. The driver was surprised to learn that I live in Faro. She looked back at us in the review mirror and said,

“Faro is a happy place.”

What more can I say.

 

Feelings

 

 

 

Your State of Mind

One of the many things that happen when you grow older is coming to terms with your feelings (if you’re lucky). Coping with your feelings, identifying your feelings, sorting out your feelings, embracing your feelings, allowing yourself to feel, projecting feelings; you can see where I’m going with this.

Why Your Biology Runs on Feelings (click for more)

Feelings are complicated and so is being human; it comes with the territory. Some people are so wrapped up in themselves, they neglect to consider the feelings of others. Is it social media, the pressures of life, family, coping skills, socialization? What is it about the world around us that has made us less empathetic? Some would argue that humans have always been this way. I’m not sure about that. I recall a time when people had more time for one another and seemed to care more; I could be wrong.

I’m sure the news media has something to do with it. Around the clock news covering the world. It’s easy to become numb. The “this doesn’t affect me” attitude is also pervasive. I certainly do not have the answers; I only know how I feel.

Anger
I hate it when I get angry. Mostly because I feel that it could have been avoided. Harnessing my anger has been a long-term goal. When I’m well rested and relatively happy, any anger I feel is short-lived and can be sorted out. On the other hand, when I’m tired and things are falling apart around me, anger becomes a ball and chain around my ankle; impossible to get rid of. I can usually take a step back to process my anger and that seems to help; however, let’s be honest, sometimes the stepping back part just doesn’t happen. When I react based on emotion, it’s usually an outcome I regret.
Not long ago I was having lunch with a friend and she started spewing what I thought was bigoted hate speech. You’d recognize it in a minute; when the words come from privilege and a lack of empathy. No matter how hard I sit on my hands and push the anger down, I find myself gritting my teeth and becoming righteous. I don’t like it one bit. The person sitting across from you does not hear the words you are speaking, they only experience the anger. What it does do is justify their feelings. What they hear in their head is:  it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, he always has to start an argument or why does he think he’s smarter or better than I am? None of this is productive; in fact, it is counter-productive. Now we’re both angry and not speaking to one another and we both feel justified in our feelings. I shouldn’t speak for this person, let me say, I feel justified.
We seek out like-minded individuals in order to avoid this kind of anger, but you have to ask yourself if avoidance is the right way to go. I’m not providing answers, I’m merely asking questions; processing for myself and hoping it helps others.
Tears
I am often moved to tears. I cry while watching movies, I weep while reading novels, I’ve been known to shed tears in the middle of a conversation with a friend, I cry in my dreams and at poetry readings, and I have cried myself to sleep a time or two. My father was a big man and he cried; he taught me that crying was okay and I am forever grateful to him for this. I feel sorry for people who cannot cry. I highly recommend it.
Loss of Control 
I have come to terms with being a control freak. I like to be in control. If something bad happens and it is beyond my control, I get angry. I have a difficult time processing:  how did this happen, why did it happen, who made it happen? I guess I believe that if I were in control, bad things wouldn’t happen. This is of course, untrue. Many bd things have happened while I was in control. The helpless feeling that I have when something is out of my control is unpleasant and frustrating. I am learning how to “let go” of situations, events, and reactions that are out of my control.
Pain
The hardest thing about pain, emotional, physical or psychological, is coping — not denying it, but feeling it. Let’s face it, pain in any manifestation sucks, but it’s unavoidable and must be felt. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and wait for it to pass. Unless we’re talking about a terminal illness, it will pass, and you will more than likely be stronger for having dealt with it.
Happiness
I hear about and read about happiness a lot lately. I was watching an old episode of the Good Wife last night and Stockard Channing (love her — did yoga with her in NYC once) was the guest star. Her character said this, “When you get older, the only thing that matters is your happiness.” I guess it struck me because I was in the middle of writing this blog. I don’t think it’s true. Life is so much more than my personal happiness. Yes, lots of things make me happy and I do often pursue my own happiness, but I also spend time thinking about the world, friends, family, cleaning my apartment, paying bills and none of that is necessarily about happiness. A good deal of the day is spent just doing what needs to get done. What makes me happy is just that, getting stuff done — it’s that sense of purpose I’ve discussed in earlier blogs.
Joy
I have to give myself permission to feel joy. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is what it is. After a while, if you’re watching, you get to know yourself and your limitations; your proclivities. I can hear this little voice in my head reminding me to smile and enjoy the moment. I have stopped questioning why this is so. As with any habit, good or bad, you do something often enough and it becomes part of your everyday life. It’s a good habit I am striving to teach myself . . . live a life filled with joy.
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin
Gratitude
Feeling grateful is powerful. Replacing feelings of pity, blame, resentment, anger, heartbreak, and regret, with gratitude can be more powerful than just about anything else. Sweeping feelings under the rug doesn’t work. Taking pills or drinking alcohol is temporary relief at best. Sitting quietly and thinking about or even writing about, what you are grateful for, helps you to feel more joyful.
Tools
Tools are helpful when feelings become difficult or painful. Some tools/coping skills have been discussed in this blog or past blogs. What I have learned is that tools are at our disposal and can and should be used as often as possible — not as a way of hiding or denying, but as a way to guide us, comfort us, and teach us.
What’s Next for me?
This is the six million dollar question I often ask myself. The answer is:  I have no idea. For the first time in my life, I am not thinking past the next few months and I have to say, I like it.

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