A New Pathway

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind . To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. ~Henry David Thoreau

Mental and spiritual changes that are real, that are deep and that are lasting cannot be accomplished by a single action. The ruts of my past pathways are carved deeply in my soul. How I felt about myself while growing up, how I relate to the people around me and how I connect with higher consciousness have all created hardened ways of approaching life. And just like it takes an effort to get the wheel of a cart out of the rut caused by years and years of running along the same path, making a change in how I think and act as a result of consistent ways of thinking for many years, requires great effort. Even after years of trying to remove my father’s too often repeated admonition directed at me that I was ‘as useless as tits on a boar’, I still feel its sting.

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It comes at me during moments of my own weakness or when I feel like I am failing at something. It comes when I am in frustration because something is not going the way that I had intended it to go. My self esteem starts to waver, I remember that statement, and I fall further into my emotional state. I feel that I will never amount to much in life. I feel inferior to those around me. I doubt my abilities and my talents and my propensity for learning. I begin to believe that he was right, that I have no purpose in life. In my later teen years I rebelled against his frustrating cry by repelling anger with anger, telling him to fuck off and do it himself and leaving the scene. But the many repetitions of this statement by my father had already began to wear a deep rut indeed into my psyche. Alone and by myself I would use the same statement as self recrimination for an error or failure.

In the past years since I became aware of the impact of this statement on my life, now 25 years since my father’s death, I have battled with this statement. I have meditated on it. I’ve told myself that it isn’t true and listed my many accomplishments in life and challenges overcome. I have been in therapy, taken medication and symbolically thrown a rock with this statement written on it over the side of a cliff. And every once in a while, when I start to feel a bit down, it comes back to haunt me: ‘you’re as useless as tits on a boar’.

On an intellectual level I know that it isn’t true. I have disavowed the statement and I can enumerate many life accomplishments. And it is still there, lurking in a hidden nook of my brain waiting to jump out at an appropriate time to drag me back toward the abyss of depression and self loathing.

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Lately I have been examining it more closely. I have started to look at it from my father’s point of view. Now for the most part, we had a good relationship. But it wasn’t always easy. I was his first born son and like any father, he probably had his own hopes and dreams for me and my successes in life. He probably thought about me taking over the family farm. He may have wondered who I might marry and what his grandchildren might be like. However, I also think that by the time I reached my teens, we were both coming to realize that I might be gay.

I have looked at my father’s own readiness to be a parent and realized that he had his own challenges while growing up. His father was 55 years old when dad was born. As soon as he could lift a shovel, I am sure he was helping his older brothers and father in planting and harvesting of crops, tending to and milking the cows and butchering chickens that provided Sunday dinners. His father was more like an aging patriarchal figure, or a grandfather than he was a dad. And of the stories I’ve heard, he had infirmities that prevented him from being much of an active member of the farm work force as he aged. My father, fairly quick at school, passed his high school entrance exam just after he turned 14; he left school without finishing the year and pretty much took over the farming duties from his ailing father as his older brothers were now working at jobs away from home. Seven years later, his father died.

Dwyer Farm (circa 1944)

Looking at this past, I can understand how his youth did not prepare him to become the father he might have become. He had plenty of anger issues and seem to relish letting go a stream of words that would make Red-Beard blush and let every neighbour within earshot to know that I had screwed up royally again. Anger was the only strong emotion I saw him express growing up. Fortunately, I remember little physical punishment; the verbal chastisement was enough. And, as he aged, he mellowed. He became a more pleasant person to be around. We never developed a deep relationship. We never discussed feelings or our past mistakes. We never talked about my relationship with my partner or anything touching upon sexuality. In the only ‘talk’ we had had about sex, just before the subject was presented back when I was in grade eight. He told me that as humans we didn’t go around the neighbourhood like a dog looking for a bitch in heat. Sexuality was not talked about. Feelings were not talked about. Within the family, anything to do with an even slightly taboo subject was mentioned in whispers as if the soft speak wouldn’t attract a fouler curse. Nevertheless, I appreciated what my father had done for me, his personal sacrifices for the good of his family. And could appreciate that he too was growing in understanding of himself. We both did the best we could in our relationship, given its challenges.

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I understand this all. I get that it was a different time. And I understand that he was doing the best that he could under the circumstances of his own upbringing and beliefs. I see that much of his anger was really misdirected frustration at his situation in life and his inability to express himself. It doesn’t make it easier for me when I am reliving the past, but it does make it forgivable. I have a better understanding of how he got to that point in his life. And I would like to believe that if I had arrived at the point in my life before he died that I needed to talk with him about it, he would have reacted well and listened to what I had to say. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean that this work I am doing on myself is finished. I still have to go back and fill in this and the other ruts of pain and hurt that were created early in life. I have to work on forgiving my father regularly. And I can work at changing my focus. I can focus on the good times that I had with him. I cherish the long hours I spent with him at the hospital as he lay dying; few words needed to be said then. And I will be forever grateful that I was able to spend his last night on this Earth at his bedside. With him, as a human, I have made my peace. With his words, it is still a struggle to overcome their power. But slowly, with constant work and the passage of time, I am moving beyond that perspective of my past and I am creating a new narrative of who I have become and who I will be tomorrow. Grass is growing again over the old pathway. Like an old scar, I can still see where the wound was inflicted if I squint a bit, but it is losing its hold upon me. I am working on digging in new thoughts to dominate my life, creating my own pathway in how I think about myself.

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Self Sabotage

Somehow addicts and alcoholics have a way of doing something very well, until a certain point. Then, just when they are about to have a great success, they go on a party spree that completely ruins their chances at success. In the movie “Flight” with Denzel Washington, just when his character was about to be free and clear of any charges, he has that fateful drink and drinks the complete mini bar in his hotel room. This is very typical of an addict before recovery and once in recovery as well.

Why is it that when I am about to make changes in my life that are going to be beneficial to it I suddenly stop doing those very things that will help to improve me or my life? Why do I give up just when it seems that most of the work has been done? Why do I sabotage my success?

It comes down to feelings of self esteem and self worth. I don’t feel that I deserve to reap the benefits of what I do. I don’t think I am good enough to be doing whatever I am wanting to do. I feel that I should accept my lot in life and not ‘tempt the gods’ or make notice of myself. These feelings of self esteem were planted in my in my early years by family, friends, community, religion, school and self. I do not blame anyone for how I feel today because I also know that I have the ability to make changes in how I think and feel.

Also wrapped up in this is a fear of success as well as fear of failure. If I fail I am sure I will feel depressed about it. And if it’s successful? Then that implies changes in my life and I’m not sure about what the changes will be and how that will affect me. I might have to step out of my comfort zone. I let myself focus on all of the negative aspects and fall into the vicious circle of lots of thought and no action.

I can change how I relate to the world and how I allow it to affect me. I have done that through my recovery and working the Twelve Steps. I know how to recognize when I am in my ‘moods’ and when I can change them. I can recognize when I am acting in a manner that is not in keeping with how I want to be acting. I can focus on the positive and stay away from the negative. Do I always do these things?

I wish the answer was yes, always.  But that’s not so. I fail to live up to my standards, too often. I know from listening at meetings that I am not alone in this spiral of negative thinking. So I focus on one thing a day. I don’t have to accomplish everything right now. Just one thing. Ask someone a question. Do the investigation. Write part of the report. Once I get down to the task I feel better about myself and realize that the fears I had really are unfounded. One small step today. Another small step tomorrow and in a week I can look back and measure how far I have come. I know there is still more to be done but I look at the gains I have made and those can help me to take today’s step forward.

It all starts with just a small action: mine.

hand pen writing plant

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A World of Miracles

The more I investigate, the more I realize that what we know is only a scratch on the surface of truth, of what Einstein called the “persistent illusion” of reality. When I open myself up to even just the ‘possibility’ of there being something out there greater than myself, I also open myself up to perceiving the wonders that surround us always but that we don’t always notice as we make our busy way through life.
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A friend at a meeting this morning talked about going for a hike with his brother to a water fall. The trek was much more arduous than they had expected. When they finally arrived, it because a mystical experience for one of them. As they drew closer they heard the sound becoming more and more intense until the cascade slowly revealed itself through the undergrowth of the trees.  My buddy saw how the sun was beaming light down through the trees and the mist rising from the water as it hit the rocks on the way down to a blue pool below. He felt the spray, watched the butterflies and took the whole thing in as a Higher Power moment. For his brother, it was a nice waterfall, but it held nothing of the spiritual aspect. Two people, two points of view of the same experience.

Our experience of anything depends upon our perspective and past experiences. Perhaps it’s my bias, but I believe that those of us who have been through difficult times and are making our way through recovery have to, perhaps, work harder than others to see the beauty of things and the wonders of the people and the world around us. Perhaps it’s because we were so wrapped up in ourselves, our ego and our disease that we couldn’t see it before. Perhaps we’re no different than anyone else. But it is important to take the time to look outside of ourselves to stand in awe and appreciate what is happening around us at any particular time. And even if you don’t wish to attribute what you see or what happened to you to your Higher Power, you can still appreciate the ‘miracle’ of it all.

During this time of year, we tend to see more positive things happening around us because our perspective has changed around the holidays and we expect to see the miracle of Christmas. I believe that these things are always happening around us. Every day there are wonders and sights to behold that will cause us to pause if we look for them. If you want to take the magic of Christmas with you through the whole year, then take this attitude with you. Miracles don’t only happen one day a year, or on 42nd Street in NYC or in Bedford Falls with Jimmy Stewart realizing that he’s the ‘richest man in town’. They around around us all the time. But we have to look for them.

From a sunny and hot Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, (don’t be too jealous), I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! ¡Feliz Navidad!

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

– Shakespeare, Hamlet