Weekend Musings – There Are Victims And Then There Are Victims

“A benchmark of emotional management and responsibility is the realization that our past can no longer be blamed for our actions in the present.“
Doc Childe and Howard Martin

Every day I work with people who are victims, real or imagined. They grew up in a bad home, someone has rejected them, the white man has dragged them down, people have taken advantage of them, they have been abused, raped, abandoned, the list is endless. There is no shortage of people to blame.

Usually the client or person I am talking to has legitimate issues. They are dealing with things that most people can barely imagine. They are trying, the best they know how, to find some anchor in a life that has been beyond their control. Many patients I have spoken with have gone through horror stories and are endeavouring to move forward. They are the reason I get up in the morning and go to work excited. They are my heroes.

Others are looking for something to pin their pain on. They cannot see any personal responsibility, they will not own their own complicity. They sit and we talk and it is always someone else’s fault. Often they have legitimate complaints but they wear their victimization like a crown and filter everything through with a pre-disposed diagnosis. This week I met with a young man who told me that the reason he could not pass in school was because generations ago people oppressed him. I reminded him that he was not in fact alive a couple hundred years ago and though he has had to suffer historic abuse and that has undoubtedly profoundly affected his life, perhaps the reasons he is failing in school have more to do with the fact that he is skipping and spending his considerable income on crack. He called me a bigot.

I come from generations of alcoholics and the pragmatically poor. My dad was an orphan whose father fell from a skyscraper during his last week of work before going to a new job. His mother died when he was 12. He completed grade 9 in school. He had no social safety net, no social worker looking out for him, no strong family to provide for him, no one to blame. So he didn’t.

Years later my father would stand before the Governor General of Canada and receive the military equivalent of the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honor. He had, in fact, finally finished his high school equivalency in his forties. He had worked his butt off to make something of a shunted life. He is my son’s hero. Wednesday he will be our guest blogger.

Every now and again I will have occasion to feel sorry for myself. Maybe things aren’t going smoothly or my friends have nicer houses or boats. Sometimes I wish I had a family with money and a house on a lake. But then I remember how fortunate I am to come from a heritage that simply would not give up.

As i sit here writing this it just hit me, I have never heard my dad complain about his lot in life. Ever.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”
J. Michael Straczynski


The Masks We Wear

Masked.“Mate, you’ve been honest with me so let me honest back. Honestly, you could do a better job than many. You should be being heard and you should be leading the charge. However, as you say, a key thing is your personality. There is an enormous place for you and every time I’m with you I think you are a wasted talent.”

That letter was many years ago now but it has haunted me. You may argue that no one has the right to send someone a letter like that, especially since it was during a time when my life was falling apart. It really hurt. It was soul crushing.

I have always known I was different.
They say you can trace a lot of things back to your childhood. If this is true then it explains a lot in my case. One of my earliest memories is of when, at approximately the age of three or four, I hung myself in my backyard.
We lived in typical suburbia where blue-collar workers dream of long weekends and tall cocktails. Our backyard buttressed onto a virtual forest, replete with red fencing and the quintessential barbeque pit. There was also a square clothes line, the kind where someone has dropped six inches of concrete into the grass and rammed in a pole and enough line for two point four children. The exact details fail me now but nonetheless I pulled up a stool, crossed the wires, inserted my head and kicked away the floor. My sister walked out a minute or two later, and seeing my dilemma, ran in to my parents yelling, “mommy, daddy, Scott hung himself!”

When, a couple of years later, I threw a lit match into a five gallon gas can to see if it was empty I think it was beginning to dawn on my parents that their newly bald son, sporting no eyebrows and lashes, had a few issues.

My grade three report card actually said, “Scott thinks he runs the class and frankly I am sick of it!”

Like many of us I can look back on my life and see a variety of pitiful attempts to fit in. As a little child I have vivid memories of my grandmother telling me that ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. I remember being demeaned by relatives for being hyperactive and aggressive. Today I am sure I would be diagnosed as ADHD and medicated, but back then, like many of us, I was just a kid trying to fit in and be loved.’

As we grow up we begin to realize that we are supposed to act a certain way. In order to fit in and be popular many of us wore a mask to hide the hurt, to pretend we were all together, to live a lie. We began to understand that we couldn’t be ourselves because who we were on the inside just wasn’t good enough. As the poem says so well:

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks
masks that I’m afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
I give you the impression that I’m secure
That all is sunny and unruffled with me
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm
and I’m in command,
and that I need no one.

Many of you are afraid that if you really let someone in, let them see the real you, they would reject you. This belief has some truth to it, doesn’t it? We’ve been hurt before, ridiculed and demeaned before. The older we grow the harder it gets to be honest with people. We have loved before and been burned. We have given our heart away only to have it stepped on. Most of us have a long list of people who have done us wrong.

It’s so much easier to wear a mask.

Some of us have been wearing a mask so long we aren’t even sure who we really are. We have been forced to be someone else by our spouse or our parents or others. Many people have been told since they were a child that they aren’t good enough the way they are; that people who matter don’t like their personality, that they are somehow flawed. I know I was.

Maybe you can relate to what I am writing about. Perhaps you have said to yourself, “If people really knew me they wouldn’t love me”. You have some terrible junk in your past, things you’ve done or didn’t do, ways you couldn’t measure up. Most people have a hard time forgiving themselves for things they did ten, twenty, even thirty years ago. I’ve been there too. We have scars that never seem to heal.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. One day I just decided I’d had enough. Enough self-ridicule, enough doubt and negativity and condemnation. Enough of feeling like a loser who is unlovable. Enough of hating myself and apologizing for who I am.

I have come to realize that it’s ok being me, in spite of my glaring faults. And you know what, it’s ok to be you too.

You are amazing. Unique. Special. Maybe no one has told you that in a long time but it’s true. Maybe your partner or a family member or friend has demeaned you and hurt your self-esteem. Stop listening to them. You don’t need to change who are.You don’t have to apologize for being opinionated, or creative, outspoken or different. Take off the mask and if people don’t love you for who you really are then they are not worth it. Stop surrounding yourself with negative people who feel it’s their god-given right to put you in your place. Someone who really cares about you will want you just the way you are. Without the mask.

It’s ok to be you. It’s more than ok, it’s fantastic.

(tomorrow I’ll return to the regular stuff so if you don’t like this post, that’s ok, I needed to say it)

Ordinary People

I was in Kananaskis Park one year around the time of the big G8 Summit and there were huge preparations to welcome the superstars. I was in Denver when the pope visited – 5 helicopters for the religious superstar.

They didn’t have to clear customs like ordinary people, they were special.

I don’t exactly get that kind of treatment. In fact I’m not sure the border patrol holds me in high regard. It all started that day when I was coming back from the states… and what I thought I said was, “I was a speaker at a youth camp helping to bring teenagers to higher levels of social and emotional responsibility”.

That’s what I said, I was sure I said… but apparently they heard me say –“there is a body in the trunk”. I did not get to fly home in five helicopters, nor did I warrant a free pass through customs. I did warrant, however, an uncomfortable hour with a border guard who had his way with me but didn’t buy me dinner first. I am not a superstar. By most accounts I am not even a major player in any arena.

We are told everyday that we are just ordinary folk. You feel that way when you stand like cattle in the line at the coffee shop, or wait in line at Cosco behind that woman who insists on exact change and takes forever to get it. Even the ugly people on television are better looking than I am. They are hardly ordinary.

You probably never met Duke Harris. When I met him he was a teenager already dying, I just didn’t know that at the time. He was quiet, almost reclusive, around me. What I did not know was that he was a mighty warrior, a life bringer. In his own quiet way he continually went out of his comfort zone with his friends. He was more concerned about their welfare then his own. He was the one with cancer but you would never know it.

I remember the day I met his parents. Duke just stood behind them and beamed. He was proud of the love he knew, and he gave it away constantly in the face of insurmountable odds. Courage, right to the end. And then some.

I remember timidly strolling outside to tell Duke’s friends that he was dying. I will never forget the commitment those friends had, the raw love and compassion they felt.

The incredible thing about Duke was that he was painfully shy. He was not beautiful, with his balding head burned by radiation. Nor was he a gifted communicator. All Duke had was his quiet passion, commitment, and sacrificial love. People were drawn to him, though he never spoke to a crowd or published a line.

He was just a kid who passed way before his time. There were no crowds to cheer when he came by, no press to cover his sickness. No one read about his exploits in Variety.

When Duke died all he left was an enduring legacy, eventually a foundation in his honor, and dozens, even hundreds of people whose lives were indelibly changed by that one ordinary life. 

I’m ok with being ordinary, I guess.

living honourably…

Living honorably is something that I have had to learn throughout my life. I am very outgoing, energetic and often intense and these character traits often clash with my desire to live my life in such a way that I and others would consider worthy of honor. There is a real temptation to try to “shortcut” when facing challenges – for example doing whatever is expedient at the expense of that which is honest, honorable, imbibed with integrity. Often those with extroverted personality are given to exaggeration or embellishment in order to represent themselves in the best light possible. There is a tendency to cover ones insecurities and negative self-image with boastful claims, thereby living a life with less honor, less honesty, than one should.

For many years I have sought to practice the honorable lifestyle. As a counselor I am keenly aware of my own faults but also aware of my propensity to be overly hard on myself and therefore compensate. I also am blessed/cursed with a keen sense of introspection and often spend hours every week analyzing how I am doing, how I am coping, whether I am living my life with integrity and honor. When I was young my mantra was, “I am going to change the world.” The older I get the more I realize that changing the world begins with changing myself from the inside out. Being honorable is not about looking good but rather about being good. As I have often said, “It’s one thing to talk the talk, it’s another thing altogether to walk the walk.”

Eleven years ago I believed my life was on track. I was only a few months from testing for my black belt, was doing fine in my career, had an amazing wife and kids. But a series of misadventures occurred that changed my life forever.

Over the next few years the pain of this loss barely receded and I was forced to look inside myself and question my values, my perceived strengths and weaknesses, and my integrity in general. I realized that I had not been as self-aware as I had imagined and began the difficult task of rebuilding my life. Thus began a decade and more of self-examination and introspection with regard to who I am, how I live, and how I relate to others. I have come to realize that I must strive to live honorable every day, every moment, and not just when others are watching. Honorable living is about who I am when no one is looking, when I am alone with my thoughts, in every aspect of my life.

I have not yet become the man I hope to be someday but am attempting to live in such a way that I can be proud of who I am becoming. It is my desire that someday, on my headstone at the graveyard, someone will be able to etch in – “at least he tried”.