Monthly Archives: November 2015

Image, culture, laziness, and habit

Did you read my November 25 post “I’m sorry, but it’s over?”  I talked about my bad habit of softening statements rather than speaking directly and confidently but politely.  Did you also read my November 22 post “Listening?”  Therein, I talked about a combination of arrogance, lack of trust, and obsessive-compulsive disorder that interferes with my listening skills.

Are the two writings contradictory?  If I was so deferential to people in daily speech, how could I also be not at all deferential to people when it comes to listening to them?  I think the two situations are as different as apples and oranges.  But, let’s analyze the question to be sure.  Is there perhaps a common thread that weaves the two problems together?

Perhaps the underlying thread is false pride, or an obsession with image.  This makes sense regarding poor listening skills.  I didn’t want to listen to others because being right all the time was part of my image, my self-esteem, and pride.  It also makes sense regarding deferential phrases in speech.  Softening statements with phrases like “I’m sorry,” “maybe later,” or “yeah, maybe” is an attempt to protect my image.

Think of someone saying, “No, I’ll get the check” after a restaurant meal, while they are simultaneously thinking, “Oh shit, this is going to be expensive, and I don’t like paying.”  This happens a lot among certain ethnic groups, including the group with which my parents identified.  They took this to sick extremes, eventually avoiding most social engagements because they could neither afford to pay for everyone nor would swallow their pride enough to split the bill with others.

This is the same kind of foolish pride that brought me to say “I’m sorry, but it’s over,” instead of “I’m ending this meaningless relationship.”  It is also the same foolish pride that led me to insist I knew there was no office supply store instead of listening to others.

It is clear I should stop speaking deferentially and start listening.  Why is it so difficult?  Laziness and habit.  It takes affirmative mental energy to turn my bad habits into good habits, to stop and remind myself to really listen, and to think very carefully before saying some mindless deferential thing.


Another brain worm

It seems as the holidays get closer the brain worms come out. I don’t even know why. Tomorrow I need to focus on being thankful, but for the last few days the brains worms have been feasting.

A wish, a desire, something, I’m not sure. All through our marriage, Mindless has been a creature of habit, routine, and to-do lists to an obsessive degree. I was the “free-spirit” between the two of us. I was the one to instigate any and all activity that was spontaneous. I thought the show “Darma and Greg” was a good representation of the differences between us. I accepted that Mindless was absolutely INCAPABLE of spontaneity; it was just not how he was wired. And, so, I took it upon myself to ensure that it existed in our life and in our marriage.

When we started living overseas, our second job was in a small, beautiful country with stunning coastlines. We had no children and a two-seater convertible. I told him to pack a small bag because that weekend we were going to drive in the beautiful weather with the top down, through the valley and to the coast and enjoy a beautiful drive. We would stay wherever we wanted, when we were ready to stop for the night, NO RESERVATIONS, spur of the moment. He resisted, but eventually agreed.

Our first night we stayed in this small village, in a very simple pension. There was a lovely old woman who made sure we were well fed. The next night we stopped on the coast and found a simple hotel on the water, a step-up from the night before, but nothing fancy. The final night we found our way to one of the most beautiful resorts either of us had ever before seen. We stayed the night, they upgraded us to a suite for some unknown reason. It was gorgeous, it was unexpected and it was ours for the night.

During our time in that country, he was not cheating on me. Thank G-d for small favors. I think of that weekend and I relish it still. I made it happen for us, but he did let go, he enjoyed it too.

Still, it breaks my heart when I think of all of those years that I thought he was not capable of creating spontaneous moments when, in fact, he was. It breaks my heart when I think of all of those years that I thought he had no desire for spontaneous moments, when in fact he did have such desires, just not with me. It breaks my heart when I think of all of those years that I thought he was unable to let go of his habits, his routines, his to-do lists, when in fact he was able and willing to do so, just not with me. It is one of those brain worms and I have a hard-time letting that worm die.

Perhaps with kids, it is just too hard to be spontaneous. I mean, how can he be spontaneous when watching of children must be pre-arranged? Still, it burns me up inside that he was able to initiate and create spontaneous moments with others, while I was taking care of our children. Still, it burns me up inside that he was able to initiate and create spontaneous moments with others, just never with me. Spontaneity – a wish, a desire, something, I’m not sure. All I know is I cannot help but ask, “when is it my turn?”

I’m sorry, but it’s over

I recently re-read my May 3 post, “Sick obsessions.”  A little over 40 months ago, I e-mailed my last affair partner to say the affair was over.  At the same time I was dedicating myself to becoming a better, faithful husband, and re-dedicating myself to TL.  That was 40 months ago, and TL and I have come a long way since then.  But, occasionally, like the other night, TL still recalls the injustice, disappointment, and anger over the idea that I wrote, “I’m sorry . . .”

I should have written something less ambiguous.  I was not sorry that I was breaking it off with the affair partner, and it was pointless to claim that I was.

I should have just said something such as:  “This is over.  Don’t contact me.  I was a fool to betray my wife.  She is the only woman I ever loved.”  I could have said that.  Everything therein was and is true.  Why didn’t I?  Why did I soften it?

To me, this goes back to one of the reasons I chose the pseudonym “Mindless” on this blog.  It really sums up my pathological behavior.  There are some things in life you say deliberately and with meaning, things like:  “Yes, I will buy this car,” “I’m certain that man is the murderer,” or “He’s dead.”  You put a lot of thought, emotion, or both into it before you pronounce such things.  They don’t spill out of your mouth thoughtlessly or inadvertently.

Then there are statements like:  “I’m fine,” “Bless you,” or “Sure, no problem.”  A lot of times such statements roll off our tongues instinctively.  We don’t really attribute much meaning to them.  We don’t say them deliberately or with great forethought or emotion.  It’s probably better for our relationships if more of our remarks are in the former category and fewer are in the latter.  Prior to D-day, I let a lot of my remarks fall into the latter category.  In short, I said stupid stuff  without giving it much thought.  I just went through the motions.

So, why mindlessly say, “I’m sorry . . . ” to an unimportant person who didn’t mean anything to me?  I had spent forty-two years practicing the bad habit of speaking in a cowardly manner.  I said, “Oh, I can’t go to that activity.  Maybe next time.”  What I meant to say was, “No thanks. I’m not interested.”  I said, “Yeah, maybe.”  What I meant to say was, “No, I respectfully disagree.”  I said, “I’m sorry.  I’m afraid I really have to leave now.”  What I meant to say was, “It was a nice party.  Thanks for inviting me.”

None of those statements needed all the explanation, apologetic tone, hesitation, and deference.  I should know what I’m saying, feel confident about saying it, and say it clearly. When I began that note with “I’m sorry,” was I not sure I was ending the affair?  No, I was sure I was ending it.  I was sure I wanted to end it.  I did not regret that I was ending it, even at that moment.  Was I afraid — afraid that the affair partner would push back, judge me, be angry, or be hurt?  No.  No, I wasn’t.

So, what was the meaning of “I’m sorry?”  Nothing.  It was mindless.  It was a cowardly reflex.

I’m not sorry I won’t buy what you’re selling.  I’m not sorry I won’t spend time responding to your survey.  I’m not sorry I won’t give the panhandler a dollar.  I’m not sorry I am not interested in attending your party, meeting, or activity.  I’m not sorry I’m ready to leave your event or activity.  I’m not sorry you dialed the wrong number. I’m annoyed, but polite.  And, I’m not sorry.

I’m not sorry I’m leaving a life of adultery behind.  Even on D-day itself, I was not sorry I was cutting ties with an affair partner.  I did not care about her or her feelings.  I was only sorry that I had done such a terrible thing to TL.

My “I’m sorry” that day was equivalent to picking at my fingernails, overeating, failing to confront my mother when she made hurtful comments, being inflexible, and being inattentive. It was part of a mindless, pathological, pointless, self-defeating bad habit.  It was the habit of talking like a coward, of talking without honesty.

One of my goals is to be more mindful: to be in the moment, to do things thoughtfully and deliberately, to say what I mean and only what I mean.  I’m practicing that.

My other goal, or perhaps hope, is to prove to TL that I never doubted my decision to immediately cut ties with the affair partner.  Faced with a clear choice between TL and the other woman, the choice was easy and instantaneous.  When it became clear my double life was over, I knew immediately which individual life I wanted.  I’m sorry I said “I’m sorry” to that woman.  I was not.  I am, however, very sorry to TL


Yesterday I learned, somewhat to my surprise, that I have a deeply-ingrained bad habit of not listening.  In fact, it’s more than that.  It’s really a combination of arrogance, unwillingness to trust others, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and under-developed listening skills.

Our child needed one more thing to run tests on a science project. TL checked for it on Amazon and found it only sold in bulk and was unable to ship quickly. Yesterday, when out shopping, TL suggested we go to the office supply store on our way home. I told TL, “No, there is no office supply store in this town, we will have to order it from Amazon.”  She disagreed, insisting that she knew there was a local store.  Without even thinking much about it, I mindlessly repeated my opinion that there was no such store nearby.  She disagreed again.  We repeated the exchange, talking past each other a third time, and perhaps a fourth.  Ultimately, she got angry and sad about my failure to believe that she knew what she was talking about, to listen. We drove to where she thought there was an office supply store, it turned out she was right, and I apologized for not listening.

I tried to deconstruct the event to figure out what I had done.  I tried to empathize.  I found an analogy.  It reminded me of all the times I felt my parents don’t listen to me.  I explain the same things to them again and again.  Each time they act as if they had never heard it before.  Just today I spoke with them on the phone.  To my frustration, I heard, “We were surprised you’re moving in a few months.”  I had told them many times over the course of the past two years when we would be moving. Then my father said, “so, you’re really retiring in a few years.” I had explained my career timing to them again and again over the past 17 years.

Today I realized that they hear these things each time, but they let them go in one ear and out the other.  I ask them to do things, like remember that we are Jewish.  They act as if I hadn’t said anything.  I answer their questions. They ask the same questions next time we talk, as though we had never discussed it before.  Perhaps they don’t believe what I say.  Perhaps they don’t want to believe what I say.

In my parents’ case and in my case, there may be similar themes that compound these poor listening skills.  I suspect arrogance has a role.  When I am so very certain of my knowledge, I feel no need to listen to new information from any source.  Of course, this is a terrible impediment to learning and growth.  I have to remind myself, daily, of how much I don’t know.  I also have to remind myself that it’s OK to not know everything.  Just now, as I write this, I realize I may have a bit of fear with regard to admitting ignorance.  I often use knowledge as a big ingredient in my self-esteem box.  So, I feel a threat to my self-esteem when I have to admit ignorance.  I need to regularly recall that the quest for knowledge is built on ignorance, not on omniscience.

There’s also perhaps an element of unwillingness to trust other people.  I’m not sure where I got that tendency.  I think I observed it in my mother.  I think of her as being extremely untrusting.  I think I became that way too.

Then there’s my obsessive-compulsive tendency, which B and others identified in me.  When I start a course of action or plan or begin with a particular opinion about something, it is extremely difficult for my to change gears. I am inflexible.  I know this about myself, and I have done a lot to become more flexible.  I often remind myself that I do not have to do everything every day.  It’s a struggle, but I do see progress.  But, today, I realize the same inflexibility that makes it difficult for me to break routines also makes it difficult to listen to ideas that counter a thought I am already pursuing.

In sum, improving my listening skills takes continued practice.  It also takes remembering that it’s OK to learn from others and remembering to be flexible.  Seeing how it makes me feel when my parents fail to listen will hopefully help me remember to not inflict that treatment on TL or others myself.


If you read my previous post, “Compartmentalization,” you see that I had a hard time understanding the relevance of thinking about denial.  Yesterday, I recalled another aspect of denial. Prior to D-day, I was in denial about the risks I was taking as part of my secret adulterous life.  I risked disease, humiliation, and so much more, not only for myself but also for my family. The whole time I was taking these risks, I told myself, “Don’t worry.  Nothing will happen to me.  I will be lucky.”  There was absolutely no logical reason to tell myself such unlikely things.  That self-talk was certainly a pathological denial about my own behavior and its consequences.  I buried my head in the sand.

This shows me that denial and lack of integrity were just two terms for the same ailment, in my case.  I did not have the integrity to reconcile my selfish life with my so-called normal life.  When I was immersed in one I was simultaneously in denial that the other even existed.  For example, as I played with my kids and talked with my wife, I fully separated myself from the knowledge that I had betrayed them the night before.  Similarly, as I lay with another woman, I completely ignored even the thought that I had a wife and kids worried about me at home.

Now, I can return to Baker’s question.  In what areas of my life am I beginning to face reality and break the effects of denial?  The answer is that I no longer separate the evil I have done from my so-called normal life.  I share TL’s shock, sadness, and distress about the risks I took, to her and to me.  Striving for integrity can also help me be sure not to start down the path toward evil again.  If I think an evil thought, I am less likely to accept it if I maintain connection to my normal life.  Forgive my simple terminology.  “Evil” is a convenient shorthand for selfishness and self-pity.  By keeping my two halves together, in the same body at the same time, I can avoid letting one of them overtake the other.


Baker asks how I handle pain and disappointment.  As I said in my post about coping skills, I think I never really figured out how to cope with embarrassment, feeling inadequate, or disappointment.  Now I’m learning to count my blessings and focus on the positive.  Before D-day, I turned to self-pity instead.

He asks how I can begin to address my denial.  In what areas of life, he questions, am I beginning to face reality and break the effects of denial?  These questions took a lot of thought.  I wracked my brain about denial.  Yes, before D-day, I wished that certain realities about my life  were not true.  I obsessed on those wishes, at the expense of living in reality, in the moment.  I allowed that obsession to launch me into hurtful behaviors aimed at changing reality in ways that were simply not possible.  Is that denial?  I don’t think that’s exactly how the word is used in this context.  I read a definition by Dr. John Grohol on Psych Central:

“Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit. For instance, a person who is a functioning alcoholic will often simply deny they have a drinking problem, pointing to how well they function in their job and relationships.”

That definition doesn’t seem relevant for me, though I will be giving it more thought. However, scanning the rest of Grohol’s article, something jumped out at me.  He defined several other common defense mechanisms.  One caught my eye as being frighteningly familiar:

“Compartmentalization is a lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and un-integrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.”

That’s much more like what I did.  You might recognize “compartmentalization” by the name “hypocrisy.”  For me, it often was closely linked with jealousy.  For example, I spent unhealthy amounts of time and energy criticizing other people for pre-marital sex.  In fact I was jealous of them.  Hypocritically, I set about trying to assuage my envy by having extramarital sex.  To reconcile the hypocrisy, I compartmentalized.  I led two parallel lives, almost like two men sharing one body.

My two parallel lives were not integrated.  That brings new meaning to the phrase “lack of integrity.”  That little wordplay has actually become quite important to me as I work on being a better husband and a happier person.  Now, I try to think about integrity each time I face a decision as well as in my daily behavior.  Of course, that means saying what I mean, meaning what I say, and doing as I say.  It means honesty.  But, for me, it also means leading one life, not two, and behaving consistently, regardless of whether I am alone, with TL, in a professional setting, or in any other setting.

At the risk of geekiness, remember an original Star Trek episode called “The Enemy Within.” Captain Kirk was separated into two people, one good and one bad.  Seeing the two men behave and not knowing they were not the same person, you could say he lacked integrity.  In the end, they fixed the problem and put Kirk’s two halves back into one body.  His integrity was restored, literally.  Everything about him, good and bad, was in the same place at the same time.  He, like each of us each day, had to balance his good and bad impulses constantly in order to have healthy relationships, be successful, and be happy.  He had to behave consistently.  That’s exactly what I now try to do, all the time, every day.  I actually take pride in the pursuit of integrity now.

I need to get there

After my Dad died, I had some exceptionally vivid dreams. He seemed like he was really there with me, talking with me. The last dream I had of him was so vivid and has stayed with me all of these years.

We had moved a lot, evicted from most of our homes. In this dream, I was at my Dad’s apartment. He turned to me and said “as long as you are able to come here, I will always be able to talk with you.” Suddenly, the landlord knocked demanding the rent.  The apartment turned into a hobo like structure, held up by four sticks and covered by a patchwork quilt. The landlord grabbed the patchwork quilt off of the sticks and the apartment and my dad completely disappeared. I stood out on an empty sidewalk dumbfounded, while the landlord stood there laughing. I walked away in tears.

I walked along the sidewalk to a boardwalk and a bay. It was a strange boardwalk. Instead of going out into the ocean, it made a squarish letter “C.” There were glass walls separating the boardwalk from the ocean. I was able to see through walls into the ocean where many playful marine animals were frolicking about. But, these marine animals were cartoons, not the real thing. I woke-up.

I never really understood the last part of that dream. But, the first part was quite easy for me to understand. Dad was gone forever and there was absolutely nothing I could do to ever get him back.

The next time I felt similar feelings was after d-day, with the realization that the life I thought I had, was gone forever and I could never get it back. There is just a sadness about it that exists in me always, just like the sadness of losing my dad exists in me always.

For the first few years after losing my dad, I remember wishing that I could just take a vacation from the world for a while, watch from above as it continued to spin on its axis without me for a while. It took me several years to want to join the world again, when I decided within myself that I was ready.

I felt the same desire to take a break from the world after d-day. A part of me is ready to join the world again, but there is still a part of me that is not quite there yet. I need to get there. I need to get there.

Pet Peeves

There seems to be this grand divide among those of us who attempt to reconcile and those who don’t. In fact, it reminds me of the same type of divide between stay-at-home-moms and working moms.

If we are confident in our decision for ourselves, then I do believe such acrimony would not exist. But, that’s just it, isn’t it? None of us knows what the future holds and that is scary. And, questioning ourselves is part of the process of choosing the best path forward.

Perhaps it is scary when someone chooses a different path. I do believe that criticizing another’s choice is actually nothing more than us questioning our own choices. No matter the choice made, we each need to know that we can and will be ok within ourselves, no matter what comes our way in this life.  And, perhaps focusing such evaluations on ourselves, as opposed to on another, could actually help us to reach that personal goal.

Here’s the thing, the goal of being ok within ourselves, does not happen just because one seeks divorce. How many times have I seen those in the divorce camp encouraging someone to leave to find someone new, because they deserve a healthy loving partner. I understand the sentiment, but I don’t really think that is healthy either. It still seems to be encouraging seeking happiness through another. If divorce is chosen, shouldn’t it  be the goal to be ok within ourselves, regardless of any partner that may or may not exist? If reconciliation is chosen, shouldn’t it be the goal to be ok within ourselves, regardless of our partner?

The way I see it, the end-goal is not different, it is simply the path chosen that is different. This applies to the decision to divorce or reconcile, but equally applies to diagnosis and treatment options as well. Like the stay-at-home-mom or the working-mom, we all want the best path forward for ourselves and our family. I don’t see why choosing a different path to get there should hinder our ability to understand, learn from and support each other.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel, learning from others that have faced these choices before us. But, at the same time, attempting to destroy another’s newly built wheel because it looks a bit different from our own, says more about our lack of confidence in our own wheel than it says about anything or anyone else.

Coping skills and family secrets

Baker asks what coping skills I used to get attention or protect myself as a child. This is another tough question. I think my real problem was that I did not have coping skills, unless you count wallowing in self-pity as a coping mechanism. I should have learned to accept reality, sunk costs, past conditions, and past decisions. Instead of obsessing on things past that could not be changed, I should have learned to focus on the present and plan realistically for the future. I’m learning those things now, just over four decades late.

Then Baker asks, what was the “family secret” that everyone was trying to protect? I think the family secret — not always so well-kept — was hatred and self-pity. My mother was a very hateful person. She hated the neighbors, the church, her in-laws, and God-knows who else. She often, almost exclusively, spoke ill of her mother, people we knew, people on television, and others. The phrases “keep this private” and “don’t tell anyone” loom large in my memory. She often compared herself to others and expressed envy and jealousy. She seemed to believe the world was quite unfair. Consciously, I remember being annoyed by all her comparisons and negativity. Subconsciously, it appears I took it all onboard. For decades, I carried the same self-pity and anger I had learned from my mother’s example.

Why is porn with your partner different from porn alone?

It has now been nearly three-and-half years since I masturbated or used porn, at all. I quit, cold turkey. D-day was such a shock to me that it gave me the much-needed motivation to make big changes to my life. Quitting porn and masturbation was one of those big changes. Frankly, I’m proud of it.

The extremely infrequent exception is a few occasions when TL and I read porn together, as part of a loving activity shared by two equal partners. Occasionally, we also play a romantic board game or two that we bought. I think occasionally using porn together is OK for me. I think using porn or masturbating alone are not OK for me. I also think this may be different for different people.

Why do I feel OK about using it together but not OK about using it alone? I see two pitfalls to doing it alone. First, it is not only the act of masturbating or using porn that troubled me. It was also the fact that it was hidden. I retreated into a different world. It detracted from my connection to TL and to reality in general.

Second, if I use it with TL, I feel I can stop myself by discussing with TL whether and when we both feel like it. If I use it alone, I fear I will have much more trouble stopping myself. There will be little or no accountability.

So, what does this teach me? It teaches me that I should continue avoiding porn and masturbation alone. Is it OK for me to read something pornographic with my wife as part of a fun evening as a couple? I think so. If TL or someone told me not to do that, that would be OK too. Unlike doing it alone, reading porn with my wife is not a compulsive behavior for me. It just isn’t. It also does not cause me to think about it compulsively before or after.

We discussed this with B. She made a distinction. Viewing hard porn, where the fantasy and expectations are put in front of your eyes, is not healthy or appropriate. However, reading together and participating in the games together allows us to build, discuss and explore together. This is healthy in helping us learn to do this more freely together. That is a big part of the difference.

I’d welcome your opinions about this.

Beautifully Bound by Bryan Reeves

We saw this post on Facebook and just had to share.

Choose Her Every Day (Or Leave Her)

I spent 5 years hurting a good woman by staying with her but never fully choosing her.

I did want to be with this one. I really wanted to choose her. She was an exquisite woman, brilliant and funny and sexy and sensual. She could make my whole body laugh with her quick, dark wit and short-circuit my brain with her exotic beauty. Waking up every morning with her snuggled in my arms was my happy place. I loved her wildly.

Unfortunately, as happens with many young couples, our ignorance of how to do love well quickly created stressful challenges in our relationship. Before long, once my early morning blissful reverie gave way to the strained, immature ways of our everyday life together, I would often wonder if there was another woman out there who was easier to love, and who could love me better.

As the months passed and that thought reverberated more and more through my head, I chose her less and less. Every day, for five years, I chose her a little less.

I stayed with her. I just stopped choosing her. We both suffered.

Choosing her would have meant focusing every day on the gifts she was bringing into my life that I could be grateful for: her laughter, beauty, sensuality, playfulness, companionship, and so … much … more.

Sadly, I often found it nearly impossible to embrace – or even see – what was so wildly wonderful about her.

I was too focused on the anger, insecurities, demands, and other aspects of her strong personality that grated on me. The more I focused on her worst, the more I saw of it, and the more I mirrored it back to her by offering my own worst behaviour. Naturally, this only magnified the strain on our relationship … which still made me choose her even less.

Thus did our nasty death spiral play itself out over five years.

She fought hard to make me choose her. That’s a fool’s task. You can’t make someone choose you, even when they might love you.

To be fair, she didn’t fully choose me, either. The rage-fueled invective she often hurled at me was evidence enough of that.

I realise now, however, that she was often angry because she didn’t feel safe with me. She felt me not choosing her every day, in my words and my actions, and she was afraid I would abandon her.

Actually, I did abandon her. By not fully choosing her every day for five years, by focusing on what bothered me rather than what I adored about her, I deserted her.

Like a precious fragrant flower I brought proudly into my home but then failed to water, I left her alone in countless ways to wither in the dry hot heat of our intimate relationship.

I’ll never not choose another woman I love again. It’s torture for everyone.

If you’re in relationship, I invite you to ask yourself this question:  “Why am I choosing my partner today?”

If you can’t find a satisfying answer, dig deeper and find one. It could be as simple as noticing that in your deepest heart’s truth, “I just do.”

If you can’t find it today, ask yourself again tomorrow. We all have disconnected days.

But if too many days go by and you just can’t connect with why you’re choosing your partner, and your relationship is rife with stress, let them go. Create the opening for another human being to show up and see them with fresh eyes and a yearning heart that will enthusiastically choose them every day.

Your loved one deserves to be enthusiastically chosen. Every day.

You do, too.

Choose wisely.

Bryan Reeves

MC: “Control”

I’m looking into Stepping Out of Denial:  Into God’s Grace, by John Baker, a follower of Rick Warren of Saddleback Church.  B suggested it as a good tool for self-reflection. It is a workbook with several lists of questions for self-reflection and writing.  I glanced over all of them.  I think I can use many of them. Unless you are a devout Christian, I recommend you ignore other parts of this book and focus on the questions at the end of each chapter. The book is almost entirely a list of Jesus quotes.  Given my religion, I find that part of the book really undermines the rest of the message, which is about recovery from addiction or compulsion. In my case, a struggle against my compulsion to wallow in self-pity.

The first question set is really challenging.  It asks what areas of life are in control and which are not.  At first I found this line of questioning a bit difficult to understand. Initially, I approached the question from my vantage point of today. It didn’t seem relevant. However, when I looked again, from where I was before D-day, it suddenly made perfect sense. I should have worked on these questions decades ago. Today, I find them to be good reminders. But, as little as four years ago, they might have been life savers.

Here’s how I answered the questions. I could not control that I was physically small, that I looked younger than my age, and my parents were pathologically over-protective.  I could not control my race and ethnicity, the town where I was raised, or the things my mother said and did.  I could not control the past, including my own past actions and decisions.

At the same time, I often neglected to think of things I could have controlled.  I could have controlled my physical activity and whether I endeavored to become stronger, faster, or more practiced at sports.  I could have controlled my focus on academics, my attitude toward people, my view of the world, and my view of what was and was not important.

By focusing on things I could not control more than things I could control, I opened myself up to feeling powerless, becoming bitter and jealous, and blaming others — including God — for my situation.  As I progressed into adulthood and well into married life, the list of my past decisions, actions, and circumstances that I could not control grew longer and longer.  I continued to futilely struggle against those non-malleable facts.  It helped me justify my cheating, lying, and selfishness.  I tried to wrest control of my fate by breaking other rules and vows.

I also tried to control my wife.  It was not possible to control her past, her views, or her ways.  But, I tried.  Like tilting at a windmill, I tried to badger her into telling me all those things were different, that they were not so threatening to my self-esteem.  It could not work.  Even if she had told me such things, they still would not be true.

Even as a parent, I tried way too hard to control my son’s choices and preferences.  It was not only futile and unhealthy, it backfired.  He instinctively rebelled, even at a very young age.

Baker asks how this particular discussion topic will help me.  It’s simple, really.  I just need to stay focused on things I can control and not get bogged down in things I can’t control.  I’ve talked often on this blog about the self-pity I carried. That evil, seductive self-pity was deeply rooted in bemoaning things I can not control.  I’m making progress on this, but it requires vigilance.

TL: “Learning to focus on inputs, not outcomes”

For reasons completely unrelated to the topics of this blog, it’s been a rough week.

As I started down the path of “Oh G-d, PLEASE allow a certain outcome to occur,” I started to think, “why on earth would or should G-d be worried about my desired outcome when there are so many more awful situations in the world (e.g., Syrian refugees) whose help for a better outcome is assuredly more needed.” So, instead of praying for a better outcome, I am praying for the strength and wisdom to find within myself and give of myself the best possible inputs.

I can certainly actively assess situations, strategize on the best inputs to increase the chances for the best possible outcome, but ultimately I do NOT control the outcome. Funny how something completely unrelated to this blog could so starkly remind me of that reality.

I spent a few days railing against the world, “it isn’t fair!” But, “been there, done that” one too many times and where does that take me anyway? Absolutely nowhere! So, my self talk this week is to stop wishing for better outcomes and just focus on the only thing I really have control over, my own present and future  inputs, including closing the damn pantry cupboard, so the dog stops raiding our food supply!