Re-Parenting Your Inner Child

bigstock-Child-abuse-24665465-1024x682The scene I imagine is the one I was most scared of as a child:

Chastain Park. Baseball fields. A spring evening at dusk. Every other kid on the team has been picked up. The coach assumed everyone had a ride home so he didn’t wait around. Suddenly, there’s no one else in sight. It’s just me: 8-years-old. Baseball glove in one hand; bat in the other hand. Giant tears welling up in my eyes as my worst fear comes to life. I am alone.

Abandoned.

No one will come get me. No one will help me; they’ll all keep telling me my parents will be here soon…Even when I am 50 years old, people will still be patting me on the head and saying, “Mommy and Daddy will be here soon. Quit worrying so much!” Maybe I’ll find my way back home, but it won’t do me any good: My family will be gone without a hint as to where they’ve gone. IT has happened. I am alone in the universe.

This situation played out in my head ad nauseam throughout childhood. It wasn’t always (or just) baseball practice. It was school and Sunday school and friends’ houses and the basement of my house and, well, everywhere. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. When I remember being a child, this is what I remember: Fear of being abandoned.

My parents never did anything to make me suspect that they were actually planning to rid themselves of me in this manner. Shoot, they were rarely even late to pick me up. The fear had very little to do with reality and very much to do with OCD. Every kid is afraid that s/he’ll be abandoned, but not every kid keeps thinking about it all day every day forever. This is why it’s called a “disorder” – not because it’s something no one else thinks about, but because it’s something other people can quit thinking about after a few seconds. My brain never let it go. It still hasn’t; it just looks different now.

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you might remember the post I wrote about Taylor Swift’s song “Never Grow Up.” The basic gist is this: When my daughter played this beautiful song a few months ago, I spent the entire day balling my eyes out for all sorts of reasons. One of the primary people I was crying over was the little boy I used to be who tried to shoulder the weight of the world from the time he was aware of the world.

My Taylor-Swift-Day-O-Crying included a long, slow drive around the various parts of Atlanta where I had grown up. I drove past a couple of the homes I had lived in and just sat reminiscing about the various losses of innocence that happened in those particular spots. I ate at the restaurant that has been a part of my life, at least once a week, for the past fifteen years (Willy’s, for you Atlanta folks). And I drove past the Chastain Park baseball fields, where I used to be so preoccupied with my fear of abandonment that I eventually let the fear have its first major victory of my life and quit doing something I thoroughly enjoyed – playing baseball. I sat there for a while. Crying, of course. Imagining that little boy standing there alone, abandoned.

In therapeutic terms, this concept is called “re-parenting the inner child.” The little boy at Chastain Park is my inner child…it’s the image I return to when I need to realize that it’s okay to hurt and to feel and to be wounded and to be scared. I would never fault that little boy for his fears, but I almost always fault the 39-year-old man who still feels the same way. It’s hard to be kind and compassionate and tender toward the grown man who is often needy and hard to understand and inconsistent and a bit of a “moving target” (as one friend was so kind as to point out recently).

But the little boy is much easier to be patient with. Kids are inconsistent and needy and moving targets and all sorts of other confusing things. Trust me; I have 2, and I have yet to spend more than an hour with them where things went according to plan or where one of them didn’t cry over something that seemed obnoxiously silly to me.

But I give them grace because they are children. And so am I – a little boy who, at least in an emotional sense, never grew up all the way. I’m still the little boy standing by the baseball fields waiting to get picked up, afraid that no one will ever pick me up. When I see my inner self in that way, it’s much easier to be patient and kind with myself.

Recently, I have suggested this same concept to two of my friends. Both of their reactions were visceral. One immediately got teary-eyed; the other got a look of shock on her face and said, “It’s just too sad for me to imagine myself that way. I can’t do it.”

But if that’s your reaction, maybe it’s the thing you need to do most of all. It hurt me to watch my friends’ pained expressions when I suggested this “re-parenting” technique. I know how hard it is to look back at the little child who, for whatever reason, grew up too fast. I know what it’s like to want to wrap that child in your arms and make them feel safe forever. I know what it’s like for your heart to break that you can’t actually go rescue that little boy or girl.

But you can still rescue that child in one sense: You can re-parent that little boy or girl inside of yourself. You can give yourself grace for your particular fears and wounds and struggles. You can tell that child it’s okay to be afraid. You can tell the child that you’ll hold her hand as she walks through the scary parts of life…which might be all of them. You can take him by the hand and let him know that you’ll walk as slowly or as quickly as you need to past all the monsters and mean kids. You can sit and cry with that kid for as long as needed.

Every child needs to be taken care of. Every human with a heart can feel compassion for a child more easily than for an adult. And we are all still children in some way or other. So rather than beating yourself up for all your needs and wants and insecurities, develop an image of yourself as a scared little boy or girl with those same needs and wants and insecurities. Treat your adult self as you would treat that child because, at the end of the day, that’s still what all of us are.
 

 

 

 
 

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Bruce Jenner: My 2 Cents

Bruce-Jenner-Plastic-Surgery-Botox-FaceliftI assume I’m not alone in having watched Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner on Friday. In case you are Amish, I’ll fill you in really quickly: Bruce Jenner won the Olympic Decathlon in 1976 which, as usual, earned him the greatest-athlete-in-the-world label; eventually he re-emerged on the show Keeping up with the Kardashians as Kris Kardashian’s husband (Kris is the matriarch of the crew, and she was originally married to the man who got OJ Simpson off his murder rap (not that he did it anyway)); and now Jenner’s in the news for a third reason: he’s becoming a woman.

Some seem to think he’s doing this as a publicity stunt. Call me naïve, but I tend to assume that most people wouldn’t go quite that far just for people to pay attention to them. Not to mention that he started taking hormones way back in the 80’s after his Olympic fame had waned and before he was a reality TV star. I really don’t think he’s doing this for any other reason than that he feels like it’s what he has to do.

As I watched the 2-hour interview, I just felt sad for the guy (ironic choice of words, I guess…sad for the girl?). But I wasn’t sad in a judgmental, he’s-making-a-terrible-choice sort of way, but rather in an I-understand-his-loneliness sort of way. He said he’s felt this way all of his life, but he has never wanted to disappoint people or hurt the people he loves the most – his 6 biological children and 4 step-children primarily (no matter what you think of Bruce Jenner, Google his 6 biological kids and tell me that man doesn’t have some magic sperm…those are some good looking human beings, and the biggest tragedy in all of this might be his lost ability to keep procreating and making the rest of us feel ugly!). He said he was tired of lying to people and he had reached the point, at age 65, when he had no choice but to tell people the truth, no matter how they received it.

Honestly, I just found myself resonating with almost everything he said (except for his conservative political views…ha!). This isn’t the part where I announce my own gender transition…sorry, that would’ve made for an interesting post. Instead, it’s the part where I just reminisce about how I felt the same way he must feel when I started talking about all of this mental health stuff. After trying to be the Bruce Jenner of evangelical, white, upper-middle-class, private-school-educated, married-with-2.2-perfect-kids-and-3-ferrets, minivan-driving, perfect dad for thirty plus years, I felt I had no choice but to be honest about the inner realities I face. The truth became more important to me than other people’s perceptions. That sounds like a triumphant, even defiant, decision, but it was more of a decision of despair than a victory. I was exhausted from the lies I was telling and living and just didn’t have the energy anymore.

Being honest about who I am comes with its own set of difficulties. A lot of people are still very accepting and encouraging, but now there are the blank stares when I tell people how deep my depression can be; there’s the growing sense of loneliness when I repeatedly fail to find others who live in the maximum security prison I feel like I live in; and there’s the fear of never getting better no matter how hard I try. I could tell that Jenner was both relieved at having revealed his true self but also scared about the future…just like I feel.

One moment in the Jenner interview resonated with me most deeply. Diane Sawyer was asking him about his family members’ reactions. It’s a testament to his dedication as a father that all ten of his children seem to adore him and support him (with varying, natural degrees of difficulty in their own acceptance of watching dad turn into a woman). Even his “very conservative,” 80-something-year-old mother says she’s never been more proud of him for his bravery. But the moment when Diane Sawyer asked him what his now-deceased dad would think, you could tell that Jenner was really taken off-guard, that maybe he hadn’t even thought of this angle on things. Then Diane Sawyer asked him what he’d want his dad to say, and with a few tears in his eyes, Bruce Jenner said what just about any human being would say: “I’d just want him to tell me that he still loved me…that’s all.”

How much more human could that answer be? A 65-year-old man who has done everything from winning an Olympic gold medal to taking enough female hormones so as to have (albeit small) breasts…just wants his father to love and accept him. I don’t understand Bruce Jenner’s desire to become a woman; but I certainly understand wanting my parents to love and accept me, and I certainly understand wanting to be honest with people about my deepest, darkest battles.

I guess I just don’t look at Bruce Jenner’s struggle as being all that different from the rest of humanity’s…

I don’t understand the asshole who recently told me what a failure I am, but I know he’s just a hurting, broken human being like me. I know he’s just lashing out, as I often do, at someone who really isn’t the problem but who seems like an easy target. Personally, I prefer other drivers, and I wish he’d made the same choice to just honk at someone who cut him off or display his middle finger toward someone who is endangering his life by writing the Great American Novel in the form of a text message on the highway. But instead, he picked me. I wish he hadn’t; I will never forget what he said. BUT I do understand what it’s like to be a confused human being who often feels like a child in an adult’s body.

And I don’t understand people who keep their secrets to themselves. Why wouldn’t everyone in the world want to wear their heart on their sleeve like I do? But I suppose it makes sense that shame can be a crippling tyrant. I get that for sure; I just show my shame differently – looking for others who share in my struggles rather than hiding in case there aren’t those others out there.

And I don’t understand power hungry politicians who are lying douche bags (that’s my nice term for ALL of them), but I do understand that it’s great to be in charge and that it’s great to feel like my voice counts more than anyone else’s voice. I understand that desire for validation and affirmation about my self-worth.

I could go on and on because there are a hell of a lot of people who I don’t understand. My point is that I understand what it is to be human…to be broken but not quite sure where to put the band-aid…to be hurting but unsure where the wound came from…to be confused about the seemingly insane lack of logic that determines the fate of humanity…to be sad about things that haven’t even happened yet, like the fact that my dog will die someday…to find absurdly silly things hilarious, like Kevin Hart’s stand-up comedy routine where he mocks his drug-addicted, well-endowed, underwear-less father by dangling the microphone between his legs to about his calf muscles and walking around on stage like a drunk, microphone/penis flopping around for all to see… to say unkind things to people I really care about because I’m just too tired or depressed to be nice, even though I actually want to be…to send my kids mixed messages like when I tell them to watch their fucking potty mouths…to be insanely jealous of people who have stuff I want like New York Times Best-sellers and six-pack abs, or even just abs…to feel like life tricks us by making promises it doesn’t keep, creating all the grumpy old people that drive too slowly and wear the wrong color of socks with their shorts…to be terrified of death and then the next day to wish it would come sooner…you know: the stuff we all feel about four times an hour on the peaceful days.

So I guess the short version is this: People are human, so cut them some slack. See if you can meet people where you’re similar rather than feeling threatened by your differences. Bruce Jenner openly claims to be a Republican, a Christian, and a Transgendered man. I doubt you know very many of those, but at the end of the day, we’re all just about as odd a combination of things whether we will admit it or not. Call me naïve, but I think the world would be a better place if we’d just start our introductions to each other like this: “Hi, I’m very weird and confused and scared; I say things I don’t really mean and I do things that contradict what I believe to be right and true. Oh, and my name’s Tim. Nice to meet you, weird, confused, and scared new friend. So, what do you do for a living? And what’s your most crippling fear? Mine’s a tie between rejection and loneliness. Or maybe those are the same thing.”

 

 
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Riley, We Haven’t Forgotten You (with Podcast)

Riley 3Six months ago, the world lost someone whose life was a testament to the power of perseverance. His name was Riley Sisson; he was 25-years-old; and he was my friend. But I’m being self-serving…More importantly, he was a son, a brother who cherished his sister, a friend to just about everyone who was interested, a kinder-than-normal soul, a former college athlete, salutatorian of his high school class, one-time Prom King, and now I’d like to mention once again: he was my friend.

Riley died of OCD. Sure, the death certificate says it was an accidental overdose, but Riley’s addictions were symptoms of the often-invisible (because people hide in humiliation), brutal, life-sapping disease that is woefully misunderstood – OCD. The World Health Organization lists it as one of the top 10 most debilitating diseases on earth. I’m going to keep telling people this until I’m blue in the face (pun ALWAYS intended). I’ll sound the drum for my own sake, but more importantly, I’ll do it for Riley, whose attempt to get just a tiny, fleeting glimmer of relief from the raging storm inside of his head lead directly to his death.

Please do what you can, when you can, to help me raise awareness of the reality that OCD is a torturous disease of the brain that takes away even the possibility of peace for its sufferers. It leaves parents without their children, sisters without their only brother, and it has left our world without the compassionate, gentle, and wise Riley Sisson.

When Riley died, he was in graduate school seeking a master’s in psychology. He said to me many times that the only way he knew how to turn his OCD into something positive was to become qualified to help others navigate its relentless torture. Now, I am NOT one who believes that terrible and tragic things happen SO THAT something good can come of it (we can talk philosophy/theology on this one at a later time). But, the fact is the bad things do happen, and while all of us who are left living in the aftermath of a tragedy would love a rewind button more than anything else, our only actual option is to hope we can somehow find the strength to make lemonade out of Cosmic, Rotten Lemons.

Riley’s bold and beautiful mother, Margaret, is actively showing the rest of us how to make lemonade. I met Margaret over the phone when she got in touch with me after reading my book. She only had one agenda – to meet someone else who understood the mayhem of OCD. She reached out to me based solely on her I-just-have-a-hunch-we-might-do-each-other-some-good instinct that most of us ignore all too readily.

Margaret kindly insisted that I join her and Riley at the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation’s summer conference as it was in my own hometown of Atlanta. For Margaret, the people at OCF had become her brothers and sisters who spoke the language of OCD, around whom she could speak openly and honestly, even if it came from misery’s need for company.

I, on the other hand, would prefer to reject others before they get the chance to reject me, so I avoided places like conferences. Who wants to walk into a room full of strangers and feel like an outsider? Who wants to feign interest in getting to know new people when I’m actually scared of new people, scared of rejection? Who wants to see all the evidence of people who are much farther down this same road than I am, people who have already achieved the results that I can only hope to get some distant day in the future?

Not me. I’d prefer to just spare myself the possible letdown and keep judging people while I stand outside in the rain with my defensive walls securely around me, thank you very much.

But Margaret dragged me in graciously, and she continues to do so, helping me grow more and more comfortable taking the same sorts of risks she takes in “putting myself out there” despite the fear of rejection. But I’m not the only one Margaret is drawing into this much needed sphere of advocacy. A couple of years ago the OCF awarded her the “Hero Award” for her work raising support and awareness for this cause. If you know Margaret, you’re not surprised by her tireless, gracious, persistent insistence that the mental health world pay better attention to her son…and now, tragically, to his memory. When she received the award, she told her son and everyone else that it was all for Riley. She was “just” a concerned mama wanting to protect and nurture her boy.

Today, Margaret is carrying on Riley’s legacy through a foundation she’s starting called “Riley’s Wish.” If you like being in on the ground floor of things that WILL become something world-changing, I suggest you head to the Facebook page, like it, stay tuned, and ask Margaret how you can help.

If you’re not one of the Margaret Sissons of the world, what with endless motivation and energy, it can be hard to know what you are supposed to do in the face of the inevitable losses we experience on this earth, but I happen to have an opinion on everything, and this situation is no different. So, a few suggestions for all of us who want to help make the world a kinder place in some way…

First, many of you didn’t know Riley, but I assume you know someone who has lost a loved one. Maybe it was a month ago, or maybe it was ten years ago, but I’ll promise you this: By letting the survivor(s) know that you have not forgotten their beloved, you will add a bit of hope to this world. It seems to me that when someone dies, especially a young person, the ultimate desire of his left-behind, grieving relatives is to keep him alive through fond memories and hearing his name spoken aloud. This is why they start foundations in their child’s honor, but eventually, inevitably, they start to feel like others have moved on; they feel embarrassed to still be hurting so much. So I suggest that you consider reaching out to someone today who is hurting from a loss – even one that happened a long time ago. Trust me, your friend is still hurting every day, and the best ointment for their wound is you taking the time to say their lost one’s name, to remember her aloud, to keep him alive in some way.

Next, I want to encourage all of us to make a habit of these small acts of kindness. My initial “challenge” at Riley’s funeral was for people to simply “do something…but be sure to keep doing it.” If you keep the action small and tangible (at least to start with), you might actually make a new habit out of it. You’ve probably been having those nagging hunches that you “should” do x, y, or z for so-and-so for a while now. So go do it. Follow that hunch! Then put a weekly or monthly or yearly reminder in your Apple Android G5 2.0X, and bug yourself regularly to keep making this small improvement to someone’s world.

If you’re like me, you’ll never do anything if the goal is to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict or to put Google out of business with your new idea. Start smaller…maybe call that grieving sister or heart-broken son once a week. Remind them that, while others may have quit asking how they’re holding up, you never will. And don’t fret – the Israel-Palestine thing, most likely, will still be around in a few years after you’ve worked up your stamina.

I took my own challenge and set a reminder to stay in touch with Margaret at least once a week in some way. Sure, I’ve missed a few, but the reminder is there, every Monday. I don’t need it at all anymore because we talk more than once a week these days, but I plan to leave it there just in case (Sorry Margaret – you’re stuck with me!). Six months after Riley’s death brought us even closer than we were, I now consider Margaret among my very best friends.

The one thing that we are ALL capable of doing, and doing regularly, is simply letting someone who’s hurting know s/he’s not alone. Yeah, you may fail. Who cares?

Just try. And keep trying.

People need to know they are not alone, and you can change someone’s world.

And as Margaret is fond of saying, if even one tiny tidbit of goodness comes into the world because of him…Riley would be so pleased.

 

 

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Beautiful, Beautiful You

you-are-beautifulDoes the beauty of life ever overwhelm you?

Do you ever have one of those days when everyone from the grumpy barista at Starbucks…to the slow driver on his phone in the fast lane of the highway…to the fat man crossing the street too slowly…to the tree you’ve never noticed outside your office window…to the kindness of the person who lets you go ahead of them in line at the grocery store since you only have 3 items…to your home, your spouse, your kids.
Given the inner workings of a brain like mine, these days only come so often, and sadly, the days when the opposite description of the people above would be more apt. But I’m learning to embrace them when they come.

This morning I sat in a coffee shop working on a new book about my spiritual journey thus far in life. When four men sat down in my quiet, somewhat private section of the coffee shop, I was annoyed. They started in about “church and the message on Sunday.” I thought, “Great, here I am trying to write about my recent need to escape church, and some men’s Bible study group sits down about 18 inches away. And then they talked for two hours about everything from Jesus to reincarnation – just philosophizing, not dogmatizing. It was as if they were there to tell me to press on with my new book.

This was a beautiful moment.

And this morning my sister-in-law sent a picture of her boyfriend’s motorcycle helmet, which now reads “Shake the Dust” prominently on the side. Someone besides me is now my compatriot in wanting to “shake the dust,” to embrace all the beautiful-but-broken people and facets of life that Mojgani illustrates almost magically in his poem.

This was beautiful to me.

And there’s my beautiful and saintly wife standing across the room from me, engrossed in some new technology for work, mumbling things to herself as usual, finishing her lunch…existing with me, often for me…this ordinary saint of a woman who has shown me unconditional love.

She is beautiful to me.

My dog lies contentedly on the floor, existing in the moment as only an animal can. Unconcerned by anything other than this moment spent with me, my wife, and my son.

Her simplicity and complete acceptance of her dog-ness is beautiful.

My son sits on the couch next to me playing some sort of game on my iPhone. He’s peaceful, engrossed, unaware of the world around him in that way adults wish they could still taste from time to time.

He is precious and beautiful.

My daughter – my precious daughter who was seemingly born last week – is off at First Grade. Who taught her to read and write and to love dance music and never to be scared of anything or anyone? Who taught her to befriend the boy with special needs in her class, to walk with him even when he lags behind the others in the group?

She is beautiful inside and out.

And even I, as I learn to forgive myself and accept myself as I am, without judgment, with plenty of grace, mercy, and patience…can I say it? I am beautiful, too. Complex, maddening to myself and others, moody and unpredictable. Broken, but trying, forging ahead, hoping, accepting myself now, as I am.

I am beautiful.

And you…Not only when you get dressed up or act a bit more patient than usual or do something selfless for someone. Where you are, how you are…no changes necessary. Fall into it; forgive yourself; embrace all the components of your complex but captivating self. You are the only YOU. You’re trying, hoping, growing, but no matter how far you have to go or how “un-far” you feel like you’ve come, you are unique and profound.

You are beautiful.

 

PS. Share this message with someone who needs to know s/he is beautiful. Thanks!

 

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Silver Linings Playbook and Mental Illness



Silver-Linings-Playbook-poster1Many of you who read this blog already know this, but I’ve been out of work for the past 2 months for depression treatment. The two worst periods of depression in my life have also come with insomnia, which of course only adds to the problem – “Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep,” says yet another person. “I’m taking more sleeping medicines than Michael Jackson was, my friend, but 5 good hours qualifies as a step in the right direction for me these days.” After all, one can’t force oneself to get more sleep.

So, I’ve resorted to sleeping on the basement couch so that when I wake up, I don’t feel guilty about turning on the TV or tossing and turning for awhile. And ever since God invented Netflix (Al Gore helped, I heard), I have plenty of good TV to watch. Last night I finished Silver Linings Playbook, which I had seen before but was reminded of how beautiful a well-made movie can be. If you’re not familiar with it, Bradley Cooper plays a man, Pat Something-or-Other, who has been in a mental hospital for 8 months after nearly killing the man his wife was cheating with. He moves back in with his family and proceeds to try to win his wife back while resisting (at first) his need for medication and therapy. He is befriended by Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, (yesterday I saw that she was one of the 10 most Googled people, so I assume you are familiar with her!) whose husband of 3 years has recently been hit by a car and killed. The movie centers around the budding relationship between these two lovably quirky, mentally ill people.

Both characters lack any filter whatsoever (see, folks, this is my excuse…mental illnesses lead to lack of filtered words…thus every inappropriate thing you’ve ever heard me say), and Pat tells Tiffany that he’s heard she’s a slut. Her reply is deeply poignant, raw, and beautiful. She says:

“I was a big slut, but I’m not anymore. There will always be a part of me that is sloppy and dirty, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

And to you, Tim: Can you say the same for yourself? Can you forgive yourself for being sloppy and dirty?

And to you, my friends: Can you…will you forgive yourself for your sloppy, dirty, slutty, fucker-y, unsightly parts?

One of the key components of mindfulness is non-judgment of oneself. Compassion is another key word…for yourself, for your friends who sometimes suck, for your family that sometimes makes you hope to find out you’re adopted, even for your enemies, who, like you and me, are broken, sloppy, screwed-up people who might even be trying their best? But don’t worry about your enemies for now! You’ve probably got plenty of work to do, like me, on just loving yourself.

So do this: Maybe literally, maybe figuratively, maybe both…Look yourself in the mirror and allow yourself to zoom in on some part of you that you’re particularly un-fond of. Then forgive yourself for this flaw. Say it out loud: “I forgive you, brain. I know you’re trying. I know you’re broken, and despite all the trouble you cause me, you actually do me plenty of good, too. We’re in this together, and I’m okay that you’re a part of me. You don’t have to ever become perfect. I love you; I forgive you.”

Or this: “I forgive you, fragile emotions. Yeah, you do get hurt easily, but some of the most valuable things in the world are the most vulnerable things. I’m with you; I love you; I accept you…even when others tell you to get a grip. I forgive you, self, for having these fragile emotions.”

If you’ve been around long enough to be capable of reading this, you must know by now that the acceptance of others is fickle, as is their understanding and affirmation. This quandary is unlikely to change within the next 80 million millennia, so we both might as well quit trying to get Coke out of that Pepsi machine. But you’re always capable of sharing J-Law/Tiffany’s beautiful self-acceptance. You’re more capable than anyone else in the cosmos of gently caring for all the parts that make you you. Like a parent can care for a sick child whose projectile vomit lands inside her new Coach purse, you can look at the “children” inside of you who are imperfect and messy…even downright ugly…and offer unconditional love and acceptance.

Give it a try. What can it possibly hurt? And if it feels too uncomfortable what with all the weird compassionate feelings that might arise, you can always go back to berating yourself like a wicked step-child, castigating your sloppy, smelly components as if that might somehow drive them away. I’ll even offer free self-loathing training if you try this self-compassion and forget how the self-loathing works over time. But my guess is that what will happen for you is what’s happened for me: You’ll see yourself a bit differently; you’ll laugh a little more easily at your screw-ups and foibles; and oddly enough, you’ll even start feeling this way toward other people who might piss you off a teensy bit less than they used to. (Or not. Baby steps.)

PS. If you’ve been encouraged by this post, please consider “sharing” it, either privately with a friend or publicly, like on Facebook or Twitter, so that your friend(s) will perhaps know that they are “not alone.” See next PS for further explanation of this not-so-subtle plea…
PPS. Please consider “following” this blog either at the bottom of this page or on the home page. All that will change for you is that you’ll get an email when I post something new. What (might) change for me is more people finding this blog on search engines. Beyond my fragile ego, here’s why I’m asking: I find myself at a crossroad, trying to navigate my way into a life that is sustainable given the realities of my mental health. Sadly, it’s likely that I won’t be able to continue running at the necessary pace to sustain my teaching career, and I’m hoping this blog can become a first step in a new direction of mental healthy advocacy, speaking, writing, etc. So, needily, desperately, perhaps pathetically, I ask for your help in seeing where this blog might take me. Thank you!


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In Defense of YOU: Self Compassion

Shake the dustMy friends, I feel like writing this post as a letter to you, whoever and wherever you are. It just feels right based on what I have to say today. Today I want to tell you to have “self compassion” and watch what happens. I’m not very good at this, but I’d like to be, so this letter is to me, too. So give me a minute to defend YOU, and me…to tell you why we should practice compassion toward ourselves. The entire essence of this can be boiled down to this simple question:

Are you trying?

I mean in life…are you trying to be a good employee, spouse, friend, parent…I suspect you are not only trying but trying damn hard in fact. I know I am. So what more would you ask of yourself than to try your best? Would you berate a child who tried and tried to hit a baseball or learn the alphabet but couldn’t quite get it? I hope not, but if so, please consider some therapy.

As a parent I can say that nothing is more endearing than to watch my kids TRY. In fact, it’s even more endearing when they keep trying despite “failing.” It makes me want to wrap them up in my arms and make sure they know damn well how proud of them I am, even if they never “succeed” at this particular task.

Why shouldn’t I treat myself the same way?

I read recently (can’t remember where) that the best people on planet earth are probably not the ones we think of as Good People. The best people are probably the people with horrible internal battles who keep on fighting to grow, to stay alive, to learn to love. This reminded me of one of my favorite poems called “Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani. It’s a “spoken word” poem meaning it’s meant to be performed rather than read, and it’s about as beautiful a message as there is in existence. Take 4 minutes and watch it. If you regret it and can tell me that with honesty, I’ll buy you a new puppy. But while you’re listening, I’ll bet there will be one particular line that will stand out to you. Just listen and I’ll continue below…

 

Did you hear it? The line that you can’t help but pay attention to I mean? No, it’s not “shake the dust.” It’s this one:

“This is for the celibate pedophile who keeps on struggling…shake the dust” (I suspect about 42% of you skipped it and are now going back to watch it. I’ll wait here…).

So have you ever thought about that? That there are such things as celibate pedophiles who keep on struggling against their monstrous urges every day, never giving in to this life-shattering crime. Maybe these are the best people on earth. But the beauty of this poem is not that it includes such people but that it spans the gamut from “fat girls” to “celibate pedophiles.” That’s quite a gamut! Whichever category you resonate with, what better, more profound message is there but to acknowledge your own inherent beauty and goodness, to shake the dust and be proud of who you are? I can’t think of one.

Maybe, just maybe, plain old people like you and me are at least passably good people for getting up in the morning, putting on a brave face as we go about our ordinary existences fraught with endless emotional paper cuts, broken brains and bodies, and the failures we’re embarrassed to admit make us cry in private. But also filled with the simple success of saying something kind when you want to shoot someone the bird…the two-steps-forward-one-(or 2 or 3 sometimes)-step-back dance of a romantic relationship that some days doesn’t feel all that romantic…the daily dilemmas of wanting to be a perfect parent when you are confronted daily, even hourly, with quandaries no one prepared you for in school.

So I’ll ask again: Are you trying? If you answered yes, then cut yourself some slack, give yourself the pat on the back that your boss should’ve given you, treat yourself to dessert without berating yourself for the extra calories. Tell yourself what the narrator of one of my favorite mindful meditations tells his listeners at the very end: He says, “You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.” You are doing your best, right? Well, that IS enough.

So shake the dust, my friends, and know that in your humanness, you are never alone,

Tim

 

*You probably know someone who needs to shake the dust. Share this with them. Or just give them a call. Or a hug.

**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

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How To Help Someone with Mental Illness

supportIt can be awfully hard to know how to help someone with mental illness! Take me for example: Saturday morning, I was comatose with depression on my couch for four hours, hoping for a stray meteor to find its way to me. Today, I’m overflowing with so many exciting ideas for how to solve the world’s problems that I would challenge Steve Jobs to a Battle of Creativity. This, my friends, we call Bi-Polar (type 2 to be exact). You can imagine what fun my wife and kids have playing the “what mood will daddy be in ten minutes from now” game (for now, Ann has a small lead over Josiah, and for some reason Ellie Ruth isn’t very good at the game…she’s way behind, but I’m starting to develop some special signals for her so she can catch up).

So perhaps I’m the wrong person to write this post, since I haven’t had to be the supporter in any substantial way. Thus, what follows is simply the advice of someone WITH mental illness(es) to those who, thanklessly, painfully, fearfully…are supporting someone with mental illness.

A friend of mine recently called looking for advice on how to support his deeply depressed wife. Like many people who are NOT mentally ill, he was frustrated and baffled by his wife’s behavior and her unwillingness to listen to reason. He continued attempting to have conversations with her about how he could help, but he was thwarted by her erratic answers – sometimes she simply told him, amidst sobs, that she didn’t know how he could help; other times, the “saner” moments, she was reluctant, even embarrassed to discuss her previous behavior and couldn’t/wouldn’t offer much in the way of advice to her husband about what she needed when she was in “that place.” My friend was stumped, scared, and frustrated.

Perhaps you’ve been there if you’re reading this…You want to help, but you don’t know how, and the person you are trying to help behaves so inconsistently that you never know if you should leave them alone, hug them, take them to the hospital, or tell them to snap out of it. I’m quite sure my amazing wife, Ann, would understand your frustration as she has felt it with me (but not for at least an hour or two!).

I certainly can’t speak for everyone with mental illnesses, but I’d like to offer a few pointers that might be of help:

    1. Take charge lovingly. Recognize that you are the one who is seeing the world more clearly than your mentally ill loved one, and take charge of the situation lovingly with that in mind. For example, my young children wear me out mentally. I’m just not cut out to be with small people for prolonged periods of time without becoming extremely overwhelmed and ultimately depressed/angry. But I want to be a good dad/husband, so I often am with them for long periods of time, thus becoming overwhelmed, depressed, and/or angry. My wife knows when I’ve had enough based on how I speak to the kids, and she is usually kind enough to ask me, “Do you need a break?” But here’s the problem: My broken brain can’t see straight in those moments, so guilt usually wins out over my mental health and I say, “No.” The truth is, and I’m not saying that this is fair, that I want Ann to say to me: “Tim, you need a break. Go take 15 minutes of alone time and then we can reassess.” I would take her up on it 100% of the time, but when I’m left to make the choice for myself, I’m not able to think reasonably, “You know, I do need a break, and yes, my wonderful wife, I’ll accept your offer!” Again, that’s not necessarily fair, but if you, the healthy one, will take charge of the situation, I for one would appreciate it, and I suspect others with a mental illness want the same thing.
    2. Don’t expect them to be reasonable. Once again, I’ll use my children as an example. When one of my children throws a temper tantrum, I, of course, get frustrated by their behavior. Despite having plenty of evidence that you can’t reason with a small child who is throwing a tantrum, I continue to try to reason them out of this behavior by saying things like, “You’re not helping the situation” or “You’re making your own life worse by acting this way.” Any reasonable person would understand what I mean, right? Of course! But a tantrum-throwing child isn’t in a reasonable state of mind, and “fighting” a tantrum with reason will only lead to frustration for both parties. The best solution when a child throws a tantrum is to literally put them in a safe place so they can “process” their anger without hurting themselves, your dog, their sibling, or your eardrums. It’s the same thing with a mental illness: Help the person get to a place, literal or figurative, where they can feel what they’re feeling safely and productively. Having dealt with OCD my whole life, I am well aware that my obsessive thoughts are unreasonable…that’s why they’re so disturbing! But that hasn’t enabled me to stop them from running through my mind. This is where this piece of advice ties back to #1: You, the sane one, need to lovingly take charge. If someone is in the throes of depression, don’t tell them to look at the bright side. Instead, gently insist that they go do the thing(s) that tend to help them improve. For me, it’s time to myself to think and write…it almost always helps. If not that, then working with my hands on a tangible project will sometimes do the trick. Sometimes, there’s nothing that helps, but when I’m in the midst of depression, it’s virtually impossible for me to stand up for myself and to take what I need. I can’t be reasonable, but if someone around me can push me in the right direction, it might help me get back to a good place more quickly.
    3. Set boundaries about how you will respond to their struggles. As you probably know if you’re reading this, it’s exhausting to support someone with any illness, especially one that is unpredictable and turns your normally-rational loved one into an irrational mess. The friend I mention above confided in me that his wife is not above a little melodrama, so he’s never sure how much of her behavior is attention-seeking and how much is authentic. My advice to him was to tell his wife that he had no choice but to take her at her word…the stakes are too high. Thus, if she says she’s suicidal, he should tell her that he will take her to the hospital because he can’t take the chance that she’s just being dramatic. Another important boundary involves the mentally ill person taking his/her pain out on the care-taker. I’ll use myself as an example here: When my OCD regarding my wife (see my book for more on this) is raging, one of the natural compulsions is to think that talking to her about it might help me get to the bottom of my concern. It won’t! Ever. And it’s entirely unfair for me to talk to her about my negative thoughts about her. All that will do is to hurt her deeply. In this case, we have a boundary that when I’m obsessing about her, if I need someone to talk to, I need to pick one of the other close friends (or a therapist) to discuss this stuff with. The scenarios are endless for what boundaries you might need to set, but start paying attention to yourself, and know that the best way to love someone is to be the healthiest version of yourself so you can be there for them when they need you most. It might take time to figure out the appropriate boundaries, but don’t feel guilty for needing to set them. It’s ONLY by setting them that you can help your mentally ill loved one thoroughly.
    4. When they’re feeling good, ask them how they want/need to be dealt with in the bad moments. Most people with a mental illness have their good days and their bad days. As someone who offers support to a mentally ill person, your best resource might well be that very person, but only when they’re in a good place. This will have to be an ongoing conversation about what is and is not helpful to your loved one, but every day, week, and month you gather more data that can be used to help both you and the other person move forward to a more healthy place. As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I need when I’m in a bad place is for my wife, who is quick to recognize it these days, to take the lead and tell me what to do. In my case, she needs to tell me to take some time away to hit the reset button. When I’m in that bad place, I’m nearly incapable of taking care of myself, but by staying physically present with my wife and kids when I’m not doing well can cause a lot of unnecessary damage – a lot more damage than would be caused by my taking a “time out” to get my head clear. Your loved one might not know how you can best help them right away, but tell them to ponder and pay attention to what they need when they’re not doing well. Maybe it’s a hug; maybe it’s a time out; maybe it’s a trip around the world on a Disney Cruise ship…who knows? But let your mentally ill loved one be your most helpful resource when they are in a healthy enough state to think clearly about what they would want/need in their bad moments.
    5. Take care of yourself. This goes back to #3, but I can’t say enough about it. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be of very much help. Think of it this way: If you were taking care of someone with the flu, you’re not much good to them if you run yourself so ragged that you get sick, too. Not only do you endanger their health further, your own ability to respond to the sick person promptly and thoroughly is diminished if you aren’t healthy. The same goes for mental health. Figure out how to fill up your own gas tank so you can help the person you care about. If your tank is empty, you’re of no real use to them.
    6. Give grace…to yourself and your loved one. Start with yourself. This shit is hard! It ends friendships, marriages, and even lives. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming yourself for not always knowing the right thing to say or how to be of the most help. Instead, literally say this to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I can do.” It sounds corny, but having been forced by a therapist to do this myself, I can say it actually works: Look in the mirror and affirm yourself for trying, for loving someone who isn’t always easy to love, and for demonstrating the truest version of love – the unconditional kind. And don’t forget to give grace to your mentally ill loved one, too. Hopefully, they’re trying as well, and some day down the road, we’ll be better and figuring out exactly what part of a person’s brain is malfunctioning. Those x-rays or images will make it easier to understand that the person isn’t necessarily choosing to be an erratic ass. Most likely, they’re similar to a person with a broken leg trying to walk without a cast or crutches. If the bone was sticking out of their leg, it wouldn’t be hard to give them grace for going a bit slower than normal or yelping in pain every few steps. But mental illnesses aren’t visible…yet. So whatever metaphor helps you recognize that they’re dealing with something that really is physical and that really can’t be just wished away, try to remind yourself that you can’t expect someone with a broken brain to process life the same way you do. And once again, when you fail, give yourself grace. Then try again. That’s the best you can do.

 

**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

Other articles you might enjoy:

Amy Glynn reflects on Robin Williams’s suicide in a compassionate and helpful way, acknowledging that we should wish our friends who commit suicide had been equipped to stay around longer, but we should never simplify their behavior as “selfish” or “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” A refreshing piece! http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/09/twenty-five-years-after-dead-poets-society.html

“7 of the Most Helpful Things You Can Say to Someone with Depression” An excellent piece that “gets it right” about how to help someone who is depressed.

(This post is also a page on the blog. It can always be accessed from the top menu.)

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Shame: Coming Out of the Closet

ashamed15 years ago, after 20+ years of fighting my raging mental battles, I finally found myself in a psychiatrist’s office…a place for “crazy” people, according to yours truly. I was embarrassed to be there in the first place. And then he went and opened our session with this question:

“Do you have any secrets?”

I panicked. I had spent my entire life trying to keep the torturous thoughts inside of me a SECRET. Now someone I had just met wants me to tell him these very secrets? Uh, that’s a hell, no, sir.

So I did what any good people-pleaser would do and started making up secrets so he’d feel like he was getting somewhere:

“Hmmm, well once I got a pedicure, and I sort of liked it.”

He didn’t blink. I needed something more sordid for this wizened shrink.

“I used to be a woman.” Blank stare from him, so I added, “A-and I have four other families in different cities.”

Still only a subtle I’ve-heard-worse grunt. Man, this guy is tough, I thought. I decided to try a few lies about drug use.

“I smoked pot in the 60’s with Bill Clinton AND inhaled his second-hand smoke. Now I sell heroine to elementary school kids.”

He was unfazed, almost bored.

“Tim, you can be honest. C’mon, out with it!”

(For you gullible ones: The above secrets, sadly, are fictitious, and I didn’t actually say those things to him, but I felt damn uncomfortable, that’s for sure. What follows is more along the lines of factual.)

“What is it, Tim? Go ahead. You won’t shock me,” he urged.

“Well, er, um, this is tough to say…”

And then I told him the things I was so deeply ashamed of that I felt I was literally in danger of hell for even having the thoughts in my head. Are you wondering what those secrets were? Well, despite the fact that people tell me I’m “raw” and “deeply real,” I, too, have stuff I’m only willing to share with my closest of friends…stuff that I’m still trying to get the guts to say out loud to someone.

Don’t worry; you don’t need to call the police; I haven’t killed anyone (for a long time, at least. Is last week a “long time” ago?). All of my shameful secrets exist almost entirely within the confines of my head – the thoughts that barrage my brain with crippling fear and anxiety…thoughts everyone supposedly has from time to time but they don’t spend the next 10 years obsessing about what it means about them that the thought even wandered through.

When I published my book a few years ago, people told me how brave I was (they still do). But here’s the truth about my book, paradoxical as it may be: I was so ashamed of what I was about to share that I was convinced I would be judged and/or rejected. By everyone. Honestly, it wasn’t even something I wanted to do as much as something I needed to do. I’ve often used the well-known phrase “coming out of the closet” because I imagine that my feelings and fears were probably much like someone who feels s/he has lived a lie his/her whole life and finally has no choice but to admit his/her sexuality in their mid 30’s. By “coming out” you are choosing authenticity over pleasing people you love most, who love you most. You’re admitting: “My need to be honest is so overpowering that I’ll risk complete abandonment to honor this need of mine.”

Thankfully, and to be entirely honest, this still sometimes surprises me three years later: People have been gracious, kind, and thankful to me for coming out of MY version of the closet.

Since I published my book, I’ve had a lot of people “come out” to me about a variety of things – a secret abortion in a conservative Christian family, latent-but-lingering homosexual desires despite being married-with-children, sexual abuse as a small child, drug problems, and of course mental health problems. These “confessions” have come from people who range in age from their teens to their 60’s, but what is always constant no matter the age or the circumstance is this:

SHAME.

Shame is the demonic offspring of guilt. Guilt is about something. Shame is an identity. It’s the sense that we cannot be separated from the Shameful Thing. It’s as attached as our eyeballs and belly buttons.  If we start unpacking the layers of shame, it can cause us to wonder if this particular onion is growing two new layers for every one we peel off. Eventually we aren’t ashamed about something so much as we are just plain ashamed to exist and to be who and what we are.

I won’t pretend that becoming open about your shame will solve all of your emotional problems. To be frank, when I first started telling people honestly about my internal battles, it was as hard as anything I’ve ever faced. It’s still not easy. People don’t know how to react or what to say, and if you’re like me, you assume that the blank look on their face means they’ve just put you into a mental file folder with child-molesters and gang bangers (what’s a gang banger anyway?).

Who knows? Maybe that is what they’re thinking, and I will not blow sunshine up your skirt by claiming I’m immune to the pain that can come from the blank stares or weak attempts at sympathy.

But telling someone the things you’re ashamed of is for YOU, not for them. That’s why we should share our shame. Not with everyone but with someone.

So let me offer some cheap advice (please send me $15 if you read the following advice. I said cheap, not free): Whether you want to write a book or just tell your most trusted friend, you’ll be doing yourself a giant favor to come out of whatever closet you’re in. Tell a friend, a family member, a therapist…shoot, you can even email me about it if you’d like to. That’s why I write this blog – to let you know that you’re not alone. And no matter what your secret is, you’re NOT ALONE.

You see, even if no one on earth shares your particular source of shame, everyone, if they’re honest, can relate to the confusion and persistent pain of being human. Even if they won’t admit it. This is my soapbox, and I’ll keep shouting this forever: We are all confused, struggling, hurting, ashamed, but also beautiful, majestic, powerful, and profound HUMAN BEINGS. Watch the news for 2 minutes see the horrors that humans are capable of. Then again, hold a baby and you’ll get a sense of how transcendent we are. And BOTH of these are true of ALL of us.

To fully embrace the human experience we have no choice but to acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly about ourselves. Failure to acknowledge and explore even the dungeons inside of us will only allow those demons in the dungeon to creep throughout the rest of our human houses called bodies, forcing us to put extra layers on the outside of our houses so we become an impenetrable fortress. We go from wearing a little makeup to cover the pimples to wearing a full-fledged mascot’s uniform…something that looks more like Elmo than whoever’s inside the costume.

But if you’ll take off the makeup before it gets as thick as a mascot’s costume, I hope and think that what you’ll see is that your secrets aren’t quite as damning as you feared. And little by little, you will start to shed the skin of shame…and once you get started, you might just start finding the Real You worth showing off from time to time…or always.

And finally, if you’re looking for some beautiful encouragement along these lines, I’ve re-posted Anis Mojgani’s spectacular poem called “Shake the Dust” below. The four minutes of your life it will take to watch might be the best 4 minutes of your day. In the spoken-word poem, he encourages everyone from “midnight cereal eaters” to “fat girls” to “celibate pedophiles” to “shake the dust,” which I take to mean this: Stand up, keep fighting, keep devoting yourself to having compassion for yourself in whatever battle you’re fighting. And WHATEVER battle it is, no matter how dark or dirty, your growing and healing process can only begin when you come out of the closet. Not to everyone, necessarily. But to SOMEONE.

PS. I have no job and only 3 skills: writing, talking, and over-sharing. Thus, blogging and being an advocate for mental health issues is how I’d like to solve the no job problem. People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

 

Scroll down to see “Shake the Dust” and a couple of interesting links regarding shame…

 

Anis Mojgani performs “Shake the Dust.” This is worth watching every day:

 

More resources:

Here’s a great web page that examines shame in a more clinical sense…great resource:  http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/shame.htm


Post Secret
– an entire website dedicated to letting people share their secrets. I’m torn as to whether this is a good thing or not because the person “shares” the secret but still remains anonymous…and probably very ashamed. I think the sharing is good, but it needs to be done in real time, even face-to-face to start the deeper healing process. Still, a fascinating site.

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Hug a Transvestite

bruce-jenner-addicted-surgery-ftr-300x225Now that I’ve hopefully enticed you to my blog through a manipulative, provocative title, I hope you’ll stay awhile.

But back to transvestites.

This morning, I had breakfast with a friend I’ve known for 25 years. We sat and attempted to solve the world’s problems for an hour or two, and thankfully, we achieved our goal, so keep reading.

Here’s the solution to the world’s problems: Love people. All people.

When was the last time someone’s judgment of others changed anything for the good? Is ISIS convincing you to adopt their worldview? I suspect (and hope) not. Even if judgment changes external situations, it won’t change anyone’s heart. Speaking as someone who has recently gone through a drastic and difficult (and still occurring) set of circumstances, and speaking as someone who finds it really easy to feel anger and resentment toward any number of people who have hurt me, I can tell you first-hand that people’s love and kindness has softened me and helped begin a healing process that is surely (hopefully) only just beginning. People’s condemnation and judgment have yet to do me any good at all.

Now, I’ve never been a transvestite (thus far), but I have been an evangelical Christian with a Christian job, a family full of Christians, friends who were (and are) mostly Christian. And let me tell you, when your entire existence, from your marriage to your career, revolves around this aspect of your life, it’s a bit scary when your doubts and questions prove too persistent and powerful to dismiss any longer. Like many religious converts, I have ironically waved the white flag, surrendering to the doubts and questions that my faith can no longer quell. Let me tell you, this has not been a pleasant experience in any way, shape, or form. I have no more tried to lose my faith than I would try to lose my child.

The angst has been extreme for me: I’ve lived in a closet of sorts for the past few years, petrified that if I say what I’m actually thinking, I will be left by my wife, disowned by my family, disinherited by my parents, and abandoned by my friends who promise, patronizingly, to pray for me as I walk away into a lonely wilderness.

However!

My friends and family have almost exclusively met my struggles with mercy, compassion, and love. They have expressed this to me in ways that have humbled me to the core, letting me know that their love is far less conditional than I had feared (my issues…not theirs!). I’ve even had some beautiful messages of encouragement from people who tell me, despite what I feel, that I’m more “Christian” now than ever, that God still loves me, and that I’m still able to make a difference for Good in this world, no matter what my philosophical views are right now. Those messages have touched me in a way that is revolutionary and will continue to resonate in my soul as I practice meditating on moments of grace and compassion in my life.

(The voice in Tim’s head: Get to the transvestites, Tim. So far, this paper gets a D- for staying on its stated topic!

The more affirmative voice in Tim’s head which remains mostly silent a lot of the time (pathetic emoji here): But wait! You’re wrong, internal voice of guilt! This post is already very much about the transvestites you promised to discuss. You’re just taking a circuitous route to get there…you know, building the suspense. Cue the Jaws Theme.)

So, where was I? Oh yeah, transvestites:

No matter how you slice it, transvestites still remain very, very much on the fringes of “acceptable society members.” Homosexuality is widely accepted, even embraced. Bisexuality is, well, it’s getting there, but still on the fringe. But that “T” in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (and for the record, I’m aware that transvestite, transgender, and transexual are not all the same thing…)) acronym still struggles for acceptance. Thus, I picked that one to get your attention by using a radical example of my point….which is:

Underneath Bruce Jenner’s now-feminine appearance is a human being who is, without question, living a difficult existence (after all, even if his current gender transition causes him nothing in the way of angst, he was part of the Kardashian family for awhile, and that’s gotta be rough). Do we have to affirm his sex change to believe that people who are in emotional pain need friendship and support? And one step further: Do we owe it to Bruce, since we’re all friends with him, to tell him he’s making the wrong choice? That he’s dishonoring God? That he shouldn’t feel what he feels?

My point has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with arguing the morality or immorality of getting a sex change, being bisexual, being homosexual, being addicted to pornography, wishing your wife wanted to 50-Shades-of-Gray your unused room in the basement, or even ordinary, daily lust (ladies, I know you don’t deal with this, but Jerry Seinfeld puts it best when he says, “For guys, once you’ve seen one breast…you pretty much want to see all of them”).

No, I want to argue the immorality of judging people rather than loving them.

These days, I refuse to even argue the morality of people’s sexual preferences, assuming consenting adults are the only ones involved. Before we have that argument, I’ll insist on this one: Can you see that the person who’s making this “choice” is inevitably feeling judged, scared, and probably very lonely? And do you believe that people who are feeling judged, scared, and lonely deserve your compassion (this word literally translates “to suffer with” so consider suffering with them). Do you think your friend or family member whose “lifestyle choices” you disagree with might need your human compassion and kindness? And do you think you’re somehow doing God a favor by telling the person they have chosen a sinful path? Find me a person whose sexual preference has been magically changed by someone quoting condemning Bible verses to them. Once you find one, email me and I’ll reconsider my opinion.

For now, my firm belief, my soapbox about any and all “outsiders” is this: If you care about someone who is an outsider, the absolute best solution is to plainly, simply, only love them. You don’t need to argue with them about morality. It doesn’t matter if they “chose” their behavior or were born that way. What matters is that they are hurting because society has told them they are of less value than those in the mainstream.

A few years ago, I expressed similar sentiments in a devotional I gave at a Christian school. I was a bit more tame there and simply told the high school students that there were undoubtedly closeted, hurting, gay people in our midst, and whatever else I know about following Jesus, I know it means loving strangers and even enemies. There was a rather awkward silence that filled the room, and after I was finished, the Headmaster walked up to me and said something along these lines: “Tim, thank you for your transparency. I know that in the wake of what you just said that you will have students come out to you. And, Tim, I just hope you’ll direct them to the Bible.”

I smiled and nodded and thought, I don’t know what to say to that because I literally had just used the Bible to prove that we are commanded incessantly to love people radically, to wash people’s feet, to turn the other cheek, and in Jesus’s case, to pray for the forgiveness of people who are in the process of murdering us.

So, with respect, Headmaster sir, which parts of the Bible would you like me to point these coming-out-students to?

If you want to change someone’s heart, not just behavior, there’s only one route: love them…without trying to fix them while you’re “loving them.” Just love them, accept them, listen to them, laugh with them, feed them, embrace them, and treat them like a HUMAN BEING who is just as confused and broken and hurting as you are. Their hurt and pain are no more right or wrong than your hurt or pain. But they, the outsiders, are forced to live out their struggle in the midst of people constantly judging them simply for having the struggle.

And if you think, “But they’re CHOOSING a sinful life,” I must be a bit confrontational here: So are you. And so am I.

I am selfish, owning far more than I actually need at the expense of people who need the money I spent on the latest iPhone with teleportation powers. I am a glutton who eats when he feels like it, usually without much restraint. This is considered by Catholics to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins, so it’s no small “sin,” yet I keep on eating what I want when I want. I ignore people’s pain far more than I’d like to admit, failing to go very far out of my way to help people I know damn well have very immediate needs. And I’ll confess to at least one (maybe 3 at most) moment of succumbing to Jerry Seinfeld’s view of women since puberty. I am far more familiar with the ways of the Pharisees than those of the Good Samaritan.

I stand at least as guilty as you are of my failures, my “sins,” my weaknesses.

I think the most apt Biblical story here is that of Jesus with the “woman at the well,” who was, to use a more modern term, somewhat of a “ho.” Some people came up to Jesus, quoted to him from his own Holy Book – the Old Testament – and asked permission to go ahead and stone her as the Old Testament commanded. Jesus simply said, “Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”

The crowd of stoners (tee hee…get it? Stoners! I wonder if they liked Dave Matthews and Phish) dropped their rocks and walked away. The woman was dumbstruck and changed – truly changed, on the inside. Sure, a good stoning might have done the trick to get her to quit sleeping with every Tom, Dick, and Harry (so many sexual jokes that I am resisting based on those names), but her heart was only able to be changed by compassion, kindness, and mercy. Not judgment.

So, hug a transvestite today. Or hug someone who you’re prone to judging. Ok, you can just love them in some way without actually hugging them. But afterwards, don’t worry about telling them how to get their lives straight. Just keep loving them, no matter what. They’ll be changed, maybe not into a 100% heterosexual, upwardly-mobile, neighbor of yours. But far more importantly, their self-worth will be validated. They will feel less alone, and the more you make a habit of non-judgmentally loving them, spending time with them sans agenda, the more softening will take place in both of your lonely and hurting hearts.

 

**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

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Self Compassion Meditation

self compassionLast week, I had one of the more intensely damning experiences of my life. Perhaps someday I’ll share the details, but for now, suffice it to say that I’ve never had someone so explicitly condemn me at the very core of who I am and who I want to be.

I sunk.

Deep.

Deeper than ever, I think.

The kind of deep that feels like, even if you start swimming to the surface, you’ll never make it before you run out of air or energy.

I obsessed: will those indictments ever disappear from my brain?

I despaired: Maybe I am useless, worthless, a burden to everyone who knows me.

I worried: Will Ann leave me? Will my kids understand me? Will they love me? Am I even lovable? Do I deserve to be left as this person had told me? Maybe I do.

After the Night from Hell and the following Day of Despair, I went to my Compassion Meditation class. I’ve been attending a class at Emory about self compassion meditation. The actual name for the class is Cognitively Based Compassion Therapy (CBCT). Basically, we’re spending an hour and a half (in class) a week plus anywhere from 10-30 minutes per day practicing meditation, particularly as it pertains to compassion, which begins with self-compassion, and there I was rescued, at least for the moment, by what I’ll call a “re-aha!” Having been practicing mindfulness meditation, one of the core principles I’ve tried to live by is self compassion. As one meditation teacher says, “You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.” But I had forgotten that.

I had forgotten that it’s okay to be me; that no one else on earth has to understand me for me to be Worth Something; that it is perfectly okay to hurt when someone tells you horrible things about yourself; it’s even okay to hurt more than others might hurt, to hurt in my own unique, special way.

It’s okay to be me, trite and corny as that may sound. But it’s amazing how that one small reminder – it’s okay to feel what you feel, Tim – changed me, softened me, opened me to allow my experience to be my experience. No one needed to validate it because it was, it is, mine.

I remembered this beautiful poem by renowned mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, called “For Warmth”:

 

“I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.

I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm:
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing

my soul from leaving me
in anger!”

 

I will nourish my anger, my hurt, my loneliness rather than judging myself for them, rather than wishing I were more like so-and-so who doesn’t seem bothered by criticism or judgments. As Walt Whitman says, “I exist as I am; that is enough.” Nourishing is not wallowing. Nourishing is allowing myself to feel what I feel so I can move on, not so I can wallow ever-deeper in the mire of being misunderstood.

I am enough. I am okay, even if no one else understands.

And so are you, my friend.

 

**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!
Amazon’s Books on Self Compassion

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