The Illusion and Reality of Abandonment

“Adults can’t be abandoned,” I said in a clinical conference with 500 or more persons in the audience. They were stunned and were contemplating running me out of town after being tarred and feathered.

“Wait a minute – I didn’t say adults don’t feel abandoned.” A mother says, “But my adult son stopped coming to see me. He abandoned me.” “My wife abandoned me 30 years ago,” a client said to me in a therapy session. Actually I’ve heard, “They abandoned me,” hundreds of times.

But you see adults don’t get left on the steps of an orphanage or at the door of a police station, and they don’t end up in a mall holding the hands of the security guard looking for daddy.

Most children after the Industrial Revolution, and even now, experience a variety of forms of temporary or permanent abandonment. Fifty percent of households in the U.S. is a one-parent home, and a one- or even two-person home – will in fact leave their children unattended for brief to long periods – not maliciously – but cooking, cleaning, phone ringing, doorbells ringing and 30- to 40-hour work weeks.

In order to not experience abandonment there would need to be extended family, caregivers, etc. to meet a child’s needs every hour of every day. Remember 20 minutes in a soiled diaper or crying hungry in a crib, feels like eternity.

When someone leaves us, a husband, wife, lover, or even a good friend, we may enter into “Child Time.” A non-returned phone call on Monday leaves us feeling like 24 hours is 24 days by Tuesday.

Many reading this brief post have been abandoned so many times in childhood and adolescence that we become habituated to constantly abandoning our essential self. We give ourselves away to be with someone for fear if we don’t, then someone will leave us and never come back.

Bottom line – we as adults abandon ourselves quite frequently until we don’t, and once we learn how to keep ourselves, when another adult leaves us we will feel loss, grief, anger, disappointment, despair and depression, but we won’t feel “abandoned,” because we are connected to our deepest self. 

Here are some ways to stay connected:

  1. Learn more and more ways to implement self-care and self-soothing.
  2. Bring in any, or many, supportive friends to be with you as you come out of “Child Time.”
  3. See a counselor, therapist, priest, rabbi, etc.
  4. Get out in nature as much as possible.
  5. Cry, scream into your pillow, write “loss letters.”

I hope this helps.

Excerpt from best-selling book The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man

The following is taken from my first best-selling book, The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man. I thought it was timely to share this since I will be keynoting at two men’s events this month:

Oct 19-21 The Bubba-Buddha Men’s Empowerment Weekend for Mentor*Discover*Inspire Organization (MDI) ~ LaFayette GA

Oct 26-27 What Does Healthy Masculinity Look Like Now? ~ Sponsored by Lenoir-Rhyne University ~ Asheville and Hendersonville NC

I hope you will find something in this post that will touch you in some way, and I will be pleased to hear from you.

In 1981 I read one of the first articles about Robert Bly’s work with men in New Age Magazine. While I was moved and completely understood what he was saying, several years passed before I felt the truth told by the man who spoke to me as one who had lived my life. His father was an alcoholic – so was mine. His mother treated him like a magic person and gave him what C.G. Jung terms a “mother complex” – so did mine. He had escaped the world of men – so had I. He said that men who didn’t get in touch with their own deep masculinity found themselves unable to make commitments, hold down jobs and have good relationships. They constantly projected their souls onto the women they loved and left. These men did not have male friends because they only trusted females. He called them “Flying Boys” – I was a Flying Boy.

Unconsciously I had denied many things masculine and male in me. Though I looked and dressed like a lumberjack, I kept my hair long like my mother’s. I saw maleness as exhibited by my drunken angry father and wanted no part of such meanness. I had seen maleness via the cultural fathers who sent their sons to Vietnam to live out their, and John Wayne’s, dreams of heroism and cultural domination. I wanted nothing to do with such maleness. I looked toward the feminine and tried to look like a sensitive man who would not use his intuition to plough through people’s souls and bodies. My spirituality was deeply feminine and finally soft. During my early 30s, thanks to Bly, Laural and others, I realized that I was one who was completely out of balance and quickly approaching a “sickness unto death.”

If you fly away from commitments, responsibilities, intimacy, feelings, male friendships and your own body, chances are you are a Flying Boy. If you are a woman reading this, chances are you have loved or come into contact with a Flying Boy.

Flying Boys frequently use fantasy to escape reality. They hide in their mind/intellect, reason to avoid the pain they keep in their bodies. They appear to all but those closest to them as sensitive, gentle and completely in touch with their feelings. The truth, except in the most extreme circumstances, is that they seldom even know they have bodies and feelings.

Fate and circumstance always seem to be controlling their lives. They can’t quite make life work for themselves. When things do begin to work out or they finally succeed at something, they fly off in pursuit of another city, lover, job, degree, religion or drug. recovery treatment center image jumping between two mountains

Flying Boys are often addicted to sex, work, pain and failure as much as they are to intensity and darkness. They are constantly coming down from ecstatic highs and descending into deep, dramatic depressions. They seek the extremes and are bored with the in-between times.

Flying Boys often grew up in dysfunctional families. Their fathers were both emotionally and physically absent. Their mothers often tried to compensate for this loss. In the process, the Flying Boy learned to reject his masculinity and grew to overvalue the feminine. He experienced his feminine side vicariously through his mother and other mother-like women in his life.

A Collection of Poems from a new book, “Five Friends on Sunday Afternoons”

Book Release Celebration and Reading at Malvern Books – Friday Oct 5 at 7 pm

John Lee will be celebrating the release of, and reading from, a new collection of poems, “Five Friends on Sunday Afternoons,” along with authors, Lyman Grant, Bill Jeffers, David Jewell and John Oakley McElhenney. Please join them at 7 PM CDT at Malvern Books located at 613 W 29th Street in Austin, TX 78705.

Lee will be reading two of his poems, A Thunderstorm in Mentone and Holding On, that were written in his sweet cottage on Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama as part of his way of letting go of a place that has been so dear to his heart for almost three decades.

A THUNDERSTORM IN MENTONE 

A thunderstorm in Mentone.

The wind is different tonight.

The leaves on the trees move easily.

Summer rain cleans the horses

grazing in the pasture

across the road.

I saw lightning for the first time 

in months. It looked like a ragged

tuning fork, and I felt the thunder

roll through my body.

Today, in a house a hundred miles

away I saw my father for the first

time in ten years.

He sat beside me with his bare shoulder

against mine as we looked at a map.

Years ago I would have wanted more to

happen and felt a disappointment,

but this meeting moved easily.

A part of me (the part that always wanted more)

felt cleaned. The lightning comes down in jagged

lines and then separates into its tines. A tuning

fork and a father and son

are like that too.

We talked about gas mileage; then

he showed me the peas he’s grown in his

garden.

This is the most affection I’m going

To get, I thought.

Today this amount of affection was finally enough.

HOLDING ON

There is always one leaf

that hangs on to certain trees

even in mid-January – wind

blowing thirty miles an hour.

It holds on the way a bowl holds on 

to a Buddhist monk, a Bible holds

on to a Christian; the way a cane

holds on to a blind man.

What holds on to me when it’s winter?

A poker perhaps to punch and stir the

fire, a pen that turns empty white

paper into a prayer for some company.

Every morning I sit down by

the fire. I see the poker by my hand,

the pen on the table and, outside, the

leaf still holding on.

 

Letter # 40 – Sitting on a Rock by a Small Stream

Dear Mr. Lee,

I’m sitting on a rock beside a small stream in the Memphis Botanical Gardens as I write this letter to you. My name is Thomas and I am a 25-year-old graduate student who knows where you have been. I can and do identify with everything you have written in The Flying Boy.

Last night I started reading your book and immediately felt a connection. As I would read, I would feel the tears well up in me like an oil well ready to burst; however, I had a tight lid on and it couldn’t escape. I went to bed and in the morning still had the said feelings and also questions about the woman I am in a love/friendship with. I continued to read your book and have the tears come to the surface. I knew I wouldn’t be any good at class, so I skipped and came to the spot by the stream. The point in your book that really got me was on page 67, when your father said to come home. I started crying and sobbing; thank you.

I wanted to write you and let you know how much this book means to me. I am also a fan of Robert Bly’s work and a fledgling member of the Men’s Movement. I hope one day to become a counselor and work with men and women and help them reclaim themselves.

Thank you for your work and God Bless.

Sincerely,

Sitting On a Rock by a Small Stream

Dear Sitting On a Rock by a Small Stream,

I want to honor you for sending this poignant letter in a different way than I have others.

I want to share with you one of the greatest quotes about tears from a man you wouldn’t naturally assume would come from him, but you know his books:

Men are allotted just as many tears as women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our lives eaten away by alcohol because the lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough. Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini.

We men were taught so much bullshit about tears, weeping, crying, sobbing, that most of us like you, my friend, we hold tears and put them in the tanks, barrels and drums of our own bodies, and as you said, put a “tight lid on” so they can’t escape.

I remember when I allowed myself to enter the slipstream of my own sadness it scared me. Like I told my therapist at the time something thousands of men have said to me, “I’m afraid if I ever start, I’ll never stop; I’ll flood this therapy room. A second Noah will have to build an ark.” But once I got my tears back, I told myself I’d never let anyone take them away from me again and if I need to shed sadness through my eyes, I’d do so no matter where I was or who was watching, and I’ve kept that promise to myself.

So much so that at my wedding a thousand and one years ago, my best man, Robert Bly, gave a toast; he said, looking at my wife’s family and friends and my own, “What can I say about John Lee? He is a great weeper, and he’s taught me to grieve and I wish I could be more like him.” After those words were spoken, I didn’t hear anything further from my friend’s mouth because I was looking at the mouths dropping open from Susan’s mother, dad, uncles, and cousins thinking, “Okay, Robert, thanks. Now my in-laws are worried.” But I wept as he said them. So you keep letting your tears come out and never let them be taken from you.

Oh, one more thing. Men carry handkerchiefs not for the women they love necessarily but for our grief that could come pouring out anytime, anyplace.

Take Care,

JOHN

 

THE FLYING BOY LETTERS: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

These are excerpts from my forthcoming book. They encapsulate my work with clients, workshop participants and key-notes. Hope you find them helpful.

Letter #7

Dear John,

Sitting in the audience listening to you on that Saturday night at the International Men’s Conference in Austin, I was struck by your voiced desire to simultaneously honor what you are doing/have done and your need to move on into what awaits you. The depth of my response to your seeming paradox was to want to write a letter to you. This is it in your hand.

In my first 10 years in the program I understood recovery to be a process of seeing and owning what had happened and how I contributed to it, making amends and cleaning the house as necessary, and then leaving it all behind to begin life in a new, “recovered” way. Sometime after my 10th AA birthday, which coincided with being in my mid-40s (a cataclysmic combination if there ever was one), I came to understand Recovery completely differently. In the process I began to feel somehow estranged from many of the people to whom I had been the closest. I came to understand Recovery as the realization that the experiences of my life, although I might not wish them upon my sons, were actually the building blocks which had made me who I am. Without them I couldn’t be me. Therefore, the question became not, “What are the traumas of my life and how do I recover from them?” but rather, “What were the experiences/building blocks of my life? What did I learn? What I have I done with the knowledge? We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” took on new meaning. Recovery became owning my own building blocks and who I am becoming.

You probably have very little time and receive lots of letters saying, “Yes! I relate to you and your experience!” While it’s true, and I do, that isn’t the point of my being inspired to write to you. I heard you say a version of what I described in the paragraph above. I haven’t heard many people say it cleanly. I also haven’t heard many people say, in effect, “I am tired of being a guru. It can be nice but it can also be isolating, and I want to change something. It’s time for me to take some more steps.” I quit my job earlier this year for those very reasons. Where does the guru go for release and spiritual and temporal nutrition? Laying down the robes can be tricky.

As presumptuous as it may seem, I am reaching my hand out to you. If you would like to break real or metaphoric bread in person or over the phone with someone with life experience, no axe to grind, and no particular needs for you to meet, I would like the opportunity to exchange value, which is my definition of an adult relationship.

Peace.

Sincerely,

George H S

 

Dear Laying Down the Guru’s Robes,

You say you haven’t heard many people say, in effect, “I am tired of being a guru.”

That, my friend, was nearly 30 years ago. “Guru” is an Eastern Indian term for “teacher.”

I’ve been a teacher now for 45 years, but haven’t been a guru in 39 years, or at least, not thought of myself in terms of “guru.”

I must say that when I wrote my first book, The Flying Boy, I was a struggling, poor graduate student at the University of Texas and a card-carrying New Ager right down to the bone, equipped with long beard, kinky hair, and only wore tee-shirts, jeans, and the official shoes – Birkenstocks way before they became a fashion statement you now see elders wearing to Walmart. I had a leather “medicine bag” with crystals, hawk feathers, and some other stuff I can’t recall. And oh, wait; I had some I-Ching coins in there in case I needed to consult the oracle. I used to be Mr. New Age; now I’m Mr. Old Age. 

I finished that book instead of my dissertation, went on the road giving lectures and workshops thinking I’d be a one-book author and head back to graduate school, finish, get tenure and die on some small campus in Anywhere, USA.

I didn’t go back, and yes, I might have thought of myself as a guru for about 15 minutes only to realize, like a lot of people, I was constantly worried that audiences would see I was an example of the Imposter Syndrome, where any moment, someone in authority would tap me on the shoulder and tell this recovering redneck from Alabama that the jig was up.

You ask, “Where does the guru go for spiritual and temporal nutrition?” Your question suggests that you were a robe-wearing rascal who was ready to look for a new vocation. I trust now, 30 years later, these robes have been given to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. I know that is what I did with my imaginary saffron duds.

Yes, 30 years later, I’m still on the road teaching, but I don’t for a minute, after all the mistakes I’ve made, think of myself as a guru.

Shanti, Shanti, Namaste (just kidding),

JOHN

 

The Flying Boy Letters: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

Letter 21

St. Louis, MO

Dear John,

I need to thank you for your book, “The Flying Boy.” I am in the midst of reading it for the second time. The first reading tore me to pieces and put me back together. I had to become consumed with intense pain before I was willing to take action, which led me to the bookstore at the treatment center I went through for chemical dependency in 1980.

It would look as though my pain’s immediate source is being unemployed, broke, and currently trying to let go of a woman who has left me. The pain I am experiencing is the worst I can remember. Your book has shown me that these things are the result of a pain I have always been aware of, running very deep, and anger I thought only the Devil was capable of. You’ve helped me realize how much work I need. I am deathly afraid of having to go through what you did, hoping I can somehow escape it, or that it won’t be necessary.

The first reading, at many passages, brought tears to my eyes. Only recently has my pain been strong enough to allow myself tears, and only this book, hitting so close to home, has brought them out of me.

The second time reading your book, I stop as certain passages bring back memories as far back as saying my first words and many more painful memories.

I have never felt so completely hopeless and lost as in recent days. All I know is I hate my pain and I want it to stop, and I certainly don’t want it to last as long as yours did. In one way, I really don’t like knowing how sick I am, because it seems like so much to go through. On the other hand, I am grateful and feel like your book saved my life, reaffirming the fact that I have always know that what was in me would kill me before it would go away on its own.

I don’t know for sure where to go for the help I know I need. I don’t know for sure what kind of help I need, except I know I need a lot. You have many times heard people, when undertaking something say, “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.” Well, I am writing to verify to you that your book was worth it. If I am ever in Austin, I will look you up and thank you in person. If you are ever coming to St. Louis, I would enjoy meeting you. Please call ahead.

Forever grateful,

Joe L.

Dear Who Never Felt So Hopeless and Lost,

You know what fire and rescue teams try to get into our heads? If you’re lost in the wilderness, stay put and they will come find you, and yet nearly everyone tries to find their own way out and they end up getting terribly lost for days or weeks, or die out there because they were so afraid no one would come find them.

It’s okay to be where you are. Be where you are. Be where you are so that you can move out of it.

Then there’s the old saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will come. Once again there is great wisdom in getting still, silent, and trusting that now that you are hopeless and lost someone is on their way.

While we are hating our pain, we must give it time to prepare us for the healing, and God, that’s hard to do. I hated my pain so much I did everything I could to numb it with alcohol, women, and work. None of them worked. It was going into the pain, letting myself be scared of where my pain would take me. I felt there was so much in me, no firefighter or rescue squad would ever find me if I just stood still and trust and wait, trust and wait. So I grew wings and flew from the pain, flying from woman to woman, job to job, beer to beer and rum, whiskey, and vodka. Man, did I rack up some frequent flyer miles on this body. I couldn’t commit to anyone or anything too long for fear if I landed someone would find out who I really was and how much wreckage and trauma had been put in my young body as a child and adolescent.

Finally, my soul sickness caught up with me, and like you, I really did have the intellectual awareness at least that, as you said in your letter, “what was in me would kill me before it went away on its own.”

So once upon a time, long, long ago in a house on 9th Street in Austin in a shabby house even God wouldn’t live in just as the sun was sinking down and the moon was slowly rising, Laurel, the woman who left me saying I was angry and full of sadness, came around one more time.

Bottom line, she, the forest ranger of feeling and search party for a young man’s pain, came and found me. From dusk until dawn I was like a newborn colt who fell into the deep grass of her arms and I wept out, screamed out, three decades of pain as she held me and kept saying, while she couldn’t come back she wasn’t going away that long night into the darkness that was in me so deep I didn’t want her or anyone else to ever see.

So, my friend, like I said years ago when I was playing my own music regularly, “Pain, I love it, it will make me a country singer…” Then there is the whole other point of view, get up off your ass and go find a therapist who has done their own work and who keeps doing it, a counselor who helps take you into your body as well as your brain, a men’s group who will support you while, as the poet Rilke says:

Sometimes a man stands up at supper and walks outdoors and keeps on walking because a church that stands somewhere in the East and his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

While other men stay inside with the dishes and glasses and dies there while he forces his children to go far out into the world to find the same church which he forgot. Translated by Robert Bly

So Dear Never Felt So Helpless, I see you in the woods, while you wait for direction, wait to be found or on the road and looking for that “church” that can help us heal.

John

THE LONELINESS EMERGENCY: From Isolation to Connection

“…Loneliness can be a prison, a place from which we look out at a world we cannot inhabit…” Poet David Whyte

Some people are on the mountain of loneliness—rock stars, chefs and business tycoons. Some, who we will never know their names, are in despair, depression, and stuck, barely able to walk or stand. Sadly, these folks like myself used alcohol, and other addictions to numb the pain. Others finally decide that suicide is their only option to get out of their lonesome valley once and for all.

These are the people in W. H. Auden’s poem, “The Unknown Citizen,” written in 1939 is perhaps even more relevant today.

…he had everything necessary to the modern man, a photograph, a radio, a car, and a Frigidaire…when there was peace, he was for peace: when there was a war, he went…Our teachers report that he never interfered with their education. Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should have certainly heard. 

There is a loneliness emergency, and as the Beatles asked a long time ago, “all the lonely people, where do they all come from?”  Some or most of them never make it to the emergency room or a doctor or therapist. And yet loneliness is a serious health risk. It is a predictor of premature death and is a bigger risk factor than obesity and the equivalent of smoking up to 15 packs of cigarettes a day, according to recent studies.

In 2018 we have 500 channels, computers, 80% of the world’s population have smartphones that they can talk on, watch TV on, listen to music and soon driverless cars and yet, 50% of Americans report regularly feeling lonely and one study shows those between 16-24 are the most likely of any age group to report feeling lonely.

There is a loneliness emergency in this country and others. I finally came out on the other side of the deepest, bone-lonely period of my life after my divorce, so I’ll be saying more about this emergency, but for now, touch a friend, call, hold someone, speak to someone face-to-face, and for God’s sake, if you are suffering from loneliness, tell someone about it.

 

Where Do I Go from Her: Writing Out My Divorce – Part I

In this unusual blog post I am sending out samplings of my new soon-to-be eBook. I am very interested in your thoughts and feelings about this little project. So if you have time and the inclination to leave me a note or email me at john@johnleebooks.com, I’d certainly welcome and appreciate any and all responses. Thanks –John

 

Search and Rescue workers have been trying to tell people for years that when you are lost in the woods just stay where you are and they will come and find you. The main reason folks end up in critical situations is because they are afraid to stay where they are and that no one will find them. So off they go, searching for a way out, and they can’t be found until days, weeks—or never. I’m going to stay here and wait and write my feelings, thoughts, and reflections until someone finds me. I’m going to try and figure out where do I go from her.

PREFACE

When we were gullible kids my friends and I actually thought if we dug hard enough, long enough, and deep enough we’d come out in China. So we kept digging. When we were teenagers, we thought if we wanted to be rock stars badly enough, it didn’t really matter that no one knew how to play an instrument; we just formed a band. When we went to college, we actually thought we could marry the captain of the team or the head majorette, if they could just get past the fact that we weren’t as beautiful as they. When we got married, we actually thought we could stay in love forever—but as it turned out digging a hole in the backyard was really more doable than the subsequent separating, divorce, or death, and then the surviving and moving forward.

I’m writing most of this most unusual memoir at my mountain home in the foothills of the Appalachians. Sometimes I even talk to this mountain, along the lines of, “So what do I do now?” I also sometimes hear a response: “Be silent and wait like I have for thousands and thousands of years.” Dog lovers will not think I’m totally nuts as I speak to my Giant Alaskan Malamute who lays loyally by my feet. “And you? Anything to contribute to this process of letting go?” She always replies the same thing, “Learn to pull something ten times your own weight and then we’ll really talk.”   One night, as I stared at the chessboard my former wife gave me one Christmas, and I swear it said, “Sometimes the king is the first to go.” Novels I’ve read, formerly sitting quietly on several dozen bookshelves, whispered, “Love has no clean-cut beginning, middle, or end.” I told them all their advice was solid, picked up my favorite poet’s book, and randomly opened it to the page that read, “Once you have loved someone you will always love them.” And to that all I can do is say, “Amen.”

INTRODUCTION

I love what I do not have. You are so far…” Pablo Neruda.

It seems to be a fact that loving is so short and forgetting is so Goddamn long. That’s all I need to say most days, but I’ll scribble some more words into this leather-bound journal that no one may read. Hell, like most of my journals it will probably sit passively on shelves receiving dust. So why take the time? Like my journal teacher in abstention, the dearly departed May Sarton says, “Why talk about it? I say, talk about it’ because these are the things we bury and never do bring out into the open. And what is a journal for if they are never mentioned?”

When X first told me about her need to divorce, I left my body, hovering, clinging to the ceiling, certain I’d come back down. Now days have passed and months have passed and even years have passed. I try to re-inhabit my body and make my soul catch up with the fact that while we send pictures of our cats and dogs to each other through email, there are few words between us—a text here and there—and sadness becomes sorrow.

Yesterday my young friend Kat asked, “What is the difference between sadness and sorrow?” I’ve never been asked that question, nor have I felt the need to distinguish the two. But I think of sadness as an emotion that comes naturally, if one allows, and it goes and then it comes again as life dictates. Right now it would seem I am in a permanent state of sorrow, a feeling that will be less, greater, even greater, and less again, but at this moment feels like a river that will never make it to the sea.

Sadness is as transient as joy, lasts as long as laughter or fear, and then disappears altogether with the new arrival of things—good news, a promotion, a book deal, a new love. But sorrow is four seasons long, it is the constant backdrop for the play that continues, though the setting, character, and time changes.

Sadness is, “she’s gone,” and sorrow is, “she’s not coming back.” This is reinforced everywhere you look, felt every time you see the candleholder you bought together or the painting you picked out to hang in the living room of your cottage, felt every time any song from Bach to Beatles is played, no matter how different the setting. Sadness is seeing doors shut. Sorrow is seeing them sealed. But sadness and sorrow can also become the creators of a new life, a new vision, a revived energy, enthusiasm, and guide. But first I had to learn to navigate the uncharted territories of divorce, disease, depression, despair and get to a land where love grows out of the ground of new kind of a sacred, secular faith. This is not the kind of faith of our fathers and mothers and forefathers and –mothers; not written in holy books, taught and told by priests, preachers, gurus, and Rabbis; but more likely referenced by poets such as David Whyte, who wrote, “…When your vision is gone no part of the world can find you…Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong…” This is where I know Faith—or at least this man’s faith—may be found.

I went to my cottage in the pigmy mountains of North Alabama and started unbecoming all I’d been in order to become who I am meant to be. This journey, while still being taken, started with a journal. This is what happened and this is what I felt and learned when my vision, my wife, and my life disappeared.

 

Home for the Holidays

There’s something about that season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s that will bring out the adult children’s worst fears and greatest expectations. One of the biggest fears is that we’ll be alone. The biggest expectation is that we’ll finally have a Christmas the way a normal family does. This Christmas we’ll all be together, and we’ll all love each other and communicate our feelings openly and honestly.

For years I started dreading the approaching Christmas season as early as June. With some work, I finally made it up to September or October before I went into pre-holiday depression. That’s finally changed, but it’s often still hard. There’s still a little boy in me who wants to believe in Santa Claus and an overnight cure for alcoholism, dysfunction and co-dependency.

Many co-dependent adult children seem to feel absolutely compelled to go home during the holidays, no matter how much they don’t really want to.

“Mary, are you going home for Christmas this year?” the therapist asks the Mary’s and John’s of the world.

“I don’t want to. It’s always terrible at our house. It’s crazy. Mom works herself to death getting the meal prepared. Dad and my brothers stare at endless football games. There’s always so much tension in the air you could cut it with a knife. No one really talks to each other and everyone acts like there’s nothing wrong. I think I’m the only crazy one in the family because I either want to scream or run away and everyone else looks like everything is fine… Yes, I’m going home.”

“How is it that you feel you must go if it’s so bad?” Therapists who specialize in co-dependency already know, but we ask anyway.

“Mom would be crushed if I didn’t. Dad would be so upset. My sisters and brothers would disown me. And my parents always say, ‘Grandma isn’t going to be with us much longer and is dying to see you. If you can’t think of us at least think of her. Don’t be so selfish!’”

So adult children go, and everything is pretty much like it’s always been. They are so tense they say or hear something that sets things off and the whole holiday ends up a big mess. Hope that “this time would be different” gets postponed until the next Christmas. No one has a good time except the ones still in denial.

When ACoA’s survive the holidays and return to their groups and private sessions, they have lots to work on. So going home does give us therapists plenty to wrestle with from January to the middle of November. Many ACoA’s want three to six extra sessions per week after that if they can afford them. Most of us really just want someone to tell us we don’t have to go home this Christmas if we don’t want to. Going home can be, for some, the loneliest way to spend the holidays. We go to not be alone, and yet loneliness was exactly what I would feel the most as I looked at the way our family really was.

As a footnote to all of this, when I didn’t go home, I had a tendency to isolate and white-knuckle my way through the holidays. Since I didn’t feel I fit in anywhere, I’d often be by myself. People would ask me over for dinner or to come home with them and be a part of their family. I’d decline and go to a couple of movies on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. I always knew the best pictures to tell folks to see when they returned from visiting their families.

The bottom line is that no matter what I did to not feel alone—whether it was to muster up the wherewithal to go home or stay by myself—I still felt alone.

Last year I didn’t do either. I went to Al-Anon and CoDA meetings during the holidays and felt for the first time that I was not alone. I fit in. All the meetings were made up of those of us who were ready to stop going home and pretending or enduring the ordeal. Yet we were not hiding out in movie theaters and under the covers in our bedrooms. It felt great. This year, after three years in recovery, the holidays were finally happy. But the year before? … Well!

My friends, I hope you enjoyed reading this excerpt from The Flying Boy II. 

I am proud to announce it will be one of my first E-book releases beginning the 2nd day of January, 2018, by my long-time friend and colleague, Robert Teitelbaum of Teitelbaum Publishing.

Further Thoughts on Unbecoming

The young person’s task is to primarily emancipate from his or her original family. I have a chapter in my book, Recovery: Plain and Simple, titled, “Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad.” The teen and early twenties, and now, even men and women in their early thirties, focus on establishing themselves in the world, and perhaps, creating a new family. The middle-aged person’s task is to discover and express their own uniqueness as an individual and to more fully develop, expand their personality, which Carl Jung defined as, “the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being.” In other words, really start the unbecoming process, the cookie-cutter, programmed, indoctrinated human we’ve become. We start dropping the false-selves, and stop straying too far afield from the path, which Nature/God/Higher Power intended us to follow and become the person we were meant to be all along.

In the process of becoming a husband, wife, lawyer, teacher, millionaire, starving artist, and thus be able to meet the demands of careers and families, we end up abandoning pursuits and interests, which at one time in our lives, gave us enthusiasm, zest and meaning. In my book The Half-Lived Life: Overcoming Passivity and Rediscovering Our Authentic Self, I encourage my readers, clients and workshop participants to recall what their passions, talents and loves – before the bills and the babies, the mortgages and manias came – and turn and rediscover those all-but- forgotten and neglected sides of themselves. When they do, so many turn once again to music, painting, writing, poetry, drama and other pursuits that enthralled them. Once this happens, our center of gravity of our personality shifts into action, and this center might be called our “Authentic Self,” which is more capable of joy than our false selves are capable of attaining happiness.

By stripping away these personas during the Unbecoming process we come home to ourselves; we more deeply accept ourselves, and thus, begin to accept life on life’s terms. Some might even go so far to say they “made their peace with their God,” or “it’s the way life is.” We become a more receptive human being instead of a “human doing” and increase our ability to be less clingy to whatever comes and goes, surrendering what is no longer ours to hold on to and receiving that which is ready to come. We stop trying to force everything to bend to our will and stop thinking we know how everything and everyone should go and who should come back and when. All of this creates a greater ability to exist in the “now.” Once we stop turning the dials and pulling all of life’s levers, we meet the great giver of joy – our deepest Self.