Monthly Archives: January 2014

Nothing else matters

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I have come to realize there are times when there are no answers.

The whys are meaningless, the hows are useless, and the painful outcomes

are without explanation.

Moments like these fight against my conscience. The wrongs are never righted

the losses never reinstated, and the hurts never healed.

Yet within that same epiphany when God is still God, and my  virtues no longer depend on the valuation of others, I can kneel in the tattered fabric of that integrity and know that it, alone, is still enough, because it was still all that ever really mattered anyway.

the fine line between disgust and beauty

fine-line

I’m not exactly sure how to put this.

You’d think the flow of articulate thought would easily flow to articulate word, but it’s a bit frustrating when you’re writing from a pet peeve to an audience that probably isn’t the target for your message. Those who most need to hear this aren’t likely to be active readers of inspirational or provocative thought. So caveat stated, here’s the story. Share it with those you think need to hear it most and blame me with the hashtag.

I read a lot. Novels. Blogs. News. Weird stuff. Online and off.

If you’ve read any of my stories here, you’ll notice I’m big on the theme of inspiring people to read, think and feel things they might not otherwise. I prize original thought and humor. Out of the box kinda stuff. Things with neat, novel twists. Stories and topics that capture concepts to which most only give passing glances, often missing something embedded within that is much richer, deeper, and more profound than the story itself. But hey, we’re busy, the regret of the moment goes undetected and we miss the speed bump that should have got our attention.

I am especially fond of humble, first person stories of achievement, adventure and selflessness. Strange, but they totally turn me on.

And then there are times they go too far and the bragging and boasting start wearing humility as disguise. That’s when I get sick.

Like, barfy sick.

As humans, I believe it’s our duty to be our brothers’ keepers. Certain subcultures make a religion out of it. Some individuals make it a way of life. You don’t read much about these people and rarely hear their stories. Most are stumbled upon serendipitously, remarkably and beautifully, as it should be.

For me, that’s the inspirational difference.

I’m talking about “humblebragging” here. I first heard the word from my pastor’s Sunday pulpit. Celebrities and grossly insecure wanna-be’s of this world are often among the most notorious offenders. Wikipedia describes the phenomenon as “subtly letting others know about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor.” An example from Twitter:

garypayton_20 About to hang my “Hall of Fame” jersey in the bowling alley at my house. #ProudMoment

Gary, congrats on making the Hall of Fame and proudly but accidentally declaring how rich you are at the same time.

That particular Sunday, my pastor used the term as a teaching tool warning against false humility, pharisaical self-publicists and self-aggrandizing narcissists. In turn, he encouraged adopting a “pay-it-forward” mentality, and then completely shutting up about the blessing on your life.

Bottom line: Truly humble and selfless people tend to keep it to themselves.

You’ve seen it before. The offenders aren’t all celebrities. Well, perhaps in their own minds, but not in mine.

The most clever offenders are those who say or post some vaguely veiled comment about their situation in such a way that begs the question. Skillfully stated, they can then so very humbly respond with more information to answer an unposed question, the private motive of which is to evoke unsolicited applause for what should more aptly be branded narcissism. Their reward: an inflated self-image of heroism, contrition, or mercy for the moment. Essentially, it sounds a little like this:

I just did something very selfless, but most importantly, it was genuine and meant a lot to the other person, but far be it from me to toot my own horn, though by telling you, I just did.

As a therapist, I was trained to look for pathological traits like this in patients. For most of us however, we detect it in others with the same feeling we get when we encounter a passive-aggressive person who makes a point of putting someone down without actually making that point. Passive-aggression is artful at the very least. We walk away from the transaction with a set of mixed emotions wondering if we were either just duly commended or horribly scolded.

Corporate and personal publicists create events for their clients for the sole opportunity to brag and boast about them. It’s commonplace often not for the sake of encouraging others toward givings and kindnesses but to create sales, profits and a desirable consumer image. We’re used to it. And while we often see through the gimmick, we still provide the expensive applause by buying the product or the lie when we know damn well they’re not the angels the publicist projects.

Of course, there are always acceptable exceptions. If you are bragging, admit it up front. If you are truly seeking others to find personal satisfaction in a charitable or philanthropic endeavor dear to your heart and want to narrate your experience in the effort, go ahead. Take the pulpit! There’s an acceptable place for these and for people who are genuinely up front about their purposes.

But in my mind, there are few more pitiful than those who boast of their selfless acts of kindness or achievement and try to make you believe they’re not.

Conversely, few things are more elegant and magnetic than the serendipitous discovery of someone’s true character from an unpublicized act.

So apart from this whole issue being a pet peeve for me, why should it be important for you?

If you’ve read this far, we can make a fair assumption you’re not one of them.

Maybe you’ve been excessive on the selfies from time to time. Perhaps you’ve shared a circumstance where you lended a hand to someone in need and the underlying motive, if you’re honest, was for likes and applause. I suppose motive is what it all boils down to.

Self promotion. Publicity. Insecurity even. Go ahead and say or do what you like. I’d much rather hear an overt, direct plea for my goodwill, flattering comment or social support than to see the same request couched in ego-masturbating words of false humility. This latter condition shows a much greater pathology–a premeditation and coercion of purpose revealing the sick, deceptive, narcissistic character who wouldn’t truly know a selfless act if it came up and bit him. Even then, he’d speak of his band aids and laud himself as a victorious survivor.

If you’re gonna feed the hungry, just do it.

If you’re gonna fast for your faith, just do it.

If you’re gonna pay someone’s power bill, just do it.

If you’re gonna give $100,000 to your favorite charity, just do it.

And shut up.

When you’re inclined to bless someone, tell no one. The feeling of keeping that secret to yourself is immensely more potent to the life of your soul than any momentary revelation to others could ever provide.

And while it’s no big thing, let me humbly state, I wrote this entire story without using spell-check.

High on a $125 rock

 

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If you’re a meth addict, you’re probably thinking: SQUIRREL!  It’s time to find a cheaper drug dealer.

If you’re a former patient of mine, it means something entirely different.

But a title like that is very accurate to the content of this story.

Read on.

During my days as a practicing psychotherapist, I was very good.  I was the king of creative clinical interventions.  When traditional methods couldn’t effect the change I wanted for my patients, I made  up my own.  I was like the McGyver of the counseling world.

More often than not, dealing with people who are addictive, compulsive and stuck in ruts of undesirable behavior patterns was not all that difficult.  Solutions were relatively simple.  It was the remembering of those solutions and the keeping of the good intentions between sessions that was the problem.  We all know what we should do but the problem is worse when there’s nobody else around except us. No accountability. No reassuring voice. Nobody to help you say no, except a rock.

Actually, it was a very small pebble. And people would pay me a fee of $125 for it.

Addict or not, we all have goals.  To start something. To stop something.  To remember our goal and keep it when our bad self would rather opt for immediate gratification only to regret it the moment after.

Enter the pebble.

Muhammad Ali once said “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.”  With all due respect, I must disagree.

We all know the small but nagging discomfort of that teeny, tiny something that somehow gets lodged in a shoe we’re wearing and despite the shaking and shuffling it is that ever present something bordering on nuisance but not quite enough to warrant a momentary sit down for removal.

Pain is an excellent reminder.

Funny how the presence of just a tiny little pain all day long can help us keep our commitments.  It reminds us of our goal.  It is that inimitable little conscience that tells us the true meaning of sobriety at the times we’d rather not remember.

Funny how good it feels to remember the high you get knowing the difference between where you are now and where you once were and to let that tempting moment pass, bringing you just a little bit closer to being the kind of person we truly yearn to be.

It’s a small price.  A little nuisance really.

If you want to keep your promise to yourself,

a little pebble can really rock your world.

And this session is on me.

LMSM,

Don

A mouthful of raw sewage changes things

septic tank

When Henry Ricketts jumped head first into a septic tank to rescue a toddler who’d fallen in, it was a clear to me something was different.  Emerging to spit a mouthful of ingested sewage, he went under once again and finally came up with the small unconscious little girl. Mouth to mouth and minutes later, Kylie Lafferty was awake and thankful that she would see her third birthday because of the selfless efforts of the man, a drug addict, released from prison two weeks ago.

I would like to meet Henry some day.

I know many people with no criminal records or addictions who would have done much less.

This is a true story not widely covered in the press.  Sure, there was a thank you ceremony in which Henry and two others received commendations for their valor in the rescue, but Henry’s fifteen minutes of lifetime fame is now over and he will fade into obscured memory and an unimportant uphill battle as he tries to rebuild his life after prison without drugs and with a changed heart.

Nobody will really care anymore.

Admittedly, I know very little about the events that lead to his arrest and conviction, nor can I predict what he will make of his life from here on out.  But a mouthful of sewage certainly changes things.

Some addicts experience change at such a deep level, I can say with complete confidence, that they become the most heroic humans on the face of this planet.

Drugs make people selfish pigs. I know first hand.  Yet the inverse is also true.

People who quit using and enter a lifetime of recovery are some of the finest, most genuinely humane people you will ever meet.  Ever.

They try harder at everything.  They take risks of life and limb for others that put the rest of the human race to complete shame.  They have an uncanny sense of what is truly important.  They are genuinely the best, most loyal friend you can make.  And yet they are rarely able to shake the branding acquired during their days of using and criminal behavior.  I know this first hand also.

Like a scarlet letter, the ever recovering addict has a public past which may never escape the notice of family, friends, neighbors, employers and those in his future.  I sometimes wonder if this humility-producing fact is the reason why truly recovering addicts are so consistent in character over time.  The awakening they experienced upon getting clean has few parallels.  It is a longsuffering, selfless condition that creates the kind of humility that makes one willing to dive into a sea of sewage for a complete stranger while others take smartphone pictures.

When I contemplate this story and the action of Henry Ricketts that day and despite his heroism, the near vertical battle he faces two weeks out of prison to redeem his character for the rest of his life as an ordinary citizen, as a recovering addict myself, I know he is not at all ordinary.

 

 

Can you keep a secret?

 

shame

You don’t work as a psychotherapist for 15 years, see thousands of patients in confidence, and not walk away without some basic truths.  Though not a clinical research experiment, having seen the sheer numbers of people I have in confidential settings, I have extrapolated some reliable facts and have generalized them to a population with relative confidence . Not the least of my findings is this:

Everybody has a secret.

Everybody.

If you can gain a deep rapport and trust with someone, eventually they may honor you with its revelation.  And if you have any integrity, you will say thank you and keep your mouth shut.

No, I’m not going to share any anonymous case conversations shrouded to protect the identity of the patient for the sake of a story.  If you thought that was juicy bit to follow here, you misjudge me.

But everybody has a deeply held, highly concealed, eat-a-hole-in-your-soul “i-had-no-idea!” secret.

I’ve had a couple in my life.

The truth is, secrets are deadly.

More tragic is the prevailing uninformed belief that they should be kept at all costs.

Sarah dies a little more every day, especially today. Now at 36, tomorrow will be the 18th birthday of a child she never knew and there will be no party, just a celebration of death and regret like she’s done for the past 18 years on this day.  The festivities will be attended by family, friends and co-workers, the nice guy at the coffee counter she visits each morning and the postman who will bring the mail at 3pm like everyday, without a single birthday card. None will send salutations or gifts and none will know that the party is private.

Keith has known since he was a little boy and has spent almost 20 years perfecting his own invention of deceit, denial and plausibility.  It’s a fragile instrument he turns on and runs all day, every day. At this rate, it’s taking more and more time to maintain and costing way too much to repair the holes in its thin facades.  His soul is going broke and though  well educated, he’d rather live an impoverished life than allow his intricate invention to break down because it is what keeps him alive…or so he’s told.

And the bloodless rampage goes on, unreported, for the only victims are the killers themselves.

We are surrounded by the walking dead.

Everybody has a secret.

The man who can keep a secret may be wise, but he is not half as wise as the man with no secrets to keep.
E. W. Howe

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of keeping personal secrets is the belief that in doing so, we remain alive.

At one point, I would have rather been caught dead than to reveal mine.  And the irony of that thinking was that I already was.

I am gay. I am a drug addict.

I am also celibate and sober.

These facts are no big news to most.  I’ve spent the most satisfying times of my life telling people I’m a mess and in turn, discovering I’m not alone.  As such, the friends I have are much closer, the freedom to live is much richer and the vast amounts of energy once spent concealing these facts of my existence have been freed up for use on much greater things like writing this story and dozens like it on my website.

When I was a practicing therapist treating those held captive by their own secrets– the slow and painful deaths that sat in front of me every 50 minutes–they rarely escaped the way they came in.  I was a good therapist, yes.  But I was a much better friend.

People are dying to tell their secrets to those they know have had their own.  Self-revelation begats self-revelation in others.

Can you keep a secret?

I suppose so.

Many still do.

And many have taken their secrets to the grave quite unnecessarily.

I believe at this point you get the moral to this story.

It’s no secret.

 

Share yours with someone and be free.  Believe me, you aren’t really alive until you do.

And perhaps most importantly, once you are, avail yourself to those walking dead among you, the Sarahs and Keiths of this world.

They might serve you coffee or bring your mail today, but they’re dying to tell you something more.

 

LMSM,

Don

The Power of a Pause

pause

 

A few years ago, it was all the rage.  “Thinking outside the box” was the next creative wave.

Entire corporations emerged to adopt this catchy new branding,

It became the answer to many an employment interview question and propelled individual thinkers and creatives to the top of the hiring heap.

Rogue is vogue.

Personally, I think they missed the bigger picture.

In my psychotherapy practice, I have always been a “systems” practitioner.  Thinking outside the box has consistently been the most effective method of arriving at both the problem and the solution.  At the core of systems thought is the idea that everything is connected and part of a much bigger picture.  To grasp this notion in the context of human relationships gives the therapist a bird’s-eye view of the processes that both created the problem and the processes which might, ultimately solve the problem.  It answers the question: What brought us here and what will take us where we want to go?

In my old age and early morning rituals, I have become a fan of YouTube documentaries.  A recent choice was “Earth From Space,” an overview of the interactive processes of the four elements–earth, water, air and fire–and their dynamic and divine systems which keep our planet flourishing.  The connectedness of an event in Africa to the sustenance of life across the Atlantic ocean in the amazon is vital and necessary.  Truly an amazing video if you get the chance.  Well worth the watch and a good primer to get you thinking the way I think we all should be thinking these days.

All around the box.

Not just outside the box.

You see, everything is fast these days.  Most humans have and take very little time to contemplate their actions and behaviors.  Reacting and responding have taken precedence at the service of efficiency.

The power of a pause.

Every single thing we do or say is in reaction to something that preceded it.  And each response we make is, essentially, served to the next person or the next step in the system.  This process is really quite simple to grasp.

What if today, with each decision you make, each action, reaction or word you speak, you paused, if only for a moment.  Ask yourself:  Where did this come from, what are my options and what effect might my word or action have on the next person down the line?

For example, as many of you know, I currently work as a janitor at my church.  The work is neither glorious nor what I have been trained to do professionally.   But my bout with drugs and addiction and resulting charges years ago have (at least for now) all but ruined my chances of earning a living doing what I do best.  That’s another story you can read about in detail under the “Older Posts” sections here at my website.

The good thing, apart from recovery of course, is the training I received from my parents who taught me that in all things I do, I should endeavor to do them well and to the best of my ability.  Being a janitor is no different.

My appreciation for my job is greatly enhanced when I view it systemically.  When I wipe down bathroom counters and mirrors before a Sunday morning service, I do it with a bird’s-eye view.  It helps our Guest Services Coordinator to relax in knowing that the best possible environment is being provided for perhaps someone who will anxiously arrive at church that morning with their own heavy burdens.  Clean towels, a fresh sink and a clear view of themselves in the mirror may make all the difference in their perspective on life for that moment.  This kind of view of an otherwise inglorious job makes work meaningful in the context of the system.

To take pause of the potential role of your words or behaviors on another is a profound act of compassion.  It makes everything you do or say a contemplated measure both backward and forward, virtually guaranteeing the best possible set up for who’s next.

It takes “thinking outside the box” to a whole new level.

Be a rogue…for the next person down the line.

LMSM,

Don

I didn’t know Vincent Frey

I didn’t know Vincent Frey.
But I did meet his heart once.

Like so many Facebookers, Vincent was one of my 764 “friends,” many of whom I never met but at one point found things in common and carried on a facsimile friendship through cyberspace.

Until one day last summer.

My roommate’s mother was sick with cancer and the doctors gave her only a couple days to live. Frantically, we searched for ways of affording the next flight out for him to spend those last days with the woman who brought him into this world and whom he loved so much.

Far from being a beggar, but wanting to be the best friend I could at that dark time, I posted a small request to purchase any flight vouchers or coupons someone had but wasn’t going to use. We were desperate. Time was wasting and he needed to get there before she died.

Enter Vincent Frey.

We had “liked” each others’ posts from time to time and laughed at some of the same things over the years. And though we never met in person, we got along online and became acquainted on many occasions.

Vincent replied to my post and said he had a voucher on the airline that flew into Ft. Lauderdale where my roommate needed to be the next day. Ecstatic at the news, I asked him how much it was and how quickly I could get it.

We spoke on the phone about it only once and during that conversation I cried. He showed such empathy for my roommate’s predicament and without pause, said he would email me the voucher information immediately and for us to make the reservation and get my roommate out there before it was too late.

This was the heart of a man I never met, never really knew and spoke to only once, but whose heart and compassion sent my roommate off the next day to spend the last two at the side of his dying mother.

He didn’t want money.
He wanted to know that we could make it happen with his help.

I reflect on this from time to time since her death and having since shared my many thanks with Vincent for his generous spirit that summer night, reflect on it one last time as I hear of his passing.

He now has redeemed his own ticket home and we all are quite sad, but I, for one, look forward to meeting him in person some day and saying thank you, thank you once again.

Don Miller

In Defense of New Year’s Day

 

fireworks

I have a suspicion.

It’s early morning New Year’s Day, 2014.

A fresh start to a new year. A clean page on the calendars of our lives. A symbolic start of better intentions, clarity in focus and just maybe a day when perhaps there is a slightly more pervasive sentiment of contemplation and philosophical evaluation of life.

Most have the day off work and a few of us with some extra time on hand may find ourselves, clean slate in hand, trying to think about our lives, directions and goals from this day forward.

I may be wrong. You may be horribly hungover, distracted by football, cleaning up messes from your wild night or sleeping the day away from which you very recently arrived home.
But it’s not an entirely illogical presumption that more than a few of us will be doing some deeper thinking from time to time today.

Will you be making plans for self restraint?  Be a little nicer, quit a bad habit, start a good one?  The options are endless for the contemplative mind today.

I applaud those of you who will use this day on your calendar to prompt some positive change in your lives, at least in thought, if not in deed.  It’s a good day for it.  But then again, isn’t any day a good day for it?

We often need some external catalyst like a truly arbitrary day of the year, a nodal event or a circumstance to propel us into deeper thought, better decisions and richer inner lives.  Unfortunately, many of those are usually are tragic, shocking or startling.  Things that shake us to our cores and all but force such important contemplations.

So it’s a new day on the calendar of a brand new year.  And in defense of that, in between today’s traditions, games and naps, do spend a few moments on the important things this day will provoke in you if you just give it a chance.  Don’t wait until something forces your hand.

It might tweak your life just enough to make all the difference between last year’s regrets and this year’s successes.

Happy New Year!

LMSM,

Don