That’s how my high school English teacher, Mr. Sean Downing, put it. A part of me hopes that my most sincere thanks reaches that man, as well as a few other choice teachers from Pagosa Springs High School. Well, when you’re a kid, it’s only a day. Now in my 30’s, I have ‘growing up’ weeks, even months. The wisdom still holds true, and I think the deeper lesson is to keep in mind that every challenge is an opportunity for growth and learning. Life sure is challenging now, and here I am blogging away to try to flesh out the moral of my tragedy (or is it comedy?).
Where to start? I keep reaching way back to my childhood to try to find the pattern. I’m sure that my issues lie in the realm of social interactions, particularly in my personal relationships. My parents moved a lot, and I remember many of them in painfully vivid detail. Things being thrown, kicked, and smashed. Name calling over who wasn’t pulling their load and wild accusations of dear friends being dirty thieves. Growing up without Internet meant writing letters to keep in touch with friends. Despite my efforts, I just couldn’t keep in touch with friends with every move. We had never lived in a city with opportunities to escape. In a small town where everyone knows everyone, it’s hard to find your niche and be accepted. It’s even harder when the advice from your parent is to simply throw fists with every kid that looks at you weird.
My parents… I have entirely disowned them. My father was full of misguidance and my mother mostly just checked out. I don’t think my father has had a sober day in decades. It seemed normal to have several bottles of hard alcohol in the cupboard and a fridge well stocked with beer. I can remember being as young as 5 when he encouraged sipping off his beverages, and he started on my son before his 2nd birthday. I couldn’t understand the unraveling until facing my own addiction. Anxiety attacks so sharp and debilitating that they left me crouched in a corner, shaking and sobbing. Alcoholism is so socially acceptable, it’s hard to recognize it in a person, and especially in yourself. Though I no longer speak to my father, I know that part of him lies hidden in myself like a vampire’s thirst for blood.
After years of being told that all the misery we suffered as a family was due to some jinx, and every magnanimous failure some other asshole’s fault entirely, it was hard to look at myself honestly. Maybe the only reason I was ever capable of internalizing the consequences of my actions was from the social isolation of living in the sticks. When I stuffed my car in the ditch, nobody was around. Nobody caused me to get stuck and nobody drove past to get me unstuck. Such events were the norm of my first 18 years. I did, however, keep myself on the honor roll for most of school. Cheered on by the career counselor, I sought out career paths and applied to my favorite few universities. Universities hinge acceptance heavily on GPA, and the first couple letters gave me so much hope for my future. That hope only lasted as far as it took for me to realize that my parents’ tax situation would prevent filing my FAFSA. I can still recall my mother walking out of H&R Block with a handful of papers, angry first, then sobbing. I got upset on my own time, realizing that all my hard work in school was for naught.
So, there I was-walking down the hallway when a stocky man in real shiny shoes and equally shiny brass buttons adorning his flawless navy blue uniform said, “Hey son! You look like a smart man! Step into my office.” My life was about to change, and I couldn’t be happier. My dad probably couldn’t, either. I know my life choices have always rubbed him the wrong way. Like the time I signed up for band and came home asking for a silver phallic symbol to blow. Finally, he could tell all his manly buddies what a man he raised that strutted straight to the Marines.
I wasn’t strutting into manhood, I was running from assured failure. What I didn’t know at the time was that the Corps really would tear down my weaknesses and replace it with strength. That, and a bunch of notoriously bad habits, but that’s neither here nor there. Once a Marine, always a stubborn, short tempered, kick every ass you see, and break every wall instead of walking around it Marine. I used to have patience. As a child, I was told I had the patience of a clam, but I still haven’t recovered that noble aspect of myself. In its place is the action demanding, “Hesitation Kills.” Go left, go right, go anywhere. Just GO! Don’t waste time worrying or panicking. Being scared is forbidden. Even when you’re shitting your pants scared, don’t let anyone see it. So what happens when an honor roll kid is told to suppress panic and take action? I can’t describe what that must look like to others, and I’m still not good at conveying the message either. I just know that when action is needed, doing nothing is asking for disaster. I have some idea what I became in the Corps, but it’s almost impossible to see myself through civilian eyes. I live in a very liberal state, and I can only feel the standoff attitude that many people have toward me. I try my best to suppress my Marine moments, but every once in a while someone pushes my buttons. It makes no difference how nice I am the other 99% of the time, one loud bark means I’m now an emotional threat in the workplace every day from that moment on.
I was married for almost 7 years. By time we got together, I thought yelling and fighting was just a normal part of every romantic relationship. It took years after facing my own demon to understand that I set myself up for failure in the partner I chose. Nothing fuels the anger and rage in a situation more than alcohol, and a couple that drinks to such excess so regularly simply can’t work through problems. It took being shoved and slapped before I cut it off with her. These days, I keep my cell phone camera pointed in her face as we exchange our son, as only the threat of losing custody keeps the rage in check. Some days I still feel clinically insane having to do so.
When I severed ties with baby’s momma, I was also in my sophomore year at university. It was demanding. In high school, I excelled because studying was my mental escape from the yelling and destruction of my parents. University was the same escape, this time from my own yelling and breaking things. Like they say: good grades, enough sleep, social life-pick two because nobody can have all three. About the time I realized that my aunt was using my cousin’s Facebook to spy on me for the benefit of my ex’s shit stirring, I had lost every friend that her and I had between us. She filled them all with her lies and tears and manipulative bullshit while I hid in my scholastic cave.
To this day, one could get baby’s momma to say that everything I touch turns to gold. My girlfriend tries to tell me I’m perfect. In general, I get a lot of respect and faith in my decision-making. In terms of leadership, I usually get the trial by fire treatment. I’ve been called a great leader, too but I wonder if it’s just a ploy to keep me in said position.
Despite whatever respect I get, there does seem to always come a time when my judgement is challenged. Maybe it’s a course of action or maybe some thing that I simply overlooked or didn’t prioritize. Lately, it’s been over emotional entanglement in failing finances. After all the schooling I’ve had, after learning to get back on my own two feet, after fattening up more than one employer’s bottom line, after having a nest egg established and losing it, I have a difficult time understanding why people attack my financial planning with subjective feelings, even while economic disaster is striking the hardest.
Financial struggle is a part of relationships. All of them. Even when money isn’t tight, there is plenty of room to struggle or fight over how the money flow doesn’t feel fair. With almost every conflict I endure, I am straight to the spreadsheet with what numbers I have to work with. Maybe it’s that nothing invalidates feelings like a pie chart. Maybe there’s something in feelings that makes problem solving via number crunching a losing strategy. Perhaps my calculating brain is ignoring a blatantly absent line item, and the feelings I get blasted with are repulsion of such intense focus on the numbers that are there.
Whatever it is that I’m lacking or doing wrong to bring this grief on myself, I do hope I can figure it out. It’s back to professional help for me, and my girlfriend as well. I welcome comments, suggestions, and anecdotes here since I would imagine I’m not the only one feeling this way.
One last note about growing up days; they actually start to physically hurt as you get older!