This morning I dropped off my buddy’s daughter at school and then picked up some ingredients for a keto-cheesecake that I’m baking for my extended family tonight. It’s not every day your buddy asks you to be the man of the house and look after his wife and daughter (not to mention goats, dogs and bunny!) when he’s away for a week. But this is exactly what happened to me and it’s been not only fun, but deeply profound to be a family man for a little while. If you are looking for a recipe for keto-cheesecake go here, otherwise if you like exploring emotions and personal growth and stuff, read on!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been staying at the family ranchette in Chatsworth in before heading to Southeast Asia at the end of the month. They welcomed me in like one of their own. I’ve come to know them closely and dearly and it’s been a valuable look at what an unconditionally loving and emotionally (and logistically) dependable family structure looks like. The way they deal with their highs, lows and even the occasional emotional turbulence that accompanies having an adolescent daughter is patient, healthy and authentic. They don’t speak down or judge each other for how they are feeling. They support, nurture and allow each other to feel their emotions while also continuing to encourage healthy behaviors and thought patterns.
Hands up if you had perfect parents… Exactly. Almost nobody. And for the few of you with hands up, knowing what you need to work on can be even more challenging sometimes because you don’t have obvious sources of trauma to deal with! Aah, the joys of being human! But the more I learn, the more I realize (and more importantly accept) that my life is an ongoing journey of self-discovery and growth. I used to blame everyone, most of all myself, for my life’s problems but more than ever I see that getting OVER these old stories is a critical, and increasingly satisfying part of my evolution. My highest self, free from shame, fear and self-defeating judgment is not so much a destination as it is a poem which is unfolding over time, taking me to an ever greater understanding of myself, others and the world around me.
I’d always had a rocky relationship with my mom, but while recently mending our bonds she asked me “Who were you before your parents were born?” It seemed like a bizarre question at the time. Maybe it was a way for her to shed any lingering guilt she had. But more importantly it was an invitation for me to explore the deepest aspects of my character. My mom, who no doubt had come through difficult times in her history, did her best to raise me. Sometimes the way she loved me didn’t always feel like love and it’s taken a long time to work through and accept that. But recently I was advised that it can be helpful to mourn the loss of the ideal parents that we never had. Rather than retaining judgment this actually allowed me to take the expectation off of the parents that I DO have and at the same time identify and fill my parental gaps by observing aspects of good parenting in the community around me and incorporating those traits into my own INNER parents.
Like most people, I have my ups and downs. And to date, my style of unstructured and high energy living has meant my arcs have been pretty severe. I was making a pattern of riding epic waves, high on life, and then withdrawing as a means to heal my soul. Six months or so ago I felt closer to the edge than ever, wanting to escape to anywhere but here and even entertaining some suicidal fantasies. Trying to figure out how to tie a noose in my head almost became an escape tactic from a really less than ideal escape tactic. That day I decided to get off my bed and go to yoga. I reached out to a few friends to share how I was feeling. I started to reduce my drinking and began eating healthier. But this time, I told myself that I needed to stay on the path, because the next time I might not come back from the edge. I began trying to diagnose my own psychological condition. I read a bunch of psychology journals and took some online tests and eventually became convinced that I had Borderline Personality Disorder. I decided to go to a psychologist, and while they didn’t think I had BPD myself, they identified some “contact” effects, possibly due to close contact with someone having the disorder. I won’t point any fingers 🙂 I decided to go to an 8 week Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) workshop they recommended and read a book a friend had given me which was an overview on how to deal with loved ones with BPD (as well as the effect it has on you).
Six months after eating well, exercising, slowing down my social activities, reading, going to workshops and prioritizing meaningful relationships with friends and family, I can irrefutably hear myself more clearly. I’m not talking about the inner voice who tells me I am not good enough, not moving fast enough or not appear outwardly successful. I was getting in touch with a deeper side of myself. And right around that time was when an interesting thing happened. Recently after a project didn’t unfold as I was hoping it would I began to get really upset. I blamed myself for how it had been misaligned with my current goals, how I’d still gotten involved and how my very involvement had set me back as a person. Extreme reactions like this, even when the external issue might be somewhat minor, was a familiar feeling and I knew what was next. My self-blame would spiral inward until my inability to process my emotions would lead me to self medicating with smoking, drinking, eating or even taking on a “functional” distraction like another project, or keeping really busy… all so I wouldn’t have to face my feelings. But this time, as I sat there driving towards no actual destination and observing this inner upset child, I thought about how I’d witnessed my friend and his wife deal with their young daughter when her emotions flared up at one dinner. At that moment, another character entered my mind. It was a warm, loving maternal force that comforted my inner child. I told myself that it was OK to feel that way and the feeling wouldn’t last forever. “Life can be tough but you’re doing a great job. And don’t be too hard on yourself because guess what, you’ll have another chance to learn this lesson! Step by step…” there was no shame, no tinge of guilt, no rush. Just sweetness and unconditional love. And that’s all it took to trigger a full release. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I watched as the feelings that my upset child had been expressing began to dissipate until I was present with myself once again. “That was pretty crazy.” I actually said outloud. “You just conjured your own inner mother, which you assembled from bits and pieces of characters from the world around you.” And the best part? She is now with me forever, whenever I need her 🙂
And so here’s the deal. I’m fortunate and grateful to have had the family I did have. I’m grateful to have had wonderful friends and to have had the chance to live with this beautiful family, even for just a few short weeks. It gave me a gift in the form of a valuable skill that I’ll be able to use on myself, others and even my own children one day. It also allowed me to realize that not enough of us have the opportunity to be around other families that can show us other ways of interacting. Some of us are lucky in that we have large extended families but many of us don’t have access. On the other end of the spectrum are people with no one left. I think the future of our species, and the healing of humanity itself, will be in part founded in a return to community. We’re seeing this in everything from the sharing economy to the evolution of festival culture. We are reacting to feelings of isolation and are yearning to reconnect. Of course I love my parents, but know that my ability to deal with difficulties in my childhood would have been made hugely more manageable and less stressful for everyone involved, had I had a variety of aunties and uncles around to tell me “It’s going to be OK, your mom or dad just gets like that sometimes, but we love them nonetheless!” None of us is perfect, so the more close relationships we have around us, the more we can embody and emulate the aspects of their characters that we need to balance out our own shortcomings on our path to our highest selves.
Now doesn’t what sound like a beautiful journey? Alright, enough of all this emotional stuff, I have a surprise keto-cheesecake to bake for my extended family!