Friday, May 11, 2012

Do-Overs

Do-Overs


Looking back (as oldsters often do), my first major mistake in life was marrying the wrong guy straight out of high school. Back then, this was the fastest way to get out of a household where I was being physically and sexually abused. At the age of 18, what did I know about the frying pan-to-fire concept? Even after 7 years of marital misery, however, I have to say I’d do it over again if I had to, in order to end up with the two sons he gave up but I held onto. I’d simply do it differently. I would have ended the marriage sooner.

Later, at one point during my college years, I realized no matter how much I learned I’d never know it all, or even know enough (by my own standards), so I dropped out. Truth be told, I was too busy living life to actually learn more about it. On second thought, however, I did learn… from “the best teacher of all - experience.” I eventually got back on the academic track and was more receptive and responsive due to the respite.

After my first baby was born I was told any future births should be by c-section. I was able to avoid that the second time around, by spending my 8th month in bed and having labor induced a week early to keep the baby’s size down. At that point, the doctor told me I should not have more children period. I totally forgot his advice when, many years later, Frank and I had been married five months and we decided to have a baby together (his only child). She was an emergency c-section, which happened so suddenly the anesthesia hadn’t even taken effect. They say we forget pain, but I remember that one all too clearly. Would I do it over gain? Of course! There are worse things in life than having your belly sliced side to side in order to bring new life into the world. :-)
There were two junctures where I made difficult judgment calls I do deeply regret, and would “do over,” were I given the chance. They are too personal too divulge in detail, but suffice it to say I will carry the guilt as a constant reminder that circumstances can sometimes be too weighty during our younger years, to allow wisdom to prevail. I pay that price justifiably, and therapeutically. Meaning lessons learned… even if the hard way.

In my late forties I made a career choice I also regret. I was so happy at home -- keeping house, fixing meals, baking pies from scratch, and packing lunches for my husband and teens (including some who had nowhere else to live, so we took them in). But I was lured back into the workplace for all the wrong reasons. Mainly money -- a large law firm made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was out of my element and, although I was good at doing my job, I was lousy at playing the game (office politics). Under the influence of too many beers, one of the attorneys once told my husband, “The trouble with Ginny is she sees through our bullshit.” I did, and I paid the price for that. But then so did they because I left of my own accord, hitting them right where it hurt -- in their pocketbook. If I had it to do over again, however, I would have turned down the job at the onset. It wasn’t worth it.

So, to quote Sinatra, Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Except that mention them I did, lol. Regrets are a part of life. My theory is that anyone who doesn’t have some tucked away in their psyche, hasn’t lived life fully enough. Thankfully, no one who knows me will ever accuse me of that!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Butting In, Butting Out

Problems are a part of life. So are solutions. My training, education and my nature turn me immediately in the solution-seeking direction when a problem is perceived. Step one - identify it. Step two - evaluate it. Step three - observe it to determine if, as sometimes occurs, the problem resolves itself. If it does not, step four: The question becomes, "How can we fix this?"

Notice two fine points here. One: Problems are perceived, therefore neither viewed nor processed in the same way by all people. Two: In my way of thinking, solving the problem is a "we" not an "I" issue. There is always more than one person involved in a problematic situation. My approach is fashioned after that of Virginia Satir, world renowned therapist who always treated everyone in the close circle of her patient. She didn't for example, see just a 10-year-old bed wetter. She saw his/her parents, siblings (and grandparents, if they were a constant in the child's life).

Bringing everyone into the solution process only works when all individuals are motivated to fix things and wiling to be honest and open. This sometimes takes some doing, but it eliminates the natural tendency of individuals (a) to say one thing to one person, and something entirely different to someone else, and (b) to misquote or misrepresent something that someone else in the group said or did in an isolated situation.

Yes, this can be messy unless/until everyone understands the rules and agrees to play by them, but in the long run it gets you where you want to go much more quickly than the round-about path fraught with one-on-ones that elicit varying versions, all of which must be reconciled. But, lucky for me, I have a horse and I do lots of shovelling. Messy doesn't bother me.

Although I am not, by nature, a "joiner," a few years back I found a group I chose to become a part of. Despite my intention to remain a silent and obscure (passive) member, I am now in the center of things and not liking the problems that are inherent to personality dynamics. I recently defaulted to my normal method of handling matters that mattered to me, but I was told by someone above me in the hierarchy to, "butt out." Not her words, mind you, butt they get the idea across. So I have done just that.

What's good about this? I have made life easier for myself, and am off the hook where I often hang myself, concerned for others/all involved. (On the Titanic I would have tried to save everyone within my reach.) In my present situation, I can now keep myself safe with an "every other woman for herself" mindset, and with no guilt whatsoever. I tried casting a broader net of concern, to help make a situation better for everyone. I failed. Life goes on and I will go... to a place in life where I feel more comfortable -- helping those who want and appreciate my efforts. It's all good.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On Whales & Wolves, Optimism & Pessimism

Frank and I (Ginny) recently watched the two-part DVD of Moby Dick, featuring William Hurt and Ethan Hawke. Though the title character is an enormous creature of the deep, the story offers an interesting glimpse of human behavior. It begins with Captain Ahab at home, struggling against the fake leg he has been cursed with since the great white whale crippled him during their last encounter at sea.

Still Ahab seems sane enough, soft spoken with his wife and son, and in quiet control of his familial relationships. It isn’t until he returns to active pursuit of the deadly whale that viewers are privy to his mental state, free of its mask. Revenge brings out the worst in him, exacerbated by the stress that goes with the hardships of life aboard a vessel manned by a crew of na├»ve and, in most part, not-so-bright mariners. It is a story of obsession that sinks into insanity and, although some of the sailors are colorful characters and quite likable, I found myself rooting for the whale (which was, I’m sure, the intent of the author. Well done, Herman Melville).

Psychology teaches that humans basically move intuitively away from pain and toward pleasure, but wires get crossed and behavior becomes bizarre. When this occurs, quite often delusion sets in and people behaving in the most irrational ways consider themselves perfectly rational. Their mental imbalance becomes their norm and it is others who do not share their warped view of reality who are judged by them to be flawed in their thinking. Captain Ahab would have had a difficult time understanding why any sane person would have dealt with Moby Dick in any way other than to impose suffering on others and sacrificing lives in the name of revenge.

This movie makes for fascinating people-watching by those who are inclined toward observation and analysis of human behavior. I love the way Jungian Psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes puts it in writing of wolves. They never look at anything; they look around it, beside it, over it, under it and, if possible, through it. They are rarely fooled and in this regard they surpass humans, who can be easily taken in by the false words of others, and feigned behavior. We often see and hear what we want to see and hear, for better or worse.

Consider optimism, which is a good thing; however, too much of a good thing can turn it bad. Likewise, pessimism can sometimes serve us well. In terms of mental health the middle road is the safest path. Somewhere between optimism and pessimism is realism. Here's the kicker: It’s a nice place to visit but due to the nature of the human mind, few of us get to live there. At best reality becomes the base camp from which we are forever setting out in one direction or the other in pursuit of… whatever.

As hunters and gatherers we don’t survive by sitting still. Sometimes we get lost. We fail to see the signs along the way, or see but ignore or misinterpret them. We’re misled by other travelers, either intentionally or un. We’re called upon to make a choice, and by opting into this we are coincidentally opting out of that. Some of us never find our way back to base camp, we simply set up a new one.

There is a school of thought that tells us never look back. I find this thinking erroneous. Life lessons line up behind us, proud to have served and deserving of our appreciation. We learn the alphabet in elementary or preschool, but we would be foolish to leave it behind as finished business. It is imperative that we acknowledge it in order to put letters in an order that creates words, and then to string words together to make sentences. The past is important. It simply needs to be put in its proper place in our life.

Captain Ahab got it wrong. Instead of drawing from his past with an eye toward ensuring a better future, he was driven by it, and driven in the wrong direction. He relinquished both control and objective reflection. Some lessons are more painful than others, and loss of his leg was a high price to pay. A higher price, however, was loss of his sanity. Moby Dick didn’t take that from him. Ahab gave it away. For him there was no new base camp to be set up, unless you count the bottom of the deep, dark sea.

Studies have shown that in general optimists are happier than pessimists; however, pessimists are more accurate in their world view; more realistic, if you will. I suppose the question becomes: Do you prefer the softened sight provided by rose colored glasses, or the clear vision that lets you face the future head on?

I believe one secret to success is recognizing the difference between the two, and holding both options close at hand -- realizing of course which approach is most appropriate at any given time, and remembering that from the middle road we can always step with agility in one direction or the other.