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Posts Tagged ‘introspection’

618126“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~Andy Warhol

I am a creature of habit, a slave to each and every one of my tendencies, which is why they’ve become tendencies for me in the first place. Sometimes I recognize when I’ve fallen into one of those routines, and other times I have absolutely no clue.

Sometimes the habits I have are good for me, and help me grow as a person. Other times they’re completely detrimental and probably should have been cut out of my life a long time ago. Even when I recognize that I’m doing them, though, I don’t always know which is which.

But one thing I do know is that after the fact I analyze, and I try to make a plan for “next time.”

“Next time” has become an echo around here, a reminder that this time I did the same thing I always do, but “next time” could be different. “Next time” could be a turning point that could completely change my life. Or it could just be me repeating the same old patterns because I’ve forgotten all about the analysis immediately following my routinized behaviors. Here are a few off the top of my head…

Behavior #1: When I know I am wrong I don’t admit it. Instead I try to create a circuitous path of misinformed logic that will lead me to freedom, or at least to a point where the other person (who knows I was wrong) just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it anymore to argue with someone who is like a brick wall.

Behavior #2: I pretend not to hear others when they’re constructively criticizing me. I make a big show of saying I’m open and willing to listen, and then I very demonstratively don’t listen when they take me up on it. Sometimes I nod and say, “Sure, okay, thanks,” but those are just placeholders, excuses for not really listening.

Behavior #3: When it comes to my friends I put them entirely above me, listening to their problems and issues and either offering advice or just listening because that’s what they need. I give myself completely to every single friendship I have (not that there are many), sometimes to the detriment of my own health. This behavior has often been seen as smothering, and I do tend to lose the few friends I gain.

Behavior #4: My mind needs time to process change, so if I’m not apprised of some upcoming change ahead of time, if it’s sprung upon me suddenly, I can be surly and uncooperative when it comes to said change. That is, if I don’t just completely shut down instead, which is entirely on the table most times.

Behavior #5: I get defensive about a LOT of stuff. From my gray hairs (“Stop calling me old!”), to leaving the toilet lid up (“I don’t ever do that”), to buying the wrong brand of paint (“You didn’t tell me you wanted the other one”), to just about anything, really, I can argue about pretty much anything, even when someone is trying to compliment me.

Behavior #6: I like to be in charge of my time, even if it’s something simple, like doing something two minutes from now because someone told me to do it right now. Or if someone leaves something open ended I tend to wait until it absolutely has to be done in order to get it accomplished. It may seem like something little, but to me it is the world. It means I have just a bit more control over things, even if I really don’t.

Behavior #7: I’m self deprecating. And while I know you might be thinking that clashes with Behavior #2, it fits right in. Because, while I hate it when others criticize me, I do it myself all the time, and to me it’s okay. It’s like when I say something negative about my mother, then someone else agrees with me. IT’S MY MOTHER. I can say it. You can’t. Same applies with myself. IT’S ME. I can say it. You can’t.

And the list goes on, but the point is clear: there are a ton of behaviors that I find myself repeating time and again with no escape valve, with absolutely no change to any of them even though I’ve analyzed them to no end. I assume that’s because in the moment we, as human beings, tend to slip back into our patterns, tend to rely on what we know, even if it’s not at all good for us. It’s why alcoholics backslide, why women go back to the men who beat them, why you’re still watching The Voice even though it’s just not good anymore.

So “Next time” comes, and we tend to do the same things we’ve always done. At least I know I do, unless I stop when it happens. Unless I analyze before, and not after. Unless I take responsibility for changing my own behavior patterns, which is a gargantuan task, but it’s what adults are supposed to do. It’s what people who want to change for the better do. It’s what people who have healthy relationships rely on to maintain those.

I’m still a work in progress. Ask me again how I’m doing… next time.

Sam

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4c6cb904a2d15966297029f7e41e58dc“What are you recovering from right now?”

It was twenty years ago, and I was just testing out my sea legs, except I wasn’t on water. But you know what I mean. Any person who’s ever been 18 knows what I mean. I was an adult but I wasn’t an adult. I thought I knew what life had in store because I had always known what was going to happen. I was going to finish college with a phenomenal degree, get a phenomenal job straightaway, get married to the most phenomenal woman ever, and live the perfect life. Most 18-year-olds thinks this way, open-ended and free. But as 18-year-olds we fail to take into consideration that this world doesn’t just hand out “phenomenal.” It likes to take something from us as payment for a dream that may still never become reality. It takes our innocence.

I was confident back then, a well-read young man with well-read friends and a small penchant for the dramatic. College was free, and most things I wanted to pay for weren’t expensive either. Even if they were, I had a job for that, a job where I got to interact with people on a daily basis, one that kept me fluent in the language of youth but at the same time trained me for how to be when I really did grow up. But I wasn’t grown then, not by a long shot. I was probably the youngest 18-year-old ever, and what’s sad is that I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I had a sense of freedom I had never known before, and I abused that sense of freedom as often as I possibly could.

t-shirt-about-drinkingYes, I was drunk more often than I wasn’t. I went to every party that was anywhere near, and when one wasn’t near I sketched and painted one in on the spur of the moment. People said I was the life of the party, which I figured out later meant I was a good caricature for them to point at and laugh, and I was too drunk to notice that they were laughing at me, not laughing with me. Even though I was laughing, and I kept laughing even after I got kicked out of school. They called it being put on probation, but I knew what it was. And they weren’t wrong. I had no business being in classes, not in my condition. I hated them for it then, but they did me a great service.

Before I knew it, though, I realized my life was in a holding pattern. I was as confident as ever, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Then the job was gone and the money started to run out. College was on hold, and I was listless. Literally without a list of anything to do or anyone to do it with. I was no longer the life of any party, and I didn’t know even how I was going to get to and from the places I wanted to go. So I took what I needed from people who didn’t deserve the way I treated them. I begged, borrowed, and stole to try and make myself feel better about myself, to make an impression on others. And the only thing I ended up doing was ostracizing those who cared about me, setting them in a corner and turning my back on them. I was completely lost.

I could have become a statistic, too, this kid who had the whole world in front of him and disdained it, who took it for granted, this Peter Pan wannabe who never found out how to grow up. It was the greatest sickness, taking youth for granted, taking people for granted, obsessed with this idea that the world somehow owed me. For what? Then it was all over, and I was all alone, and life kept moving forward while I stood still. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was what I had prepared for, the listless nature of my existence, the pain of self-imposed loss. And it’s 20 years later but I don’t think I’ve ever really looked in that mirror of time and examined the 18-year-old version of me, the kid who was fresh-faced and blazing with confidence. I don’t think I’ve ever really recovered from the blow I dealt myself by getting caught up with myself, by loving this idea of me that never came to fruition.

Am I in recovery? Well, I think the first step is recognizing the problem, identifying the disease, and I might be 20 years late, but better late than never.

Sam

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faith-does-not-eliminate-questions-but-faith-knows-where-to-take-them-589980I guess we all go through our lives thinking that others know what we’ve gone through, assuming that our experiences are tacked up on our faces like so many notices on a board, or at least we don’t really think about where others come from so we assume the same when it comes to them. Regardless, the time comes when we get close enough to another person that we feel the need to explain, when all the questions come, the excitement of getting to know another person’s history.

When I first met the woman who would become my wife I remember the first question was, “What exactly is Seventh-Day Adventism?” and I had a hard time answering it past the obvious “We went to church on the seventh day instead of the first.” Then I really took the time to think about it, something I realized I had never truly done before, and the answers weren’t coming easily. It made me think of that quote I’ve often used on others: “Always question everything because the answers might surprise you.” So I dug deep and I told her Seventh-Day Adventism is the belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ, in the faith that God never changed his holy day, in the confirmation of the miracle of immaculate conception, and in the promise that God will come again to save us from ourselves.

Of course that seemed like a pat answer, like one I had rehearsed more than once, like propaganda from God-fearing folk to explain Him to the unwashed masses, and it felt like mud coming from my mouth. But it was the answer, for better or for worse, because it was what I had heard time and again while going to church, the “party line,” if you would. So when I thought about it, really thought deeply, it was all I could come up with, which was a sad commentary not just on my upbringing in the church, but also on my lack of understanding and depth of something I was supposed to be expert at.

It wasn’t about others from the outside asking questions. It should have always been about me asking questions from within, so I wasn’t merely going through the motions. But I had been going through the motions, toeing the “party line,” and understanding exactly nothing. I realized I needed to do some research, some real research, not just going to the SDA website or simply listening to the pastor preach it from the pulpit. It had to be real to me so that I could make it real to someone else who hadn’t been there with me from the start, who hadn’t gone to Sabbath School, and church every Saturday, and Vespers every Saturday night, and Vacation Bible School every summer. So I went back to the beginning, for me anyway — my mother.

Say what I would about my mother, I could never deny her complete devotion to the church, but I had never asked her any of the questions that I should have growing up, back when I was blindly following the religion by rote and not by faith. When I went to visit her one time while I was back in Philadelphia we had the talk we probably should have had when I was younger, and I asked her pretty much every question I never knew the real answers to, the ones that were most difficult because they were most essential. You have to understand, it physically pained me to admit that I didn’t know, to let anyone else know that what I had in the church had been built on shaky ground, not on a true understanding of my faith.

That’s what it comes down to, she told me by way of an answer to my biggest question, the understanding that even though it’s a religion it’s at its base about the individual, not the collective. Seventh-Day Adventism, according to her, is a connection of individuals who believe in God, who believe that he will come again in glory, but who also believe that their individual connection with that God is paramount above all else. It’s not about the song and dance, and no one else need know where you stand, because God knows, and that’s all that matters. It’s not about being demonstrative, even though many Christians believe that “works” are most important. It’s about the questions and the answers, and not from you to others, but from you to God. Wow, that blew my mind, to think that the whole time I thought it had been about appearances when it should have been the exact opposite.

And I knew I had to start living what I preached, that I had to question everything, whatever I built my foundations on first and foremost though, because building on shaky ground is never a quality proposition, and not understanding where you come from and what makes you YOU is inexcusable.

Sam

Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist Archive

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You know, sometimes I feel weightless, that feeling of utter joy when I know things are clicking, but it is rare. And that’s how it should be because if things were easy all the time, what is there to strive for, to try and achieve? It is those times when I feel heaviest, that is when I dig deep to create.

My life has been filled with a roller coaster ride’s worth of experiences, good after bad. And I imagine most people could say the same about theirs. Those weightless times, those are when I am at the top of the curve, anticipating the drop. I feel a sense of anticipation like never before, but deep down there is also a dread, knowing what awaits on the other side.

Then gravity takes over and I feel this huge weight crushing my lungs, making me cry out but there is no sound. I seize up in the moment and I feel like I am the only person in the entire world, so cold and alone. Lonely. Yet, when people try to comfort me, I shy away like a skittish colt. And I raise my hands in surrender as we descend the track.

So I create. Sometimes it is music, sometimes art, and sometimes interpretive dance moves, but more often than not it is through written expression that I bare my soul, as naked as the day I was born, only on that deeper emotional level, where I live and breathe. However shallow the breaths.

And you wonder why my poetry is so dark, why my characters harbor such deep, foreboding secrets. It’s how I get out all of the disappointment, how I bleed clean and replenish myself. It is my penance and my salvation. But don’t worry, it doesn’t mean I’m lost. It means I am in the process of being found.

And I get in line again.

Sam

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