The Duty of Butterflies

I think a lot about the phenomenon of transformation. In some species, transformations are profound: from a larva to a butterfly. In some, it’s subtle as when a human grows from a pudgy baby to a lanky adult. Because human growth has these subtle physical differences, the domain of change is within. In how we act. For some, life and aging are the contributing factors to behaviour and the change may only go as cause and effect will push someone. For some, life events get to a critical mass and the psychological changes are profound. In turn, they can spark physiological changes almost as significant as turning larvae into butterflies.

When I think about transformation, I go to SF: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde; Babylon 5; Protector; Limitless; Doctor Who. I could be coy and make my references abstract, but I’m a nerd and it’s okay to let my nerd colours fly every once in awhile. It’s led me to lots of ruminations on the topic of transformation. It’s taken me to the question of what happens afterwards. What happens after we cross the demarcation point of transformation? What are the duties of a butterfly?

We think butterflies are pretty spectacles. But the butterfly phase is the end of life for the creature. They hatch from eggs and crawl around as caterpillars. They chomp through their plant of choice and fatten up until one day, they cocoon themselves and begin to change. They emerge from their chrysalis and take to the air. Nature has many mechanisms for spreading seeds. Some plants have burrs and barbs meant to allow their seeds to hitch a ride on a passing animal. Some seed pods look more like helicopter blades. The butterfly is an airborne caterpillar seeding device. If caterpillars could only crawl to a nesting area, lay eggs and let their young crawl forth to repeat the process, their species would be open to geographic jeopardy. Instead, the butterfly phase lets the species go far and wide to lay their eggs. Some butterflies migrate thousands of miles to carry out their genetic mission. The duty of reproduction is so important that some butterflies species don’t carry a digestive system with them from the larval stage. They jettison their capacity for eating and thereby survival to lighten the load so that they may deliver their payload further and better without stopping to eat.

The act of transformation delivers new tools. I think it carries on new duties. In Larry Niven’s book, “Protector,” he suggested that hominids had three phases to their lives: the infant stage, the breeder phases (where they make new little infants) and a third phase: the protector phase. The idea was that breeder phase was a bloody and turbulent phase wherein breeders would fight for survival and breeding opportunities. By the time a hominid got into their forties, if they survived their best breeding years they were spent. They needed to eat a special root, the Tree-of-Life plant. A virus in the plant would spark a change and bring about the third phase in life: the protector phase. Their sexual characteristics would drop off (eep). Their brains would reorganize to make them massively intelligent. They would then take on the job of protecting their geneline. That third phase carried many opportunities and many duties.

The closest simile to the butterfly transformation that I like in SF is in the TV show, Babylon 5. In the story, two key figures used an alien apparatus to build a cocoon. They took to the cocoon and emerged as a different species. A human transformed into an alien, the Minbari. A thousand years later, a Minbari underwent the process to transform into a human-Minbari hybrid to even the balance. These characters were given the opportunity to embark on the transformation. They felt fated to do so. They took on the transformation to usher in a new era where they had tremendous responsibilities.

The fictional transformation that I align best with comes from the British TV Show, Doctor Who. Doctor Who is a Timelord. When his people suffer a mortal injury, they undergo a transformation: a regeneration. Regeneration is seldom their idea. Outside forces– usually violent forces– spark the change. They emerge physically different. Their demeanor is different. In shedding their former self, they sever some of the previous ties. Donning a new persona, some Doctors have taken on new roles for the times they lived in. All of that strikes a chord with me. I was profoundly unhappy before 2013 and knew that I needed something to be different. Inside forces sparked the changes; and outside factors accelerated those changes. I don’t know if I’m going to emerge from this cycle of change as someone different. I think I’m adopting change as the new normal.

All of these fictional lessons of transformation have told me that change doesn’t spontaneously happen for no good reason. That’s the difference between change and fashion. Water runs downhill. Nature is pernicious but it chooses the path of least resistance. When change happens it happens because it’s a necessary next step. My sharp turn / big switch in 2013 was a reconciliation to the environment of abuse I was living in. It gave the pressure an avenue of escape. That was necessary. What came next felt like service. I was bound to press ahead and step through the stages of transformation. I could not be a boat that never got to port. I could not be in perpetual confusion and turmoil. I owed it to myself and those around me to have a period of flux that was only so long. Transformations are about marked change. Being in a nebulous multiple-state dynamic serves no one. It was my duty to get through it. Along the way, I’ve tried to record what I have experienced, in case what I have learned helps others.

I embarked on the process of transformation, I wanted to be something different on the far side. I wanted to be more capable and accomplished. I saw in myself a lot of places where my make-up led to self-sabotage. That was a battle to be fought. My self-sabotage never just equated to social- or business-suicide: it usually came with a body count. I would get something going and then give up. People who flocked to my banner would be let down and their efforts would be in vain. My duty is to get somewhere with what I’m doing. I owe it to myself and I owe it to others who have cleaved off time, resources and goodwill for me to succeed.

When I pass this demarcation point of change, I would like to think that I might be more enlightened and “have all the answers.” I would like to think that I could offer my advice to others on the practical shortcuts. Our world is full of “hackers” – growth hackers, bio-hackers, culture hackers. Hackers don’t eliminate the work, they eliminate the false starts and blind alleys that people go down. It would be nice if i could offer some signage to the roads that lay ahead of others.

48 and 49

I am 49. This is the 48th month of my Rebuild.

When i started this process four years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was in a very deep well. I know I had to do something. I doubted myself. I felt horrible. I would later discover that I was put there through gaslighting. Regardless, it was the spark for me to get this all going. I likened this to regeneration. It’s a regrowth. A renewal. A rebuild.

The name change came first. At the time, I didn’t realize why I shook up my Mom so much. She thought I was going to do a legal name change, which would require my full birth certificate, not the shorthand laminated card I had. That would have revealed that the “father” spot was blank. After my Mom’s death, I learned that my (now half-) sister had been blackmailing my Mother to keep the truth under wraps. Whenever my sister was under threat of losing an argument or not getting money out of my Mother, she would threaten to tell me that the deadbeat who I thought was my dad was not my father at all. My Mom lived in fear of that emerging and never revealed it to me while she was alive.

In 2014, I got a stable job and starting to lose the weight. I thought: “let’s roll with this.” I dubbed the process I was going through, “The Rebuild.” A repair of my body, my finances and my outlook.

My friend, Erin, and I started seeing each other. While women had shown an interest in years before, nothing even remotely happened. Flirty interactions were squelched well before they became anything tangible. Until the Fall of 2014, I didn’t feel secure to consider seeing anyone. In some cases, I didn’t feel like I was worthy, having set a standard in my head and slapping myself should I consider myself to be overreaching.

In 2015, the wife and I split after I learned of her years of her full-spectrum dishonesty. That led to a lot of fair weather friends following suit. About a dozen had been complicit and helped her keep a lot of hurtful secrets: I ditched them. After the split, some of the spectators shunned me. I had two literally turn them back on me at the grocery store and stare intently at the meat slicer behind the deli counter. I had one cross the street rather than get within 10 feet of me. I know what I endured. I know their role. I now know who those people are better than they may even know themselves. While losing so many bodies is painful, ejecting so many of their ilk all at once was a seismic shift. It led to a lot of soul searching and despondency at the time. The proactive shunning still stings. The apologists are people who give away their true character. I think I’m in a place where I know who my friends are and who are the spectators. It’s massive to get that sort of clarity. I’m not alone seeing the merits of a social reset.

In Spring of 2015, we discovered that my Mom was dying of cancer. She passed on shortly after Thanksgiving that year. My Mom did a lot to keep the peace in the family and with her passing, it felt like post-Tito Yugoslavia. That eventually led to an estrangement with my Mom’s side of the family.

I have often thought about thoroughly supported people: those with lots of friends, lots of family, lots of money and lots of opportunity. I have thought that they didn’t know how to be a self-starter. I was poor as a kid. I was fat and open to mockery that has few defenders. Still, I bootstrapped. I was able to buy a house while self-employed. I was able to survive for years in a town where a five-digit web project brings on sticker shock. I don’t enjoy doing something big without a support network, but I’ve done it before.

By the end of 2015, most of the structure and stability I had was gone. I would never have sacrificed my Mother to go where I would go next. Looking back and seeing how those structures and protections were blown away was the turning point for what I needed to do. Those structures kept me where I was: unhappy, fat and desperate. It wasn’t a bungalow: it was prison. I had learned to be institutionalized and live in captivity. If there is truth to my spirit animal being a wolf, I could imagine no worse fate than to keep a wolf locked up for so long. In this long process, 2015 was The Empire Strikes Back where our plucky heroes lose a space pirate, a rebel base and a perfectly good hand.

2016 was clean-up and walking the road. The Internet lets people Google their way to success. Geeks have replaced experts. You don’t have to have the depth of knowledge needed to succeed, you can fake it ‘til you make it. My job at UVic was with experts in their particular fields. It was invaluable for seeing what it looks like to sink into the depths of a topic and know so much about it. Writing a novel length work doesn’t take skill: it just takes time. People barf out 100,000 words into Twitter or Facebook without trying. Upto 2016, I had always felt like I was working without the foundation beneath me. I was a lucky geek, rather than a learned expert. In 2016, I worked to change that in earnest. I did start on a novel, but after 5200 words, I stopped. I started web ventures, but killed them before people saw the prototypes. It wasn’t that I gained fear. I lost the capacity to tumble. Blurting something out was my problem. The 2014 novel was to follow after having completed three very bad novels prior. Crafting long works is not my problem: I needed to craft something worth reading.

2016 saw me lose four months into a renovation rabbit hole. The house needed to get sold to liquidate it as an asset so that it could be split. I could have said, “fuck it,” and rage quit the renovation. Part of me thinks that I should have done that. While the Rebuild is a five year mission, by three years in, patterns and practices had established themselves. I was into the mindset of do it, do it right, and finish it. It got done. We were able to take a meager nest egg and go off to breathe for a few months. The rest of 2016 was spent trying to find a new version of normal. 2015 was a mess. I realized now that I didn’t have a firm agenda and my goal of building a life I wanted was hazy at times. In the Fall of 2016, I started exercising in earnest again.

Erin and I signed up for time with a personal trainer. It was costly, but it was rigid. We had set appointments and an impartial trainer who drove us to work as hard as we could. After a few months, I started to get compliments from strangers at the gym who had been following my progress.

2017 is where things are starting to crystalize: this isn’t a new prison. It’s a new launch pad. Until the Fall of 2016, I had lived in Victoria BC. It’s a comfy town that keeps telling itself it’s a metropolis. That gives people a broad form of dysmorphia on everything from housing to jobs to nightlife to culture. We moved to the rural community nearby. Do you remember that scene from the second Lord of the Rings movie, when King Theoden is released from the fog of his spell? It felt like that. We can drive places. We can walk places. We can park the car. There’s no social engineering. After 20 years of being trapped in Victoria, I didn’t realize the toll it was taking on me: this median of mediocrity that is passed off as fabulous. When you leap outside of the fish bowl, you get a sense of how small that bowl really is.

While I am working more than I would like, I am starting to enjoy the financial accomplishments. They feel well deserved and built on a foundation of experience and expertise. What I yield, I earned. The next big idea is coming, but I am going to take a regimented approach to its research and execution.

Erin and I signed our family up for an annual pass at a nearby rec centre. While it’s less focussed than our work with a personal trainer, that’s a plus. I intend to go as often or more often than our three training sessions. I intend to grab a hot tub and a swim thereafter. Then, I intend to do the 40-minute walk home through a combination of woodlands and farm fields. There’s a lot more heavy lifting (no pun intended). A 40-minute walk is about 3000 steps. I need to do 10,000 steps a day to make the weight loss happen. That means I need to unlock two hours per day to walk off the weight. Two hours. Per day. For 100+ days…

Erin and I are prepping our August wedding. With the drama of previous years out of the way, we have the mental bandwidth.

There’s more good news too, that I can’t openly share for the next while. The last 48 months hasn’t been easy. Change isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile. With another 12 months before my 50th birthday, I feel like the course I embarked on before my 45th birthday was essential and it feels like I’m getting somewhere.

Break Some Eggs

In December of 2014, I said, “I’m going to talk about rebuilding my life.” I also said, “I’ll do this over the next six months.” 2015 happened. But more than that happening, there was the reality of trial and error applied to a real life. Continue reading

Building Walls and Keeping Walls From Being Built

We were four months into our renovation project. By the four month mark, nerves are frayed. The whole house is in chaos: covered in drywall dust and splatters and paint. All of our time goes into renovations. We need to get it done, clear up the dust and get our lives back.

The players in our blended family:

  • A man who is trying to start a new business, deal with grieving, and close off his divorce (spoiler alert: that’s me).
  • His new partner who is both a perfectionist and someone who has chronic bouts of incapacitation through a chronic illness.
  • Two kids who are the best of friends with lots of shared interests. They are teens with a sprinkling of ADHD.

Building Walls Is Hard Work

Renovations are just a type of project. You have goals, tasks, workers and collaboration mechanisms. My goal was to get it all done as soon as possible, ideally in under four months. My partner’s goal was to get it done right, and when it would be complete was secondary to getting it done right. The longer the project went, the messier the house would get. Teenage ambivalence created big drifts of empty pop bottles, art supplies and undone laundry. The longer we focus on the renovation, the more the tide of junk rises.

When a project runs long, I press for completion. To complete a project, I will crop off features to shoehorn the project into the “completed” box. When it’s my own project, I will crop as required. When it’s a collaborative project, I need buy in from my collaborators. I need them to adjust their work habits or output to deliver their part of the project. That meets with resistance. My classic reaction to resistance is become louder and more strident. I will force the issue. If the wall isn’t ready, I will set a date for the painting to begin even though the wall is non-existent. That creates an urgency to get the wall up before the painter shows up. I realize that I’m a jerk. What I didn’t realize: I have a choice.

When I get frustrated, I will push for action to happen. That puts force in lieu of precision. It usually wrecks the spirit of collaboration. A project gone wrong is like a car with two gas pedals and no steering wheel. I have done it before. It has killed partnerships. It has wrecked relationships. I have a reputation for doing this. That push is my choice. When we got to the question of when the painting happens, I was tempted to say, “we’re putting the house up for sale in 3 days– finish the painting now.” It would have exasperated everyone. If there are ideal situations that can squelch an episode of depression; there are also ideal situations that can make despondency happen. I knew that. I knew jerky behaviour would not help my partner.

This time, I paused. Instead of taking the opportunity to push, I collected my thoughts. I first figured out if there was an alternative to having my partner deliver a particular task; then I suggested who it could be delegated to. I shared that I was feeling an urgency– that’s very different from landing tasks on top of my partner. I asked for compromise: I asked for it to be okay to either hand someone else the task; or that we consider a workaround to basically kill off the task. Then, I paused to listen for the response. By doing that, I got buy-in and understanding.

This all started with choice. I could choose to be strident and choose to alienate my family.  I could cave in and let the project take as long as it takes. I made the choice to recall how projects played out before. I made the choice to not engage on the topic immediately, but stop to contemplate. I stopped to come up with alternatives. I found a way to calmly share my mindset. I was willing to be realistic about the timeframes.

We have one battle: finish the renovations. I had the choice to add a new battle: to fight about the project. That engagement over the project would sap off time and willpower. The fight could delay the project. If I approached the impasse with the same mindset that I had used in the past, I could have made my partner shellshocked and bitter. I know her: depression crests now and again. She has been doing a phenomenal job to push past the symptoms of depression. If my bad behaviour left her discouraged, why would she feel compelled to hold it together? People don’t need to stay around when things get bad. They too have a choice. No one needs to keep a job they hate. No one needs to continue to volunteer their time and get only stress in return.

I reminded myself of my broader project goals. The narrow goals were to get all of the stuff nailed into place and all of the paint where it was supposed to go. There are bigger things I want in life. The broader goal was to accomplish the narrow goals along with keeping my family, my health and my sanity intact; and keeping their health and well-being intact, too. I made the choice to press for those larger goals.

Things to keep in mind

When you are confronted with a project and its difficulties, there are six things to keep in mind:

  • You have a choice. You can choose to go with behaviors that promote discord; or behaviors that take down those walls between yourself and others.
  • Pause when you need to. You are unlikely to be flying a jet plane. Your current problem will not fall apart during five minutes of seclusion, contemplation and examination.
  • Keep the bigger goals in mind. An entire project fits into a bigger project: living a good life.
  • You need to share your position. Make your goals known, especially those really big goals that wrap around the project.
  • You need to listen to the positions of others. People have different perspectives. Listen to those positions. Find a way to revise your position to synchronize with their positions.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Your collaborators want to help you complete the project. Work with them to find a way to complete the project well.

Who, What, Where?

Three questions and I am putting them to myself. I will do a part 2 and part 3 of asking these same questions every couple months.
 

Who are you?

I don’t know. I was a son, but I am no longer. I was a husband, but I am no longer. I was angry too often, but I am dismantling that. I am sad and full of grief, but I am trying to dismantle that, too. I have had different careers. My essence words are Hearth, Power, Play, Leader, and Sage. When I get beat up, the survival narratives I adopt: “Victimized hero,” “Indignant martyr,” “World class loser,” and “Bullied genius.” I wear many masks, and I am trying to undercover what is underneath. I think my essence words are a great way to define me and I am trying to stay away from my survival harbours.
More on the question of how to wrestle with the question of who you are: http://personalexcellence.co/blog/finding-your-inner-self/
 

What do you want?

I want to be free. I have come from many years of feeling shackled and caged. It feels like I was led to be space between the bars, then held by those bars. I want to live an abundant life where my relationships are harmonious; my life has meaning; my finances are good; and my body is in a usable condition (lighter, fitter, capable). And, I want to share that with anyone who want to hear what I have discovered or put together.
 

Where are you going?

I am rebuilding. It’s a five year breakdown of who I am– cracked and cooked down to the molecules. Then, I sweep together these tiny bits to build something from who I was and where I am. I am going towards being who I intend to be. Then, I want to spread what I learn and what I can teach.
 
Ask yourself: what are your three answers? (please post them as comments)
 


Where did the questions come from? TV. Babylon 5 had two opposing forces: the Vorlons and the Shadows. The Vorlons were all about order. The Shadows used chaos. The two opposed each other through proxy wars. The Vorlon question as “Who are you?” — a question meant to speak introspective and understanding: an quest for better being. The Shadow question: “What do you want?” is about doing more and getting what you want– it’s about tangibility. Eventually a third question was put to the universe, “Where are you going?” posed by a group called “Techno-mages” who asked this. It was about propulsion and goals. I think these are three great questions.

The Nadir

The stormtroopers have the Rebels. Vader has Luke on the ropes. The Death Star’s shields are intact. All is not going well for our heroes. But things turn around. The darkest moment gives into the brightest dawn. Is that how this works?

All of my credit cards are maxed out. My income is about $1000/mo. short of what it needs to be. I could work more to close off the debts, but I can’t do that because all of my time and energy is going into the renovation of the house. All of my available money is going into renovation supplies. The painting of the kitchen means the kitchen has no flat surfaces and the microwave is only source of heat. Translation: there is no way I can cook at home; and there is no money to buy takeout. My crappy paint job took several days. My partner’s repair of my crappy paint job is taking several more. In the weeks prior to the painting, we knew that the kitchen plumbing was dumping its contents into an unused workshop at the back of the house. We have tried to get an electrician in to do the work we need to close off the renovations, but electricians are a precious and scattered lot of tradespeople.

Closing off the house renovations is necessary to nail its defects. The house is very defect-eriffic. It’s 105 years old– the first house on the block. We need the house prepped for sale so that it can be liquidated. It’s the main asset in my soon-to-be former marriage. In 2007, the wife and I were talking about selling our townhouse. Fiscally: things were good. The finances were okay. My income was good. We had a place that had appreciated a great deal (from $130k to $280k). Around the same time, I learned that my wife was creeping around LiveJournal and cyberring smut to anyone desperate enough to give her an audience. I didn’t like the deceit; and I didn’t like that she would hold me back, alienate my friends, and go out there at the same time. I didn’t want to be married anymore. I told her that. In compromise, she nuked the LiveJournal account that she knew I knew about. I still didn’t want to be married. A month later, in prep for the sale, she broke her ankle. I was into a stressful new phase at my job. Between my stress and her ankle, I put my plans to dump her on hold; and we put our plans to sell the townhouse on hold. A year later, the house sale plans resumed. We bought our ramshackle home. I thought it could be downturn resistant. It felt that we were heading for a global financial meltdown in 2008-2009. I needed us to be somewhere cheap enough to live if we were I to lose my job. We did that. In 2010, I quit my job. With my own shingle hung out, I was fixated on making enough money to provide for my family. My wife went into cheating overdrive. Whenever I confronted her, she denied it. Whenever I confronted her friends, they denied it, too. I didn’t trust her, but I was sufficiently gaslighted to buy her crap enough, and believe that North was South. I lived almost 20 years of “no” from the ex-wife. That’s a lot of years of being hemmed in, held back and shut down. That long game of mental torture leaves a mark. It establishes patterns. Those patterns become almost foundational. I got 20 years of “no”, and I need to have a few years of “yes.”

I was at my financial wits end in 2014 when I got a regular job. Things turned around a little. I started The Rebuild. Then the ex-wife revealed all of the cheating in early 2015. We started the long road towards a no-contest divorce. I thought she needed a viable chance at getting a place for her and my daughter. When wrote the deal, I agreed to her getting 60% of the net proceeds from the house sale. I would take 40% and limp off to rebuild my life. Some people will decry this sexism, but the courts favour women. Case in point: when we did the paperwork for the separation we came to it with our 2014 tax numbers. I have my daughter for twice as many days as my ex. The tax numbers say I earned half as much as the ex. Translation: I owe her $19/mo. in child support. Tell me that’s fair. In the spirit of this unfair system, I wrote a deal to make sure my daughter wasn’t living in a slum.

Now we’re into the thick of things. Every day, I am building stuff, buying stuff, cleaning stuff, or trying to herd tradespeople. I have hated this house since I signed the papers to attain it. I have hated the house and now it’s my obsession. In reward for this monomania and putting my life on hold, I will see 40% of the proceeds. In reward for being cheated on and made into a fool for years, I have all this work and a minority of the reward to cap it all off.

I need to know the shields can drop and that the Rebels can take out the Death Star. I need to know that I get to the point where house goes up for sale. My partner is working her ass off to make the renovations happen. With my money gone, she’s draining her bank account to see us through. I have a lot of guilt around seeing her resources get depleted to make this happen. She reminds me that the money isn’t going to kill us, the bad mood will. Every penny and every hour gone is being replaced with my bad mood. I rail against injustice and this whole deal reeks. Worst still, I feel like I’m the architect of this injustice.

In my ontological coaching exercises, I have “abundance” as a project: a point where my money is good and my time is good. A point where my work serves a purpose and I feel fulfilled. Right now, I feel a million miles away from abundant. I feel scarce. I feel hurt. I feel like a caged animal. I am at my nadir. The last 16 months have felt like I was run through by a spear. It feels like I have to grab that spear and pull it through me inch by inch until it’s all the way out the other side. It hurts.

Does this turn around? Have you been at your low point? How did you come back?

The Masks We Wear

I went to a really interesting discussion on the Droppin’ The Mask. The masks we wear. We wear them out of social necessity or out of internal drivers. We wear them as tools to carry out our day-to-day lives. What happens when we drop those masks?

This topic sparked some questions in me. What are my masks? I think they are: Caregiver. Bread winner. Authoritarian. Victim. Jackass. Holy man. Fool. Wise man. (Yep: I would be a fool to think I am really a wise man). For other people, they are different. Why the masks exist is also a matter of personal circumstances. For me: being “big” — larger than life and extroverted is a mask– it’s a tool to get what I want. I would rather be quiet and retiring, but I what I do needs to be promoted and a self-promoter is the best person to carry that out. Hence: I wear the mask of a promoter and loud mouth to put forth my message.

Masks augment people. But masks can be inauthentic. Sometimes, I can see right though a person’s mask. Sometimes a mask is a crutch, but I fear that a mask for me masks an emptiness.

For some: masks exist in layers. Take off the mask of the brave caregiver and beneath is the victim. What is underneath that shell? Crabs shed their shells, and become vulnerable. They run for cover and wait out until the new exterior forms. To be without our masks, we’re naked– naked in a way that nudity or candor cannot equal.

About 10 years ago, I was asked, “What do you do for fun?” I rambled off a list of things I did that were basically chores done in an entertaining fashion. I didn’t have anything I did for joy. A decade later, I’m still that way. I find that the unmasked me feels hollow. Maybe that’s bad, but maybe it’s common. How many people traipse through malls to buy crap? How many people fill their faces with crap food? We can sense the void and we try to fill it. But we don’t know what that void is, or how to best fill it. We can’t map the darkness, so we scribble “Here there be dragons” on a subconscious warning sign, plunk the sign next to the void and look for the cinnamon buns.

I try to fill mine by running towards something: running towards various goals that mean financial security. That leads to overwork but I accept my workaholism. Sometimes it gets to drive me to be differently productive, but it always drives me to do something, often in service to others. When I talk to people about stuff, I often talk about what is coming up: “How’s tomorrow running?” “What are we doing later?” I don’t have a vocabulary to replace busyness.

The process of The Rebuild needs time. Time to exercise. Time to focus on building my finances. Time to prep healthy food in lieu of fast to attain crap food. When I get into exercising, it’s a singular experience: I am not doing a team sport. It’s me at the gym; or me on a long walk. I get into the dynamic of man vs. self: and that is feeling like a really harsh conflict to take part in. If time with myself results in turmoil, it’s not desirable. It’s better to go through life masked and inauthentic than it is to stare down into that well.

Still: that’s what I have to do.

I have glimpsed that a part of me in the void is more quiet than one would guess. I am intuitive and the unmasked me would share my intuition freely. More than that, the unmasked me wants to witness the world. I have been forced out of many experiences. My weight and physical condition takes me out of many more experiences. I don’t want to be a bystander or a reader. I want to participate to witness– hedonism without voracity. Losing the weight is a key part to collecting the reward of living an unmasked life. It means I can take advantage of living that life. So the goal of becoming unmasked is to be able to live the life of a quiet witness. Along the path to living in that unmasked state, I need be able to experience the arena of man vs. self. I have to remove the conflict that makes being unmasked into a very painful experience.

What’s your take?

Photo courtesy of Flickr

The Naked Truth

The layers of the old me are starting to strip off. Beneath that are the older versions of me. This feels like a geological dig. As I find the smaller me inside, I can dress it up and show off this newer body.

The Chronology of Obesity

Until I was five years old, I could not eat properly, so my weight was median to low. When my massive tonsils were removed, I could eat and I made up for lost time. I was overweight from age six until I was 19. Depressed over the rejection of a girl, I stopped eating and crash dieted. I went from 270 to 200 in three months, then 200 to 170 in the six months thereafter.  I hung in the 170-180 pound range for a few years. It started to creep back on: 200 lbs. by the time I was 28; 220 by my 30th, then I rocked up and over 300 lbs. by the time I was 35 years old. I got a job where I could walk to work in the mornings and did that to wind off 30 lbs., until they moved my shift back by an hour. My weight has hovered in the 295 to 315 lb. range for about eight years. My favourite old clothes were put into boxes. I had to buy the last pair of fat pants I could find and be grateful. In October, I changed all that. I started to exercise and eat better. I started to put my health in my own hands. By taking back my own fate, I turned the corner.

The Naked Truth

More than exercise, more than diet, the naked truth is that your desires, your goals and your practices have to align. Be fat and happy. Be thin and happy. Strive to lose weight and take joy in the process. For too long did I sit at a table and eat food that made me sick and I did it to fall into line and keep the peace: pasta, bread, dairy, fat and meat. I wanted very little of these and instead, they all became staples. I am not alone in this: I have seen friends who have to attend endless business lunches and mixers. They eat restaurant food. By and large, restaurant food takes good but it is not good for you. If they have a weight problem, the more business they do, the more their waistline expands. Likewise, long hours can eat into exercise. Other people’s schedules can take precedence over your own schedule. Stop. Stop surrendering the fate of your body to someone else. At over 300 lbs., I was in a life-and-death struggle with obesity. If I had cancer, no one would say, “Can you skip chemo to run the kids to soccer practice?” Look at the causes of death (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/ (worldwide)  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/11896-eng.htm (Canada)). Obesity contributes to four of the 10 leading causes of death in both cases.  If you want to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, solving obesity is one way to live longer and live better. Still, people make deals around plates of pasta. Parents pack schedules to the point where a car in lieu of exercise is their reality.  Don’t do it. Don’t die a little at every plate.

Empower Yourself to Change

I have embarked on my goal with some plans in mind for my body. Do you ever see those home reno shows where they start with a dilapidated shack; and rejuvenate it? In October, I was housed in a shack. In the coming months, that shack is going to look more like a stylish bungalow.

I have a to-do list. What I want and how to achieve it. I have to encourage you to combine your wishes with a sound plan of action. Visualize executing the steps: climbing the hills; heaping salad on your plate in lieu of pasta. Make a montage in your head, then live that out and remember the realized montage.

My To-Do List

Let’s map my pathway using my body:

The Not So Naked Me - it's okay.

Lose over 90 pounds. I am past the 40 lb. mark. I have done a lot of walking. I have changed my diet. I drink no diet pop; and much less regular pop. I eat almost no pasta and very little bread. I have been losing the weight through diet and exercise. It’s not magic. Greens are better than whites and browns. Skip fried foods, pastas, starches and breads. Have more veggies. When you grocery shop, walk to the grocery store.
Build muscle tone. After some of the layers of fat get worked off of my body, I began strength training. My legs get over 20 km of walking per week, so I have focused on my arms and chest. When I get my weight down further, I will put attention to my midriff. When your muscles are in poor shape, they are in hibernation. Wake them up with strength training (eg. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/strength_train_fat_loss.htm). Cardio (walking, etc.) burns calories during the exercise. Strength training has a post-exercise effect where additional calories are burned as your muscles suck in resources to replace what was burned off during exercise. The more toned and hungrier the muscles, the better the use of calories.
Careful charity. Don’t let being a nice guy or a generous person rob you of your discretionary time. Before the Rebuild, people would hand me problems to work out. I would sit there and obsess to come up with the perfect solution. Why? Why do it? In my case, it was a combination of charity and ego. I wanted to solve big problems. If all things are impermanent, problems fit inside of the bucket of “all things.” Don’t be so eager to solve everyone else’s problems that you end up sacrificing your health and well being.
Control my body. Is there something you want to do your body? Do it.  These were things that I was waved off from when I actually surrendered some of my autonomy. I look back, amazed that I gave up some decision making processes that only concerned me and my body. I say now, “if it’s about my body, it’s beyond debate.” You have to be the spark for the joy you feel. You have to own the fate of your body. And, you have to feel empowered to do as you wish. Don’t let others make you do something. Don’t let others hold you back.
Vasectomy. I had this done a couple weeks back to take back my own fertility choices (http://shawn.dewolfe.bc.ca/blog/close-to-the-edit.html). It felt very empowering to make this decision and follow it through. I wish I had done it a couple years ago, but I was waved off.
Liposuction. After the Rebuild is complete, I am going the last mile by getting rid of some stubborn pockets of fat. I have lost this weight before, so I know what will persist after I am done. Rather than go crazy to banish a few bands of fat, I am spending my way out of that problem. It’s my body. I want it to look like I wish it to.

I plan to succumb to vanity. Maybe that sounds shallow, but I am putting some articles of vanity into my to-do list.

  • New Wardrobe. A few years ago, I was at West Edmonton Mall. I happened into a biker shop. They had all sorts of motorcycle paraphernalia. I was caught by the shirts. Some of them looked like the standard “Harley Davidson” stuff, but a few just had some really cool patterns on black. I was intrigued. I don’t ride a motorcycle and I have no plan of doing so. Still, I liked the shirts. I was about to start trying them on with the intent of buying a couple. My ex discovered me and couldn’t fathom why I was standing in a biker shop, let alone perusing their wares. I couldn’t make an argument in my defense, so I quietly walked out of the shop offering an “I was just looking” as we walked away and my new shirts were left hanging on the rack. I didn’t defend my position. It has taken me four years to learn this and then preach it: dress as you wish. Never ask for permission. When I nudge off a little more weight, I will go out clothes shopping. I will ask for opinions on my choices, but I will decide whether I buy something or put it back on the rack.
  • Waxing. As you can see in my picture, I am way hairier than I enjoy. When I entertained waxing, my ex would say, “I like it this way.” I did not. So: I am doing something about it. When I stop with that process, I will be less hairy and more happy.
  • Tattoos and piercings. I have two tattoos and I will not be getting any more. If you want a tattoo to celebrate yourself: do it. If you dress yourself up, maybe you’ll take yourself to nice places.

 
You have to live in your own skin. You have to suffer its pain more keenly than everyone else. You should be able to focus on it being the body you want it to be. Don’t be ashamed of it along the way. Just be resolute about what you do with your body. Align who you are, who you intend to be and how you plan to bridge that gap. Break down the steps it will take to get where you wish to go, then walk that path. The naked truth is that this is about you and what you want. Never make excuses about getting what you want.

The Alchemy of Rage

In the weeks that have followed my break-up, I have had to contend with rage. At the outset of the break-up, I had the sampler of emotions: remorse, regret, rage, sadness, hurt, bitterness. They were prepped fast food style and served out immediately to whoever was closest at hand. Often I dumped them on my first wife* but I also dumped this on others.

The “whys” of why I am in this state are two fold. First, I wanted to end the marriage. When the situation became clear, I seized the opportunity to end the relationship. Why are we heading for a divorce? Because I wanted out. Second, she gave me an abundance of good reasons to get out, so I took them all as sufficient overkill to end it. The “why” of why she did what she did to me is her own deal. It won’t repair anything to know. I know that after a series of painful legal and financial procedures, I will be unencumbered by what her wiring made her do. She will have that in her head forever and so be it. I am pretty good at getting inside of people’s heads, so I have lots of work to do to purge what I have adopted that I now need to abandon.

Still, there is a phantom limb problem that has manifested. I get angry. When I had to sit in a doctor’s office for an hour, I bloomed this sense of injustice and rage. The doctor wanted to prescribe an array of anti-depressants. I was quizzed on whether I had been arrested recently or had suicidal thoughts. Because of my work scheduling, I use my lunch hours to exercise, to work toward the physical component of The Rebuild. When I see a doctor, I have to forego lunch and the exercise so that I can manage the appointment. Seeing a doctor makes me less healthy. I cannot lash out at the doctor who doesn’t know how to heal, only prescribe. I cannot lash out at the drivers on my route from the doctor’s office to the house. I cannot lash out at friends and loved ones. I cannot lash out at my first wife. I feel a lot of sympathy for her. So I have a cocktail of rage, pity and love. When I feel selfish, I cut her down. When I feel the pity, I talk about her getting the help she needs. When I feel love, I feel good. The problem with love: it’s confused with reconciliation by others. Nothing is getting reconciled and mended. It’s like my fondness for Diet Coke. Some days I crave a bottle of Diet Coke (mmm… inorganic material that mimics sugar…); I haven’t had one for a couple months. The craving doesn’t turn into a change in behaviour. Love and pity: those emotions manifest as benign things. The rage does not.

What do I do with the rage? There are three routes:

Explosion. I can unleash my rage every time I feel it. Every time some new betrayal surfaces. Every time I discover how much harder my life has become. Every time I remember something. That’s a dynamite factory. No one’s buying dynamite these days.

Burying. I can suppress it. I can force it down like another painful memory. I had actually gotten really good at making pain into amnesia. There are people who have wronged me who I have largely forgotten who they are and what they did. Even now, the last 18 years is evaporating in my head. So many things are getting purposefully hazy. But buried bodies can surface, so burying has problems.

Alchemy. I can transform the pain into something new, better and productive. There are ways to turn this anger into something positive.

The Alchemy

Don’t bottle it. Own up to it.  From Moby Dick: “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it. ” Rage isn’t good, but it’s better to spend that counterfeit currency rather than keep it in your wallet. Rage is a blunt instrument, so I use it to accomplish blunt things. If I have to get up a steep hill, I surface my rage and literally scream up that hill. The blur of anger takes me away from the suffering of the climb. When I am done, I am too spent to care and the rage, for a moment, has been spent out.

Couple rage with other physical outlets. Run. Don’t jog. RUN! Pick a track or a route and sprint. Sprint until your endurance is tapped out. In my case, I sprint until my legs give out. I need a t-shirt that reads “I am actually okay” so that people don’t think, “there’s another dead fat man.” I can take a fall. I can lie there until I catch my breath. The intention is to zero out the bank account of fury through exertion.

Find a healthy outlet for a blow out. For example, volunteer to help with a demolition project. Put on some gloves and tear that thing apart. Remember that rage and precision are infrequent allies.

Maybe your rage can be shaved into the shape of a scalpel with enough work. It can fuel you with determination. It can backup your convictions and your attitude. If you are facing a difficult situation and converted rage is simmering below the surface, people will not distinguish conviction all of its own from conviction fueled by “never again.”

One friend transforms her upset into her music and lets her music be the way she expels her emotions. Her pain turns into art.

 

Getting Help

Self help and spending rage may not get someone the whole distance. Trauma can be transformed, managed and dissipated through different forms of professional therapy. I am working through trauma. One person’s BDSM is another person’s spousal abuse. Without delving into the depths, I react to it as though it is painful. The process of The Rebuild will get me to a place where the pain is less and maybe even successfully transformed. Along the way, there is a lot of merit to getting help.

In researching the topic of PTSD, there wasn’t a great deal available on the intersection of trauma and bad break-ups. This post, http://www.war-related-ptsd.com/#!__about-ptsd/effective-treatments does have some strategies through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The general components of CBT for anxiety disorders are:

  1. Cognitive therapy-a systematic effort to change anxious thinking and beliefs.
  2. Exposure therapy-using exposure to feared objects and situations in order to decrease conditioned fear reactions.
  3. Education regarding the disorder and its causes.
  4. Arousal management strategies-using relaxation exercises and other techniques to lower the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Some of the treatments:

Prolonged Exposure (PE): This protocol for PTSD has been well researched, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness.  The program has all of the core components for CBT for PTSD, including cognitive restructuring, education, arousal management strategies, and exposure therapy.  The protocol strongly emphasizes the exposure component of therapy.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): This is another CBT-based protocol for PTSD.  This treatment program was originally developed for use with sexual assault victims, but has been successfully adapted for use with combat veterans.  The protocol contains education, arousal management, and a heavy emphasis on cognitive therapy.  The protocol has a much smaller exposure therapy component, with having patients repeatedly imagine their trauma as the main exposure therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy (EMDR): This is a controversial but popular therapy and is currently listed as an effective therapy in the DoD/VA guidelines for PTSD.  This therapy largely centers on having patients recall and describe their trauma memories, while the therapist makes movements with their finger or an object in front of the patients face.  The patient holds their head still and follows the movement with their eyes, helping to reprogram and desensitize the traumatic nature of these memories.  This obviously incorporates imaginal exposure to traumatic memories, and this is likely the reason that the therapy works.  While the eye movements have been shown to be unnecessary, and the theory behind the use of eye movements has been show to be scientifically unsound, the overall therapy has been show to help patients with PTSD.

 

Refined Goods vs. Raw Logs

Being Canadian, I am used to seeing cargo ships sail out of Vancouver laden with raw logs, minerals and other unrefined goods bound for ports overseas. We’re abundant yet we ship the good elsewhere to be converted into something of high value.

I could spew raw hate at the world, but that’s a low value commodity. It’s ubiquitous. Converting hate into something refined and effective doesn’t disown hatred as much as it uses it for some decent end goal.

In converting hatred into determination; rage into focus; and hurt into art; one can take something bad and make something good out of it.  Determination, focus and art: those are high value refined goods.

 


* I am calling the wife who I have left, my “first wife” as opposed to my “ex-wife.” It doesn’t undo who she was, she is just in my past.

The Crash

The Rebuild started as my little internal project in October. I was going to walk to lose weight, then work some side jobs to get some money to pay down debts. Then, ruminate on how to be more positive in the world. I thought the outlook element was the least of my worries having sunk a lot of time into that previously.

Then January happened. My marriage came to a sudden and abrupt end. It was a car crash, not a curtain fall. A break up can be set of arguments and tense meetings to divide stuff up. The end of a marriage is a protracted process of separation, lawyers and legal documents to bring about the divorce. The car– the metaphorical vehicle of our marriage– hit a tree in January. The paramedics (i,e. counselors) were a long way off . The doctors (well, lawyers) won’t operate on the victims until Summer. In the mean time, I sit there, strapped in with seat belts that were meant to protect me. I can’t reach out to the other victims in the car. I hear them suffering and there’s not much I can do. I can’t free myself. I’m a victim, not a rescue worker. I am not in any shape to help. All sorts of things could be wrong with me that I am not yet aware of because I am stunned from the crash. Too often do one of the walking wounded help with the accident only to go home and quietly bleed out because they didn’t get the attention they needed. We’re trapped together in the car until help arrives.

The first people to show up are those closest at hand. They’re not medically trained. They don’t know what to do. I used to work in first aid. I feared these people more than the accidents themselves. They would lift people with broken spines. They would give juice to someone who needed to be whisked into surgery. Well, our car crash had many bystanders. Some of whom said, “you’re careless” and others who said, “you’re not a good driver.” There are a few who turned around the caution signs so that the curves were unknown. There are a couple who put sugar in the gas tank. Bystanders will rubber neck. In some cases, they get a thrill out of the twisted wreckage and the sorrow.

There is a caliber of the public who call for help. They know what they don’t know and tread carefully.  They call 911 and give good directions. Some of them know to go up the road to wave in the emergency crews. Even without training, they may only jump in if the car catches fire and a sloppy extraction beats immolation.

The paramedics eventually arrive. That wait for qualified help can feel like it takes eons. I have presided over people with heart attacks and strokes who are not dead, but teeter on the brink and they could submerge before your eyes. You want to freeze time, but that’s no good. If you freeze the world, those helpers will get no closer. You have let the second hand move and lean on faith. Faith that some little trigger inside of the fallen won’t come down. So many things can go wrong in that wait for help, but one has to resist the urge to do something. Waiting and surviving are some things.

Our first line of defense should have been counselors. In my case, I deputized my girlfriend*. I dumped so much on her shoulders without asking her to bear it before I dumped it. She should have been one of those good bystanders who called 911 and waved in the emergency crews, but she got too close to the car because she cared. I clutched out the window, I grabbed onto her and bloodied her. Making a bystander into your first responder is such a bad approach. They are thrust into delivering a level of care they cannot fathom. They don’t have access to tools of the trade. They also don’t have detachment. I know lots of doctors and paramedics. Patients die on them. When that happens, it’s a shame, but you need to be able to move on. Healthcare professionals know about boundaries. They know when to not practice heroic measures to rescue someone who they will lose regardless.

This is February. The paramedics are on site at our car crash. The bystanders have been corralled. The crash happened and now I have to look for ways to stabilize the accident scene. Extraction can be painful– sometimes more painful that the accident itself. That’s where this is at. A car crash leaves physical trauma. A relationship crash leaves psychological gashes. I’m one of the walking wounded.

On January 1st, I could focus on exercise. Now I use exercise to channel my rage and despondency (look for an upcoming post on that channeling). The “divorce diet” wherein I do not eat, do not exercise, was good to skim off 10 lbs., but I can’t get into a life altering catastrophe every month.

On January 1st, I shared 30% equity in a house. By August 1st, I will hope to have a 10% down payment available for an undetermined house.

On January 1st, I had my year planned out. Now, this is a very different year save for my key goals:

  • better health
  • better finances
  • better outlook

The Rebuild has transformed from a fun exercise in fitness, to a life saving process. It’s high stakes. If I fail, my health will plummet. If I fail, I will go from divorce to bankruptcy. If I fail, I will spew psychic poison on everyone around me. I deserve to go the other way. I deserve a good body that I can enjoy. I deserve to be financially nimble so that I can use my new found freedom to explore the world. I deserve to have happy and fulfilling relationships with those around me. I deserve the chance to chart my way through this and share what I have learned with others. I deserve good stuff in my present and my future.

 



Divorce? Girlfriend? Uh, what’s going on here? There is a lot going on with my situation and I will elaborate at a later time. In short, elaboration right now would be akin showing everyone accident photos.