Trigger – no not that kind

It happens to all of us, you may not even know it is occurring when it does. Your heart rate increases, your face may flush, maybe your palms get sweaty, if you have a nervous twitch it may show itself, and likely you get defensive, that is if you are like me. It is that moment when someone says something that irritates you, sets off an alarm, or otherwise triggers a reaction in you that likely stems from some set of experiences from growing up.

If there was ever a trigger in my life it is my mother. She has been visiting my wife, son and I for the last two weeks. What that means for me is I have been in my version of hell for two weeks. Culminating in last night’s conversation that started with:

“I feel like you constantly have a wall up with me. I thought we were going to be close again” quickly followed by, “what did you think of your childhood”. Now, of course she waited to have this conversation until my wife was safely out of the country (home for her brothers graduation) and of course not until she had a good two or three glasses of wine topped off by a few tokes of hash. I think I should provide some context here.

We all have a story, mine may or may not be like yours, to some degree. I grew up the oldest of three, (sister than brother) in a small house in a wealthy suburb in Illinois. We, however, were poor. My dad was a train conductor (ticket taker) and my mom stayed home. Not because we could afford for her not to, but because my dad did not allow her to work. My dad looked like a guy who worked on the railroad. A little over 6 feet tall, balding black hair, mustache, about 50 pounds overweight, all in the belly with a loud voice you could hear booming even down the street. The funny thing about his job is that he would take the commuters in and back on the morning ride, and then hung out at the station until rush hour that evening. During that time he drank beer, smoked and played poker with his buddies. For 5 hours! And somehow was paid to do this. What that meant for me is he always came home drunk, before the night even began. My mom had her own addiction issues, pills, coke (though not ever day), a smoker and light drinker, at least at the time.

We lived in a tiny bungalow on Brandon Avenue. I shared a bedroom with both my brother and my sister. There was puke dried on the carpeting in the hallway to our upstairs bedroom from the previous owners dog, I think it was permanent. Most of my friends came over one time to play and then weren’t allowed over again due to the daily screaming matches in my house and the never-ending flow of drugs, booze and cigarettes.

And that is just the beginning, really just a light-hearted set up to what was to follow. So you can imagine the trigger reaction I had when my mom challenged me as to why we weren’t close, and what I thought of my childhood. I mean, I have been in therapy for 12 years and have had my own executive coach for five, I coach people for a living to further help me get away from the childhood that I never stopped running from. So much so that I am 34 on the very cusp of 35, a Global Manager of Organization Development for a multi-billion dollar global company, have moved 4 times in 9 years, all for promotions and each time happier that I wasn’t living near my mother. In case I haven’t mentioned it, my dad has been missing for 18 years, so I didn’t have to work to get away from him.

She really didn’t know what that question was going to get her. And I am certain now she wishes she never asked.

One of the quotes that I use to remind myself that life is just life, and with it comes both suffering and joy is below:

“Pain is not punishment, and pleasure is not reward.” Pema Chodron

I don’t think my mom found it helpful when I ended our conversation with that. But it helps me realize life isn’t out to get me, or reward me. It just is.

Who are you, really?

I was recently asked who I was, how I define myself.  Not considering work.  I don’t know about you, but I always thought I was pretty clear on my identity.  But I was stumped, totally blank.  Then I started to rattle some things off, I am a mom, a wife, a foodie, an avid reader, a buddhist, an obsessor of modern art, furniture and architecture, an animal lover, a meditator, a passionate home cook, an aspiring yogi, a friend….and two thoughts stopped me – when was the last time I really made time for these things and was truly present doing them?  And, the list contains all things that a person does.  So, I didn’t really feel I had answered the question of “who are you,” and more importantly, I didn’t know.

We all do this to ourselves, or at least I think we do.  Once we graduate college we start to define ourselves our jobs, by our primary relationships, by our hobbies and we end up with a list.  What does that list really mean?

Mom – I have a 2 year old son, I nurture him, I love him, I feed him, I keep him clean and safe, I teach him, I play with him, I help shape him…

Wife – I have been with my wife for 9 years, we have been married over 6 (yes, legally thanks to getting in under the wire in CA).  I love her, I listen, I share, I support us financially, I nurture her, I make her laugh, I feed her, I am the cook in the house, she does the rest…we go on dates, we raise our son together, we try to stay open and loving and in touch, we try to have fun together, we plan for the future…

Employee – I have worked for the same Company for almost 6 years – I have moved 3 times for them, once internationally (we live in Amsterdam right now via NY, via Chicago, via LA, via Chicago).  I am in charge of Organization Development (ie how we keep people motivated, happy, and growing).  I used to spend most of my time doing executive coaching and running workshops on emotional intelligence, communication, leadership, etc…now I primarily run projects, which I hate.

blah blah blah…you get the picture.

I see myself as I am not…the things I identify with are not me…and in many ways many of the things I love I don’t even do anymore.  Time is of the essence, and for me, probably as for most people, I don’t have enough of it.

I am now on to figuring out how to discover, or rediscover me.

Some would say I am having a mid life crisis, albeit a few years early.

Aren’t we all a little bit afraid?

Living the life I want requires facing fear, everyday.  Fear of failure.  Fear of losing.  Fear of not having.  Fear of having.  Fear of eating too much, drinking too much, saying too much.  Not saying enough.  Fear of letting others down, not doing enough, not making enough, not accomplishing enough.  Not parenting well enough, parenting too much.  Loving too much or not enough or the wrong people.  Fear of being vulnerable of letting you see me.  The irony is we are all afraid of many of the same things, of each other, but we don’t talk about it, for fear of others knowing we are human, that we are afraid.  And if we really take a few minutes to think about what stops us from doing almost anything, eating one more…fill in the blank…saying what we really mean, getting a new job, riding a motorcycle, telling our partner we don’t like the way they eat that sandwich or the way they don’t listen…it is all because we are in fear.

In my job I spend a good deal of time coaching people through the various issues in their life.  I have realized over the years that so many people hide so much and we are all trying to fool each other into believing the facade.  But deep down, many of us are hiding the same things and if we could all just have the space and give ourselves permission to open up we would see that you are me, and I am you, and I can finally stop pretending and face my fear.
I aspire for this to be a space for people to post their fears, and lets talk about it.  Whether it is jumping out of an airplane, quitting your job, using a public bathroom, commitment, love, success, overeating…it all induces a similar feeling – our bodies hardly distinguish.
After all, “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”- Pema Chodron
– however if we don’t acknowledge our fear we will never realize that truth.  And a what a pity that could be.
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