My Age, Part Two
As I have been talking about this series with friends, some have immediately reassured me that they are not my age! When I explain to them that I’m not just talking about my personal age, but “my age" in a collective sense, some of them get it and some still don’t! Yes, it is terrible when a writer has to explain the subtleties of his title. Kind of like having to explain a joke. So you get it? Right? Of course you do. Thank goodness! And yes, I think it is funny.
It's Never Too Late To Live Your Own Life
When you get to be “my age,” yes, that’s right. When you GET to be my age. Being my age is better than getting to eat at the grown-up’s table for Thanksgiving. And, of course, we all know that after the first year of sitting with those crazy so-called grown-ups, we prefer going back to eating Thanksgiving dinner with the “little,” but sane and sober people.
More importantly, when you get to be “my age,” it is as good a time as any to begin living your own life. NO, it is NOT too late. Absolutely NOT. And if you’re asking whose life you’ve been living, well, that is a very good question. So answer the question. What are your best guesses? If you haven’t been living your own life (and just assume for fun that you haven’t), whose life have you been living?
It could be that we are living Mom or Dad’s life, in fact, their identical life. We are as angry as they are, as nervous as they are, as addicted as they are, as funny and as happy as they are, as rich or as poor as they are. The lists goes on. But the point is we are living either their identical life or some version of it.
We may also be living the life they chose for us to live or told us to live or would be or are pleased that we are living. We may still have this overriding obsession not to disappoint Mom or Dad or both, even though both may be or are DEAD. But they are alive and well in our brain or in our heart or in our entire body, for that matter.
About twenty years ago, a research project on the East coast discovered that many priests left the priesthood and found a partner to marry after their mother died. (I have googled this research and have yet to find the source. I apologize.) Yes, they were living Mom’s life. And Mom probably wanted to be a nun at some point in her early life!
I think that if you look in the mirror very carefully, you will notice almost instantly whether or not you are living your life or not. So tell me what you see when you look in the mirror. It’s okay, really, no one can hear you. Only I will know!
I believe, to some extent, your physical condition will tell you pretty instantly whether or not you are living your life or someone else’s. I know. That is a pretty daring statement to make, but I am going to take the risk. Think about it.
Looking in the mirror, what do you see? Are you an alcoholic in denial? Are you still smoking your way to COPD? Are you already there? Does your body carry the weight of.... Yes, answer the question, the weight of what? The weight of Mom and Dad’s insanity, their alcoholism or addictions, their divorce, their disgust for each other, their hatred for each other. Or maybe the weight of their dreams and hopes for you which are totally contrary to yours? And, of course, the reverse may be true. Your body may be thinning away from a lack of emotional nutrients because you continue to take in what everyone else thinks is good for you, but it all gags you.
Take a look at your eye brows? Are you brow-beaten, by the people you love, to live up to their expectations? Do you go to a job each day that your partner wants you to go to, so he or she can feel safe and secure in a particular lifestyle? Yet you hate the job, but keep going to it every day because you can’t even imagine making the same money “working” at the job of your dreams, a job you totally enjoy. Yes, the job of your dreams. Why not?
When you look in the mirror, how would you describe your stance? Does your stance portray confidence and power? Or does your stance portray someone who has been repeatedly victimized?
When you look in the mirror, how do you stand? Are you standing on your own two feet? Do you see someone in the mirror who can stand up for him or herself? Are you even able to stand up still? Does your excess suggest someone who is carrying the heavy numbness of being disconnected from your sexual self? And what is that about? Or is your thinning stature a result of an on-going attempt to remain invisible lest someone actually see you and acknowledge that you have an abundance to offer to your world? And what is that about?
I know some of you about now are freaking out. Some of you are screaming at me. “I’m not blaming my parents for anything.” And I say, “GOOD, DON’T.” This is not about blame. I’m not suggesting you blame anyone, not even yourself. But, try to remember, that Mom and Dad are/were the most significant man and woman in our life, so they have/had an influence on us, and it’s okay to observe and acknowledge what that influence, what that POWERFUL influence looks like today. It’s okay to look in the mirror and wonder why I am living the life I am. Why do I look the way I do?
Now some of us may in fact be living our own life, but an earlier version of our life or several different earlier versions. And it’s intriguing to me how this works. I mean, how is it, that I am almost seventy years old, but at any moment in time, I can feel like I am three years old? Or like a teenager all over again? Whatever confidence and poise I typically experience, goes out the window with the snap of a finger (perhaps an invisible finger), a look on someone’s face, a tone in someone’s voice, leaving me feeling awkward, judged, rejected. I feel “wrong.” I said the wrong thing. I did the wrong thing. I went the wrong way. WRONG. How does that happen so quickly?
How do we get knocked off our feet so completely and without warning? How do we end up regressing backwards to an earlier age, and so often, in a grasping gasping effort to “save” ourselves, end up reacting and or overreacting? Our old wounds, our old buttons get pushed. And I always feel so small and so inadequate when this happens.
Are all of us people-pleasers to some degree? Or is it a personality trait of just some of us? Are there folks who have never experienced that need to please others? Or do some of us (or all of us) have that drive to please one or more folks, to gain their approval, because growing up, we rarely experienced pleasing the giants, the big people, nor received their approval. We never measured up. What we did or what we had to offer was never enough. Worse, we were never enough.
We were known for our short comings, our failures, our clumsiness, our stupidity, our uncanny ability to always strike out at the worst possible time. Perhaps, we never came in last, but we never came in first either. And I’m not talking about actual performance, but I’m talking about coming in first in Mom or Dad’s estimation or expectation or in the estimation of other important giants, like teachers, coaches, ministers, peers, teammates. The film, The Judge, is a poignant example of this life-time quest for approval from the giants in our lives.
And you know what? This whole thing we are talking about right now, it happened to me just a couple of days ago. Couldn’t believe it. So here’s the story. Without realizing it, a few months back, I started putting a friend on a pedestal. I saw him as more experienced and perhaps even wiser than me. And then the fatal mistake, I started trying to win his approval. The other day, when this “perfect person” told me that I was so off-base in my recovery program that I was sure to relapse, and worse, that he was afraid to give me a hug lest he “catch” my distorted thinking and relapse himself, I was really stunned, and I hate to admit it, hurt. I wish he was joking!
It brought back instant memories of disapproval from Dad, mentors, teachers, friends, and other father-like or authority figures throughout my life. For a moment, I felt like I was three years old, six years old, a teenager, a college freshman, IN TROUBLE one more time, that overriding sense of no one “gets” me.
It brought back my many attempts, as an adult, to have stimulating conversations with my Dad about the church or politics. Dad could never just say, “Wow, that’s very interesting, Vern....Can’t say I agree with you, but hey, you’ve obviously put some good thought into your ideas.” Instead, he dismissed my viewpoints and perspectives, and each time, he would stop the conversation by telling me how much he regretted ever sending me to the college I attended where I obviously had learned heresy and totally off-base thinking.
The other morning with my friend, I was able to stop myself from having to be right or proving him wrong. Later in the morning, as I was reflecting on the conversation, I was able to see that my old wound of needing approval had been gradually making its way to the surface in our relationship. It was a good learning experience for me to once again see that when I am wanting or needing someone else’s approval, my old wounds are vulnerable to being activated. At “my age,” (it could be your age), I am still learning how to be on alert, so to speak, of slipping back in time, of giving up living my life in exchange for winning Dad’s approval.
I have asked the question numerous times, now. How does this happen that I regress backwards, that I live an earlier version of myself or worse live someone else’s life?
Well, it happens because of the way our personal story or narrative unfolds or does not unfold in our brain.
Did you know that at age seven months in the womb, we are already processing emotional experiences? Our limbic brain or emotional brain is fully on-line prior to our popping out. In particular, any over-the-top emotional experience from seven months in the womb forward, remains “stored” in our emotional brain, specifically in the amygdala. To make it even more interesting and complicated, we have no conscious access to this part of our brain. So unless we make the effort to bring these emotions into awareness, they remain outside our consciousness and are never integrated into our story, but will fire off when we least suspect or want them to. And when they do fire off, it leaves us puzzled and we say things like, "I don't know what happened there...don't know why I reacted so....I'm just not that kind of person....I've never had a panic attack (or outburst or went on a binge) before....This is so not like me. What is wrong with me?"
The stories of our lives, what some folks refer to as “our narrative,” are created by the integration of a story line of an event with the emotions of an event. This integration occurs neurologically when the left and right hemisphere of our brain weave the story line and the emotions together into what is called a coherent narrative. By coherent, we mean that the story line and the emotions fit and make good sense of the experience.
So if your partner says,
You know when I came home last night, and you put your arms around me, I felt so loved and so protected. The rough day I had at work just seemed to go away, and I had this surge of excitement knowing that I am the luckiest person in the world.
So the story line and the emotions fit and make good sense of the experience.
If on the other hand, your partner says,
You know when I came home last night, and you put your arms around me, I felt so unloved and so scared. Even though I had a rough day at work, I thought I’d rather be at work than to feel so despicable and so frightened. I never want to feel that again.
Now there might be a good explanation for what the partner experienced, but at face value, it does not make any sense. The emotions do not fit the story line, so we do not have a coherent narrative. The partner’s story leaves us speculating that there must be some missing pieces. And perhaps these "missing pieces" reside, as we described above, in the amygdala--over-the-top emotional experiences that are out of consciousness. They hibernate or hangout in the amygdala waiting to fire off in response to any present event that even remotely reminds the brain of the original over-the top event. Again, all outside our consciousness.
And how and why does it happen outside our conscious awareness? Well when an over-the-top emotional experience first occurs, the over-the-top event triggers an excess of adrenalin which literally neutralizes the brain chemistry necessary for memory processing. It’s the same kind of thing that happens if you pour baking soda into a car battery.
When we are able to weave together the emotions and the story line of any event, over-the-top or not, our narrative can then be stored in our conscious memory, located in our hippocampus. Once stored in our conscious memory, then we know that an event is over. It becomes a part of our narrative, a part of our past. And this is actually the principle purpose of memory, especially when we are talking about over-the-top events, to know that the event is over and in the past and not happening now.
This is why it is so important to bring those emotions stored in our amygdala into consciousness, so those events can become past events. Even if we do not have memory of the facts surrounding the over-the-top event, we can gather sufficient information from other sources, enough to make it possible to integrate these emotions with a story line. This makes it possible for us to know that the past event is past and no longer a threat to our survival. Otherwise, we continue to walk around with low grade anxiety, low grade depression, hypervigilance, or a sense of impending doom, for no apparent reason.
These emotional memories, stored in the amygdala, again, to which we have no conscious access, are often referred to as implicit memory. And the conscious autobiographical recall of events stored in our hippocampus is often referred to as explicit memory.
The phenomena we have been talking about where I find myself regressing back to an earlier version of myself is a strong indicator that there are parts of my life story that are not well-integrated. So one way to end the cycle of being caught off guard and regressing to an earlier version of myself is to literally sit down and create a coherent narrative of the earlier version of my life. Again, we do this by weaving together the emotions and the story line. The story line are the facts as we know them now, or the facts as we can best pull them together based upon whatever information we can glean from family members and friends or newspaper accounts or whatever source is available. We can even just make them up based upon the emotions themselves. Remember, this process is not about accurate facts. We are not going to trial. We are simply wanting to know that an event is over and a part of our past.
Part of this process involves feeling the feelings of the original over-the-top event, and that may be overwhelming. In some sense, we never experienced those feelings when the event first occurred because our brain quickly disconnected us from our feelings to protect us from the absolute terror or horror of the over-the-top event. But in feeling the feelings now, we know that the event itself is not reoccurring. So this is our saving grace. It is also the key to integrating the feelings into the story line. It is then that a coherent narrative can be processed into our explicit memory.
Once the narrative is integrated and stored in our explicit memory, our conscious self knows that this particular story is not happening in the present, but rather it is a part of our past, and now we will no longer be as vulnerable to instantly regressing to an earlier version of my life.
We can do this same exercise of integration when we realize we are living someone else’s life. We can go back in time and retrace the steps and recognize when it was that we chose to give up living our dreams and our life and decided to live whosever life it was we chose.. Again, we will feel intense emotions, but it’s worth it because that is how the emotions can be integrated into our story line. We are no longer plagued by the fear of disappointing our parents. We are no longer acting out behavior or a life style that we vowed we would never adopt. We are no longer handicapped by the fear of living our own life and fulfilling our own dreams. We are no longer weighed down by the fear of failure, or of not measuring up, or of not pleasing the giants, most of whom, at my age, may already be dead.
In doing this exercise, there is no one to blame. Or if there is, then there is a way to take care of that business as well. Grist for another Hub! In terms of discovering that we are living someone else’s life, perhaps the person most needing forgiveness is ourselves. Through this forgiveness of ourselves, we can choose to begin living our own life now. It is never too late.
You might still be unclear how exactly one goes about creating a coherent narrative, this integration of story line and emotions. There are any number of ways. You can simply begin telling all the stories you have been afraid to tell to safe friends and family members. Emphasis on safe. You can begin journaling about your story, creating a power point of your story, putting your story into poetic form, or even creating a fictional account of your story.
Fiction is “awezome” because I get the opportunity to integrate my emotions with the story line without any fear of having to remember things accurately or without any fear of blaming someone and having to face retaliation or denial.
You can also make an appointment with a skilled therapist. Skilled meaning a therapist who has at least begun to do his own integration. Or you can begin attending a support group.
Do you remember me sharing with you in Part One my recent awareness of holding my breath? I will spare the details, but yes, I still have some integrating to do in my own narrative.
If you are “my age” and a retired first responder or retired military. you might be living your own life but still on duty or still in combat. Yes even if you’re 80 or 90 years old. It is a frightening statistic that between 2005 and 2008, 532 veterans over age 80, in California, committed suicide. Yikes!
When we hear ourselves repeatedly say,
-I am not talking about that s*it.
-You just bury that s*it.
-No one want to hear that s**t.
-There’s no point in talking about that s**t.
-What’s the point of talking about that s**t.
those are all indicators that we are not living our life NOW. We are still living in uniform or on duty or we are RUNNING from all the inexplicable events that we witnessed, that we suffered, that we were right smack in the middle of, that we were buried in.
There is no honor to a code of silence that wreaks nightmares, addiction, bouts of anger, bouts of depression, bouts of anxiety, bouts of separation and distance from loved ones, and bouts of violence to ourselves and to others.
There is honor in letting all those tears out, and we have days and days, perhaps even months or years of tears to shed. We could instantly cure any water shortage. And they are precious tears, healing tears, tears that will rebalance our brain chemistry, tears that will bring soothing, tears that will bring serenity to all the events over which we had no control, events we had the courage to change, but could not.
I do not refer to Post Traumatic Stress as a disorder. We experience post traumatic stress because our brain works in such a marvelous way that we can survive the most awfulest of events. The disorder only comes about when we think that facing the events we survived will kill us, and so we start running and running and running and running when we don’t have to.
The healing process is the same mentioned above. I begin telling my story and weaving together the facts as I know them with the associated emotions. As I continue to share this integrated story with other safe people, it can be processed into my autobiographical memory. My body and soul will know that the story is from the past, that I am not in combat today, I am not on duty today, that the cruelest that life, nature, and humanity has dished out to me has stopped. The storm is over, the war is over, there are no more calls to respond to.
This is not an easy process, but it is a possible one. The challenge of this process is worth the reconnection to our own life and to the people we love. Feel free to call me, and I will assist you in getting connected to good resources in your area.
If you have an appetite for more information about the way our brain works and Post Traumatic Stress and Depression, there are several of my own Hubs on this site that have simple to understand but scientifically accurate information about these topics. There are also numerous other Hubs on these topics by other authors that are well-worth your read. Please check them out.
So today, we explored the life we are living at “my age.” I hope this information has been interesting enough to move you to begin living your own life even at your age. My experience is that my own life is much more exciting, much more enjoyable, much freer, much more creative, much more expansive, and much more rewarding when I live MY life. When I live my life, it is like heaven on earth. And conversely, when I live someone else’s life or an earlier version of my life, it is a living hell, or at least purgatory!
So what’s next for Part Three? Well, how about good old, yes old, S-E-X? We will take a look at all the ways we take the fun out of sex, at my age, at your age, by our preconceived notions about what good sex is. At my age, I am quick to say that my favorite position is lying down! I think if anyone had any good sense, it would be everyone’s favorite position at any age unless you work in the circus or have won a gold medal in gymnastics!
Thank you for reading and thank you for leaving your comments. See you in Part Three.
Hubs I have posted on the brain, depression, and post traumatic stress
- HOW OUR BRAIN WORKS
A simple but scientifically accurate description of how our brain works.
- COME ON, SOLDIER, PROVE YOU HAVE PTSD!
This hub looks at the reluctance on the part of the government to recognize Post Traumatic Stress as endemic to being a soldier. Post traumatic stress is a condition that ALL soldiers experience.
- The Neurobiology Of Depression
Depression ALWAYS relates to LOSS of some kind or another. This hub describes the importance of grieving and creating a coherent narrative of our losses.
Cast Your Vote
Are you living your own life?
Cast Your Vote
Do you think it is worth the pain and energy at my age/your age to live your own life?
Living your relationship the way the two of you want to live your relationship.
Living YOUR life and YOUR wishes to the fullest
This book was my starting point of recovering MY life and MY creativity
Getting back to living YOUR life, not the life the tobacco company wants you to live. This book will help you answer the question, why do I want to kill myself?
No matter how desperate life presents itself, I can always choose to live my life
Don't wait till you are on your deathbed to start living!
At my age or your age or any age, living my life is easy when I have a Senior Partner