As a child, trouble and I became friends very easily. I wasn’t overtly churlish, but I did enjoy pushing buttons. My progress reports were consistent. The checkmark always found its way to; restless, inattentive, and talkative. There was also a little note attached to my report cards and progress reports that would say something along the lines of, “Please call the school and set up a meeting with me” <insert teacher>. Behavior in our family bookended. Ken and Brandt were the difficult children. Kelly was quiet and found no trouble. Hallie was merely an extension of her teachers. She would have won the award for most likely to snitch in prison. I would have been voted most likely to run a multi-million dollar scam from my cell.
I was born in the early 70’s which made me an amalgam of the 70’s and the 80’s. We didn’t discuss our feelings. There were no gray areas. Ever. My father’s word was final. My mother, bless her, did not debate either. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about how we grew up. My dad took a briefcase to work. My mother ran a daycare out of the house. I had 3 siblings, a dog or two, the lights always turned on, and we never worried for shelter or food. Right was right. Wrong was wrong. Authority was never questioned. If I was spanked, I deserved it. If I received a tongue lashing, I must have done something that warranted the action. I feel extremely lucky to have come of age during the last era of life before cell phones and internet. I could rent a car (I think it’s 25) before I even knew about cell phones. John’s dad had some weird contraption in a leather bag in his car for a while. That was cool and they called it a mobile phone. I never saw it work, however.
Christopher Columbus was a hero who sailed the ocean blue in 1492. My knowledge of black history was as follows; Slavery wasn’t good but Abraham Lincoln solved all of that. Rosa Parks was tired and told some white guy she wasn’t moving. They then had a strike. Martin Luther King wanted everyone to drink from the same water fountain, so he marched to Washington and told people he had a dream. Malcolm X was an activist but wanted violence. Oh, and some Morgen guy from Cleveland invented the traffic light. We had very few Jewish families in our neighborhood. The Gruenspans would, at times, bring in some lesson of Judasim, be it food or a Menorah. The Beckers were the bi-racial family who wrote a book called “All blood is red…..all shadows are dark.” We also knew to never ride through Bicycle Jungle. It was our Sherwood Forest and your bike was likely to be stolen. Kids went in and never came out. We grew up whitewashed and didn’t question anything. Fear mongering worked perfectly.
Now that we are familiar with my upbringing, I can get back to why we are here. I was always afraid. I was afraid of my dad, principal, clergy, and all neighborhood parents. No part of me ever felt comfortable with this. The only adults that didn’t scare me were my teachers and my mom. I found comfort in them. As a result, this is where I found trouble. The only thing that my mother ever did that truly scared me was when she uttered the most terrifying six words in the world to a precious boy,” Wait till your father gets home!” I tormented my teachers. They took it at times. Other times, I would be sent to see Ms. Sylak. She was very good about promising a call to my dad which was a sure trip to a well-deserved spanking. I would then make some jokes that would make her laugh. It worked, she’s not calling my house. Woo Hoo!!!
Fear manifested in humor with me. This was an absolute. As I matured, physically, my sense of humor became darker and more twisted. It’s that way today. Humor is my natural response to pressure. It’s easier than facing something. When Jacob got sick, I’d make jokes to ease the pain. What I now realize, I wasn’t easing the pain. I masked it completely. I have a dear friend who’s facing a lot. She said something so poignant the other day. “It’s ok to just sit and cry with me. You don’t have to sugarcoat my illness for me.” This is resonating on a profound level with me. I’ve hid behind my wit and ironic behavior forever.
I went from svelte to chubby to fat to obese to morbidly obese in a span of about twenty years. I didn’t have this problem as a kid. It started off slowly with me. I didn’t have selfies and constant narcissist postings to keep me honest. Even today, as I look through my social media accounts, my selfies are flattering. I know exactly how to hold the camera in a perfect spot or hide my body in a group to mask my frame. I had response options when people would comment on my weight. I could bite back or join in. I usually went the funny, self-deprecating route. It served two purposes. One, it neutralized the attack and two it gave me a reason to not look at the root problem. This continued.
Even as I write, it’s hard for me not to joke. I had someone close to me question why I do this. It wasn’t necessarily accusatory. It’ an honest question. I am grossly obese. I am a recovering alcoholic who’s lost a child. My wife, daughter and I are trying to navigate this new life with a Jacob sized hole in our . If that’s not enough, I’ve started a new company, a foundation and I’m scared of not being there for those who love me. No more bullshit. I cannot laugh my way out of this. It’s not funny. None of this is funny. It’s personally tragic.
So, with all of this, how do I change auto-response reactions? This is something I am trying to understand. The only way I know is to peel back the layers and get simple. This is hard to say but I am sad all the time. I am anxious often. I am afraid all the time. I’m afraid of making healthy decisions. I am afraid. Once I can admit this to my innermost self, and my readers, I can start to heal. I am broken but not broke.
Step One: Recognize the problem.
Step Two: Be okay with that problem as being exactly what it is
Step Three: Make an action plan to fix the problem and be okay if I don’t solve it with my first plan. Go back to the drawing board
Step Four: Never Ever Give up