Nature vs. The Mother
My mother used to sit in our living room when I was a boy with a towel about her neck. This was right after she had come out of the shower. In her scalp she had put tar shampoo that always smelled like ripe bananas. “Damn body is always peeling somewhere,” she’d say as she crossed her legs, sitting in her bathroom, flipping though the most recent copy of Good Housekeeping or Cosmopolitan.
I sit in my living room as a man with a towel about my neck. This is right after I come out of the shower. In my scalp is an exfoliation shampoo from France that smells very nice and nothing like what my mother used to use. I attributed this to the fact I’m very happily a snob with products and that my ego makes me buy them. I think it has more to do with the shame I feel knowing my scalp is the same as my mothers. I sit, naked, looking at Instagram on my phone, or I listen to Eckert Tolle. I always feel ashamed that I’m naked in front of Eckert Tolle, but I figure if there is anyone who will embrace my tiny middle-aged stomach roll it’s Eckert, a crazy and wise German who dresses like he’s always about to go on safari.
My mother used to go to her dermatologist and would come home with armloads of creams she’s slather on her body. She often broke out in all sorts of rashes and was always dabbing at them with this ointment or that ointment. None really worked. They simply masked what was wrong.
I go online and ask my dermatologist to prescribe me creams for the various red rashes and bumps I have on my body. They rarely work and simply cover up the curious red bumps I have all. I’m afraid to get naked in front of men, for fear they’ll think I have some disease. I’ve been to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan, and have been told the spots are precursors to Hodkinson Disease, but in the ten years since I was diagnosed they come and go only when I’m stressed or don’t get enough sleep. Heat makes them bug out. When I work out I’m like one of those old connect-the-dots game. My doctors say they don’t know what causes it, or how to cure it and tell me it’s probably emotional.
My mother started therapy at the age of 21 when she realized she was moody and not like other people, and when she realized her mother was crazy.
I started therapy with my mother at age 8 when she realized she was crazy, not moody.
My mother was in therapy until she killed herself.
I’ve never not been out of therapy, and except for a very isolated days where life makes no sense, I don’t have any intention of killing myself.
There is more, but I have come to the point on the eve of turning 54 where I do wonder if what my therapists have told me for years – “You’re not your mother” – is true or if they just like the fact I make them laugh during therapy and often compliment them on their technique.
I’ve been living for many years with teachings which are designed to help me surrender to now, and yell at me to tell a different story, not the one I’ve been telling about my past. All of the Law of Attraction books and famous teachers say talking about my past makes me past present so I’m not in my present if I talk about my past. I tried to tell a new story.
Frankly, I’m the poster child from trying.
I wrote a book about my childhood, I wrote a TV show based on it and I’ve directed four short films to promote the book and the TV show. None of them have sold, and in my less, shall we say, shining moments, when I’m two bags into a four-bag potato chip binge, I feel bad no one has seen the value (yet) of my life story to want to discuss publishing it, or, making the TV show a reality. People read the book and say it’s depressing and they can’t finish it. I find it funny. Not sure what that means. It all leads me to wonder what the true key is for me (and for all of us) living that sweet spot middle ground where we see the truth of nature vs The Mother or, vs The Father, or, vs No Parents at all when we were raised by wolves, not people.
I asked my therapist the other day if I’m bipolar. He looked at me and said, “I don’t want to say yes, because you’ll become hysterical and when you’re hysterical, you’re exhausting.” I pressed and pressed as I do, and said “But I am, right? I mean, come on. Years of therapy, meditating, studying with great teachers, coaching people on emotional balance and I still feel these things so deeply it’s like I’m a walking nerve on some days.”
He looked at me with a look of great love and compassion (not condensation which, if someone does look at me that way, unleashes my Mother Rage and I feel like I want to knock their teeth into next Tuesday of the next decade) and said, “Yes, you are. You’re not like you used to be. You’re not erratic and you have balance. It’s why you’re so good at coaching people. You know struggle. But you get depressed and you get manic, yes. We want to level out the depression as much as we can and let the mania have controlled expression.”
I know now what I’m supposed to say to you. I’m supposed to say you are not your past, that you are this presence and true essence of now, and that any other way of attaching to any thoughts brings suffering. But then how to explain the mood shifts? The spots on my body? The psoriasis?
The way to explain it, of course, is to explain what I’m not. What I’m not anymore is the kind of person who says things in public things that so clearly demonstrate I was raised by jackals in the deep wilderness and that I have no concept, at all, what normal boundaries are.
Which, of course, means I have little patience today for games and can always tell what someone is really thinking, not what they want me to think they’re thinking. I can read minds. I had to. My mother was insane (insane – I’m not being dramatic) and I was always waiting for her to unleash her weirdness on me, which is why I still watch the original old horror movie Carrie and think “You go Carrie. Right there with you, girl.”
What I am not is obsessed when someone doesn’t like me. Sure, I want to throw a 30-pound dumbbell at women at the gym who roll their eyes because I’m loud when I work out, but on the whole, I don’t throw the dumbbell, and instead, give them a look I know my insane mother would have loved. She gave the best death looks. I’m not saying glaring at women like that is healthy, but I am saying the impulse is there and sometimes I give into it.
I could go on, but frankly, it would be redundant. The key is there is a life lesson here, something I detest since life isn’t about pithy endings to make sense of a very complex life. We all want that, but it’s not how it works. It may for a few hours, but then you’re right back into the shit of it all, aren’t you?
I had an extraordinary start in life. It was violent and wild and outrageous and horrifying and, many times, exhilarating. I’m still affected by it today, at 54 years old. I do all the work I’m supposed to do. I meditate, do yoga, work out, take vitamins, move away from the content of my thoughts and as I do I am still a man who was raised by a woman who was a centrifugal force whose ripples I feel. Now, the boat isn’t rocking. Now, it wobbles which, I’m guessing, is the key to my growing humility.
What I do feel is the key of keys is figuring out what gifts she gave me because of her madness. Those of us who did experience madness as children, there were tremendous gifts that were handed to us while we were punched and slapped and told we were of no use to anyone, or this world.
The undertow for those of us who had a strange start that would rival a Eugene O’Neill play is something that, when embraced, brings us to the center of who we are which is more, well – more intense than most. I may have this wrong, but even when I embrace the stillness I am told is the real me, there is a mix in there of ferocious velocity and movement which I feel is my destiny, and the destiny of those of us who were shown shocking things from the very start.
This world doesn’t always like to see that, and not because they don’t want to, but because it’s foreign to them. They see different colors then those of us who came from abuse. They’re about lollipops and they skip a lot. People born into madness do as well, but we also wonder how long the good feelings of skipping will last, and that’s where do we, quite literally, trip.
Now I’m going to come from the best part of me now, so please try to listen closely, those of you who feel like you are a truly different colored birds in an atrium filled with similar looking birds. Hope is your currency and the feeling of more is yoru goal. Understand what I mean when I say you want to expand, not contract. Feel how the moving out ward feeling is the reason to keep going, nad how the inward feeling is what you were taught you are by whoever beat the shit out of you when you started in life. They were wrong, but you feel they were right. You must fight this impulse, for this impulse is very strong in you. I know. I’ve been winning this battle for the last ten years, and it’s a battle which you must, on some days, undertake with a sword and spear and flamethrower in hand.
There is always a reason to see the next day, and the odd thing is it only comes about when you fall into the feeling that there is no reason to see the next day. I know it’s odd, but try it. When despair comes, fall into it. And when you do, you will be caught by grace. You want trust fall? There is your trust fall.
Most people won’t get what I just wrote. Most people don’t experience despair. It’s simply not what they know, so they turn away from it and skip and suck on that lollipop, and that’s awesome. Follow them as you feel the despair and the despair will life, but you have to be the one to follow. It doesn’t just happen.
Well, against my best intentions this did become a piece about being more joyful. I tried not to make it that. I coach people a lot and I dislike these lists and sayings about how the human experience is a simple choice of more joy, because that isn’t taking into account the velocity of that early, startling start some of us had.
I’m ending this now, but to anyone who is reading this and who may feel some resonance with this, you’re not alone in the flip-flop of despair and spurts of joy. It’s pretty common, actually. Fall into the despair and let grace take you to joy. It does happen. I know.