GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 12 – Cognitive Therapy

Maybe that’s a weird thing to be grateful for but I think it has saved my life. Dictonary.com defines cognitive therapy as a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression.

My first inkling of the concept I later came to know as cognitive therapy happened while I was making copies at my old day job at Sandalwood Management over 15 years ago. I’ve had a history of negative feelings and self-esteem issues and that day I was feeling down and had been for days. As I watched the original pages flip through the feeder, I asked myself, “Uhh.. what am I feeling badly about again?”

I couldn’t answer the question. At that moment I had this thought: The me of 20 years from now is looking back and thinking, “why did I waste my youth wallowing in sadness about something I can’t even identify?”

It was the first time I chose to feel better.

I’ve struggled with that, like most people, since then. Controlling our feelings is not easy and doesn’t come naturally. Not at all. I’ve gotten myself into big, big trouble several times.

There’s a book I highly recommend called The Feeling Good Handbook. When I first was given this book (thank you, Leila!) I let its size intimidate me out of getting very far into it. The first few exercises were HARD. Knowing there were 500+ more pages of this, I felt hopeless – exactly the way the book was trying to guide me out of feeling!

Over the years I’ve come back to the book. Recently I read almost the entire thing and found that a very significant amount of those pages don’t apply to me or most people at all. 

So if you find yourself reading this book, don’t be intimidated!  It has whole sections dedicated to schizophrenia, phobias and other serious psychological problems that most people never experience.  The whole last third is just for therapists and a lot of it is drug description info.

The best part of the whole book is the very beginning – 10 Forms of Twisted Thinking.  This really helped me identify my own issues and take some steps – baby steps for a long time – to fixing my twisted ways of thinking.

The next best part is the chapter I wish I had read years and years ago about the steps of intimate communication.

Along with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I think this book should be required reading for all humans.

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 10 – Basements

Here’s a bit of a weird one. I’ve always loved basements. I suppose it’s because I’ve mostly lived in place without basements. I don’t know why I like basements so much. It seems like they’d be a place for anxiety to fester – only one way in and out, usually dark, often unfinished, smelly and dank with all the sounds of things like water heaters and furnaces. Even finished basements have some of these features.

But they’re so secluded. Usually quiet, peaceful and cooler than anywhere else in a house even in the summer. There’s something about being underground that I like, too. It’s cozy in it’s own way – or maybe it’s just that invites one to get cozy.

Basements seem like just about the perfect practice space for a band other than having to load your gear up and down stairs – blah!

You can’t always tell how much time has passed in a basement. When I’m really flowing with something, I feel like time isn’t passing at all. Stuff’s just happening. Basements can simulate that sense.

I mentioned before that I loved my Little Grammy’s basement in Fruit Heights, UT. I have a lot of soothing dreams that are set there and usually feature her, my mom, my sister and my older younger brother as a very little kid.

Anytime I have a chance to be in a basement, I get excited. I’m grateful for those times.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 9 – Utah

BeaUTAHful. I saw that on a bumper sticker in Utah recently.

My home state really is beautiful.  It’s outdoor activities are hardly paralleled in the US. The southern part is especially so. On a trip just last weekend to Cedar City, I spent a day river hiking (I didn’t even know you could do this!) at Kanarraville Falls. It was treacherous at moments. Imagine all the rigors of hiking only doing it in water anywhere from 3 to 18 inches deep. It was soggy.

That night I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which I learned is apparently one of the best of its kind in the nation.

A couple weeks prior I saw a Western themed version of Joseph and The Technicolor Dreamcoat at an outdoor theater at Sundance. If I’d been in Texas, I would’ve been sweating like mad in the 95+ degree evening sun. Instead I was wearing pants and a hoody in the mountains where Robert Redford used to jog.

Utah has all four seasons. It’s hardly ever very hot or ever very cold – except in the mountains. It’s rare for the temp to ever drop below 0 in the valleys unlike places like Minneapolis where the high is sometimes sub-zero.

It’s very high in elevation. It’s the second driest state in the nation (not humid!!)

It’s not very highly populated.

Utah’s a weird and special place. When I think of all the places one could be from, Utah isn’t too bad. Sure it’s a little culturally dead at times (though I did see Free Salamander Exhibit there recently) but it’s got its own version of oddness that you can only find in a desert state.

It’s the headquarters of the quintessential American religion (for white people): Mormons. Of those, it’s got the modern version, the re-organized version that still practices polygamy out in the middle of nowhere. Mormons are very independent and yet they seem to understand the value of interdependence. Of course we modern day anglo-natives come from a Utah culture that had to band together to survive some pretty harsh conditions and travel just to get to the Salt Lake Valley. This is celebrated on July 24 each year with the state holiday Pioneer Day – which may as well be Fourth of July with all the fireworks people set off. Mormons get stuff done. It still amazes me that 18-year old boys enter the Missionary Training Center and come out speaking a new language in a matter of months rather than years.

My point is that things like survival, perseverance, patience, integrity and cooperation seem to have been handed down to me culturally. I’m very grateful to have descended and learned from people who care(d) enough about the next generation to teach them and instill good values and habits in them.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 8 – Ability to Forgive

 

I learned the value of forgiveness from my family.  Mostly from my mom who has had to be very forgiving of nearly all the men in her life.

 

Recently, a friend asked me why we should forgive. Why not just write the offending party off?  I had to think on this and read up on it a lot. I guess the best reason to forgive, in my opinion, is to also be forgiven. We all make mistakes. We all say things we don’t mean. We all cross a line once in awhile. We can all be selfish, careless, out of control, short-sighted, scared. If you can forgive others, I believe you can forgive yourself and hopefully be forgiven by others. When we truly forgive, anger and stress can be freed from our minds and allowed to move along.

 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hold people accountable. How many times can you forgive someone for the same thing? Depends on how really offensive and hurtful the thing is and that is completely relative to each person.

 

My mom has endured some pretty intense hurt. I admire how tough she’s had to be to get through. Amazingly, she’s stayed positive through it all and continues to be resilient. Her faith helps but I think that it takes someone with real self-confidence to push forward through trials rather than just bailing when stuff gets hard.

 

In the past, I’ve allowed negativity and pessimism to permeate my efforts, attitude and life and yet I persevered. I think this is largely because I’ve been able to forgive myself, even if silently, and just keep going. Sometimes it’s felt good to just say, “this sucks and I don’t know what I’m doing nor do I deserve to succeed!!” in the  most negative way while continuing through the fog. I don’t know why. But it has given me the opportunity for self-forgiveness over and over.

 

And as a result, I’ve become much more accepting of others’ mistakes. I may get angry, but I can almost always forgive. This has preserved and even strengthened me and others and I’m grateful for their patience.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 7 – Deep Connections

I watched this video of Simon Sinek recently in which he talks about millennials in the workplace and how they’ve been dealt a “bad hand.” One of the problems he sees for this younger generation is a lack of deep connections which he links to overuse of social media. (I tend to agree with this assessment.)

Listening to him, I wondered, “How could anyone go through their life without deep connections?” I guess people do.

I don’t.

In fact, I go through life with LOTS of connections I find to be deep and enriching. These are people who come running when I’m in crisis and vice versa. They support me and what I’m doing. They humble me because I often think they’re better to me than I am to them. These are people with whom I share my deepest thoughts, my darkest fears. I will admit, I can lean in to the territory of over-sharing. I like connecting with others. However, I think it takes courage, vulnerability and willingness on the part of both parties to really connect  deeply and I know I have that.

It takes quality people.

I suppose “quality people” is a subjective term. For me, quality people choose the high road even when things get tough. They genuinely care about others and themselves. They to maintain their values and ideals even when tested or questioned but are also flexible enough to consider other points of view. The best among them are not only confident enough to be honest with themselves and their friends but kind enough to use tact and compassion. They share their innermost selves and accept others’. They understand the value of interdependence over independence and practice it.

Some of my deep connections are family but the vast majority these are friends simply because of sheer numbers. I’ve been going through the hardest period of my life this spring/summer and I will be forever grateful for the outpouring of support and love I’ve been given by my closest and even some of my not-as-close friends and family.

I love all of you. I may never be able to repay you in the same way that you’ve honored me with your support. Frankly, I hope you’ll never need it. If you ever do, I’ll be there.

Thank you.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 6 – Little Grammy (and Grandparents in General)

I’m very lucky to have known all four of my grandparents. I’ve also known 3 of my great grandparents! Being first born of two first born young parents helped. My two still-living grandparents are only only about 45 years older than me.

 

My mother’s parents divorced when she was 9. I thought my first step-grandfather, George Lewis, was my grandfather for most of my childhood. I think I was about 11 or 12 when I met my biological grandfather. He was a real piece of work. I met him at his mother’s (my great grandmother’s) house in Lawton, OK one summer. I didn’t like him or his obnoxious dog or the disgusting long brown cigarettes he smoked that stunk up my great grandmother’s house. His wife was an eastern-European woman the same age as my mom (his daughter.) I remember feeling a sense of gratitude then that this was not someone I’d known up til this point nor would I have to ever see again. I did see him again one other time… I think. Obviously I didn’t care much. I couldn’t believe my grandmother had married this wretched man who had been run out of Florida by the mafia and involved in the ultra-seedy 80s pornography business.

 

That grandmother was born Carol Wade and came to be called “Little Grammy” by my cousins who lived near her and so I’ve adopted that name, too. It doesn’t seem right to call her by any of the last names of the three awful men she was married to in her life. She was a sweet woman very into the Mormon faith. After her divorce from my grandfather while stationed in Germany, she returned to the States and lived the life of a divorced woman in the 60s when I was 18. She didn’t let that stigma stop her from graduating college and becoming a nurse or from raising her kids on her own the way she thought was right. She married George Lewis but they lived in separate houses. Weird. George died and a few years later she married George Wilson who became the butt of all jokes with the rest of the family. George proved to be a real jerk and kind of an imbecile. When Little Grammy died of cancer (which she’d fought for decades), he blamed my mother. Not cool.

 

Little Grammy had an awesome condo in Fruit Heights, Utah. Many of my dreams are set in its basement and I have memories of watching The Muppet Show and the ollllllld live action Spider-Man TV show down there. But the real gem was her old console style stereo. My sister and I would play the records that Mom and our uncle had listened to as kids. It was cool in the summer and always safe in that basement.

 

Side note: I first became aware of Frank Zappa at Little Grammy’s condo. I was watching TV in the upstairs bedroom and saw what I now know to be a clip from FZ on Saturday Night Live.

 

Though it’s not very happy, her story has stood as an example of strength in my life. She lived a tough life that I didn’t appreciate until after she’d already died. She made it work. She lived her life and she loved her family and her job and those around her. She stuck to her values and people around her loved her.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 5 – Dedication

I’ve written about this one before. Rick Redman taught me this valuable lesson without knowing it. When I started the band that became the Invincible Czars, Rick was the first to join me way back in 2002. After months practicing with just his trumpet, my guitar and the Roland R8 drum machine, I started feeling discouraged.

 

One day Rick called before we were supposed to get together and I couldn’t bear to come over and run through the songs again for what seemed like no reason.  Rick seemed baffled and just came to my place anyway for “some run-throughs.”  I’d never had someone simply come over in spite one of my bouts of negativity.  

 

He did come over.  We did some run-throughs and I felt better. Rick kept the faith that we’d one day have a whole band. It took months but we eventually did and Rick set a goal to play at Emo’s*. I laughed. It’d be a long time.

 

Then a few months later we’d done it. I stopped laughing at Rick’s goals.

 

In 2004, Rick ***hated*** the idea of us doing the Nutcracker music that December. He did it anyway. He didn’t always smile but he did it. There were moments during the lead up to that first holiday show that I lost faith in what I was doing. Just wished the date would come and go and be done with. But I didn’t quit because the band now had a history of not quitting thanks a lot to Rick.

 

I finished the arrangements just in time for the show. That night, it sold out. And then suddenly a bunch of people knew who we were and we had gigs booked for the next year and we were in The Austin Chronicle and The Austin American-Statesman and even some newspapers out of town. 10 years later we’d played nearly every notable holiday event in the state.

 

This was another snowball sent down a mountain.15 years later, I no longer think of myself as a quitter and I don’t think many other people who know me do either. Thank you, Rick, for dropping that snowball and teaching me the value of powering through.

 

*This was the old Emo’s location, not the huge event space it is today.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 4 – USA

The current political climate in our nation is pretty appalling. But I’m still proud to be an American.

I’m not the most traveled person. I’ve been to India a couple times, parts of Mexico, Germany, Belize and Vancouver, BC. It’s been enough to see beauty and filth in all of them and recognize the same in my own country.

After seeing the bad sides of places like India, Mexico and Belize I could only feel grateful and lucky for having been born where I was – and glad that some of those places aren’t in the driver’s seat of the world! Things like comfort, leisure, orderly conduct, education, helping each other, etc. are hard to find in these desperate places. Worse, many places don’t have clean water, (enough) nutritious food nor do they seem to have much of any healthcare other than aid organizations from other nations. Lots of the world deals with overcrowding, diseases I’ll never be exposed to, starvation, regular terrorism, etc.

Now I know that the US government does some pretty bad stuff. I’m not proud of drone strikes or some of these other acts that we wouldn’t condone by other nations. But the system of democracy set up here in the US seems to have spread over the last 241 years and from where I sit, it mostly seems to have been good; even England, the nation that colonized the US with white people, has adopted our system.

Regardless of politics, I feel lucky to be from a place with so many opportunities. We have the best entertainment… or at least the most beloved worldwide. I hear we have the best postal system and sewers. I guess that’s valuable but big innovations like cars, planes, TVs, smartphones the internet and going to the moon all happened here first. Those affected the whole world, for better or worse.

Americans help each other. Even with our currently polarized politics. We pass down the idea of helping each other with ideas like public education, building credit, and volunteer service organizations. Even if those things are too liberal sounding, even conservative leaners find value in things like helping the poor, service to others and building a strong community.

All of those things are American values. They’re not just American values but they seem to be pretty hard-wired in most places here. Some people thought Obama would ruin America. He didn’t. Now Trump seems poised to do the same. He won’t. The next one probably won’t either.

I don’t mean to be overly optimistic about the USA. We have problems.  But most other places are just as bad if not worse in all the same ways and more.

I feel lucky to have been born here, to have lived here, to not have been forced into military service, exposed to diseases and to have been educated in ways that have kept me healthier and safer than most people in this world.

 

 

 

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 3 – Siblings

 

I think only-children are missing out!

 

My siblings were really my closest social group until I moved out of my parents’ house. Our little society of 3 (and later 4) required us to learn how to live with different personality types – how to keep from killing each other but also how to work together and face crises.  Our house was pretty dynamic.

 

I’m the the Peter Pan of the bunch – a big dreamer but also a tease. Sage is a born competitor and that served her well as the only girl. Sean was/is the biggest but also the most mellow. He loved video games and computers. Tucker’s the baby – so much younger than me he was almost more like my child than my brother. He was very friendly with irresistible blond curls that everyone wanted to touch.

 

Our order made a difference in our experience with our parents. I was terrified of adults and took everything my parents said to heart. Sage was more rebellious and less fearful. She’s a survivor and saw how to make things work to her advantage. She learned to speak at an early age and would just tell my parents whatever the hell she wanted. Mom says Sage acted like she was the mother. It took me reaching adulthood to see the value of Sage’s ways and finally adopt some of them.

 

Sean had a very different experience with my parents. By the time he showed up, they’d softened their stances on lots of stuff. Sean actually laughed (he laughed!) when spanked. This was inspiring to Sage and me and I think it actually helped us – we saw that there could be a different response to some of the scary things that happened. Sean was very young during my family’s darkest years. Sage and I were older and more aware. We saw some pretty scary stuff and were old enough to be confused by our relatively young parents’ sometimes opposing standards and behavior. Stuff was volatile. We adjusted and prepared emotionally, mentally. I know I woke up daily wondering if the family was going to collapse.

 

But Sean thought everything was fine!  Everything was water off a duck’s back for the kid who laughed while being spanked! Sean also enjoyed the luxury of being bigger than everyone his age and he dominated in athletics and really everything. Nothing seemed to scare him. I thought he might grow up to be a bully but instead he just continued mellowing. I often refer to him as a silent aggressive.  Not passive aggressive just quietly dominating. Play a game with him and you’ll think you’re doing fine until he gracefully eradicates your hopes in a single maneuver without you even noticing and then asks if you want to play again in the least gloating way possible. I learned from that example.

 

 

Tucker had his own journey that must’ve been extremely difficult. He’s possibly the smartest of the four and he was so much younger than the rest of us that his late childhood years were practically spent as an only child. He grew up super quick, though, when a few events beyond his control thrust him into some very difficult situations as a young teenager.  That experience has made him wise beyond his years. Tucker can be totally quiet or super fun and boisterous.

 

Writing this has made me realize, I need to stay in better touch with my sister and brothers.

 

Thank you, Sage, Sean and Tucker for loving me, never forgetting me and helping me, your older and more turbulent brother who hopefully didn’t damage your early views of the world with pretzels sticks up the nostrils, permanent marker tattoos of your initials across your entire back or just barely not touching you at breakfast. I’m so grateful that we had the opportunity to live all under one roof for our formative years I hope I enriched your lives as much as you did mine.

 

And I’m sorry for the pretzel sticks in the nostrils while you were sleeping, Sage.