Father of the Man
I had some recent inspiration over the weekend to change- content wise- what I choose to publish here. I think I’ve been coming at TBI from a technical perspective, which even for me, would be a yawn fest. Vulnerability takes courage, but it is what reaches people, and what makes writing worth reading. Here is some of that.
Inner child work.
As soon as she mentioned it, I wanted to put my fist through a wall; Here I was, years ago, at twelve years sober, being crushed under a gloom and sadness of ending an eleven year relationship wrought with problems, but as close as I’d known to anything resembling love. I never knew- in retrospect- if it felt loving, but it did feel safe. Like all chapters that have reached the conclusion, a part of me wanted to re-experience those first bright and airy chapters, knowing the universe was beckoning me to move past it. My heart was breaking, and I still had some growing up to do.
As my thoughts whirled, my face had clearly soured, prompting Gabrielle (a therapist) to ask what I was thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was honest: I placed little value on seemingly victimized and tenderized persons wrapping themselves in cotton and carrying stuffed animals to 12 step meetings. I’d always thought of myself more of a meat-and-potatoes type of person in recovery, what ever that meant.
This therapist- Gabrielle- came to explain something I have come to believe as being true: on a basic, organic level, sometimes there are parts of the brain that were never formed and shaped through nurture or care or whatever, to the natural curves and contours they were designed for. In short, there was part of my brain, that just never grew and developed properly. Maybe a feel-good approach made me scoff, but I have always liked science, so that I could deal with.
But going back. Easy to see, with some clarity now, that I had the budding and complex sensitivity to phantom perceived opinions that would bloom later into alcoholism; that I had a shattered endocrinology from a head injury that resulted in emotional problems, and a temporal lobe that generated dark imaginings. Easy to see I had attachment issues stemming from pining for attention in the middle of a violent divorce hurtled me over the cliff seeking safety in strange places- and that- in a nutshell- is who I was. I would be told years later: the Child is the Father of the Man. That person would grow into who I’d become, and it wasn’t good.
But, obviously, there is a story in all this, so here it is, best I can remember. So when I was a kid, I did the cub scout thing for awhile. For all her frailties, I appreciate in retrospect my mothers attempts to get me connected to something, or it to me; we did have the “latch key kid” lifestyle of being raised on pen scrawled instructions on sticky notes with good advice on how to lead out lives, and also warm clothes, clean clothes, stuff like that. Stuff kids need. Anyway, my fascination with knots and birds and weird pre-teen camping skills was minimal, but I do remember being drawn to that balsawood derby car race, incredibly so. The idea of being the architect of something-anything- but something tactile, that you could hold in your hands and say “I did this”, well that always appealed to me. I remember pangs of excitement when I’d see the other kids show up to class with their cars carved out, painted, ready to race: some were racing green with the number #8 on them, others had flames or sharp peaks to pierce the air on the track- these things were magical and the source of inspiration. The seeds of my own mental blueprint for a derby car- a competitor.
I remember going to the junk drawer, looking for the right tools to get something going. There was a Philips head screwdriver, a hammer, some brads. A wine corkscrew.
To this day, I know that it never occurred to me that the other racers had been the beneficiary’s of a dad with a woodshop in the garage, who were likely feeling the heat of the completion themselves, too, it had simply never occurred to me to ask someone- anyone- on the street for help. Adding to a short list of things I wasn’t taught- asking for help. And that is what it is, as people say nowadays.
The day of the race, I remember. The sting of defeat and a creeping fire on my skin as i sat staring at that block of wood on the dresser, the wheels and weights still in the plastic bag undisturbed that had been given to me. The ineffectual screwdriver laying unused nearby, the stickers for decorating scattered about.
I didn’t build that car, not then anyways. That wouldn’t come until twenty two years later, when, with clumsy hands and an open heart, and I would carefully work that out in the ship of a craftsman who was a friend of mine. My contribution and tribute was black with a purple racing stripe down the center, and lived on my mantle for years. that kid-he came with me than, he comes with me now. That clumsy kid that gets frustrated and wants to break things, who doesn’t understand and crumples up the sticky notes, and does his own thing.
He’s not a real person, well, not really, Just about an inch in diameter of grey matter in the right brain that accompanies me on this life journey. When I go out fishing- tromping through ragweed and vines with a machete, he comes, too. Afraid, sometimes, of larger insects, afraid of the wiggly creatures that have been reeled onto the bank, afraid they’ll feel gross, but more afraid to hurt them. And, like most days, the Consciousness of adulthood steps in and shows that tiny portion of grey matter what to do next, and we walk alongside one another, on this adventure called life.
A Broken Window to a Troubled Soul
Such a strange thing, to have a long beholden missing piece of the puzzle fall right into your lap, unexpectedly, on a Friday morning. I was talking to Vancouver-based Dr Gerald Komarnicky today- who really is an Optometrist (eye doctor) but specializes and believes that brain injuries are diagnosable with basic and simple vision tests that look for “Ocularmotor Dysfunction”. He explained the causality and the twisted optic fibers and resulting damage that leads to certain traits among differing types of TBI patients and went on to share his patent/device to treat such symptoms with me. Great guy. I had this burning question the whole time he was talking…. that question went back forty years for me. My whole life, I’ve had trouble looking people in the eye. It gave me a dull ache right in the center of my forehead and felt exhausting; it used to be VERY much a part of my life, and to some extent, still is. I can tell you for a fact: I’ve lost sweet and intimate relationships because of it. I can tell you for a fact, I’ve created suspicion and distrust in business, and lost income as a result. I can tell you therapists have told me I’m a liar; and those who have become now close friends have told me I had a bewildering affect on them at first, and they had no idea what to make of it. And listen, that is not (I hope) a statement of wallowing in victimhood, nobody likes that. I don’t blame anyone or anything, sometimes stuff just is what it is. But, truth telling time: I didn’t know what to make of it, either. I just concluded that I was spiritually damaged and hopelessly fucked up; I know eye contact is important, but I couldn’t really do it. Literally, could not. My conclusion? Sociopathic, maybe. Or hopelessly dishonest. I’ve had a lot of internal dialogue around that over the years. Until today. When I found out, it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t eye contact per say, as ANY fixed and commanding ocular point was always going to give me trouble, due to the typecast of my particular injury & being hit in the head way too hard, so long ago. Turns out, I’m nothing other than that, a guy who had a brain injury that carries some baggage because of it. I can’t tell you how liberating that is. Peace. JG
Life with TBI: Stigma
stig·ma/ˈSocial stigma is the disapproval of, or discrimination against, an individual or group based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society.
I know, and have met people, who spend a great deal of time on this: ending stigma. Even at the Congressional level, and certainly at the fundraising level, trying to create an air of awareness around long beholden beliefs. In truth, most of it revolves around “addiction” (which is now considered a terms that increases Stigma itself. I’ll cover that in part 2 next week) but I remain convinced that TBI carries with it, it’s own set of misunderstandings, and hugely so.
The next time you are at an airport, grocery store, or other urban location where people move about, make notice of this: if someone is wheelchair bound, on crutches or on a walker- pay attention to the sphere of humanity around them. I think what you may notice is a sphere of, well, other people noticing. Just that action alone may spur additional courtesy of the people around them cutting swaths to allow passage; or probably at minimum an extra glance. To me, it is almost like a fifteen foot radius of accommodation that occurs naturally in nature around the injured, amputated, and and disparate.
I think, simply put, that is because we react to what we see.
I was attending a lecture where someone had taken stock of the obvious, but worded it in a way that seemed profound: the brain is the one organ of the body encased 360 degrees it bone. It loans itself -not at all to visual interpretation- in the traditional sense that I have just mentioned.
Ask any TBI survivor what their road has been like, and if they are being honest I think you may find that they have found as much difficulty in navigating their community as they have with their symptomology. I partake in communities of thousands who feel misunderstood & ignored, and have been very vocal about that as such.
In fact (pot meet kettle) there have been situations years back (before I authored A Life Concussed and started my TBI Coaching) where I was the anchoring person of treatment teams for addiction with someone in the milieu whom I had known had head injury in their history. Even then, their list of complaints somehow failed to register as anything other than petulance; their chief complaint (so to speak) had loaned itself to nothing other than perhaps……. someone who enjoyed complaining. I know now, what that was, and wished I could’ve interpreted those residents better, and been more patient with them. And that, in short, is the Stigma. If I cannot see your problem, I am quick to assume either a) you don’t have one, or b) you are making it up, or amplifying greatly the severity of it.
I have a dear friend involved in a skiing accident that resulted in head injury. He works in public health at a fairly high level, and even he was quick to say that when he had to file for a second round of paid time away from work, he could sense both the impatience and insincerity of those for whom he had dutifully served, who worked in the capacity of managing health. While his brain fog was a shticks as clam chowder, and his endocrine system was so damaged* (I suspected) that his daily palate of emotions was a twisted and harrowing coaster ride, his reception with his executive team was all bit apparent that they felt, well, maybe he was “milking it”.
Human nature- a hard thing to put in check. Next week I’ll add a part two, and take on some of the stigma I see in addiction. Be well, fellow travelers.
November 2021October 2021