By Mark E. Smith
Indeed, my friend, I continue working on this thing called life – physically, emotionally, mentally. I’ve concluded that it’s all a bit like exercise. From the physical to the emotional, if we do nothing, life is effortless. However, such a no-effort approach is also the worst thing for us – we don’t grow, nothing changes, nothing gets easier, things just stay the same or degrade. Yet, like physical exercise, when we put in the effort to change ourselves for the better, we grow and become healthier – and life gets better. It’s the nature of personal growth: It takes effort, but the more we do it, the easier it gets – more intuitive, more natural – and the healthier we get.
I just spoke at the University of Scranton, and a student asked where I got my resiliency as a child? I couldn’t give an absolute answer other than there was something intrinsic in me toward facing adversity. I know that in changing our lives for the better as adults, we need a conscious desire to improve ourselves, as well as an innate inner capacity to accomplish it. There’s often a catalyst for conscious change – and I’ll get to that more in a moment – but the innate part is more complex.
I recently learned about the resilience of palm trees. While all other trees topple in hurricane force winds, the palm bows for hours in horrendous storms, then simply uprights to normal. Oaks, pines, maples, you name it, all topple – but not the palm. I think all of us are born as palms – that is, having utmost resilience – but for some, the roots are eroded by others, where hellish upbringings can kill our capacities to grow beyond the scars that were left. But, fortunately, I wasn’t one of those people whose spirit was ever lost or destroyed. I’ve weathered my storms, but my roots – my capacities to learn, grow, and change – stayed intact.
For a lot of years, I relied on my innate capacities to change and grow, but it wasn’t until the passing of both my parents due to their troubled lives that I truly understood the power of combining innate strength with the conscious desire to change, to move beyond their negative examples and live a better life for myself. It’s one thing to survive and get by; but, it’s another to thrive and do well. I guess with my parents’ deaths, I was able to shake away a lot of shadows, and truly work on moving beyond the pain of my past. It may be a shame that their passing liberated me in ways – that’s not how parent-child relationships should work – but it did put so much of the dysfunction to rest. I guess those who aren’t there anymore can’t hurt us – but the memories still can – and moving beyond both has been my goal for several years now.
And, the newly-made memories are better these days, all of them. I added a fireplace to my master bedroom. No, it’s not a real one, but what they call “vent-free.” But it’s a beautiful mantel, with a realistic flame and logs, and heats the room with a toasty warmth and glow. I also picked out a thick, shag area rug that nicely frames my bed. It all cozies up my space, a tranquil one, where my daughter and I have nightly conversations about her life, my life, our life – life overall. She’s in driver’s education now, with her first formal gallery showing of her photography coming up, and a boyfriend who’s an Eagle Scout. So, there’s a lot to talk about around the fake fireplace and shag rug – warmth abound.
We recently went and saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s the movie adaptation from the 1990s novel by the same name. A central theme of the movie is, We accept the love we think we deserve, meaning that if we think we deserve little, then that’s what we’ll get, that we should all raise our expectations – in life and love. And, the movie was not lost on who we’re each striving to become, the wounds we’re each healing, the ever-rewarding effort that we’re each putting into loving, learning, and growing.
It’s said that if we don’t address the trauma of our pasts and heal, we statistically will relive it, making ourselves forever either a victim or a perpetrator – or both. If you were raised by an alcoholic, chances are that unless you make a conscious change, along with possessing the innate capacity to do so, you will marry an alcoholic, be an alcoholic, or, forbid, do both. This holds true for any trauma in our lives, where, again, if we don’t address it, we relive it – the only creature on Earth known by science that revictimizes itself. And, I’ve done it, now taking absolute accountability for choosing relationships where I simply found those who fit the mold of those I knew in my insanely dysfunctional upbringing – emotionally unavailable for any number of dysfunctional reasons. However, with my own value at stake – raising the bar on the health and love that I deserve, and breaking the cycle of dysfunction for the sake of my daughter – I continue working on myself, changing my own flawed programming, moving out of the shadows of my past and into the glow of my potential. And, like exercise, it’s been painful getting into shape, and it’s all just scary and confusing at times. But, I just keep working at it – the strength of a lone man just trying to do right.
And, so it’s around the fake fireplace and shag rug that I continue building an ever-inspired life of laughter, love, learning, and growth. Sure, it was once just my daughter and me in a house left both literally and figuratively empty by my ended marriage, repeated dysfunctional patterns from my childhood on. But, now there are new pictures on the walls, a fake fireplace, and shag rug that are just quirky enough to feel so right. Palm trees, my friend, do always find ways to right themselves – it just takes time.