Monday, September 1, 2014

On A Dangerous World.

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” 

 ~Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

     Joel Osteen once wrote that "When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance". Joel Osteen is delusional.
     Maybe this quote is out of context. Maybe the terms "blessing" and "abundance" are used in specific ways and don't mean what I think they mean. But I doubt it. Evangelizing any message implying that our success/blessing/happiness is dependent on how good/faithful/positive we are, harms more than it heals. Here is why:

     The world we live in is dangerous. In fact, none of us will ever make it out alive. The world is killing us. Car accidents, cancer, ALS, SIDS, AIDS, food additives, PETA, kidnappers, murder, time, heart failure, atomic bombs, suicide, abuse, mad-cow disease, Ebola, dehydration, drowning, overdose, and a million other variables are out there, waiting to claim a life. Death is the great equalizer. It does not care how nice you are. It does not care how mean you are. For all intents and purposes, it does not care. It is inevitability.

     Lives can be lived in fear, in denial, or in tandem, with this inevitability. People like Osteen offer denial. It's an easy path to take. There is the constant excuse/explanation that bad things happen because someone isn't faithful enough. If it's "their" fault, then it's in my power to prevent something bad from happening to me. Fortunately, that isn't true. I say "fortunately" because the idea that my blessings are entirely dependent on me is just a bit too much pressure.

     Another option is to live in fear. Currently, this seems to be the most frequent and the impacts are often seen most directly in children. There are all kinds of articles, books, and discussions about helicopter parenting. The common census is this: It's bad. There are two messages inherent in overprotective parenting: 1) the world is a scary and dangerous place and 2) you can't handle it, so I have to do it for you.

     While the first statement is somewhat true, the second statement is not. Overprotective parents also tend to focus heavily on affirmations while minimizing weaknesses. They consistently offer choices so children feel "empowered". They tell them how great they are at whatever they are attempting. Everyone gets a trophy. Well, if your kids are such empowered, great, #winners, why are you so afraid they can't handle the world? Both messages cannot be true simultaneously, and kids know it. They may not be able to verbalize it or be completely aware of it, but they know something is off. The inherent and explicit messages lack congruence.

     The alternative is to encourage your children, and each other, through the struggle. This is living in tandem with reality. There will be times we are blessed, where hard work comes to fruition and we are blessed with plenty. There will be times when hard work dissolves into nothingness while the lazy man succeeds in excess. There will be times when innocent children die of treatable diseases and evil men live to die peacefully in their bed from old age.

     Celebrate the success, mourn the losses, embrace the struggle, admit when you're afraid, give when you can, take when you need. Know that a great deal of your life will occur without your permission, plans do rarely work out the way we want, and nothing lasts forever. Invest in relationships, cherish happy memories, don't miss out on making new memories, and take a chance to view the world as it is. While it may be scary, it is also wonderful and brief and full of life. Give your children, your spouses, and your self an opportunity to prove how great they really are. Let's find a friend, a spouse, a confidant with whom we can experience the struggle of life together because, in the end, that's all that will matter.
Protective Fear
(C) Nathan D. Croy 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Story for Everyone

"Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person."
                                                      ~ Rollo May, 1975, The Courage to Create, p. 35

     Sitting in the circle, each of us took turns looking at the other wondering who would begin. The six of us knew each other, some more deeply than others, but there was still an unease. The prompt for the group was this: Tell your story. No one knew where to start. There were several revelations as we began talking about how we should talk about our stories.
     We realized that crises are relative. That just because the trauma doesn't bother you now doesn't mean it isn't still important. There had always been people along the way, but we often failed to see them in the moment. And suddenly, I was thinking of Woody Allen.
      Allen brought a "quirky" and "neurotic" perspective to his films which people had not seen before. He told uncomfortable stories in a way that was just fantastic enough to allow people a safe mental distance. As I sat, thinking about how I would tell my own story, a seemingly insurmountable problem occurred: A story requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. Identifying those aspects required an outside perspective. The characters in the story never know how close they are to their own end. The cessation of one struggle could merely be the prelude to the next act. I do not know if I can ever tell "My Story" until it is over. And by then, I would not be able to speak.
     The distance Allen brought to his movies, the perspective, does not exist for us amidst our own existence as it occurs in the here-and-now. While others, through reflection and feedback, can offer glimpses into these perspectives, they are never complete. Which means the designation of "saint" or "rebel" must be put off until our story is over. In the meantime, we can reflect on our past, the history of others, the stories already told, and the parts of our story we have already seen unfold. But let us not be so bold as to imagine we can tell our complete story. Let us also not be so timid as to believe we cannot tell the parts of our story as they happen.
     I would leave you with this thought: Perspective is a requirement for wisdom and time is a requirement for perspective. As we allow our story to fulfill itself, do not miss the foreshadowing, the past struggles, and the joys which have already occurred. We do not know how close we are to the end of our own story, let us make haste in writing and sharing what we can.

Allen
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Traps and Trauma

     The difference between children who have experienced trauma vs children who have not is the difference between a well-fed dog and a dog caught in a trap. Being bitten by a dog stuck in a trap will be interpreted differently than the same action by the well-fed dog. The pain and fear of the person bit may remain the same in each case, but the reason behind the bite is very different. The knowledge of this difference could lead us to quickly forgive the trapped animal while punishing the well-fed animal. Same behavior, same outcomes, different levels of acceptance.


     The reason it is more acceptable for the trapped dog to bite is because we expect it. We know they are acting out of fear and self-preservation. The rescuer may even fault themselves for not taking extra precautions when approaching a wounded animal. We do not fault the animal because we see the trauma. Some animals may need extra care and services before they are rehabilitated enough to join a family and be adopted. Some dogs that have been trapped are euthanized and deemed impossible to rehabilitate. Most often it could be possible, but the expense, time, and resources estimated to bring that change about are seen as too great in a cost-benefit analysis.

     Unfortunately, even dogs that are well-fed and well cared for can still bite and are often “put down” for reasons citing temperament. As if “temperament” were an unchangeable aspect of the animal existing in isolation from the environment. This is not including elderly dogs who may be suffering from dementia. While there may be some truth to this, most healthy dogs can relearn how to behave appropriately in a family/pack unit.

     So it is with children who have experienced trauma. The scars are not always as visible as they are with dogs. Children can arrive at school or daycare, interact with children every day, and be caught in an invisible trap they have brought with them from their home. It is not clear we should approach them with caution or additional supports. Good intentions are greeted with snarls and threats. Well-meaning people are driven away, confident their loving actions will not be “wasted” on an ungrateful child.

     All the while, the traumatized child and the trapped dog know two things: 1) Someone more powerful than myself has done this to me, and 2) only someone more powerful than myself can help save me. Therein lies the fear that drives the bite. These victims have learned they cannot trust those who are more powerful than they are, yet they know they are dependent on them for safety. It is a dichotomy of terror with no hope. Realizing this, the dog chews off his paw and risks bleeding to death. Coming to a similar realization, the child cuts off their emotions (reactive attachment disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, etc), their connection with reality (schizotypal personality disorder, schizophrenia, etc), both their emotions and reality (Bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, etc), or their own self (borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, etc). Ultimately, they may even choose to end their own life as a means of escaping what they perceive to be a world full of traps and void of help.

     There have been instances where people like this have been “put down”. It happens under the guise of justice and death penalties. It happens through social isolation and institutionalization. It happens socially and economically and religiously. Through these processes, humanity is enacting the age-old rite of self-preservation on a social level. “We” are protecting “Us” from “Them” because “They” are threatening. It makes complete sense and, evolutionarily, protects us from threats. However, too often we are in a rush to protect, to diagnose, to define, and to dispense. The onslaught of managed care has taught us to ignore the traumatic traps and treat the paw, the specific injury, and discharge the patient in under seven sessions.

     In the process of being so quick to protect ourselves from the threat, we have become the very thing we thought we were protecting ourselves from: Isolated. Isolation is a social tool of punishment designed to either alter behavior so “they” becomes more like “us” (a part of our pack), or else relegate “they” to alienation and almost certain death. This ensures homogeneity and easy identification of who “we” are. The United States claim not to be savage, to be moral, to be respectable. Yet, if we are judged by how we treat our sick, our young, and our old, we are incredibly cruel, immoral, and lack any modicum of respect. If the sick could heal themselves, we would not need doctors. If the traumatized could free themselves, we would not need therapists. If the elderly were cared for by family, they would not need retirement homes.

     This is not strictly about government policies, universal healthcare, or insurance companies. This is about a society becoming so consumed with living a safe life they have failed to live a life. Convenience, ease of use, and customer satisfaction has replaced effort, attentiveness, and prudence. Somewhere along the line, acquisition of material goods and resources became synonymous with safety and wellness.

     So we abandon the dog that threatens us. We forget the child that scares us. We ignore the parent that cannot remember us. We waste our lives on things, and are surprised when things dominate our lives. To quote Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death:
     “What we call worldliness simply consists of such people who, if one may so express it, pawn themselves to the world… The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.”
     And this is just what has happened. We have become worldly at the expense of our own selves, at the expense of those smaller, weaker, poorer, or sicker than ourselves. This has happened without a sound, with no notice, and it silently continues on, perpetuated by greed, fear, and the unending pursuit of safety. Let me assure you of one thing: a safe life is no life at all. There will be traps and traumas for all of us. Each of us will require the aid of another who is greater than ourselves to free us from these traps through relationship with patience founded on deep love. Just as each of us will encounter a trap, each of us will encounter another in their own trap. Will we risk being bitten?

(C) Nathan D. Croy
Trap

Friday, May 9, 2014

Suicide & Autonomy

     From an existential standpoint, the morality of suicide is not always cut and dry. Ironically, this is where an atheist has better ground than a deist in regards to arguing against suicide. If the goal of life, a well lived life, is to be a life of Love, then, from an atheist's perspective, suicide is the ultimate in destruction of relationship. Death, brought about by choice, ends any and all chances of reconciliation. There are no more opportunities to forgive, or redeem, or interact. No more opportunities to live authentically or with existential purpose. By that merit alone, the act of suicide could be labeled as unhealthy and requiring treatment.
    
     For deists, there is an afterlife. If we apply the same life goal of living Love, then there is another chance. Christian hymns declare this is "not our home" and that Christians are simply "passing through". The argument I have heard is that suicide takes over what only God can ordain: Life and death. However, God ordained many people to be born deaf, but we invented cochlear implants. God ordained many people to be born with horrible eyesight, but we invented glasses. If the Old Testament is to be taken literally, God was so threatened by a building he confused our languages, but despite this, many people have learned multiple languages. By these examples, it would seem that God has ultimately ordained us with free will. Would it not logically follow that our freedom of will would extend to the self exercising the will. Christians have used this same argument to defend the death penalty. "The criminal knew the consequences of his behavior and decided to commit murder. Therefore, they assented to loss of their own life". Yet, ability to assent to loss of life is withheld from those who are suffering.

     Which leads me to this question: If I, as an existential therapist, am presented with someone who is suicidal, what is the proper response? Taking Hippocrates into account, at the very least, my job is to first do no harm. Who here has not seen someone in great emotional, mental, and/or physical torment that seemed to exist with no end? Is it harmful to force that person to live when they could easily take their life? By denying a person the right to commit suicide, am I not denying their own autonomy and therefore reducing them to a being incapable of authentic living? And is this act, in and of itself, a form of existential suicide because it automatically denies a person their free will and attempts to force another to relinquish their personal will to the will of another?

     I do not know if this is the right answer, or if there really is one. Some cultures have extolled the honor of suicide. Others embraced euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. There does not seem to be an innate answer. Regardless, there is an incongruence with any society that upholds death penalties while condemning suicide. Here is why: Existentially, life is about potential. It's why I struggle with abortion, death penalties, and suicide. While this is not the appropriate place for a debate on what does or does not constitute life, it is an appropriate place to talk about existential potential.

     The murderer could go on to become a healer. The sufferer could go on to be healed. While there is nothing, including serving life in prison, a person can do to bring back the dead, there is still time to make their life greater than it was. While there is nothing anyone can do to remove the scars and pain of past trauma, there is the possibility of converting the trauma into a meaningful beauty. There is potential in our pain, our mistakes, and our crimes. There is space for healing, restitution, and forgiveness. Death is the cessation of that possibility. By that fact alone, suicide may be inherently inauthentic as it denies the person their potential and future self.

(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014
Hanging Question

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why The USA Abhors Existentialism

     If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.  -- Rollo May

     The World Congress for Existential Therapy is hosting a conference in London with dozens of existential therapists I would gladly have lunch with. If you are interested in learning more about this, click here. The flight, hotel, and entrance cost are prohibitive to me attending, but I hope one day to present there and have them foot the bill!
    
     In the meantime, something struck me as odd: Why are there so few existential therapists in the States? When I tell people I am an existential marriage and family therapist, they either stare at me blankly or ask what an existentialist is. They get bonus points if they pronounce "existential" correctly. I do not mean to disparage the intelligence of my fellow Americans. After I explain existentialism to them, they seem to understand. What frustrates me is how the term existentialism has been extricated from our vocabulary. The following is my theory why existentialism has such difficulty putting down roots in America*.

     This is just a theory, but here it goes: In 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, landed in America, and insisted the people living there were Indians, even after they told him otherwise, a path of dominance and brutality was begun. Nearly 400 years later, a zeitgeist of American desire to expand geographically, economically, and ideologically across as much of North America as possible occurred. This "God Blessed" right and desire was identified by John O'Sullivan as Manifest Destiny.

     Manifest Destiny is not compatible with existentialism. At its core, existentialism is relational and requires reciprocity and egalitarianism. At its core, Manifest Destiny subjugates and requires control and dominance. Manifest Destiny is a reason while existentialism requires reasoning.

     There is a vast difference between reasons and reasoning. Reasons are why we do what we do or believe what we believe. Reasoning is the process by which we arrive at our reasons.

     If we garner someones reasons as our own, without going through our own reasoning process, our motivation will be fallow and hollow and shallow. However, if we reason out why we're doing what we're doing or believing what we're believing, then our reasons can easily be adapted when our reasoning is shown to be wrong. It is not an issue of dogma when we discuss our reasoning, it is an issue of dogma when we discuss our reasons. This may seem like splitting hairs, and in truth it may be. However, these hairs start wars. People kill and die over reasons. People can discuss reasoning. Creeds are reasons, prayer is reasoning. Reasons are static, reasoning is dynamic.

     It's the difference between dialectical discussions and debates. Dialectical discussions are designed to allow two or more people to arrive at a general conclusion of truth. Debates are designed and constructed to prove one opinion correct and an opposing or different opinion wrong through the weight of arguments. Dialectical discussions bring two people closer together while debates encourage separation and exist as a zero sum game.

     And this is where the rubber meets the road: Life does not offer answers. Truth, understanding, knowledge, acceptance, all must be sought out via difficult means of self-discovery. Many Christians struggle with the idea of existentialism because they believe it is postmodern relativism and that it allows room for people to get away with anything; that it makes everything justifiable. Here's the truth: Thinking in terms of black and white, reasons without reasoning, creates a festering fear that is threatened by anything different or new. It is the type of thinking that lead to the Spanish Inquisition, the Holy Wars, and the conversion by force applied to "savages". There is no reasoning behind a suicide bomb, only reasons.

     Reasoning, like love, is a process; not a goal. This is where fear often emerges. If we trust the process, we must be willing to consider its results no matter how different they are from our own beliefs. The Disciples failed to trust the process while Christ was being crucified. I believe the argument could be made that extremist groups do not trust the process of their own beliefs and instead take the power and control into their own hands.

     My religion tells me to love my enemy, my neighbor, and myself, equally. My Christian community has failed to show me even how to love myself. This is because, too often, the Church has been more obsessed with being RIGHT, with its own Manifest Destiny, with its self, than it has been with the process it claims to promote and defend. Can we trust the process of love, of existentialism, of dialectical reasoning, or do we lack that bravery? Until we we can be brave enough to do so, Americans will continue to abhor existentialism because it threatens our right to be right at all costs. Existentialism calls us to be in relation. Can this be done when my needs exist to the exclusion of others? As long as being RIGHT in all of its forms (driving the right car, owning the right house, or having "the best") remains more important than being in relationship with others, existentialism will continue to be perceived as a threat and generate anger and aggression.

     What's the answer? Individuals choosing genuine relationship over, but not to the exclusion of, self. I do not expect America to change. I do expect you to change. The only question now is, are you brave enough?



World War No.
(C) 2014, Nathan D. Croy

























*Just to be clear, I realize I'm being ethnocentric, or egocentric, or some type of "centric" when I say "America" instead of The United States of America. I know the term "America" could mean North or South America. It's just easier to type, so leave me alone.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fix

“If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.”
                                                                      ― Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

     Most people are aware of the fight or flight response that people may have to a stressful event. An animal perceives a threat to its safety and must decide: Can I fight this threat or can I outrun it? I use the term "decide" here to describe the automatic process of the amygdala and hippocampus (click here for more). There's no conscious decision making going on. Even a bunny will attack if there are no means of escape.

     Then, a few years after I graduated high school, the freeze response was added to the mix. This is when the amygdala and hippocampus go, "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" and nothing happens. Technically this is a survival response. It can work for prey animals with effective camouflage; like deer. However, it can also be an abysmal survival mechanism when a deer sees two headlights bearing down on it and it thinks, "uhhhhhhh, I'm gonna go ahead and not move then the car won't see me standing in the middle of the road and it won't try to eat me". We've all heard/seen the outcome of that particular strategy played out. All animals (and humans) have all three of these responses programmed at a genetic level.

     Humbly, I would like to add a fourth option. Fight, flight, and freeze are all processed in similar areas of the brain. None of them rely heavily on the frontal lobe and/or the prefrontal cortex where our higher level reasoning and processing occurs. In fact, humans have a very difficult time calming their anger when these areas are not engaged (click here for more info). Which got me to thinking: what if we get really stressed and are able to override our natural reactive responses (fight, flight, freeze) and engage our higher level thinking processes (fix)? This would in no way be reflexive; it would require training and intentionality and a level of self-control that, if I'm being honest, I don't really have. Still, the possibility is there for a fourth response to a stressful event: Fix.

     In truth, when faced with a stressful situation our primary/reactive responses will remain the same: Fight/flight/freeze. However, we can exercise a secondary/active response: Fix. Fixing a situation necessarily requires the activation of the higher thinking/limbic areas of the brain. This cannot easily happen when people are highly stressed or threatened. The irony, then, lies in the fact that until a stressful situation is corrected or until the threat is has been alleviated, it is very difficult if not impossible, for us to really think about the situation we actually need to fix.

     All is not lost. We can learn how to accept the fear which triggers our primary responses, acknowledge it, and then begin to process it. Some times this takes years of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes before we are able to begin really processing our fear. It is all worth it. Until we process the fear, our options will be limited to the reactions of flight/fight/freeze. We will run from healthy relationships, we will fight those who provide aid and support, and we will freeze in the face of new threats. But, when our fear is identified, when it is named and recognized for the projection it has always been, it becomes smaller and less threatening, and this allows us to grow. Once we process our fear, we add a fourth option to our repertoire: Fix. Having the option to fix empowers us, broadens our horizons, and allows us to live an authentic life. Fixing is active, fighting/flying/or freezing is reactive. If you feel out of control of your emotions, your life, or your relationships, ask yourself how you respond to threats. Are you reactive or active? Empowered or threatened? Prey or predator? If you do not feel in control, find someone to help you figure out the source of fear which holds you back and begin to be a fixer.

Flight, Freeze, Fight, & Fix
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sesquipedalian Trepidation.

     Revelation is marked by mystery, eternal happiness by suffering, the certitude of faith by uncertainty, easiness by difficulty, truth by absurdity; if this is not maintained, then the esthetic and the religious merge in common confusion. … The religious lies in the dialectic of inwardness deepening and therefore, with regard to the conception of God, this means that he himself is moved, is changed. An action in the eternal transforms the individual’s existence.
-- Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments

     Most people go to the ocean and surf, frolic in the foam from the breakers, build sand castles, swim, splash, exercise, and enjoy themselves. Some enjoy this life so much they spend ludicrous sums of money to live on the beach. However, people rarely find great treasures during these activities. Usually, finding treasure requires two things: Attentiveness and excavation.

     The first requirement is being attentive. We must look, be aware of our surroundings, discover and notice that which seems out of place. Some treasure hunters use metal detectors or do research when looking for treasure. People that stumble upon a long lost wedding ring or loose change are noticing something that hundreds of other people may have stepped over. Regardless, a requirement to finding something means being in the process of looking. Which brings us to our second requirement for finding treasure; excavation.

     Excavation is different from digging. Dogs dig. Squirrels excavate. Digging has no purpose other than making a hole. It is certainly fine if something turns up during the digging, but that is not its purpose. With excavating, the idea is to remove dirt in order to expose something. It inherently assumes something exists below the soil that is valuable enough to work to retrieve. Sunken treasure is called sunken treasure because it sinks. It takes special equipment, training, and intentionality to find these treasures.

     Perhaps I am being too jaded, pessimistic, or negative, but it seems to me there are very few people willing to do the hard work required which brings about meaning in life. Meaning is a treasure, it reveals who we are and what we value. Our tendency to stick to the surface and be distracted by any new trend or quick flash of NEW NEW NEW!!!! robs us of the necessary energy to find meaningful treasure and it distracts us from noticing found treasure.

     Sesquipedalian, is a word used to describe very long words. The word "sesquipedalian", is sesquipedalian. Self referencing meta-words just make me happy. "Sesquipedalian Trepidation" means being afraid to move forward in regards to big words. Many people are often hesitant to read Kierkegaard, May, or a hundred other incredible authors because they use large words, discuss complex concepts, or ask questions they cannot answer. Yet, this is the mental and spiritual excavation that aids in uncovering our personal deep meaning. It takes effort and strain to maintain an attentive vigilance in order to find meaning where it lies; even in the mundane.

     Some people show up to the beach and money is washing up on the shore. Some people wake up in the morning with a newly acute awareness of what it means to be real, to have meaning, to be who they are. These people are lucky, rare, and waiting for money to wash up on the beach probably is not the most sound retirement plan. If you desire meaning, purpose, and authenticity, then you must be willing to do the hard work of excavation and attentiveness. To quote Teddy Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

     Your treasure exists. All you have to do is find it.

Sunken Treasure.
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Potential Energy (Love Part D of 4)

     The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still knows bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.

-- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

     Energy is a strange concept for me. There are equations to measure and describe all types of energy. Potential, kinetic, work, ohms, watts, volts, and the list goes on. What makes it a strange concept to my non-physics-educated brain is how something which seems intangible can be measured. Someone can probably explain it to me, and I think there was a class in high school that tried, but as it stands, I just scratch my head. Potential energy is a great one! Looking at mass times gravity times height is the basic formula for this. But then we go and add arbitrary zero points and make many assumptions which make me question the reliability of the answer.

     For instance, gravity is a variable in the formula for potential energy yet most physicists agree there is less gravity than there should be: both in general and even in Canada. It's difficult to describe the potential energy something may have when one of the variables used to define it is not readily agreed upon (thanks a bunch, Einstein!). Don't get me wrong, many of the formulas used work well enough for NASA to land a person on the moon and get a little dune buggy on Mars, so that's not bad. I'm just saying, there are times we have to say we don't know, but we do know enough.

     Now I'm beginning to wonder if the same concept of "knowing enough" is applicable to potential within individuals as well? There are many variables regarding the ability of someone to express their potential. If ever there were to be a formula for the existential process of moving from "what could be" to "what is", it would be the formula that defines love.

        Love is the process by which the meaning of an individual ceases to be potential and becomes actual. This means each of us is a necessary holding space whereby others may express love. In isolation we necessarily remain pure potential. Only in relationship may we become actual, real, and fulfilled.

Energy.
(C) Nathan D. Croy

























This is the last entry in a four part series on Love. Please click to read Part A, Part B, & Part C. Thank you, and as always, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bad Hair Cut

     Let's pretend you live in a small town. It's so small, there are only two barbers in the entire town. One barber has hair so amazing it's talked about in hushed tones and people have begun using the word "coif" to describe it. The other barber has horrible, awful, terrible hair. It's bad. If you didn't know better, you'd say he had half of it permed and the other half was cut by a blind man with a severe muscle tick.
     It's two days before an important job interview. Your hair is beyond shaggy. You're new to town. Which barber cuts your hair?
     Clearly you have the barber with the bad hair cut, cut your hair! It's a small town, remember? Only two barbers? That means the barber with the horrible haircut cut the other barbers majestic hair! And the barber with the horrible haircut? Well that was inflicted upon him by the barber with the great hair!
     In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes that, "Some cannot loosen their own chains and can nonetheless redeem their friends.” In The Wounded Healer, Nouwen takes this idea a step further and writes that it is only by realizing our own broken woundedness we are able to help others heal. Nouwen expounds on that idea to say that the inherent reciprocity of relationship means that as we facilitate the healing of others, we will begin healing ourselves.
    What I'm trying to get at is this: Perfection is not a requirement for helping others. We do not need to have a perfect marriage before we help someone with their relationship. We do not need to have perfect grades to help someone know a better way to learn. We do not have to have perfect hair in order to be a good barber. Think about this: Tiger Woods has a golf coach. I bet all my worldly possessions that his golf coach is no better at golf than Tiger Woods. However, he may have a better understanding of the game, its physics, its nuances, and he is able to communicate that understanding in a way that improves Tiger's game.
     So you have a bad hair day. Our bad hair days become fodder. It is from our broken, wounded, pain, that we are able to sympathize with others. This does not make the bad hair day any less frustrating. It does not make our injuries any less painful or our trauma any less damaging. However, if we are brave, these experiences can help heal others. And, if we're lucky, the very process of helping others may help heal our very self.

Bad Hair Day.
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pharmacological Sanity

     When I was originally diagnosed with ADD, it was called Minimal Brain Dysfunction. This diagnosis was designed to address children who seemed to function poorly in school and other social settings, but could not be clinically diagnosed as mentally retarded. For a time, this worked, but then someone noticed a discrepancy between these children's school performance and their IQ scores. While their IQ's tested in the normal to high range, their performance was abysmal. Researchers realized children with this diagnosis seemed to struggle in focusing long enough to take in information in a way that allowed them to retain it. This new theory lead to different types of treatment. I underwent testing for food allergies, adhered to a strict diet with mineral and vitamin additives, biofeedback sessions, and was even in a trial study for Prozac. My father claims I would have blackouts while on Prozac and even began having suicidal thoughts at the age of 8. I received therapy from several immanent psychiatrists and psychologists, one of whom was Dr. Hunt who still runs the Center for Attention and Hyperactivity in Tennessee. My father had his masters in counseling and when Dr. Hunt suggested that my parents check me into a mental institution, forget they ever had a son, and focus their time and energy into their "healthy" daughter, my Father asked Dr. Hunt, "Why can't you just admit that you can't help my son?" Needless to say, this concluded our sessions with Dr. Hunt.

     My entire family worked hard to stay with me throughout my years of rebellion and boundary testing. Through the overdoses. Through the depression. Through the denial and rage. They showed me, through modeling and through actions, what it means to truly love someone. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about the benefits and risks of medication vs alternative/holistic means of treating ADD/ADHD.  
   
     While I have ADD, I am also a marriage and family therapist who has worked with many families and individuals who's lives have been impacted by this disorder. Some articles claim exercise reduces symptoms of ADD and it is difficult for me to think of a reason why, after consulting a physician, anyone would not incorporate exercise into their daily routine. For me, this has not been enough. Despite diet changes, added vitamins and minerals, and lots of other attempted fixes, what has worked for me is medication. I still exercise, and I should probably eat better, and at this time in my life and for the past 16 years, medication has helped control the symptoms of my ADD. It has helped me maintain my marriage and provide me with a greater amount of impulse control and levels of tolerance.

        This post is being written in reference to a twitter conversation I recently had. My decision to take medication to help with the symptoms of a neurological disorder was fairly quickly disparaged. The reply asked if I had every tried taking an art class rather than simply using medication to treat my symptoms. While my illustrations are evidence I did not pay attention, I have taken art classes. What got to me about the tweet is this: If I were taking medication for depression, would the same person have been as quick to ask if I had tried alternative means of treatment?  
     
         No doubt about it; ADD is over diagnosed and over treated. Many children are over medicated for a variety of reasons. However, this does not mean medication is not necessarily effective when used appropriately. To that extent, I would suggest more research be done in the area of diagnosing. Finding out if ADD/ADHD has a trauma or relationship attachment component to it vs. it being organic and purely physical. More accurate diagnosing for many disorders may play a key role in allowing doctors to target treatment and medication in order to treat the person rather than just treating symptoms while having very little etiological understanding.

        In the meantime, let me tell you a story about a friend of mine who was in high school with me and had been diagnosed with ADD and refused to take medication. When I asked why he chose not to, he stated that he didn't want to and it felt weird. I asked my friend why he wore glasses. He said he was near sighted and without his glasses probably wouldn't have been able to function day-to-day. I reflected back to him the incongruence that he chose to wear glasses to correct his vision but refused to take medication to correct his neurology. He laughed me off and said it was different and complained that I didn't understand. The truth was, I deeply understood, and wanted him to experience the same form of freedom I had.

        Medication isn't the answer. No pill will ever make someone perfect; and if it could, it would be at the expense of their own humanity. However, unless it's doing more damage than good, please be careful not to disparage a persons means of maintaining sanity.


Pharmacological Sanity
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Optional Vision.

     Short post, and I'll let Brian Regan present most of the content (thanks Brian!), but this is something to reflect on. My wife has horrible vision. It's true. I asked her the other day if the two colors I had on matched. She said she didn't have her glasses on so she couldn't tell. This means her vision is so bad she can't see colors without contacts or glasses. Colors, people! Sometimes she will complain about her current prescription not keeping up with the degradation of her eyesight. She will still wait 9 months to a year before she ever calls someone to make an eye appointment, but who cares? It's just vision!
     The truth is, we all do this. We put on hold the truly important and critical things in our life because of the busy-ness of day to day tasks. I am just as culpable of this as everyone else. The trash needs to get taken out on Thursday night. The bills have to be paid. My children's diapers need to get change. These things need to get done. Because we all have responsibilities to the world that will not wait, we must make times for the things that cannot be denied. Time to relax, to be with family and friends, to get out of our comfort zone, to regain our existential sight. To remind ourselves who we are, why we do what we do, and what is important in life. When we make time to do this, the little things of life will be recharged with meaning instead of being burdensome chores. We will take out the trash so someone else doesn't have to. We will be grateful we have money to pay the bills (or we will reevaluate what is important to spend money on if we are unable to pay our bills). We will change diapers and be reminded of how our children are truly dependent on us for their safety in this world. We will remember falling in love with our spouse, our first real success in school or work, or that there is someone else in the world that loves us, possibly more than we love ourselves. And that is how we can make optional vision become optimal vision.


Myopic
(C) 2014 Nathan D. Croy

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Ukraine and Kansas University

*This post contains quotes which have strong language. Just thought you should know.*

     Recently, KCUR (Kansas Public Radio) did a story on a professor that was fired from Kansas University for expressing a view that was in conflict with the views of KU. Please click HERE for that story. Leading up to that story, KCUR asked people to chime in on their own opinion concerning firing people for expressing views that are not compatible with the views of the employer. It was surprising to see how many people felt it was fine for schools or corporations to maintain a "media policy" that prevents their employees from expressing dissident voices; even on personal or private pages.
     It would be unfair to compare the firing of one professor to the current struggle and protests in the Ukraine. While the issues are very different, what interested me is the response of those in power to the protests of others. The Ukrainian president recently passed laws outlawing the gathering of people in order to protest. If a protester did register for one of these events, they received a text stating they were in violation of the recently passed law. Bypassing the Orwellian implications of receiving electronic notifications on something you haven't even done yet, does anyone else see a similarity between what happened to this KU professor and what is happening to the Ukrainian people?
     Being kept quiet can happen through various means. In the Ukraine it is happening through threats, imprisonment, violence, and electronic tracking. In other countries, like North Korea, the control is more overt and the media is clearly a mouthpiece for the government. It can also be more subtle. In countries where advertising and media are prevalent, the fight can be so subtle we are unaware we are losing.
     In the 2011 movie, Detachment, Adrien Brody plays a teacher (who probably plays the piano). Speaking to his class he says this about the "Marketing Holocaust":
     "Examples of lies in society: I need to be pretty to be happy. I need surgery to be pretty. I need to be thin, famous, fashionable. Our young men, today, are being told that women are whores. Bitches. Things to be screwed. Beaten. Shit on. Shamed. This is a marketing holocaust. Twenty-four hours a day for the rest of our lives, 'the powers that be' are hard at work dumbing us to death. So, to defend ourselves and fight against assimilating this dullness into our thought processes, we must learn to read. To stimulate our own imagination. To cultivate our own consciousness. Our own belief systems. We all need these skills to defend...to preserve our minds."
This message is not new. Fight Club expressed a similar message, albeit with a slightly darker and nihilistic response. The Matrix is an allegory for this message that "the powers that be" want us to remain docile, calm, quiet, and forever pursuing the status quo which "they" conveniently create. If this is beginning to sound a bit paranoid, go to the Ukraine and enjoy a quiet and peaceful protest. For a less dramatic approach, why not try going shopping while asking yourself why you like the clothes you like.
     This is not a blanket excuse to be an unmitigated argumentative pain in the neck. Part of being mature and learning to exercise love is to be sensitive and appropriate. However, that does not allow institutions, in any form they may take, to silence our voices. An offense even worse than trying to silence a voice is trying to replace it. To require others say, through their actions or their voice, that everything is fine, when everything is not fine, is to deny them their humanity for our own comfort. If we are honest with ourselves, the reason we seek uniformity and conformity is to avoid the discomfort that comes with difference.
     As I tweeted to KCUR, firing someone for expressing a dissident voice is tantamount to eradicating autonomy in the name of peace; it is self-defeating. When we ask people not to disagree with our beliefs, our policies, or our motives, we deny ourselves opportunities for growth. When our insistence on being right outstrips our desire for relationship, our rightness no longer matters.

*UPDATE* I was informed by KCUR via Twitter that the professor from KU has not been fired and instead is on administrative leave. Here is an article from the Huff Post about his supension.

Everything Is Great No Mouth
Everything Is Great
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014
    

Friday, January 10, 2014

Guilt, Shame, & Personal Accountability

"Fight against yourself, recover yourself to decency, to modesty, to freedom. ...And, in the first place, condemn your actions; but when you have condemned them, do not despair of yourself.

"For both ruin and recovery are from within."
~Epictetus, Discourses, Ch. 9

     People can feel shame without taking accountability. This also means people can take accountability without feeling shame. Shame and guilt should not be confused. Guilt has restorative properties and always contains a means of penance; of ways to make right our wrong doing and seek forgiveness. Guilt is inherently external: Focused on what we have done; not on who we are.
     Shame, on the other hand, does not call us to restoration or community. Instead, it calls us to isolation and focuses on who we are rather than what we have done. This is a terrific topic and a great book on the topic is called "Guilt and Shame". There is a link to it in the Book List, and I recommend it. However, for now, what is important is knowing the distinction between guilt (healthy response to a wrong doing) and shame (unhealthy judgment about our personhood).
     Though shame and guilt are very different, they do have one thing in common: personal accountability. The quote from Epictetus should not be read to mean that success or failure lies within us. "Both ruin and recovery are from within." The decision to take responsibility for our actions, and thereby have the power to do something about them, lies within us. If we feel guilt, if we feel shame, yet believe there is nothing we can do, that circumstances were in control of our lives, well then we are utterly powerless and we may as well fall into despair. Some believe this is a freeing concept, that if our fate lies in the stars instead of ourselves, we are free of condemnation. Yet this idea does not explain away our guilt or shame.
     Passing the buck and blaming others for your situation, even if it is an accurate perception, does little to empower us, change the situation, or help heal relationships. However, taking an earnest look at ourselves, allowing trusted friends and advisers to reflect back to us who we are, begins the process of personal accountability. This is one way shame can be converted to proper guilt. That we can begin distinguishing between who we are and what we do. When this happens, we can begin personally being accountable for our actions without allowing those actions to define us.
     Leave a comment about a time you wrestled with shame or guilt. How did you handle it? Were you able to take personal responsibility?

Hear no, See no, They did it.
(C) Nathan D. Croy