From “work in progress” to “total renovation”

It’s a cliche to say that we are all “works in progress”. It’s not a bad or harmful cliche. I do think the work that we need to do on ourselves should be continual. That is the stuff of life itself.

But there are times in life, as I am learning, where it is not enough to adjust knobs and tinker with pieces. Sometimes you have to completely reboot the system, unplug and plug back in. I have reached that point. My world has been fundamentally altered and to pretend otherwise is foolish. To not adjust accordingly is suicidal.

I lost the love of my life through my own actions. I wasn’t just married to a good woman. I was married to a woman that many people consider to be the best person they’ve ever met. A great wife, mother, lover and friend… there is no going back for us and I have to accept that. We are great co-parents. We may one day be good friends again. Things will never be the same.

I lost my dream job. I lost the job I believed that I wanted for the last 14 years. I think I could have grown into it. I wasn’t perfect by any means, but I was good and I could have gotten better. It was taken from me. I feel betrayed. I can’t go back.

The church is an animal that eats its young and weak. I’ve lost my ability to connect in a spiritual community. That has to be recovered.

I can’t financially support myself. That has to change.

But the big thing… I discovered that I don’t love myself. That, above all other things, absolutely must change.

Yesterday, my sister posted a picture  of uber-handsome actor Idris Elba and commented that he kind of looked like me. I posted a picture of him next to my current profile picture. The resemblance is somewhat uncanny. I took it down though. I’ve spent too much of my life wanting to be someone else, comparing myself to others, or seeing myself through the eyes of others.

This year I am dedicating myself to being more disciplined. This is not about punishment for my sins. This is about developing the habits that I think a healthy me should have. This is about investing in me in ways that I have so often invested in others. This is about a firm belief that if I am healthy, I will bring health into the world. This is about a belief that an authentic Derrick is the one thing the world is lacking that I alone can contribute.

This is about my boldly affirming who I am and who I am becoming. To that end…

I am a father and I dedicate myself to being all the things for children that I would have wished for my younger self.

I am a writer and I dedicate myself to working on the craft of writing and that includes taking significant time daily to read as well as write.

I am a music lover and I dedicate myself to more fully immerse myself in listening to and playing music.

I am a physical being and I dedicate myself to daily caring for my body through exercise and moderation in consumption… yeah, I’ll leave it at that. That includes making sure that I get in several races this year. Who’s in?

I am a spiritual being and I dedicate myself to daily centering meditation, spiritual reading, prayer and to finding spiritual community. This also includes owning my role as a spiritual guide for others and finding healthy ways to live into that part of myself.

I am a child and i dedicate myself to those things that ignite my childish exuberance. In other words, if you thought I geeked out before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

I am an adult and I dedicate myself to taking responsibility for my mistakes, being honest, taking ownership of my actions, and making amends whenever possible. That means making myself open to being held accountable.

I am a son, brother, uncle and I dedicate myself to restoring, rebuilding, renewing, and reinvigorating relationships within my family system.

I am a friend and I dedicate myself to being the kind of friend that my friends have been to me this year, not out of obligation but out of genuine love and gratitude.

I am an introvert and dedicate myself to respecting my own boundaries.

I dedicate myself to discovering what I need and want in a partner and discovering what it is that I have to offer another person in an intimate relationship.

I dedicate to developing my professional career in a way that is authentic to my values and beliefs, honors my skills, and provides for myself and my family.

I dedicate myself to experience myself as loved, lovable, and lovely.

I read this article earlier in the week.  I like a lot of what it has to say, especially the commitment to myself in the first point. I put my name in it. You may want to do the same. Feel free to remind me of these things from time to time.

I, Derrick Laroy Weston,

Make a commitment to myself,

To spend so much time improving myself and my life that I have no time for worry,  judgement, criticism, whining and complaining;

To forgive, release and let go of my attachment to any past struggles and allow every challenge life sends my way to make me better not bitter.

Starting now, I make a commitment to let go of what’s behind me and start appreciating what’s in front of me;

To let go of all the pointless drama, all the toxic relationships, thoughts and behaviors that are present in my life and to constantly shift my focus from the bad on to the good;

To make room in my heart for love, happiness, peace and tranquility and to create my life from a place of infinite choices and possibilities – the present moment, and no longer from a place of limitations – the past.

I commit to staying true to myself at all times and to never betray myself just so I can please other people.

I commit myself to give up on toxic thought, behaviors and relationships but never on myself and my dreams.

Starting now and starting today, I will  begin rebuilding my life and to make it ridiculously amazing.

Sincerely,
Derrick L. Weston  

 

Oh… one last thing…

Suck it, 2014!

Love in the flesh

“Why do you love me?”

A few months back I blogged about asking someone close to me this question. It probably didn’t take much detective work to figure out that that person was my now ex-wife. I asked her this at the absolute worst possible time. It was the worst because at the time she wasn’t in the space to give much of an answer and I was in a space when I really needed an answer. It was bad. Later I thought it was an unfair question. But now, now I feel like it is a question worth exploring.

When we think about the “why” of love, we tend to come up with lists of merits we love in a person or thing; beauty, intelligence, humor, strength, character. We may also think of what a person/thing does for us. “You make me feel beautiful”. “You make me feel safe”. “You make me feel important”. I guess where I’m struggling with these things, virtuous as they may seem on the surface, is that they are, at their core, transactional. You give me your beauty, I give you love. I give you my security, you give me love. You give me sex… you see where I’m going…

Can love be something other than a transaction? Maybe not. Human interactions on built on a certain give and take. But is there a “pure” love out there? Maybe. Stick with me for a little bit and I promise I’ll get to something kinda Christmasey.

I have one moment in my mind that sticks out for me as a moment of pure love. I remember the moment I first laid eyes on my son. I loved him instantly and I was overwhelmed. I had never felt anything like that before. I honestly didn’t know I was capable of feeling that. I’ve described it before as finding a new section of my heart that suddenly sprung into action. There was no transaction here. He couldn’t do anything for me, but I loved him. With every fiber of my self I loved him. And he would continue to do nothing for me. He was an awful sleeper. I’ve never known sleep deprivation like that, even after years of insomnia. He was expensive as all hell. And the constant diaper changes. He peed on me a lot at the beginning! But I loved him. Not a transaction, right?

 

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Not so fast! He was giving me plenty! He made me into a father. He gave me fresh purpose. And he was beautiful. SO beautiful! His every face and gesture was a gift. Maybe I only loved him for what he was doing for me. Maybe…

But I don’t think so. When I looked into my son’s face then, and when I look into his and his sister’s faces now, I see something in them. I see me. Not me as I am now. I see the best of me. I see me untainted. I see without blemish. Without history. Without pride. Without ego. Without all of the trappings. I see me unfiltered. I see the parts of me that I love, what parts there are. I see in him the thing that I cannot see in myself. I see the face of God.

“May you see Christ see in all you meet, and may all you meet see Christ in you”

The incarnation is an amazing gift. In it, God comes to us in humanity unsullied. We recognize the Divine spark in babies because no parts of the ego get in the way of recognizing the image of God within them. We lose that so quickly. And here is where I see the real importance of who Jesus is. It is not that God comes into the world to show us how far away we are from being God. It is that God comes into the world to help us to see the Divine in each other.

We see God in this baby, and well we should, but this baby will grow into a man who sees the Divine in all. He sees the image of God in the blind man. He sees the image of God in the bleeding woman, he sees the image of God in the adulteress. He sees the image of God in those who crucify him. He even sees the image of God in the Pharisee and tells them to drop the facade that finds worth in the stuff of life to be greater than the worth of the human. We see God in the baby. The baby sees God in us.

What makes Jesus and Buddha and maybe Ghandi and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. different was their willingness to see that of God in each person, even the least desirable among us. Yes, we see God in the baby, but do we see God in the centurion? Do we see God in the leper? Do we see God in the tax collector? Do we see God in the transgendered? Do we see God in the racist? Do we see God in the rioter? Do we see God in the police officer? Do we see God in the rapist? Do we see God in the raped? Can we see something wholly lovely and loveable in the least lovely and loveable? Can we see God in the obnoxious customer?

Can we see God in ourselves?

This is my struggle. I can see God in all of the above, but the God in me… well, I know me. I am fully aware of all of the things that I do to mar the image of God on myself. The best I can come up with is a fun house mirror image of God when I think of myself. And I believe this is where many of our problems lie. Because we cannot see the image of God, that which gives us infinite worth, in ourselves, we use other things and other people to give ourselves worth or to devalue others. This is where all manner of sin manifests. So how do we regain that confidence that we are infinitely loved and lovable so that we might find the loveable in the other?

My therapist has been talking to me about loving the child in myself. Maybe you think the adult you deserves what he gets, but do you believe the same about the child you? It’s hard to think of the young version of me and to believe that he deserved any of the abuse or neglect that he endured. I can love the Divine spark in him. I can begin to love the child version of me in the same way that I loved baby Thomas. Hell, we even look alike.

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It’s easy to love God as a disembodied abstract. It’s easy to love God as a baby. It’s easy to love God as a miraculous provider of goods and services. Our worship becomes yet another series of transactions. But can we love the God that rabble rouses? Can we love the God that tells us to give up comfort and convenience? Can we love the God who tells us to detach from our shit and our titles? Can we love God when She’s hungry? Can we love God post op of Her abortion? Can we love God when He and his protesting friends shut down our mall? Can we love God when He’s late on His child support? Can we love God when he is hollering death to our country? Can we love God in the seemingly endless expression that God finds through humanity?

Can we love God when God’s reflection is looking back at us in the mirror?

“May you see the face of Christ in all you meet, and may all you meet, see the face of Christ in you.”

And that’s the word…

A little shout out to Stephen Colbert there…

Several of my friends have talked to me about having a word for the year. A word that gives the year a theme and a focus. I’ve never really done anything like that. I’ve made plenty of resolutions over the year, but never thought of one word becoming a guiding force. It seems simultaneously simpler and more complicated. On one hand, one word is easier to remember and seems like less of a commitment. On the other hand, a single word can be fluid in its meaning and differ based off of circumstances. “I’m going to the gym three times a week” is pretty straightforward. I’m going to live the year around the word “hope” is far more complex, particularly when things feel hopeless.

“Hope” is not my word for the year, though it would be a good one. A hopeful outlook wouldn’t hurt me as I approach a new year. My friends have chosen words like “faith”, “enough”, “peace”, “joy” as their words. All of those are loaded and can morph based on circumstances. I think that’s what makes them work. In some ways, you have to be looking for your word.

My word found me in a strange way. It has recurred throughout the week as a pattern and I am paying attention. What put me over the edge was a conversation between several of my customers. I was selling one couple a device when another of my regular customers came over to say “goodbye” and wish me a Merry Christmas. The couple was in their 70’s as is this customer. They immediately began bantering about the old days, about military service, about grandkids. They took a couple of lighthearted jabs at yours truly. (I have a bit of a rapport with the one customer, it was all in fun). Then, of course, they began to talk about kids these days. So disrespectful, they are! Back in their day, you got whacked for acting the way kids these days do. Now you can’t even beat your kids because you’ll go to jail. If you’ve read some of the other things I’ve written lately, you’ll know that this was something of a triggering conversation to overhear. I smiled and nodded. They didn’t really need me there other than that I was still holding the yet to rung up device. The summation of the conversation was that kids these days lack discipline.

Now I don’t disagree. Kids lack discipline. Adults lack discipline. Countries lack discipline. Markets lack discipline. What I do disagree on is their definition of “discipline”. The first definition of “discipline” given in a quick google search is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience”. That was the definition this triad was operating with. It is what we typically use to describe discipline. It’s not my favorite.

I took latin for a year in college. The latin word from which we derive “discipline” is “discipulus” which knowledge or instruction or one dedicated to knowledge and instruction. It is where we get the word disciple. It means student.  “Discipline” can also be a verb. “To train oneself to do something in a habitual way”. (Thanks, google! It’s 4 am and I’m super lazy). To be a student, to be in training, to be dedicated to knowledge and instruction. Yes. To develop patterns in my life in a habitual way. Yes. This is what I need in my life right now. Discipline.

As I look over my life, the things that have not developed  in my life the way that I would like are that way because I have not been disciplined in my pursuit of them. They have not been habitual. This year, I want to develop new habits. New habits with my body. New habits with my creativity. New habits with my space and with my stuff. New habits with my time. New habits in my relationships. All of that comes from being dedicated to training myself. And perhaps being dedicated to the teachings of a wise teacher or two. One comes to mind. (“I’ll bet he’s talking about Jesus”)

There are certainly things I want to do as a habit. I want to exercise more. Eat better. Be more organized. Play my bass more. Write more. Read more. But there are also things I want to be. I want to be more mindful. I want to be more grateful. I want to be more focused. I want live simpler and lighter. I want to be a student of life. Yes, that sounds super  cheesy. Go write your own damn blogpost.

Discipline is my word. A word cloud comes with it. “training” “habit” “pattern” “accountability” “awareness” “humility”. These words are corollary. Discipline is my theme. I plan to fail at this, but I will be mindful in my failure.

2015 will be a year of discipline. This coming year, I dedicate myself to being teachable and developing new patterns and habits in my life. We’ll see how this goes…

I can’t even (or my ability to “even” has been severely compromised)

This post is a part of the Unco Synchroblog for the theme UnCarnational. You can read the other pieces here

“I can’t even” is one of those now ubiquitous pop culture phrases. It is apparently said by all the “white girls”, you know, the ones who wear leggings as pants while sipping their pumpkin spice lattes. Or have they switched over to Peppermint Mochas. Whatevs.

Yesterday, I had a day where the sum total of my life just felt like “wow… I can’t even right now” Can’t even what? How about:

I can’t even take care of myself right now

I can’t even pay my bills

I can’t even keep from overdrafting my checking account

I can’t even communicate with my ex-wife about anything other than the kids

I can’t even see my kids whenever I want to

I can’t even do my laundry without forgetting to check my pockets and having a pen create an inksplosion for the second time in six months in my best friends’ new dryer. (sorry guys! I can’t even tell you how embarrassing that is!)

I can’t even keep the “easy” relationships in my life from becoming complicated.

I can’t even regulate my moods without medication and a happy light.

I can’t even articulate my own needs

I can’t even appreciate the people in my life who do the most for me

I can’t even do my shitty retail job well.

I can’t even do the thing I feel called to do

I can’t even get a definitive answer about a job I interviewed for three times.

I can’t even sleep through the night.

 

 

I tend to have a very high view of incarnational theology. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. I dig that. The Divine becoming human somehow makes the human experience redemptive and redeemable. Howard Thurman says it is our lives’ goal to incarnate the dreams that God has put within us. In other words, this material world has worth and we should be about bringing goodness and beauty into it. I’m all for that.

 

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But the incarnation is also about limitations. God comes into the world and can’t even wipe his own ass. There are several instances in the Gospels where Jesus seems to interact with his disciples in a way that basically says “Really, guys? I can’t even right now!” When he is mocked on the cross by the bandit hanging next to him, it is because he can’t even save himself. God’s love is kenotic, self limiting and self emptying. It’s a love that sometimes can’t even.

It’s in those moments of feeling empty and limited that my spiritual life becomes much less about what I can do with my external resources and it calls me to draw upon (or in my current state, to go mining for) internal resources. When I come face to face with all of the things that I can’t even do, I turn inward toward the things that I can do and that I know can’t be taken from me. I can think. I can pray. I can read. I can write. I can meditate. I can allow myself to feel the pain of my limitation and I can offer myself grace in the midst of my inadequacies. These are mystical things that run counter to my activist, incarnational hardwiring. I have to remind myself that the Divine is as much Spirit as She is flesh.

My ability to “even” feels highly compromised. And maybe my problem is that I try to “even” too much. I can’t even but I can be. I pray this time of being is preparing me for the days when I can “even” again.

 

 

Self-hate to narcissism to self love

I started hating myself at an early age. No one taught me to do so. In fact, I was surrounded by people telling me that they loved me and who genuinely meant it. But like many things, it is often about who isn’t in the room as much as it is who is in the room. The absence of my father is my defining trauma. What can you say about love to someone whose father didn’t love him enough to be in the picture? Someone whose father didn’t think enough of him to keep his promises to get together? Someone whose only meeting with said father was a total accident? I’ve done a lot of forgiving my biological father over the years. Most days, I don’t think about him, but I do live with the scar of his absence. I’m not lovable enough for my father to stick around.

I internalized my self hatred through abuse disguised as discipline. When love comes in the form of beatings, the message is that you are so bad that pain is the only way to fix you. This is what we do to correct animals. When the message is that you are so bad that I need to make sure this hurts as much as possible so that you can control your evil nature, what is learned is that you must be a pretty awful person.

I internalized my self hatred in an environment where I was the minority, where none of the images of beauty or intelligence that I saw looked like me. I wasn’t normal. I didn’t fit in. What’s worse, I didn’t fit the stereotypes that might have made me more acceptable. I wasn’t even the right kind of black person.

I internalized by self hatred by not being incredibly gifted in any one area. I was an average at best musician. I was an average at best athlete. I was a slightly above average student. I thought that because I wasn’t naturally gifted in any of these areas, I must not be all of that great. I didn’t understand then that greatness comes through hard work and not always through natural ability.

Internalized self hatred turns to self sabotage and self destruction. I’ve written previously about my suicidal tendencies. Suicide can take a lot of different forms, so of which work far more slowly. It can come in the form of fleeing from those who actually love you, sabotaging relationships, seeking out relationships with those that you know will hurt you. It can come in the form of not taking care of yourself. Ignoring your health. Ignoring your finances. Ignoring your triggers. It can come in the form of not pursuing goals and talking yourself out of going for opportunities. It can come from denying your needs altogether. Or even denying that you have needs. I’ve done/am doing all of these things.

Internalized self hatred turns to narcissism. Narcissism is the projection of a grand version of yourself to the rest of the world. You project confidence, competence, or in my case, goodness. If I can’t be smartest, strongest, or most talented, maybe I can be most righteous. Maybe you’ll see me and say “what a good boy/man he is!” Of course, I’m also not too bad looking. Maybe you’ll see me and think I’m handsome. Maybe you’ll find me attractive. Maybe you’ll want to sleep with me. Of course, I’m also a good speaker. I always have been. People are impressed by that. Some people would say that that’s how elections are won. Maybe you’ll hear how eloquent I am and be impressed. Maybe you’ll be moved by my words. You’ll find me wise, witty, charming, and funny. I am funny. Maybe you’ll like me if I make you laugh. And then I did figure out the hard work thing. Maybe you’ll think I’m amazing if I keep collecting degrees. Or titles. Or if I’m really busy all of the time. You’ll see how important I am. And then you’ll love me.

Narcissism is an outgrowth of self hatred because it is totally dependent on the opinions of others for one’s self worth. This, of course, is thin ice. The moment that approval goes away, or is perceived to go away, down goes your sense of self, and you have to continue refilling with other achievements, accolades, applause, and approvals. Your soul becomes a bottomless pit to be filled with the affection of others. The only problem, you can’t fill that void, that need for love with love that comes from other people. Of course, narcissism, can also take the form of outright denigrating other people. This is where racism, sexism, classism… all of the -isms come into play.

Of course, the other real problem with narcissism is that it uses other people. You’re only as important to me as the things you do to bolster this image I have created. Do you laugh at my jokes? Do you tell me I’m smart? Do you tell me I’m handsome? Good. Then I’ll keep you around. And I’ll keep fulfilling my purpose so that you keep doing those things that give my life value. You’re here to prop up my fragile ego. Enjoy! Narcissists use people. I am/have been a narcissist.

Narcissism is not self love. True love for self is compassionate. That’s the thing that is hardest for someone like me to understand. I totally get the idea of compassion towards others. I have no idea how to be compassionate to myself. I’m learning, but it’s counterintuitive. It goes against decades of internalized self hate that plays on repeat in my head. I’ve been reading Kristin Neff’s work on self compassion. You can check out her work here. She outlines three elements of self compassion. First is self kindness. Being warm and understanding to one’s self particularly around your failings. The second is recognizing your common humanity. Self hatred often comes from a place of feeling disconnected from fellow humans. Recognizing our commonality and interdependence is apart of self love. Finally, mindfulness, particularly around negative emotions. Self hate oftens leads to either exaggeration or stifling of “negative” emotions and feelings. A mindful approach to our darker feelings helps us to keep them in proper balance and perspective.

Love for self that eliminates the aspects of ego that appear in narcissism allows us to genuinely love others. They no longer become pieces in our puzzle, but a beloved other that we share our experience of the world with. Those of us in helping professions can miss the fact that we can use the people we are supposed to be serving as props for our own self image. If we have the right amount of self love, then those in our lives become co-travelers sharing the human journey with us.

Friends, I write this from a place of deep hurt. I am wrestling with my past like never before. I am wrestling with my self destructive tendencies. I am wrestling with my self hatred and narcissism. It is a dark and lonely time for me. But I believe that I am on the road to true self love and true self compassion and I strive for this so that I might have true and genuine love for God and my neighbor. It is hard, painful work. But I believe that it is worth it.

I believe that I am worth it. And that’s a start…