Difficulty Taking the First Steps

Staircase

Even though I realized I needed to reverse course and retrace my steps until I could find the road I had been meant to take, I still found that this was a difficult thing to do. The courage to take the first step is perhaps the hardest thing, as knowing and doing so often are. Even as I realized what I must do, I was still paralyzed by the thought of making another mistake. I knew I had taken the wrong road, yet I still did not know where I had taken my first misstep. I had no idea where I had made the mistake, or even what my mistake had been.

It was at this moment I would rediscover the endless supply of inner strength from which God had given me, the resilience I found from the loving memories of my dad. It would take all this resilience to take my first steps back down the road from which I had come.

Meanwhile, with her background in counseling and mental health my mom tried to get me to talk to someone like a psychologist or a psychiatrist to help me get back on track.  As a typical male I was obstinate and refused to cooperate. I may not have understood what I was going through. Nevertheless, I was certain that there was nothing wrong with me and I was resolute as ever that whatever was happening it was nothing I could not handle myself. It was not just that I did not understand that talking to a psychologist or a psychiatrist was in a lot of ways no different than talking to a trusted friend when you needed help, I was not willing to ask anyone for any help. Despite the level of my perceived failure, I was still headstrong and foolishly unwilling to discuss with anyone what had happened. I firmly believed I could find my own way back to where I had veered off course and had taken the wrong road.

A flaw a lot of men have, young and old, is that we do not believe in asking for help when we need it. Males are programmed not to ask for help, which does serve a positive purpose many times in our lives. However, males have to learn that there are times we will need to ask for help, which does not come naturally to us. Unlike the story my granddad told me, the best way to learn to swim is not to be thrown into a lake by your brothers to see if you can make it back to the shore. Too many good men, young and old, have lost their way, have even lost there lives, refusing to ask for help believing to do so would be an indictment of their manhood or masculinity.

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According to a 2010 ABC News article:

“More than one out of four men — 26 percent — wait at least half an hour before asking for directions, with a stubborn 12 percent refusing to ask a stranger for help at all.”[1]

The often cited study conducted by Dr. Michael E. Addis of Clark University and Dr. James R. Mahalik of Boston College in 2003 looked at why men are reluctant to seek help. The study confirmed “men are less likely than women to seek help for problems as diverse as depression, substance abuse, physical disabilities, and stressful life events”. In fact the study found that over the preceding thirty years, numerous studies had confirmed men are significantly less likely to seek help for “medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems.” One example given as to why this happens was:

“For example, internalizing the ideological position that men should be tough, competitive, and emotionally inexpressive can have detrimental effects on a man’s physical and mental health…”

The study found that men are far less likely than women to see a doctor even when faced with serious health issues. The study suggested this was a integral component as to why men die at significantly younger ages than women. Specifically, “…men in the United States die, on average, close to seven years younger than women and have higher rates of the 15 leading causes of death”. Dr. Addis and Dr. Mahalik suggest this reluctance for men to seek help has serious implications to the overall health of men.[2]

“Even in the face of tragic loss, many men in our society still feel the need to be self-contained, stoic and to express little or no outward emotion. It is very much in vogue today to encourage men to openly express their feelings, but in practice few men do so. The outward expression of grief is called mourning. All men grieve when someone they love dies, but if they are to heal, they must also mourn.” – Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

This is one of the great deceptions of our culture. Knowing when and how to ask for help is one of the greatest signs of strength. It is the sign that an adolescent male has matured into a man. It is a sign of wisdom for a man to recognize when he needs help and it takes great courage for a man to admit he needs assistance after he recognizes he needs help. Although I was not yet mature enough to understand this, I was fortunate to have a Good Samaritan that God had placed in my life to help me complete the process dad had started, the process of maturation to understand what it meant to be a real man, a man of God. As James the Just, the brother of Jesus, asserted in James 1:2-5:

“My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything. If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you. God is generous and won’t correct you for asking.”[3]

Likewise, in Philippians 4:6 the Apostle Paul advised the Philippians:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”[4]

Most of all, in Mathew 7:7-8 in His pivotal Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught us to ask God if we need anything. Jesus then implies that we are to do the same for others, suggesting that if we need something from someone else, we are to ask, just as if someone else asks, we are to give (“do to others what you would have them do to you”):

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”[5]

These are lessons I failed to appreciate as a teenager and young adult, and represent more examples of the real life lessons taught in the ancient text of the Bible that are still so relevant today. I was blessed that God had stopped me before I exacerbated my mistakes by stepping into the darkness and helped a stubborn mule of a kid realize the best choice was to back down the same road on which he had come. Yet, I still did not understand the benefit of talking about what I had been through or even discussing  with someone what I was now experiencing.

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As noted in her 2010 article, “Treating Trauma”, Lynne Shallcross describes how the longer a person avoids talking about a traumatic experience has the effect of causing our reaction to the experience to get worse the longer we avoid talking about it.

Although survivors of trauma might not want to relive the experience and may avoid talking about it, that strategy won’t work over the long haul, according to Chopko. “People avoid thinking about the event because it produces more symptoms. In the short term, this strategy works by not inducing more severe symptoms. The problem is, this just reinforces your need to keep avoiding the memory to reduce symptoms, and this does not give the brain a chance to process the memory and put it into long-term storage. In the long term, avoidance has the paradoxical effect of making the symptoms worse.”[1]

My personal experience confirms her observation as the longer I avoided talking about the traumatic issues I was dealing with the more difficult these issues were to deal with. Unfortunately, I was a testament that a person cannot be forced to talk about the issues they are experiencing. I had plenty of opportunities to talk about what I was experiencing, unfortunately like so many males I just was too embarrassed to admit to anyone what I was going through. If I had understood that just talking to someone, anyone, I have no doubt it would not have taken so many years for me to find my way back to the road I was meant to take.

In 1997 Diana, the Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in Paris when her son, Prince Harry, was 12 years-old. In 2016 a 31 year-old Prince Harry not only expressed his regrets for not talking about how the death of his mother affected him earlier, he affirmed everyone suffers when tragedy impacts their lives. Prince Harry added the true weakness is when we repressing our suffering. Prince Harry asserted it demonstrates true strength when a person talks to someone so they can recognize why they are suffering so they can solve the problem:

“I really regret not ever talking about it, for the first 28 years of my life, I never talked about it…The key message here today is that everyone can suffer…Whether you’re a member of the royal family, whether you’re a soldier, whether you’re a sport star. It doesn’t really matter. Everyone can suffer…It’s OK to suffer, but as long as you talk about it. It’s not weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognizing it and not solving that problem.”[7]

If I had been mature and secure enough to talk to someone, I could have realized the things I was going through were far more common than I could possibly imagine. It would take several more years for me to learn I did not have to do everything on my own, that it was not a sign of weakness or an indictment of my masculinity to ask for help. Not only do I have no doubt today that I could have made better use of these years, I am acutely aware how different my life would have been if I had not listene to God and stubbornly continued down that road I was not meant to take. There are simply too many stories of what happens to people when they proceed into the darkness.

InTouch

As I type these words, I hope others can learn from my experience. In particular, I hope young men that have suffered through traumatic events will find the strength in character to find someone they trust and talk about what they are experiencing. Likewise, I hope more people that know someone that has experienced trauma in their lives will step forward to be the trusted “Good Samaritan” by making themselves available to support and listen. These are the lessons taught in the ancient text of the Bible, the lessons that will mitigate the suffering and facilitate healing on this journey to becoming a survivor.

God bless!

 

[1] MAYEROWITZ, SCOTT. 2010. “Male Drivers Lost Longer Than Women”. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/male-drivers-lost-longer-women-refuse-directions/story?id=11949176.

[2] Addis, Michael E., and James R. Mahalik. 2003. “Men, Masculinity, And The Contexts Of Help Seeking.”. American Psychologist 58 (1): 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.58.1.5.

[3] Contemporary English Version (CEV).

[4] Living Bible (TLB).

[5] New International Version (NIV).

[6] “Treating Trauma – Counseling Today”. Counseling Today. N.p., 2010. Web. 7 Aug. 2016.

[7] Bianca Britton, for CNN. “Prince Harry’s Regret Over Diana’s Death”. CNN. N.p., 2016. Web. 7 Aug. 2016.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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The Road Less Traveled

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Like so many, for as long as I can recall I have been captivated by the iconic poem, “The Road Not Taken”[1] by Robert Frost. I find it mesmerizing how this artfully crafted poem can both seem to be a simple metaphor on the choices we each must make in our life and at the same time it offers a complexity of permutations of potential interpretations. In this poem, Frost deftly draws us into the emotions of the choice the traveler has taken, drawing us to interject ourselves into the narrative and wondering how this choice applies to our own lives. Frost never clarifies which road is the one “less travelled by” as it is his intention to press the point of indecision, leaving us to speculate on which road was taken. Frost deftly exposes that there is no way to know what lies on either road without making a choice, and once made, that choice will make “all the difference”.

As I write my story, I see a deeper personal meaning of the title of this poem as it relates to this time of my life, a time when I was faced with a critical choice of what road I should follow. At my point of indecision, I only saw the road that lead into darkness and did not sense there was any light on the other side. I was desperate to see another choice, another road that did not lead into this darkness devoid of light. Without seeing another road, I erroneously feared I had I already made my election and had no alternative other than to follow the path in to the darkness. I somehow knew this was a critical moment and my next step would have a tremendous impact on how my life would take shape for years to come. I knew this choice would make “all the difference”.

I was looking for a definitive choice where there was none that I could see. Like many people who experience tragedy, after our life has been shaken to the core by catastrophe all we want are guarantees in our life before we move forward. As Frost was contending the choices we make in life do not come with guarantees. This is what Frost implies when he asserts that as you “looked down” each road as far as you could, each road is “just as fair”, as they both had been “worn…really about the same”. At the time I was not focused on the only guarantee that I would ever find in life, the promise offered by Jesus. Even though I still believed in Jesus and what He had promised, I was too immature, too short-sighted, to see how Jesus could help me with the issues I was dealing with at that time.

For me, the title, “The Road Not Taken” was the key. I was on a road I was never meant to take so I needed to find my way back to “The Road Not Taken”, the road I was meant to take, the road I had missed. I had been on an impossible journey down a road that led only to darkness, a road devoid of light, a path that I now believed led only to depression. This was a road I had foolishly chosen when I decided to turn away from God and take my own path so God would have more time to watch out for my mom, sister, and brother. It had been my choice, as no one had literally expected that I could replace Dad, no one except for me.

Yet, even though I was not focused on Him, Jesus was still focused on me as struggled to make this most most critical decision I would ever make. As a result, somehow Jesus would reach out to me and I realized I still had a choice, I could still change course (see Blog Post: Avoiding the Darkness). It was at this moment I finally recognized for the first time that although I could not reverse time and change the mistakes I had made, that did not mean the mistakes I had made that had taken me off course were irreversible. I was finally able to understand why Jesus had stopped me just short of stepping into the darkness. It was at this moment I at last understood I did not have to continue down this impossible road I was never meant to take. I realized even though I had made a mistake, Jesus was disclosing to me that I could still choose to reverse course so I could find “The Road Not Taken”.

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Today I am reminded of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”  Jesus told the apostles in Luke 15:11-32:

“A man had two sons. When the younger told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die!’ his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there wasted all his money on parties and prostitutes. About the time his money was gone a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs. The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the swine looked good to him. And no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired men have food enough and to spare, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.”’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and was filled with loving pity and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son—’

“But his father said to the slaves, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. And a jeweled ring for his finger; and shoes! And kill the calf we have in the fattening pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has returned to life. He was lost and is found.’ So the party began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working; when he returned home, he heard dance music coming from the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on.

“‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast to celebrate his coming home again unharmed.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to; and in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after spending your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have on the place.’

“‘Look, dear son,’ his father said to him, ‘you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. But it is right to celebrate. For he is your brother; and he was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’”

As I look back over my own life, I can see Jesus teaching us that even when we make mistakes, God will be there patiently waiting for us to return to the path he meant for us. We all make mistakes, yet the most significant mistake any of us can make is to believe our mistakes will prevent us from returning to the path God intended for us. It is a mistake I almost made when I was a hard-headed and impetuous young teenager who believed he did not need help from anyone, even God, as I tried to deal with the painful traumatic loss of my Dad on his own. This was something Jesus not only never intended for me to do, it is something he never intended any of us to do, as Jesus is patiently waiting to help us find our path as a survivor.

God bless!

 

[1] Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.