abuse, everyone, lesson, life, mental health

Emotional Wounds Don’t Automatically Heal Just Because the “Hitting” Stops

Is this rather long for a blog title? Maybe, but I couldn’t think of a shorter way to sum up today’s topic.

This is somewhat of an extension of Wednesday’s blog, because it relates to my inability to take a compliment about myself. Compliment me on my guitar playing or my writing or martial art skill, and I’m okay. Say I’m a good person, and I freak out. The last blog concluded with me wondering, “Why is that? Is it because I’m afraid someone will come along to knock me off my throne, or am I worried about letting it go to my head and turn me into an arrogant jerk?”

I shared that blog with my cousin Robin, and she said, “You’re too level-headed to let that happen. I wouldn’t worry about that.” That was reassuring, but it still didn’t give me an answer.

Then we got talking about the past and how, after a long time of someone making you feel worthless, you are bound to reject any attempts people make to tell you otherwise. In my case, the “someone” who did this was my stepfather Don. He was in my life from ages seven to seventeen. He was never physically abusive, but what he lacked there was made up in emotional abuse.

Shortly after my Mom kicked him out for good, I tried talking to her about things he had said to me, how it made me feel, etc. All she said was, “Well, he’s gone now.” I’m sure her dismissiveness stemmed from guilt. After all, her decision to marry him was what exposed me to his behavior. However, it didn’t help me to heal.

Imagine breaking your arm and never going to the doctor to get it in a cast. The bone won’t set right, and you’ll have trouble with that arm for the rest of your life. Well, that was me, except it was my mind and self-esteem that were broken. And what is the equivalent of it not setting right? The fact that, while he was gone, I still had this low self-esteem to live with. Over the years, it kept me from achieving a lot of things that, when I look back now, I KNOW I could have accomplished.

Another analogy (and believe me, I know this is an extreme one): think about any city or country that has had the crap bombed out of it during a war. Now imagine the war is over. The city is decimated. Thousands dead. Instead of working on a clean-up and reconstruction effort, the country’s leaders get on TV and say, “Okay, folks…back to business as usual.”

No. It doesn’t work like that. You need to rebuild. To reconstruct. To come to grips with what happened. To HEAL.

Sadly, Mom is not alone in her attitude of, “The abuser is gone, so get over it.” Far too many people believe this. They think just because they came through it and the abuse has ended that they can now move forward, but I’ve found it isn’t so. I had to talk through it with a therapist, had to get that third party opinion that yes, what I went through was very dysfunctional and toxic, that I wasn’t wrong to say I was left holding the emotional baggage.

Think about the movie Good Will Hunting. Will was abused by his father when he was a little kid. Then he is a young man in Sean Maguire’s office, and Sean keeps saying to him, “Will, it wasn’t your fault.” Eventually, Will breaks down in tears and hugs Sean. (Oddly enough, this is the kind of comfort Will SHOULD have received from his father.) All these years after the abuse, Will needed to hear that from someone to help him let the pain go. You’d be hard pressed to find a scene in any movie with more emotional power, and both Matt Damon and Robin Williams act this scene beautifully. However, I have to be honest here: while Matt Damon has shown he has his share of acting chops, you really have to hand this one to Robin Williams. After years of being that crazy, kooky, all over the place, manic, cocaine-fueled type of standup comic, he plays this part with wonderful restraint. We lost a great treasure in that man.

I won’t go down that route right now, because that could be turned into an entire SERIES of blog posts. For now, I will stick to the topic at hand. Simply put, the wounds don’t go away just because the abuse ends. To think otherwise is ignorant.

compliments, everyone, intelligence, lesson, life

Being Able to Take a Compliment

Consider this a bookend of sorts to my last blog about taking criticism. Like I said, I can take criticism…when it is intelligent and has some validity to it. However, there are times when I find it just as difficult to take a compliment.

This isn’t true 100% of the time. For example, if I’m at my martial arts class and I execute a move well, I have no problem taking a compliment if the other people in class express admiration for my technique. Having said that, this wasn’t always true. I used to react with a shrug of the shoulders, a lowering of the eyes to the ground, a blush rising in the cheeks, and a response like, “It was all right, I guess.”

The same holds true of someone complimenting my writing and guitar playing. What I always thought was weird about not being able to accept a compliment about these things is that, whenever I wrote something or played guitar, I would think that it was good IN MY HEAD, but then if someone complimented me, I’d start feeling awkward and shy about it.

These days, I’m okay with accepting compliments about writing, guitar playing, and martial arts. As you may notice, these are compliments about things I can do. However, what I still struggle with are compliments about ME. This could be remarks about my physical OR mental being, or any kind of statement that expresses admiration of me.

EXAMPLE OF THE PHYSICAL: My girlfriend will ask me, “Do you know how cute you are?” My automatic response is, “No.” By that I’m not saying, “No, I don’t know how cute I am to her.” I’m saying, “I don’t think I am.” In my eyes, I’m just plain.

EXAMPLE OF THE MENTAL: Someone tells me how smart they think I am. I can’t handle it, even though I HAVE had my IQ tested by a professional and know for a fact I am no slouch in that department.

EXAMPLE OF ADMIRATION: My son’s school had an open house where we got to meet the teachers. When his homeroom teacher was done with her presentation, we got to walk around the room for a few minutes. They had schoolwork on the wall, which was a questionnaire where the kids had to fill in the blanks. For example, it would say, “On summer breaks, my favorite thing to do is: __________.” One of these fill-ins started out by saying, “My biggest hero is: __________.”

And what was on the line on my son’s sheet?

“My Dad.”

I got choked up. My eyes watered. It felt like I was going to have a full-blown panic attack. The only remedy was to leave the room in a manner that was both quick and yet discreet. On the ride home, I kept thinking back about what I read. I thought to myself, “How can I be his hero? I’m no one to look up to.” That was two school years ago, and I still can’t shake the feeling that sentence gave me. Hell, I’m getting it again even as I write this!

What I can’t understand is WHY I can’t accept it. Why do I react the way I do? What fear do I have of admitting that I am a good person? Am I worried that, if I come off a little too proud, someone might come along and say something to knock me off my throne, so I want to make sure I’m not too high up there to begin with?

In previous blogs, I will start by writing about a problem where I don’t have an answer. However, by the end of it, I come up with a solution. That will not be the case today though, folks.



criticism, lesson, life, music, universal, writing

Taking Criticism…When It Makes Sense

For some reason, this morning I woke up thinking about criticism and how I have gotten better at taking it. (Higher self-esteem can give you this ability.) However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized something: I have never really been BAD at taking it, but it has to mean something or else I can’t take it seriously.

This can make it seem like I can’t handle criticism. I remember telling a young woman I knew about a criticism a friend had of one of my stories, and she said, “Have you ever thought about taking people’s remarks as ways to make your story better instead of just being like, ‘Haha they’re so ignorant?'” To which I said, “Yes, I can…if it’s logical criticism.”

Let me explain the story in question, and you will see what I mean.

In this instance, I had asked a friend to read a script I’d written for a martial arts movie. (For the record, I called it Shaolin Secrets.) The story was about a half-American, half-Chinese martial arts star named Raymond Liu who gets drawn into some mysterious plot. I’m not going to explain the whole movie here; I gave you the very basics so that I could get to the part that drew criticism from my friend.

Raymond’s mother died when he was very young, which left him to be raised alone by his father. (His name: Jian.) Now some of you reading this might not know the history, but there was something that happened in Chinese history called the Sino-Japanese War. During this conflict, the Japanese committed many horrific war crimes; some people even refer to it as the “Asian Holocaust.” Jian lived through that and, as a result, developed a racist attitude toward the Japanese, which he passed on to Raymond.

You see, in most stories, the main character experiences some kind of growth by the end of the story. In this case, my intention was that Raymond would shed his racist attitude, and I had a way to do it that didn’t seem preachy/heavy-handed.

Then my friend got back to me with what he thought of the story. He liked the action sequences, liked the plot, liked the dialogue, liked the characters, but there was one thing he didn’t like.

What was that?

You guessed it.

The fact that Raymond was racist.

I asked why not, and he expressed a view about martial artists that has to be one of the most common myths out there. He said, “Well, it’s because he’s a serious martial artist, and most martial artists are enlightened, and they can rise above petty things like that.”

I said, “Really? So what about those martial artists that confronted Bruce Lee about teaching kung fu to whites and blacks? Or what about the Chinese guy who runs a school in Albany, who I’ve heard say disparaging things about the Japanese because he grew up through the Sino-Japanese War, just like Ray’s father?” (SIDE NOTE: I based Raymond’s racism on this real-life example.)

So when I passed my friend’s remark on to this other person, that is when she said I couldn’t take criticism. Incidentally, this same young lady was the source of another critique that I never took seriously because, again, it didn’t make sense.

At the time, I was in a band. This young lady and her boyfriend came to see one of my shows. When I saw her at work, I asked what they thought of our performance. She said the songs, lyrics, and my guitar playing were all good, but the singing fell short because I sang monotone. I asked what she meant by that, but she never explained it.

This is why I couldn’t take it seriously: I doubt she knew what the word meant. That sounds like I am mocking her, but think about it. If you went and saw a band where the lead vocalist sang “monotone,” then it would sound something like this:

I know for a fact I don’t sing like that. Near as I can tell, what she REALLY meant was that I didn’t sing with enough guts/passion, that I didn’t sound like I “meant” it, which is a criticism I’ve had of myself over the years. Still, that wasn’t the way it was communicated to me, so therefore the “criticism” was brushed aside.

In summary, I have no problem with criticism, but I don’t believe it should be taken blindly. Sometimes you might have knowledge of the subject being critiqued that the source of the remark doesn’t have that renders it meaningless. That doesn’t mean you can’t TAKE it; it just means it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Maybe most people reading this post are not writers or musicians. That’s fine because this idea of analyzing criticism can be applied to any part of life. Think about it: let’s say you buy some shoes that you think are the most stylish shoes ever made. You ask a friend what they think, and all they say is, “They’re ugly because they’re gray.”

Okay, well..maybe YOU like gray, so that is why, to you, they were awesome shoes. In my opinion, that would be a form of criticism that could be dismissed because it doesn’t hold up to close examination.

I always write my blogs with the intention of making what I say applicable to everyone, not just writers, musicians, and other artists. I bet you thought I was going to leave you folks out this time, huh? No, I’m going to always do my best to NEVER do that.

Until next time,


birthday, inspiration, life

Birthdays Are Meaningless

Yes, another one of my eye-catching titles! That might seem like I am some mope with a gun pressed to his temple, but have no fear: nothing could be further from the truth. There is a reason why I say this, and I am going to explain myself.

This thought occurred to me a long time ago, to be honest. Probably my 25th birthday. I remember it entering my head as if it were yesterday. I was watching TV, and I asked myself, “After you turn 21, what do birthdays mean anymore?” 21 is the last age where there is a new development: you can legally drink and enter bars and hit on women unsuccessfully. Well, maybe that last part is what happened to me (oh, how many nights and dollars were wasted in the pursuit of trying to be someone I wasn’t!), but the other two items are true for anyone…unless of course you live in a country where you could do those things BEFORE the age of 21.

But seriously, beyond 21, what is the significance in birthdays anymore? I guess they can be used as channel markers, a day you can pick to look back at the last year and see what you accomplished. If you accomplished nothing, that is okay, depending on your goals. (No goals? No accomplishments? No problem!) It also depends on the adversity you faced.

To be honest, that is a thought I just had: using birthdays as a starting AND ending point for goals. Pick this day to say, “Okay, by the time I am 44, I want to have done A, B, and C.”

Up until this moment, I always thought that, after 21, the only birthdays worth celebrating were the ones that marked your entrance into a new decade (30 years old, 40, 50, etc.) I’m glad I had this idea because I’m the type of person who always needs a method of tracking progress and success. I need a timeline that helps me aim for achieving a goal.

You see? Writing this blog is just as much for me as it is for sharing my occasional nuggets of wisdom with you folks.

Happy birthday to me!


break-up, kids, life, parenting, relationships

Kids CAN Be the Reason for a Break-Up

Did that title catch your eye? God, I hope so, because that is what it was designed to do. It was meant to inspire people to click on and read this blog. However, I realize it could have a different effect. I’m sure there are some people who don’t have much in the way of curiosity. Those folks will read that blog title, think I must be the world’s most rotten bastard, and move on with their day. That’s fine.

To the rest of you, welcome to today’s blog!

Anyone who has been through a break-up (whether it was just someone you were dating, or a divorce) has heard the pearl of wisdom that, if there are children involved, you should never tell them THEY were the reason for the split. But let’s be honest: sometimes they can be.

There are two ways this can happen: directly and indirectly. Let me cover “indirectly” first, since that will be a shorter explanation. When it comes to “directly,” I have some examples (all from the same kid), and they are bound to knock you for a loop.


So what do I mean when I say kids can “indirectly” cause a break-up? It’s quite simple really: these are the break-ups caused by two adults disagreeing on how to raise the children, and both of them being too stubborn to budge or compromise.

When you have two adults who have strong differences of opinion on big issues, then it’s easy to see how the kids can’t be held accountable here. You could replace “kids” with ANYTHING, and it would lead to a split. Just think about it: imagine if two people have a difference of opinion on religion, or abortion, or whether Kirk or Picard made the better captain on Star Trek. Swap out “kids” for anything else, and it’s easy to see how you can’t blame them.

But what about this other category?


How can kids be directly responsible for a break-up? It depends on one thing: how much of a nightmare the child is.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the kind of person who can tolerate kids only when they are well-behaved, but I bail if they whine. I do know guys like that, sadly. If you ask them why they dumped their girlfriend, they might say something like, “Aw, dude, we went to the grocery store, and that kid of hers started throwing a fit because he couldn’t get a Kit Kat at the checkout line.” These are the types of people who have apparently forgotten that THEY were a kid once, and they acted the same way.

I don’t run for the hills for the things that I expect. In fact, I don’t take off even if the child has some behavioral issues. (See my previous blog for an example of that.) However, there are certain things that I can’t handle, even though some have said that I have the patience of Job.

I have one prime example of what I mean here. As always, in seeking to protect the innocent, I will address this child by just her first initial, which was A. At first her behavior was nothing new to me, but as time went on, it felt like living with a bully.

For example, I recall getting up on a Saturday morning to use the bathroom. There was a knock at the door. I said, “I’ll be out in a minute.” The response was an angry, irritated bellow from A: “HURRY UP! I’M ABOUT TO PEE MY PANTS!”

Trying to reason with her, I said, “I understand, A, but I’m in mid-stream here.”

As you can guess, this wasn’t good enough. I had to get out of the bathroom NOW NOW NOW. Somehow, I was supposed to know she would wake up and have to pee. This was the basis of A’s problem: everyone and everything in this world existed to meet her needs. No one else mattered.

A didn’t need any reason to wreak havoc on our lives. She did it just because she felt like it, so you can probably imagine that, when my kids came over and did something that stuck in her craw (which of course could be anything…or even nothing), that this sent her acting up into the stratosphere.

Let me begin this next example by explaining that, when we went shopping, we would buy snacks that certain kids liked. In other words, certain foods in the house became “my” food that no one else was supposed to touch. From what I know of parenting, this is standard operating procedure.

Well, get a load of this. It was a Sunday afternoon, getting close to lunch time. A had been difficult all day, but I was dealing with it the best I could. I asked my boys what they wanted for lunch, and they both said sandwiches.

And do you know what our dear friend little Miss A chimed in with?

“You can’t use the bread. That’s mine.”

Un-fucking-real. In fact, it is so unreal that you probably don’t believe me, but I swear it’s true. Despite all the years I’ve been engaged in writing, I could NOT make that one up. (In case you’re wondering: my boys DID wind up eating sandwiches.)

However, I think my favorite example of her unreasonable behavior was the night we decided we were going to order out for dinner instead of cooking. A was indecisive about what she wanted to get. By the time she decided, the restaurant had closed, and I shit you not: she stood in the kitchen YELLING at her mother to go down there and tell them to open back up.

Welcome to the wild, wonderful world of A. What I mean is, YOU are welcome to it if you want it. As for me, I bailed almost two years ago.


Now that I have written all this out, I think my opinion on the matter is different now.

It isn’t fair of me to say A caused the break-up because she couldn’t help her behaviors. She had mental health issues, but she was a kid. Your average kid isn’t going to know what they can do to get these issues addressed. That falls on the parents. (Or in this case, the PARENT, because her dad was not around.)

A’s mom did start to do some things to cope with her daughter’s behavior, but she dragged her feet about it. By the time the process began, it was too little, too late for me. My ability to tolerate such behavior any further had been worn away, so I had to leave. Again, that’s not on A; that’s on me. It wasn’t her fault that I lacked the ability to hope there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, but for me that passage just went on for far too long. The light at the end was so small that it wasn’t even a tiny dot of illumination cutting through that darkness. However, I wasn’t as concerned about the harm being around such behavior was doing me; I was more concerned about what it was doing to my kids. I mean, imagine going over to see your dad for the weekend, and being stuck in a house where it’s like being around the schoolyard bully for three days. Not the most fun.

In conclusion, I’ve had a change of heart. Even in extreme cases like A, it can’t TRULY be said that the child is directly responsible for the break-up. If action had been taken to address her behaviors sooner, then things wouldn’t have been so bad. Like I said earlier, she was just a kid; it’s not like she had idea where to go for help.

Anyway, folks, there you have it: my argument for why kids CAN cause a break-up, followed by my rebuttal…of myself. I hope you enjoyed it and that you haven’t grown to hate me too much after reading this!