Friday, June 8, 2018

Family Dysfunction, Life Trauma, and Where In The World Has Ray Been?

Recently I saw a post on Facebook about a woman's obituary.  Her children had used it as a "hit piece" against her. You can read it in the photo below:

Kathleen Dehmlow's Obituary
This story piqued my interest because the pain her children felt in order to write this obituary is the kind of pain I understand.  I did some more digging and found more on this story, including the following:
Despite some criticism it was too harsh, 58-year-old Jay Dehmalo and 60-year-old sister Gina have stood by their words, saying people will never understand the pain they endured as children. 
“You can’t believe the dysfunction of the family,” Mr Dehmalo, who has since changed his last name to distance himself from his past [said]. 
“They’ll never know what we went through but it helped us [to write this]. We wanted to finally get the last word.” 
The 58-year-old said for years he and his sister had no idea that after their mother abandoned them and moved to California, she had given birth to two other sons with her husband’s brother. 
“We didn’t have so much as a card from her. I remember she came home twice and on one occasion she was showing pictures of her and her kids playing cards, drinking beers,” Mr Dehmalo added. 
“Gina and I were standing in the room, just standing there and she didn’t even acknowledge us. It’s like we didn’t exist … How can you do that to your own children?” 
Both Jay and Gina said given the chance again, they would publish the same obituary.

some, I have no harsh criticism of Jay and Gina.  I understand dysfunction.  I understand life trauma.  I understand the process of dealing with it and overcoming it. I know that many people never do rise above it and carry their pain to their grave.  So I don't see their act of voicing it, even all these years later, as a bad thing.
 Nor do I criticize the manner in which they're lashing out.  Anger is a valid emotion. Learning to express it positively is a process.  Lashing out as they did can be an important part of that process.  It can be a healthy stepping stone on their journey, but it cannot be a healthy place to dwell too long.
 I think that now that they've voiced it they may be surprised, if they're open to the realization, that they're not alone.  Many have suffered their own childhood trauma.  Countless others have had it far worse.  Realizing we're not alone is an important step in growing past life trauma, and I hope they find this realization.  I wish both Jay and Gina well.  I hope they choose to use this opportunity to grow further.  I also hope others will use this as a mirror on their own life, and perhaps this incident can be of help to many.

Why is this story of such interest to me?  It is because Jay and Gina have managed to do something that has eluded me for a very long time: They're talking about their childhood trauma in a very public way.  It is something I've been trying to find a way to do for years now.

It's no secret that I once was very vocal and had a much bigger presence online than I do now.  I have a wonderful life story to share...  losing 300 pounds on a whole-foods diet is a wonderful thing to share with the world, isn't it?  So where have I been the past 4 years?  Why have I "fallen off the face of the earth?"

After my phenomenal weight loss I was determined to "save the world".  As many other have done, I set out to make a motivational video about my story.   I did some research on making such videos and one thing I learned was that no matter how big my story was, I needed to keep such an introductory video to under 5 minutes.  I had a lot to say and so planned my video out carefully.  I decided to break it up into 5 chunks of no more than 60 seconds each, with at least one chunk coming in under a minute to bring the video to less than 5 minutes.  I decided on the 5 parts of the video to be: 

  • A big attention getting opening highlighting my weight loss journey.
  • A brief summary of my childhood and formative years.
  • A brief summary of my adult years and the pain of living life at such a heavy weight.
  • A more detailed description of my weight loss journey. 
  • And finally, where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do in the future.

I started planning and scripting out what I wanted in the video.  Through production of the first segment I mapped out other sections, but the segment on my childhood baffled me, so I decided to worry about it after completing the first section.   Here is the first section of the video I created.  It is exactly 60 seconds long.

I worked full steam ahead on this project and remember the day I finished this first segment.  I was pleased and ready to start work on the next segment but figured I'd put it off until the next day.  The next day turned into the next week and then a month passed and one day I'm sitting there with a notepad in front of me determined to describe my childhood in terms that made sense to the video I was wanting to put out...   and it dawned on me...

I had no idea what to say about my childhood. What was worse, I had an ominous feeling of dread at the prospect of trying.

 I realized that I had never, not one time in my adult life, spent time exploring my childhood in an honest and productive manner.  I had sometimes mentioned to others that I remember very little from my childhood, but I had always felt that I just had a poor memory.  It hadn't occurred to me that I had subconsciously blocked out entire segments of my childhood.  This didn't concern me in any way throughout my adult life.  I had suffered severe and repeated life traumas in my adult life, and I'd attributed all of my life struggles to PTSD related to those.  It never occurred to me that my struggles were rooted in something even bigger.  It never occurred to me that my childhood and upbringing was a factor in my life, and in my life struggles. And not just a factor, but the defining factor.

So there I was. 2014.  49 years old.  I'd just lost 300 pounds and was a hero to many.  I'd been featured in more than one local newspaper.  I'd been on television.  I had my weight loss story plastered all over social media multiple times.  People wanted my help.  People listened to what I had to say.  People paid me money...  in some cases, good money, for my knowledge and wisdom.   I had nowhere to go but up, right?  Others with lesser stories than mine were making good money selling their story and pushing products and/or lifestyle changes.  Why not me?  

But my childhood.  Why was talking about it such a struggle?

Whatever lurked before me by exploring my childhood, I knew it would bring pain and misery.  I am not a lightweight when it comes to pain and suffering.  In my adult life I have experienced trauma that will bring anyone to tears.  What kind of trauma?  Murder and mayhem to start with.  I have known 7 murderers in my lifetime.  4 of them I knew very well.  One of them killed my sister and her children.  I cleaned up their murder scene.  I've known other people who have been murdered.  I witnessed a murder.  I helped put one man on death row with my eyewitness testimony of the murder he committed.  
 But murder and mayhem are just the start of the heartache I've faced in my adult life.  To be perfectly clear, it required working through much of the emotional trauma in my life THAT I KNEW ABOUT before I was ready and able to be healthy enough to start my 300 pound weight loss journey.  Parts of me understood this.  I knew that my story wasn't just about losing insane numbers of pounds...  but the life struggles that took me up to 500 pounds in the first place.  I knew that was where the bigger story was.  So when I sat there one day with notepad in hand and realized there was something very big and dark looming before me if I chose to explore my childhood, I understood the significance of this.  It was something bigger, darker, and scarier than anything I'd faced in adult life.  

Everyone wanted to talk about my weight loss.  But I needed to explore the things that took me up to 500 pounds in the first place.  I had no idea how long of a journey, or how difficult of one it would be.  Four years later I have no idea how to put into words what I've struggled with since embarking on this journey of self discovery.  I'm not sure I ever will.  I'm not sure I have the desire or energy to do so, even if I did find the words.

One of the reasons I was so vocal and public about my weight loss journey was because I felt it was the logical culmination of my life journey.  Above all other things I wanted to make sense of my life.  I felt that if I could use my life experience to help others, that somehow, that'd make everything okay, make sense of my life, give meaning to it.  That reasoning was just a diversion to keep me from exploring the bigger questions in my life.

These days I'm inclined to help others, as I can.  But I come first.  I have to come first.  And this journey of self exploration has taken so much out of me that I don't have much left for helping others.  That's just the way it is.  Will it always be that way?  I dunno.  I'm not sure just how far I've come in the past four years.  But I've come far enough to start talking about it.

Grace and Peace to you.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

I was 28 years old when I met Joel.  I remember our first meeting well.  I was walking home from the bus stop early one morning, after working a graveyard shift.  

 On top of living in a difficult period of my life, graveyard shift did not suit me. Not only was I physically tired, but I was weary with life. It is sad that a young man such as I was could be so weary. As I neared the house where I rented a room, Joel approached me.  He was a tired and obviously homeless man. I could see in his eyes that he knew hardship. He smelled.  Bad.  Life had not been kind to Joel. It is a look you recognize when you've been there yourself.  Yet there was a gentleness about him, and a friendliness that sparked something within me.
 He held out his hand and in it was some coins.  He counted them out for me. Then he put his other hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye with all the seriousness any man ever possessed, and said: "If I had another 38 cents I could walk over to yonder store (he gestured) and buy me a bottle of wine." I was in no position to be giving money away.  I was counting my own spare change just to get by.  But here stood in front of me a good man who had been through hell.  This much I already knew about him, just by looking in his eyes.  Without saying a word I reached in my pocket where I had two quarters and I gave them to him, and then without speaking I started to walk on my way.  "Wait...", he said.  I had given him more than he needed and he wanted to give me the difference.  I didn't want further interaction so I told him to keep the change and walked on.
 I didn't think anything more of it until I saw him again a couple weeks later as I was once again walking home from the bus stop after a graveyard shift.  He approached me with a smile and greeted me as if we had been lifelong friends.  He reached into his pocket, counted out 12 cents, then handed it to me.  It was the difference between what he needed and what I gave him the last time we met.  He seemed so proud to be able to repay me!  I don't know if I was already in a better mood this time, or if his joy spread to me, but this time I smiled back and talked with him.  He told me his name.  He told me he lived in so-and-so's shed behind their house several blocks over, but don't tell anyone cuz if the neighbors found out he'd have to find somewhere else.  His cheerfulness uplifted me, but when I ran out of things to say I started back on my way home. 
 "Wait...", he said.  He reached in his pocket, counted out how much he had, put his other hand on my shoulder, and told me how much more he needed to be able to walk over to yonder store and buy him a bottle of wine.  And that's when I realized... Even though Joel was a homeless alcoholic, paying me what he felt he owed me came first to him.  Before asking for anything of me he needed to pay his debt to me.  This time I reached into my pocket and stuck around while Joel counted out the exact change that was due me.  Joel and I became friends that day, and a better friend I have never had.
 Over the following weeks and months I ran into Joel many more times. I would sometimes seek him out.  I would not only give him what he needed to buy a bottle of wine at "yonder store" but I'd walk down to the park by the lake and hang out with him.  And we'd talk.  We talked a lot. I was too young, too numb, to talk about the horrors in my life.  So Joel told me about his. He pretty much told me everything about his life. 
 and a rough life it had been.  His upbringing wasn't great, yet he managed to keep life together enough to have a job, get married, and have children.
 And then came Vietnam. He was drafted, and off he went to do his duty.  But like many, war was hell for Joel.  And like many, the horrors of war were too much for Joel.  He came back a broken man.  A shell of a human being.  And like many coming home from Vietnam, there was no sympathy.  No understanding.  No compassion.  No support, and precious few resources.  Joel was never able to integrate back into "life at home".  He eventually lost his wife.  Lost his family.  Lost... everything.  Ended up on the streets, where he remained until his death.  
 Joel's shell lived on many years after the war.  But as sure as I'm typing this... Joel died in that war.  
 On this day, Memorial Day, when we remember those who were killed in war, I'm reminded that in many cases, those were the lucky ones.  For many, like Joel, death took years, and sometimes decades, to finally claim their victim.
 War is Hell.  I long for the day when we honor those who have fallen by putting an end to it.  There is no glory in war.  There is no honor to be found in it.  There is no patriotic hooplah to be found in it.  There is only hell, and hell abundant.
 People sometimes joke with me over my use of the word "yonder".  I will reference things as "over yonder bridge" or "yonder store" or whatnot...   It is my tribute to Joel.  Goodbye Joel.  You were the best friend that 38 cents ever bought.