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

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

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

Infinite Love: Part C

     Infinite math makes nearly no sense to me. Someone explained it to me like this: if a hotel had an infinite amount of rooms, all of which were booked, and a new person came in, they would still be able to find that person a room. That’s pretty much where my brain breaks. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I have a full grasp of what it means to be infinitely in debt. In spite of this, there are still some lessons I have learned that are applicable. I’ll address this a bit more in the next post, but for now, I want to focus on the infinite debt aspect of Love.
     The debt of Love to another, willingly taken on, is infinite. Luckily, Kierkegaard illustrates infinity by what it is not. There is a lot of confusing language leading up to it, but here’s what I’ve gleaned from it: It’s either Love or envy.
     Envy is the selfish focus on what others have in relation to what “I” lack. It deals with “right now” and instant gratification. It is never truly satisfied or satiated. We can have enough, but someone else will always have more. Envy is a selfishness expressed through comparison to another. Envy requires us to keep score.
     Love requires us not to keep score. The infinity of debt means that we can never do “enough”. Yet, whatever we do in Love, is more than enough. Once again, we have quickly come to the point of brain-breakage.
     Here is the hopeful takeaway: If I become resentful in my relationship, I must discover the origin of the resentment within myself. For instance, I hate washing bottles. I do it anyway. I do not resent my wife for it, and I’m pretty sure I can say I have washed more bottles than her because I stayed home with both the children for the first six months of their lives. There were a LOT of bottles. There was a time when, as I stood, hunched over out kitchen counter, I found myself mentally cursing the existence of bottles. And then, it was if a flip was switched, I realized that as much as I hated washing these bottles (which was a lot), I Loved my wife more. Love allowed me to not keep score, and washing bottles became an act of Love she was unaware of. And that was fine. Eventually, I enjoyed washing the bottles because I hated them. There will never be a time when I look at my wife and say, “I have washed enough bottles. Today is the day that I am done. The rest are yours”. There have certainly been times I have asked her to help with the bottles, or where she has done them without asking me. Even in those moments I asked her not to do the bottles because I wanted to, because I knew how much she hates washing them!
     Does that make sense at all? That our debt must be infinite because it cannot be repaid, it is not a bill to be balanced or a score to be evened. Love requires that, out of Love, we can smile and joyfully shoulder a burden without resent or bitterness. And in those acts of Love, we are reminded of who we Love, and how deeply we Love them.

(C) Nathan D. Croy
Infinite Love

Indebted Love: Part B

“The essential characteristic of love: That the lover by giving infinitely comes into – infinite debt.” Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 2006, p. 172.

     I truly enjoy Star Wars. To clarify, I enjoy the “real” Star Wars (episodes IV-VI). I even read the books and bring my lunch to work in a Star Wars lunchbox. Not even kidding. One of my favorite relationships throughout the series is Han Solo and Chewbacca. The life debt Chewie swears to Han began as the fulfilling of a cultural institution, but grew into a genuine relationship of Love. If I can have a bit of license, I think Chewie’s life debt is a fantastic illustration of healthy Indebted Love.

      When Han prevented Chewie’s clan from being enslaved by the Empire, Chewie took a life debt to Han. Now, this doesn’t mean that Chewie is Han’s slave. Nor does it mean that Chewie’s life debt is fulfilled if he saves Han’s life. What it means is that without Han, Chewie would not have a life, so he willingly (see Intentional Love post) gives his life in service to Han.
     Articles on Star Wars state that the idea of a “life debt” is fictional and does not exist in the real world. I would suggest that it does exist and we call it marriage. Kierkegaard continues to expand on this idea when he writes that “for his own sake the lover wishes to be in debt; he does not wish exemption from sacrifice, far from it” (Ibid, p. 174). For instance, is there anything that can be done, any act that can be committed, that will fulfill the vows of marriage so that one is no longer married? No! That makes no sense and renders marriage useless.
     Any relationship based in Love must be based in a willingly taken on indebtedness. Perhaps, instead of saying indebtedness, it may be more accurate to say selflessness. Selflessness, truly understood, is being joyfully indebted to another whom we Love. This does not mean we sacrifice self to another. If that were to happen, then “we” couldn’t be in the relationship, could we? In fact, a relationship would not exist at that point. Kierkegaard addresses abusive relationships by submitting that staying in them would be tantamount to enabling, which is one of the least loving things we can do. However, we are not to give up on the other.
     One seemingly inescapable conclusion of this line of thought is the inability to remarry after a separation. While I do not have an argument to defend staying single after a separation or divorce, I would offer this: Would people be as quick to rush into Love relationships based on indebtedness if they knew the ending of that relationship limited their access to relationships later? If we were obliged to suffer the consequences of our relational choices until death, would we act any differently? Would we be more free to love? More free to make mistakes? What if, as Kierkegaard wrote, we were to live relationships of Love “imprisoned in freedom and life” (Ibid, p. 176)?

If a Wookie gives you a Valentine, you take it!
(C) Nathan D. Croy