I tend to run away from my emotions. I don’t want to locate them in my body and I don’t want to name them and I don’t want to accept the message they’re sending me. I prefer to distract myself from them and to imagine that I’m great and that one day the world will recognize this.
When I was a little boy, people said I looked like a Holocaust survivor. My eyes were sunk in my skull. I was withdrawn and sullen and reluctant to engage.
When I was about five, my dad came across me flinging manure at other kids and screaming, “I hate you. I hate you.”
I guess I was pretty in touch with my emotions that rare time.
My father had reason to be concerned. This was no behavior for a Christian. Where did such hate come from? The Devil?
I was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist. That’s a form of Protestantism.
Protestants tend to be controlled people. Their religion springs from the heart. Jesus comes into your heart and transforms you so that you want to do what is right. You get right with God by accepting the atoning death of Jesus on the cross and then you get right with your fellow. If you don’t get right with God, you’ll never be at peace with yourself and with others.
There are few rituals in Protestantism. Instead, you get a lot of hymns and well-argued sermons on the need for faith in God, love for your fellow and hope for the ultimate redemption.
Because the emphasis of Protestantism is on transforming the heart, Protestants tend to be very nice people.
In a 1990 lecture series on how to be a good person, talk radio host and Jewish theologian Dennis Prager said: “For eight years I’ve had two hours a week with a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a rabbi. After your 400th show, you’re entitled to some generalizations. One is — the Jew is usually the most talkative and the Protestant is usually the most quiet. The Jew is usually the most passionately involved in something, volatile, gets angry, verbalizes, lets out. The Protestant is usually the nicest. In eight years I heard one offensive word from a Protestant [the late Walter Martin] and he was a bona fide nut. These Protestants are the sweetest, nicest, most self-controlled people you will ever meet.
“The religions produced these differences. Protestantism emphasizes the heart. Catholics are in the middle. Judaism emphasizes works. Therefore, the Jew has been the freest to make peace with his miserable thoughts. Protestants are the least free because they are sinful.
“That’s why when it came out that Jimmy Carter lusted for women other than his wife, Jews yawned and Protestants were horrified. A born again Christian and he lusts? Oh my God.”
I picked up the message very early on that I should not express my emotions unless they were kind, loving, reasoned and Christlike.
My father is a self-made man. He got two PhDs and transformed thousands of lives by sheer will power. I’ve never seen my father lying around getting in touch with his feelings. I’ve never heard him say, “That hurts my feelings” or, “I just don’t feel like it” or, “That doesn’t feel right.”
Instead, his life is a triumph of the will.
I don’t remember seeing my father do anything bad. I don’t remember him losing his temper. I don’t remember him yelling at me. I don’t remember him out of control.
I was strongly influenced by my dad’s controlled approach, though I did not have nearly as much success with it as he did.
I grew up an unhappy kid but I don’t think I showed this much around the home. I don’t think I acted out either around my family. I never could handle much conflict in my personal life.
Instead, I learned to channel my pain into cutting other people down verbally at school and church and wherever I had the good fortune of running into them.
Upon coming to California in 1977, I picked up the word “fag” and it became my favorite term of opprobrium.
My dad’s a great debater. He did a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Michigan State University. I wanted to be like him. I organized debates in sixth and seventh grade and tried awfully hard to be terribly clever and to cut my opponents to shreds.
Surprisingly, I’ve never been terribly popular. All of my life, I’ve been mid-level in this regard, the most popular of the uncool and the least popular of the cool crowd.
I never liked to simply sit around with my downward spiral of hateful emotion. Starting at age 10, I began running away from my feelings as I took up jogging. Moderation has never been a Ford virtue and at age 12, I finished five marathons (26 miles 385 yards). By 1980, my knees hurt and I had to quit.
I was depressed for years as I could no longer run away from my negative emotions. I failed two classes in my first semester of ninth grade (Algebra and Spanish). Then I transferred to public school in tenth grade and dedicated myself to the practice of journalism, hoping to become a big shot. For the next five years, I pushed away my emotions in my drive to be great.
Then I crashed into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in February 1988 and since then I’ve been unable to consistently distract myself from what I’m feeling by achievement.
So I’ve had to use other distractions such as entertainment, sports, sex, food and the like to avoid confronting myself.
I began going to therapy in May 1998 and started to identify my emotions. This was not easy. I preferred to talk about conquests and horribly inappropriate things I’ve said and done to shock people.
I love these lectures I’m listening to by Igor Ledochowski. I’m learning to locate my emotions in my body, to describe them, and to receive their message.
This afternoon, I felt so lethargic and tired. I lay down on my bed to listen to Dennis Prager’s radio show, hoping to fall asleep and to recharge before the Passover seder tonight.
I often feel disconsolate about my finances. I hate that sinking feeling. I feel my fear of bankruptcy in my stomach. I feel like I’ve stepped off a cliff and I’m falling.
I know what it is like to pump with adrenalin and excitement and purpose and passion. I wonder what I can do to recapture this? The solution has to be in action. If the particular action I take does not work, I’ll find out quickly and I can then try something else.
My blogging, Dennis Prager’s teachings, Torah, shul, my therapy and Alexander Technique and weekly writing workshop, these are all occasional sources of inspiration for me.
Despite them, I’m not as enthused these days as I was when my blog was big and the news media were calling and I was on TV a lot and Cathy Seipp was in my life and I had love and lust and influence.
Cold showers are a jolt to the system. I never feel lethargic stepping out of a cold shower. I need more. They’re an excellent habit. I need community. I need to engage with people. The solution is action, engagement, connection. Passion. Purpose.