As a young adult, I had a nasty habit that I detested with all my being. I had a quick temper. I could easily lose my cool at the slightest insult and would snap at the people I loved. It didn’t matter if my behavior was justified or not, hurtful words just flew out of my mouth. Perhaps worse, over time I became cold and distant to many people without explaining why. This baffled many family and friends, and I lost genuine relationships over my behavior.
When I finally owned up to my anger problem during my senior year of college, I found it hard to change. I saw counselors that gave me relaxation techniques, but I did not use them consistently. I read books and articles about ways to cool my temper, but only followed that advice sporadically. I would be okay for a week or two, and then something would set me off, and I’d feel guilty for not being able to control my feelings. I felt trapped by my own personality, and I began to hate who I had become.
When I was born, something strange happened. I didn’t cry. The doctors thought I was dead.
Alarmed, they picked and prodded at me to see what was going on. After a few moments of their panicking, I started to cry. I was not dead. I was born asleep.
In some ways, I stayed asleep for the first twenty-four years of my life.
Twice in my life I’ve had unwanted, seismic change forced on me. The first was when I had a breakdown aged 30; a breakdown that left me without a clue who I was or where I was, and that unravelled my patterns of thought so fundamentally that I was unable to understand the simplest conversations.
The second was when I was diagnosed with M.E./CFS in 2008, a chronic, incurable illness that’s with me right now. They were changes of the worst kind; unwanted, unwelcome and, at first glance, unacceptable.
Fathers can show their children how to change by pursuing their own emergence. But my dad did not know that we are emergent beings in an emergent universe. He didn’t know that our assignment in life is to grow and develop. To emerge. To change.
Dad never spoke about wanting to change anything about himself. He almost never spoke to me about wanting me to change. Dad never changed, so he didn’t give me a model for addressing my weaknesses, for turning personal difficulties into opportunities to learn, or for examining one’s life.
I still remember the day I forced myself to throw up for the first time.
I was sitting at home on the couch watching my favourite TV show at the time ‘Home and Away’. I was 13 and there was a young girl on the screen not much older than me who was anxious about her weight. It had just been someone’s birthday on the show and there was a giant chocolate cake in the fridge which she took to her room and engulfed. Ashamed, she quickly ran to the bathroom, stuck her fingers down her throat and forced every last bit back up again.
As ridiculous as it seems now, it’s like a light bulb went off in my mind that day. I thought to myself, ‘If she can eat delicious sweets and still stay thin by forcing herself to throw up then, that’s what I will do too.’ And so I did. That day lead to me to an extremely lonely 10 year battle with bulimia.
Change is not always something that happens overnight. I’ve read the stories about those who quit their jobs on a whim and do their own thing. They start their own business or travel to a foreign country to live out their dreams. I love those stories. But that’s not my story. Sometimes change is slow.
Sometimes change takes patience and commitment to doing the same thing day in and day out. Sometimes change is a long, slow labor of love.