I now realise that I’ve spent far too much of my life ‘out in the cold’. As a child, not really bonding with my father life was tough and lonely. Consequently, much of my early years was spent never quite fitting in anywhere. Looking and feeling tempted to, but really never really getting there.
Twice, I did, though. One was at the first of the so many schools I went to and the second was joining the Boy Scouts when we were living in Townsville in the late 50’s early sixties.
I was devastated when I had to leave each one of them.
Add being severely bullied at one school I was at and I’m sure you get the picture. I remember, time after time being all alone with my father never being able to figure me out.
“Billy, don’t be this, be that” he would say when I expressed attitudes different to his.
If I didn’t want to work over the school holidays but would rather read, he would respond with “A quid (English pound note)’s your best friend” or an oblique warning about becoming an “educated Nin-com-poop”.
So, I had to learn to hide my feelings along the way.
I actually smugly felt I got pretty good at it.
That’s a great way to get back at everyone, eh?
The trouble is, it didn’t. The only one to suffer was me.
All this “learning” was going on while I was still at school. The piece de resistance came during my early years at University.
My father always held up my younger brother as an example of the way to be. Bob was everything I wasn’t. He was good at and interested in sport; wanted to work in the school holidays and so he was the apple of my dad’s eye. One night my brother was tragically killed by an alcohol-filled group of idiots racing their cars. Right away my father took down all the photos of him and put them in a drawer. For decades afterwards we couldn’t even speak his name.
I well remember the feeling I had. “It should have been me. He wouldn’t then be feeling all this pain”.
To this very day, I still believe that.
By then, if there was a song I would most easily relate to it was Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I am a Rock’. Particularly the lines “And a rock feels no pain and an island never cries”.
Discovering the Wayside chapel in 1970 was the beginnings of a long slow, painful at times, journey of healing that will never really end. I am slowly learning to come in from the cold and finding that the warm is a pretty nice place to be in.
None of what I’ve learned is rocket science. Yet it’s so hard for us to learn. Actually, it’s not about learning either, it’s about allowing. Allowing relationships and belonging.
If I look back, I see people reaching out to me all along the path that I have travelled and all too often, wrapped in my own bubble, I haven’t noticed, or rather not even realised what they were doing.
Lately I’ve been noticing how silly we human beings often are in that in our searching for connection and love we fail to see it when it’s right under our nose. I liken it to a human being metaphorically looking over that way for love when it’s offered from the this direction whilst the overlooked, offerer of love from this direction, is numb to what’s going on right under his or her nose which would answer that need. This focussing on the very object of our desires as a fulfilment of them often blinds us to a healthy fulfilment of these very needs that we have.
We are often focussing in the wrong direction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately and realising how powerful this misslooking is . These lying tapes we replay over and over in our brains that tell us we aren’t good enough, that no one could REALLY love us, etc, etc, etc.
As I said, this healing process has been going on for a long time now and I would like to concentrate on the last few years and how there is an exponential component to all healing. The more we heal, the more we heal. It’s nice and it’s sad at the same time as we realise the time that has been wasted.
I gotta say finding Psychotherapy was the start of major change. I’ve been ‘doing it’ now for over 30 years. It’s slow and painful. Over time, I’ve learned to love that ‘click’ when a new realisation hits and change happens instantly. Emotionally it’s like your very DNA instantly realigns and you’re left feeling like you want to walk in all directions at once. I have found that’s developed the very emotional foundations on which the learnings from other experiences can be built.
Another path along the way was realising that in my interactions with people, I often didn’t have the emotional and linguistic skills to deal with all the different personality typesI came across in my capacity as a Minister of Religion. For instance, the same set of words coming out of my mouth are really understood differently by a Banker type, a Nurse type, an entrepreneur type, someone who is an extravert, someone who is an introvert, etc. For each personality type the same message, to be properly understood needs to be presented in a different way. Trying to run a congregation of these different personalities is hard and I needed to find a person who could coach me in this. This, as time went by enabled me to find and explore other parts of my being that had never seen the light of day and so my whole personality grew. This was not an easy road to travel either and often led to my having to take a long hard look at relationships I had developed and ask myself if they were healthy or not.
It was rediscovering the 12 step movement that really put the cat among the pigeons for me. Of course I had known about it for years but when I was asked to show the film ‘The Anonymous People’ I could not help but sit with 12 steppers and was blown away by their honesty, integrity and commitment to being much better people than felt they were. They realised that the only defence they had to using a substance was to admit their powerlessness over it and share openly and honestly their vulnerabilities, upbringings, personal histories and the highs and lows of their lives in an open, caring and supportive community meeting.
As I heard their stories, I marvelled at their personal honesty and I saw how healing the whole process was. “Boy, this is bravery” I thought.
Pretty soon I began to attempt to live that way myself and a whole new chapter in my life began.
I’d also realised that as well as being honest and open I needed to say what was really in my heart more. I learned that from a survey that found that one regret most dying people had was all those things they had left unsaid to loved ones and others and would now never have the opportunity to do so. This led me to ask myself when in the presence of others if there was anything I would not like to go to my death bed having not said. And then (and this is the most important) actually saying it.
The effect of that has led to significantly deeper and much more meaningful relationships with others.
Another learning experience from the 12 step movement comes from realising that a tree in sandy soil will always be sickly whilst a tree in healthy soil is strong and healthy. Brain development theory talks about one human brain needs to be enriched by as many different brains as possible to create new pathways. The more different brains we relate to, the more healthy our brains are. Simple, but true. I realised that’s what I started doing when I started learning different ways of conveying the same message to the differing personality typesof people in my midst.
A huge learning experience for me came with the induction of a new minister to work with me. A loving woman with a heart as big as Texas, she soon wanted to learn off me and the experiences I had. I found this very hard at first because I really felt that I had nothing to offer. In my head I still had those tapes playing that said “what do you know?” and “that’s not right, everybody else knows better” etc, etc, etc. Pretty soon another student came along and I had to again take a real risk and admit these feelings about myself to myself and confront the internal lies. I remember it all came out at an Elders meeting where I was sharing some of my experiences to a silence which I interpreted as lack of interest when actually it was the exact opposite. “Why did you stop talking?” they asked “Because I didn’t feel I had much to say” I responded. The silence in which they listened freaked me out and I literally had to stop there and then. What was happening was, in the silence I was feeling all alone and in the exposed aloneness the voice in my brain took over so, I was hearing my own voice uttering all the negative tapes in my brainsaying “what do you know? You know nothing! You’re just big noting yourself”. Which, of course, shut me up.
I still have those feelings of inadequacy creeping in. It’s funny how, when you least expect it, their destructive impact hits and you’re left dealing with the consequences
If I’m not careful I’ll still let those negative thoughts come in and just take over. “Black is white” someone will say. “Yes it is” I will agree, despite my intuition telling me otherwise. I need to be permanently on my guard with regard to blindly going along with what is being presented when my simply stopping and questioning will lead to another outcome. Luckily I’m now getting better at that. I think my default position has been that “everyone else knows better than me” I still get surprised when I will stand up to this and go with my intuition and…..I’m right!!
I work a lot amongst the most needy and abused kids in Australia and overseas. “I’ll be your grand-dad” I hear myself saying to them. Then one day it hit me. I can’t be a grandad to them without being a proper grand-dad to my own.
The same with my kids. “You love us more than the street kids, don’t you dad?” was asked of me more than once during their growing up.
Which brings me to love. What I long ago discovered is that love is boundless. There is always room for one more and then one more and then one more…..
But in this article I’m talking about recent stuff.
Initially slowly, but more and more now I’m taking risks in exploring relationships. Only a little time ago, (and really probably still but starting to question it) I would say that the only two people I would trust with my innermost self were my Psychotherapist and my “counsellor”. I would jokingly (although not really) say “the only reason I can trust you is because I pay you to be so”. I would know deep in my heart how unsatisfactory that would be, but it was true. I feel now I am slowly moving out of that darkness. What I have realised is that the secrets we hold about ourselves, our feelings andour innermost behaviours have a power over us and the more we bring them up into the light and talk about them, the less power they have over us and the more liberated we feeI. It’s such a relief to have it all out there. There are parts of us we’re all ashamed of and don’t want others to know about. We also don’t want to admit them to ourselves. The irony is people know them anyway. Look how often public figures get caught out committing some public misdemeanour or other and the denial is taken more harshly by the public when a simple “Yes I did it” would be accepted and forgotten.
People often ask me if I think I have had an effect on the world and seem surprised when I answer “no”. In the scheme of things what any one person can do is pretty small bickies, really, the need is so great. The other week I was in Darwin with a group of Aboriginal kids who were graduating in our Literacy Tutorial school. As each child received their graduation certificate, the teacher relayed the family situation to me. Dire is the word that comes to mind. I remember thinking “This is just some of the kids in one class in one school in one city in one state in Australia in one country in the world”. Put that way the amount of need in the world is staggering! A few days later I was talking with a group of Business people at a conference in Sydney. In that Conference Room was FOUR TRILLION DOLLARS. Yes $4TRILLION. All that money was in one room in one capital city in one state in one country of the world. We actually have the resources to fix most of our problems. We human beings elect not to do it
All people like me can be are signs that the world could be a better place if we want it to be so. It is the height of delusional arrogance to believe one person attacking the world problems can have any real effect at all.
What I have discovered is that the only real power I have over anything is the power to change myself.
The singer Bonnie Raitt writes:-
“I can’t make you love me if you don’t.
I can’t make your heart feel something it won’t”.
Yet, don’t we try? My God how we try to control others. We bully, blackmail, go to war etc. All to get others to do what we want and it’s never worked for long over all of time and yet we still keep trying.
As I said the only power I have is to fearlessly examine myself and continually work on those parts of me that cause me grief whilst getting on with life.
What I find is that by doing this, the whole environment around me changes and by my living a more emotionally healthy lifestyle both inwardly and outwardly, others have toadapt to the changed me, hopefully also in a more emotionally healthy way. But that’s up to them. Change begats change begats change.
As I said. For most of my life I have, in a way been emotionally pretty closed off to the world. I can already hear people disputing this. “Bill” they would be saying “But you have done so much. You’ve worked with the poor and needy, with problem kids and you’re always in the media doing stuff” Yes, I would respond, “But that’s been Bill the do-gooder. The one who truly believes he was called by God to work with the most needy of all”. What I am now saying is that the one who has benefited most from all of this is me. These poor disabled and needy people have, over all these years, taken a poor, emotionally crippled, love starved troubled young man and their facing suffering has been the role model by which I am coming to terms with myself.
Many of you know I started by working with kids who were searching for their biological parents and vice versa. In those days an illegitimate birth was a big thing and many children were ripped from their young unmarried mothers’ arms and adopted out.
Forever searching for the source of their green eyes, many were condemned to a second rate life of low self esteem, failed relationships and, in many circumstances sexual exploitation at the hands of their supposed “carers”.
I set up the first Reunion Register out of which adoptees and Birth parents could hopefully find each other. Kids would tell me of looking in the streets for familiar looking faces who could be adopted out siblings etc, or maybe (gasp) their real mum and dad!
I have a filing cabinet full of heart wrenching letters looking for parents, siblings, sons, daughters the details of which were entered into the Reunion Register. Much of that happened over 30 years ago although I still am in contact with many as they try to deal with their past.
Few months ago, at a particularly vulnerable moment in my life, a message from America dropped into my Facebook page from a young girl asking if perchance I could be her mother’s father. An American named Bill Crews fathered a child in California in the early 70’s and disappeared. The mother (the birth mother of the woman born) would never tell her daughter the story and so she had spent all her life looking for him. But it was what the young girl wrote that touched me deeply. “It breaks my heart to know my mum doesn’t know who her dad is……Every girl needs a dad and it would be wonderful for me and my sisters to have a grandpa”.
I’ve read letters like that so many times but never had one like that directed at me personally and I knew I had to act.
“No, sweetheart. I’m not your grandad”, I had to tell her on the telephone. Believe me, I actually felt sad saying that.
For some reason, that story never left me. It kept springing up in my mind. I knew I would be travelling to America soon and determined to meet them, which I have just done.
To sit with that little family in restaurant and share stories and photos stirred deep feelings in me. Feelings about belonging and fitting in feelings about acceptance and hope.
About coming in from the cold.
In fact, it’s meeting with that little family that has generated this article.
Life is really all about connection. When I first left University I went on a long car trip all over NSW. What people commented on when I got back was that in all the photos of scenery there were no photos of people in them.
Nowadays in my travels, it’s the people I’m travelling to see,that are important to me.
I think I’ve shied away from relationships because I’m afraid they’ll force me to be or behave like someone I’m not. Almost like being in a prison. Sitting here writing this, I realise that is another of those lies my brain tells me as I am perfectly strong enough to set my own rules for myself now and don’t have to be told by others what I should or shouldn’t do or how to behave or not.
As you can imagine. The personal intimate relationships I have been in over time have not ultimately worked very well. I was carrying too much baggage for them to really succeed and I am forever sorry for the hurts and sorrows I have caused. Now I am truly on my own I find it to be truly liberating. I am able to relate to family members and others without fearing someone or something is “looking over my shoulder” judging me, criticising me. I can now sit in the now with loved ones and others and be truly there. In the now.
It’s a freedom I am only now just getting used to. I’m so used to having someone or that voice in my brain telling me what I can or can’t do, that, at times, I feel naughty just being me.
We constantly get told we human beings are tribal people. A little while ago I realised what that means. I learned we human beings are the reflection of us we see in the eyes of the other. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately and been actually looking at what I think is my reflection in the eyes of those I am speaking with. Mostly, I see good things, or at least something. In a way I don’t mind what I see as long as I see something. Seeing something, even disagreement or anger means I exist. What has freaked me out is, at times, I’ve not been able to see any reflection at all in the eyes o the individual who I am conversing with. Interestingly they mostly have been people I intuitively haven’t trusted.
So, where does religion come into this? I’m supposed to be a minister of religion so aren’t I supposed to relate it all back to Jesus?
What I have learned is that a good lifestyle way of living is good religion. But what often passes as good religion isn’t necessarily a good way to live.
Currently, I’m working on those words of Jesus…”I might say this, but what do you say”
But, that’s another story.