The Courage To Change the Things I Can


In the past, with credit card in hand, I have debted as if the money would never have to be paid back. That, thank God, is not something I’ve done a lot of in a while. With regard to incurring unsecured debt, I’ve been doing okay. I think that’s because I’ve been so stung in the past. Perhaps (let’s hope) I’ve learned my lesson. I actually stand a pretty good chance of being out of all unsecured debt in the not-too-distant future. There is such a thing as “self-debting.” Debting to myself spiritually is when I am not engaging in adequate self-care and, I would add, if I am working just for money and not in service to my divine purpose on the planet, not in service to my real and true mission here. I have had an obsession for underearning much as the alcoholic has an obsession with drinking. I have had a compulsion to underearn as the drug addict has a compulsion to get high and a complete powerlessness, even with knowledge of how harmful it is, to not engage in the harmful activity.

You remember what underearning is don’t you? Is not so easy to define simply but I think in essence for me underearning has been about not asking for what I want or need, giving away my time and talents for little or no money when I had bills to pay, and hiding out from my dreams based mostly on fear of rejection. No other bankruptcy is like this one; it rapes the soul. Underearning bleeds me of my self-sufficiency, robs me of my self-esteem. Underearning as a phenomenon born of a low opinion of myself and then the underearning lifestyle just reinforces that low opinion. There are many who would look at me from the outside and think that I am full of myself. It’s all an act. At the center of narcissism is self-loathing. I have to accept my devastating weakness (that is made manifest as underearning) and humble myself if I am to have hope of changing things in the way they must be changed for me to have the life I was meant to live. If someone finds himself or herself in my position, it is not until that person humbles himself or herself that they can find hope of building a life again from the ruins of past unmindful and destructive behavior. Until I humble myself, I can find no enduring strength. I have had to admit complete defeat. And I do. Oddly, with regard to underearning, self-confidence is a total liability.

Yesterday, before I had the run-in with that poor barista, I had been to look at an apartment very far uptown. I have lived in many places nicer than this apartment. The representative of the landlord said that they would likely be charging about an extra $1000 in security deposits for my dogs. Everyone involved acted as if I’d be doing them a favor by renting this shitty apartment. I have to ask someone to act as a guarantor so I can even have hopes of being able to rent this place. How embarrassing! It is incredibly expensive and difficult to move into this apartment that, quite frankly, I am not very excited about living in. This is the wreckage of my underearning past. If I had simply done whatever it took to get past the fear of rejection (programed into me by the sick culture in which I grew up), and earned what I am worth based on my talent and my skill set, I wouldn’t be here. Instead, I put my energy, money, time, and effort into supporting someone else’s dream. This left me broke and broken with only hard-won life lessons to show for it. Instead of energetically seeking work in my field and when I found it, demanding that I be paid what I’m worth, I slinked into the shadows and sought out relationships (with people and institutions) that would simply replicate the toxic and harmful relationships of my youth. That shit is over. Because I left this appointment feeling devastated, all it took was for one asshole to step into my path to launch me into a PTSD rage. I am very lucky I did not go to jail for my actions.

I am reading a book on Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When I first bought the book, I thought it was going to be addressing general PTSD, just a “complex” form of it. My work with other veterans has shown me that healing from PTSD isn’t nearly as simple as those who pimp some panacea treatment would have us believe. This book, though, addresses CPTSD as a manifestation of injurious parenting. Yes, my parents did some very damaging things to me but I made the decision early on in the reading to also think about the ways the culture in which I grew up affected me. I was telling a friend about this yesterday and he pointed out that, in fact, we are “parented” by the culture in which we grow up in that the people around us (their beliefs, attitudes, philosophies, religions) have a profound effect on our psyches. I personally believe that most people underestimate the long-term and far-reaching effects the things that happen to us during our developmental stages have on us. The book is helping me in many ways, one being that it is helping me to cut myself a little slack with regard to the constellation of symptoms and myriad contributing factors that lead to my PTSD. My PTSD set me up to be an underearner. But all that can change– and I am working very hard to do my part in changing it. It has long been easy for me to look at the alcoholic or the drug addict as sick and not bad. However, when I think about this manifestation of the same disease–in essence an addiction to underearning– I have continued to be filled with self-recrimination considering myself to be a “loser and a fuck-up” rather than someone who got injured and is doing the best he can to get better.

I think, even before I launched on this voyage of recovery from underearning and before I ever started reading this book, I knew on an intuitive level that the things that happened to me in early life were having a profound effect on me now. Also, in that, as I said, I have sought out relationships in my adult life that would mimic the abusive relationships of my youth, those adult relationships have only served to compound and exacerbate the problem. The awareness of this has helped me start to address the problem and for that I am grateful.

This is a slow process and I am impatient to see some drastic changes soon. I’m certainly investing the time to make as much progress as I can and at a reasonable pace. I’ve only begun thinking of this underearning thing as a mental, spiritual, emotional “illness” about two months ago. Whether or not you agree with me in thinking of myself as sick and not bad, I can tell you that the results of treating recovery from this phenomenon according to the disease model has been, so far, advantageous. I have my goals. I have action items to support those goals. I am checking in daily with an action partner with whom I discuss the action items and how I am progressing with them. Some days I’m only able to do about half of them. The singular thing that stands in the way of my doing all of them every day is fear. One might think that it’s a shortage of time but actually it’s a shortage of courage– that’s hard for a Marine to admit. I’m talking about the “courage to change the things I can”– so I continue to pray for it. Please, if you’re the praying sort, pray for it with me.

See y’all tomorrow.

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