I’ve been doing this workbook lately. I don’t know why other than my best friend recommended it to me, and it is the very same workbook that a rather odd teacher of mine from college tried to get me to work on as “unofficial homework” during my first year. Seriously, that teacher had issues…
And those issues are precisely why I didn’t work on this book in the first place. I wasn’t in a place where some strange adult could invite themselves into my personal life to spend all their time projecting their own dialectical needs in a near diabolical way. Ironic, really.
Anyway, in this workbook you are meant to go through and focus on a number of standard emotions one at a time. The workbook asks really basic questions like, when did you feel the greatest sense of fear? What was the situation? How intense was it? How long did it take you to calm down? Blah blah blah blah.
Since emotions are so eluding and unlike math and more like a description of a color, emotions are things we all know but no one can ever agree on. From a purely logical desire to study and do a little self-taught CE (continuing education) brush up on behavioral therapy topics, this is what brings me back to this book today.
I’ve only been through three emotions so far – anger, sadness, and fear.
What I find interesting is that when looking deep into one single emotion in one intense memory, the core of each of these emotions was always the same thing. So, naturally I start to think to myself, “How the hell do you manage emotions when one foundational cause can have a variety of outcomes?” So, I dug deeper asking myself Why?
Only as I was going through the fear stage did I start to realize that although my perceived intensity of each emotion (at the time) was 100%, out of control, can’t count to 10, worst day ever!!!! The reality is that these emotions are actually on a scale where one thing causes an emotion, but when other causes start to mix, the emotion starts to mutate rapidly.
No matter what, you’re going to max out at 100% intensity. So, it is going to feel extreme whether the situation is “simple” and caused by only one thing, or the situation is intense and caused by an overwhelm of issues.
You don’t have to read more than a paragraph of almost any psychology book to know that anger is an active emotion, and that anger is the first emotional phase when coming out of sadness or depression. That’s simply because anger causes you to act and it requires you to care. Sadness and depression is generally caused by a lack of caring and a total numbness. Therapists love when you get angry about things because it means you’re feeling. Feelings (albeit difficult) are good! Identifying them is even better.
So anger, got that and I totally feel that probably more often than I should. But, sadness was hard for me.
I have had a lot of sad moments in life. I think anyone that knows me or has read through the vague ins-and-outs of my blog posts can understand I come from a very, very sad place that can be summarized simply by saying I’ve lost over 20 people in my life that I was incredibly close to – childhood friends, high school friends, cousins, my aunt, my mom(s). Death has become rote. I move through the grieving process like a machine now. I feel it all. I understand it all. I move on. I didn’t even feel the need to get overly dramatic or even attend recent funerals in my life for no other reason than death teaches you that spending time among the living is what is most important.
So, sadness is something I’ve certainly known, but it has never stuck with me long. While sadness is supposed to be felt on its own, I am far too active of a person to stick with it long enough to even recognize that I feel sad. The good news is, I’m an active problem solver. The bad news is, I often move straight into anger or fear without ever letting myself be sad. As I moved through sadness and came up on fear, it became far more apparent that where I instantaneously end up in almost any negative emotion is straight at fear.
Ok so that’s good and fine. That makes sense for someone that’s an instant problem solver and gets no satisfaction from just sitting around feeling things all the time. This wasn’t exactly news as my biggest trigger is a sense of abandonment or the embarrassment felt when discovering you’ve been fooled by someone/lied to and trusted the wrong person for far too long. Those are fears. My youngest niece can tell you that.
After digging specifically into fear, suddenly I understand the core of all my reactions, and if you’ve ever learned about the psychological mental relapse of “younger self,” this is going to make a lot of sense to you because this is where “Little Caz” exists and still runs around in my adult-laden head today.
When asked about the most fearful moment of me entire life, my mind filtered through a thousand moments I should have felt fear. The memories burned through the back of my mind like an old reel-to-reel movie coming off the track. Being caught in the crossfire of two gangs at a mall during Christmas time, having a gun held to my head by a stranger, discovering someone had slashed all my tires at 80mph on the highway, losing control of my car on ice and rear-ending a vehicle with my nephews in the back seat… or the phone call from the hospital the morning of January 1, 2001 when my Dad had no words and simply hung up the phone. “Mom’s gone.”
In each of those cases I should have been afraid my life was ending or somehow already over, and for a moment, I was, but only for a moment.
When I sense fear, I have an instantaneous reaction to defend. Trust me, that isn’t always good because I am rapidly moving through mental kung fu without ever taking a moment to realize whether my guard should even be up. And although I have experienced all of those things above, despite what other’s believe I should be feeling about these moments, in their singularity they have left very shallow marks on my behavior. The one memory that came to mind most distinctly was being four years old. Hence, “Little Caz” is frozen in time, still reacting and acting out decades later.
As insignificant as the story may seem, when I was four years old (like any other four year old) I was taking too damn long to get ready. I probably was insisting I dress myself and tie my own shoes (although I couldn’t). I probably wanted to have a snack, pack some water, find my blanky, and basically do everything I could to mentally prepare for a journey with my mom. For a kid too young to have a true sense of time, everything felt like a lifelong journey especially Mom’s errands. Furious with me (which I can understand), my Mom left.
Even today, I remember the sound of the big, metal door to the garage being flung open as she insisted in screeching tones, “I’m leaving!!!!” and I grabbed one last thing, moving my chubby toddler legs as fast as I could through the corridors of the grand entrance, down the few stairs into the foyer that was always kept perfectly polished so I had to slow down and step lightly as not to fall and scuff my knees because then she’d be really mad that I had red marked knees while wearing a dress. Oh but my kitchen set! It’s right here. Maybe I need… no, I don’t. I turn the corner past my pretend kitchen, onto the ugly brown linoleum floor of Mom’s real kitchen just in time to see the harvest gold door slam shut.
It was as though the slam of the door radiated a pressure across the room. I could swear I fell to the floor by the force, but in truth, I just stood there slightly hunched forward as if prepared to go into full sprint, my big girl undies probably poking through the furl of my pink dress as I hovered. Waiting. I remember I had on white shoes and ankle socks with lace around the tops of them that cut into my little baby fat in a way that drove adults crazy with coos and pinches. Just let me color people!
The door never reopened and I heard nothing for a while until the grind of the garage door started humming. Then I knew she was gone! I walked somewhat briskly to the door in total disbelief. This had to be a harsh joke. I was used to that sort of thing, being the youngest. Someone was going to be standing behind the door ready to scare me with a tickle fight. The door knob was round and metal, hard to open when your full body span is barely in reach. But I remember the feeling as I struggled to pull the weight of the door, holding it open only two inches by jamming my little white shoe between the weight of the door and the frame. There, I peered through the crack and saw a completely empty garage. It smelled of wet cement and fertilizer. Only the final, monstrous creeks of the closed garage door were radiating through the empty space. I. was. alone.
Fear settled in like shock. I couldn’t move. I was locked in place. Motionless. No reaction. Just sheer disbelief and a sharp sense of fast-fading hope.
When studied, the aftermath of fear is actually quite calm and calculating. It wasn’t until my mom returned that I too slammed the door, ran to the edge of the kitchen, sat down on the carpet, threw my collected items to my side, and broke into uncontrollable tears. I went from fearing being alone to fearing being with my mom. She had hurt me. She had intentionally left me. My four year old mind couldn’t get the lesson she was trying to teach me, and in fact all these years later, I still haven’t learned that lesson. All that was learned from that unfortunate moment in time, is an intense need to fight and survive.
Only in hindsight do things start to make sense. That same year, I started running away almost every time I went out with my mom. I tried to lose her in every store and run to the counters insisting I needed an adult to save me. That was also the same year that I packed my bags, slipped out the back door, climbed half a mountain (yes, at four years old and by myself) to my cousin’s house (she was three), packed her bags, and then snuck her through back trails nearly 1.5 miles down hill to our local park where I set up a bed and set out snacks in the covered dome over the park’s tallest slide. In my four year old mine, we could live like kings here forever. In fact, that same year (closer to five years old now) is when I started “going to work” where I would create stories, paintings, recipes, and sell anything I could find to my neighbors. I had to make my way.
These habits stuck. By the time I was six, nearly seven, I was sneaking piles of toys into a garage sale my parents were having to help my sister raise money. I was selling off all I could possibly care for. I was even in the trade market business. I took 50 cents earned from selling probably $30 worth of books (how was I supposed to know?) and marched to a neighbors house where I took advantage of their younger sister and bought her collector’s edition Barbie, still in box, for 50 cents. $30 books or not, I still turned a profit. Without collector value, that Barbie was over $50 straight off the shelf.
I was a brilliant kid, and I lend a great deal of brilliance to that definitive moment at only four years old when I decided to trust no one. Ever.
Being the youngest, I was in a situation where I could operate independently and rebelliously. I could raise myself. I could run a lemonade stand every day of my life and sell off my mom’s Sam’s Club supply. I could go door to door in the neighborhood and ask for people’s recycling so I could then schlep a bag nearly five miles to the local Smith’s Marketplace and receive 10 cents per can. As far as I knew, I needed to have a plan. I needed to make it on my own.
That stuck with me for life, and it wasn’t until today that I discovered that the root of that problem goes all the way back to that day.
This is exactly why every time I sense fear, I act like a bloody four year old child and throw a fit. This is exactly why I’ve been working on some kind of project nearly every day of my existence which did lead to an easier life than most as I never had to take a summer to work in retail or at McDonald’s, I went straight to an Executive Office position. This is why I tried to emancipate myself from my parents at 12 and 13 years old; why I moved across the country from them at 14; why I insisted on living with my brother the rest of that year, and why I learned you should be careful what you ask for when none of those things became my decision anymore at the age of 16 when I was motherless and constantly sent away to be someone else’s problem.
But that’s also why I found solace and excitement in music. I found family among musicians and fans, many of which are arguably still closer to me today than I have remained on and off with family over these last 20 years. And it was that sense of survivalism that led me to many great life experiences and some of my biggest successes. It led me to five years with Sony. It led me on tour. It led me to learning more business skills running a venue than I learned throughout my entire MBA, or on the flipside, it made my MBA much easier because I had already “been there, done that” with every business scenario presented to me during my program.
Still, despite all the rewards of building your own life and creating your own success, people who find themselves on top (no matter how high the mountain is or isn’t), don’t tend to easily understood, less than angry, happy-go-lucky, get-along kind of people. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are self proclaimed assholes. Bill Gates is an A-Social, argumentative little nerd that has likely found all his composure through a great relationship with Melinda and by living an extremely secluded lifestyle. I mean let’s be honest here. But, I’m not them. I’m just one person that lives with only one other person. And I would like to learn how to stop having a back up plan for every time he’ swilling to express anything – good or bad. I’d like to stop packing my bags for the park. I’d like to believe that people come back because they want to be with you rather than come back to teach you a lesson. And I wish I could say that I changed that path for myself, but even I (and this is what really indicated to me that it was a bigger deal to “Little Caz” than I ever really gave credit to) did the exact same thing to two young children I was babysitting once. I got in serious trouble. I had never been more guilty or ashamed. It was the first time I was fired (and boy do I mean fired) from a long running job. Even then, my mom was not the one that went to bat for me. She believed to her core that as children, we were never too young to learn how to handle our own problems, but this one (in hindsight) tore me down with a severe sense of PTSD that as a 12/13 year old, I wasn’t prepared to deal with. My sister Julie was the one that defended me then, and probably the only real sense of hope glimmering through what was nearly the nail in the coffin.
Oh how the dominos fall. I was barely 13 when I gave up my first business forever. Being the smart, wheeling and dealing gal that I was, I was only 12 when I took neighborhood babysitting to a whole new level and decided (like the books, sorta) to start a “Babysitter’s Club” which was actually more of a babysitting agency. At 12 years old, I took phone calls from a neighborhood of over 110 rich upper-middle-class families with young children and I had a team of 5 girls that I “assigned” babysitting times to. Of course, I kept all repeat and top dollar clients for myself. I was making as much money at 12 as my poor sister was making at a local dry cleaners. But two distinct moments made me give that up forever and this post-traumatic experience was one of them. To this day, outside of my own family, I’ve never watched another child. I have barely even watched my own family. Those dominos fell in such a way that “Little Caz” made mistakes all throughout her life acting out or re-experiencing the fear of one moment and as a result, I’m all the way to my big girl pants now and I still won’t have children. I still walk out on people thinking it will teach them a lesson. And I still fear, to my very core, the deafening sound of a heavy metal door shutting on my life.