In case you haven’t read my new book yet, here’s a spoiler: I’ve learned a LOT about myself in the last year! I was just looking over some of my blogs from two and three years ago, and while I stand by my thoughts from those points in time, I’ve come a long way since then. And that’s a good thing! I’d be disappointed if I found out I haven’t grown.
I spent a solid year going to therapy every week, and it was incredible. That experience is what the new book (The Righteous Rage of a Ten-Year-Old Boy) is based on. For all of my efforts at understanding myself, I still didn’t grasp a couple of key things when I started the counseling sessions. One key thing, really: some negative experiences that I had as a child created negative self-beliefs, and those stuck. They became insecurities, which dictated how I interacted with others.
Remember that time in 1981 when I got a bundle of sticks for Christmas? It was a nice bundle, remember, with the red ribbon tied around it and the yellow Post-it Note with my name on it: To Justin, from Santa. It was because I was a smart mouth too much, and I didn’t clean my room like I was supposed to. Sure, I still did most of my chores, but that’s not the same as doing what you’re told.
And remember that time in 1983 when mom made me sit in the trash can and wait for dad to come home to spank me? She wasn’t very good at spanking, so she let dad do it. But I couldn’t be out goofing off until he got home, of course, so when I got done with my chores, I’d have to stand in the corner or sit in the big nasty trash can and think about what I’d done, and my upcoming beating.
Oh, and remember that time in 1985 when some kids in my neighborhood dumped our big trash can all over the yard, and my dad thought I did it because I was mad about having to take the trash out? Remember how we went around and picked up every piece, and I got a swat for each one? There were 104 pieces of trash, that’s right. And dad wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t believe me that I didn’t do that. That I wasn’t suicidal enough to do something like that. That I was smart enough to know I could never get away with something like that.
I got punished when I did all the right things, too. I had to split and stack the firewood, but I got whipped for pieces that were out of line with the others. I had to dig a trench for a water line, and I did it, but I got whipped for not keeping it straight all the way. I had to go get wrenches when my dad was working on the car, but I got yelled at for taking too long.
Those events combined with a thousand others when I was young, and the belief I formed about myself was that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to be good, I was going to get punished for something. That my guilt or innocence wasn’t even a factor, I was going to lose. That the person who had power over me was never going to believe me. That I had no control over my life. That I’m the victim of whoever controls me.
Most of those beliefs were unconscious by the time I got out of high school, but they were cemented in place. When I went to the Army, those ideas got reinforced a thousand times over. It never occurred to me that the rest of the world might not be that way. By the time I was 23, I just assumed that was how the world worked.
How did that belief impact my life? I had a bad attitude. I resented people in authority. I was belligerent to every supervisor I ever had, combative and argumentative. I relied on being a hard worker to get me up the corporate ladder, never realizing that I was a horrible employee, and a horrible teammate. And of course, I got passed over every time, and that just made me more resentful. I created a self-fulfilling prophesy situation, and I didn’t even know it.
It wasn’t just bosses that I had a problem with, it was anyone who had control over anything in my life that went wrong. If the phone company screwed something up, I took it personal. If a cop pulled me over, I had to make sure he knew that I wasn’t impressed with him, even though I was shaking like a leaf. If someone cut me off in traffic, it just further proved to me that I didn’t matter, and the whole world knew it and went out of their way to shit on me. And that made me angry. It all made me so very angry.
I was 45 when I went to therapy this time. 45 years old, and I finally got down to the center of why those seemingly minor events always pushed me over the edge. Those things that my parents taught me about myself became my truth: I’m not good enough, I’m a piece of garbage, I don’t matter, my efforts will fall short. I hated those concepts, but I never doubted them for a second. And I unconsciously lived my life for 45 years with that as my operating code.
My therapist did EMDR trauma therapy with me, and we took every one of those events apart and dismantled the belief system that my child-self had constructed. We looked at those events with an adult perspective and figured out what was really happening, and I finally understood the truth. It was never me. It was never me that wasn’t good enough, it was my parents. They were the broken people in that situation. I worked hard, I accomplished amazing things, and I never gave up. That’s not a failure, that’s a success!
My therapist helped me change my whole understanding of who I am, and who I’ve always been. She helped me form a positive opinion about myself. I can’t tell you how good that feels. It’s amazing.
So here’s my truth: My name is Justin B. Long. I’m proud of who I am. I forgive myself for not knowing better, sooner. I forgive myself for becoming a raging alcoholic, because it was a natural response to my childhood. I’m proud of myself for breaking out of that cycle of destruction and building a new, positive life. I’m proud of myself for seeking help. I’m proud of who I am today, and I’m excited about who I’ll be five years from now. Because it just keeps getting better!
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J. Boyd Long is an author, blogger, website developer, and the CFO of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. In his spare time (ha!) he likes to paint, read, canoe, and hike in the wilderness. You can subscribe to this blog in the blue block, and future blogs will be delivered to your email. Warning: Subscribing may increase your awesomeness quotient. Please feel free to comment, and share this blog on your favorite social media page! To learn more, please visit JBoydLong.com.