It is possible to survive what may seem like the worst of circumstances. Here are a few of the worst I've survived.
Self-survival can depend on and occur in many manners for different people. We are all unique, and therefore there are always small nuanced adoptions of anyone's life survival hacks.
Mindfulness, I have found, is a key component to building your own rules and characterizations to clear those truly difficult and emotionally draining hurdles.
Dad Taught Me One Thing
Our parents and our upbringing are both major adjunctives of each other in creating your personality as a child, and how you will live and get by as an adult.
My parents weren't the best of parents. My dad probably would have ended up serving time, if it weren't the 70s, for his brutal nature when he was angry. He could be both verbally and physically abusive.
He had other bad traits, but his good traits far outweighed his bad, and as he aged, he became like Santa Claus to all of us, and my kids. It's always a beautiful thing when people can change for the better.
Well, the one thing Dad taught me that is finally setting in four decades later, is to take everything with a grain of salt and only concentrate on what matters.
Three Times I Faced Horrible Odds
Child and peer abuse
I will attempt to make this one short because 7 years is a long time to cover.
Beginning at the age of 5, or at least that's when my memories begin, Dad became a bit of a tyrant. He beat me and my younger brother many nights because we didn't go to sleep right away, or he could hear us talking, whispering, playing, and if that disturbed his tv watching or sleeping, The Beast would emerge.
Other times this beast showed up, was when we did something wrong, or if we were blamed for something by another sibling, or he was teaching us something (piano, voice, how to act in public, driving, etc.).
I can laugh at this photograph now, but when you're a child, it's no laughing matter.
Pittling along between 5 and 12 years old, I also dealt with two brothers, school, and neighborhood peers always picking on me, pushing me, hitting me, and downright terrorizing me. I was the outcast everywhere I went, except at church, where being a singer saved the day.
Girls and Tourette Syndrome
Boy did I like girls. Starting from the age of 6, I was constantly infatuated with the most beautiful girl in my neighborhood, or at school.
Every time I got close to someone I liked, they would take notice of my tics and guttural sounds. I'd end up being picked on. No one knew what Tourette was, and it ran in the male side of my family, and I had it the worst.
Once I reached the age of girls wanting to get to know me a little better than I was ready to, several broke up with me and I didn't know why then. I figured it out some years later, of course.
Tourette lingered with me for decades. It showed up when my nerves were the worst. I even got heckled on 47th st., because while walking I was flicking my head (one of my long-lived tics). This guy passing me yells back to me, "You're not all that, give me a break," as if I was being snooty, or something.
I was still picked on as an adult for these tics, and they'd even show up on stage, once I'd been doing a show long enough not to think about them.
Robbed In NYC
My third example, and only three of many, is when I tried to sublet a two-bedroom on the Upper East Side of NYC in 1993.
Someone called and asked to see the apartment. Only one of two guys that were supposed to come showed up. He was older, friendly, and seemed to be well-to-do. He was dressed nicely, glasses, a nice cap on.
After we chatted a little, waiting for his friend to show up, he got a phone call. It sounded like he was letting the other guy know I was there, and that we were waiting for him.
Five minutes later, my door was knocked on, and when I answered two men were standing there. One of them was over 6 foot 5 easily, and the other a young skinny kid.
For some reason, my stomach told me right away that something wasn't right. But, I let them in, to be nice, and hoped for the best.
They did not have the best intentions, however. The large man put his hand around my mouth and put a gun to my head, as the older gentleman asked me questions about how much money I had in the bank, and to give him my bank card and PIN and if I lied, the man with the gun would kill me.
The old man left, the large gentleman took me into an empty bedroom and handcuffed me shirtless, around the hot water pole that ran up through the room. We chatted, and I made it my purpose to get out of this alive.
The young chap roamed around my apartment with a large plastic black bag and rounded up all my electronics. They heard a beep outside some minutes later, and the kid came into the room and told the big guy to "off me".
The big guy came to like me, and I'll discuss that later, and so they put duct tape around my mouth, and left, leaving my front door ajar.
How Did Mindfulness Play Into These Situations?
Mindfulness has existed forever. The Greeks were probably the first to show examples of such, yet for some reason, we think we've come up with this great technique and then put a name to it, in the 21st Century.
Mindfulness is basically, taking a step back from a situation in your mind, utilizing important breathing techniques, taking yourself out of the situation, and putting someone else in it, to imagine what you might say or do for that person to help them manage it.
Mindfulness is using your intelligence, instead of your emotions, and actually, becoming emotionally intelligent. This has taken me 46 out of 51 years to master, but the ability was always there, and it sure saved me. How? Read on...
Okay, so what 6-year-old knows about mindfulness, right?
We don't at that age. Even, most adults don't understand it, and it is a simple thing to explain, but oh, such a difficult concept to grasp and put into action when you're in the midst of a bad situation.
The only way I had as a child to escape so much damaging treatment to my heart, soul, and personality, was finding time in the woods behind my house, just about every day, and using it to see things in a bigger picture.
The woods helped me recognize that the world had so much more to offer than what I was experiencing in my home and everywhere else, but alone.
I used this alone time to learn to love things. Nature, and especially animals. I spent hours walking or sitting and talking to animals as small as the tadpoles I'd find in streams, or the frogs, the raccoons, the squirrels.
They were my best friends in my mind. Strange, I suppose, but by doing this consistently, I learned that even if I had to go it alone to defeat something that was bringing me down, I could do so.
I strengthened my faith in myself, though until I was 12, I was still scared of everybody. I used the problems I ran into in the woods to learn how to problem-solve. I built a chincy cabin with long pieces of felled trees, and I helped animals I thought were in trouble, and I learned that survival on your own is very possible.
I just had to survive humans. Well, the humans I'd come to know in my youth, anyway.
It all came to a head when I was 12 and had enough of the neighborhood bully. I found him picking on my brother, and for some odd reason, when I wasn't the one being picked on, I always became some kind of protector. Some kind of personality trait, that has never gone away.
I'd run into a burning building to save a life, but if I had to jump from a burning building to save my life, my mind handles those two instances, quite differently.
I hurt that kid badly. Enough to send him to the hospital. Luckily, it was the early 80s, and even dads could get away with beating you up, so I was in no major trouble.
My mom yelled at me, and dad cheered me on. As I mentioned before...awesome parents.
Since we all have something we carry into our adulthoods, I must admit, this is the one. Sure, as an adult, it became secondary, and I didn't dwell on my tics as I did when I was young. But, they would still become the focus of some dolt's attention, and I'd have to defend or explain myself.
Honestly, I'm not sure mindfulness ever helped me get over this one. Tourette and my tics irked me until they disappeared in 2018. My brothers lucked out. They grew out of it in their 20s and 30s. Dad, lived with it until he passed.
This was a case where no matter how much mindfulness I used, whether it was education, calming techniques, forgiving myself, and forgiving others, I never really got over it and was constantly frustrated and upset.
I say this so that you don't read that I think I have all the answers through mindfulness. I don't. Who does? There will always be something that nags at you your whole life, and it takes a lot of work to deal with it.
Accepting things about yourself is a very large first step. Realizing, there is nothing wrong with your personality, or your make-up as a human being, just because you have an incurable disease, and was hardly understood at some point in history.
This one was a life or death situation. After the robbery, helping the officers apprehend the culprits, and picking them out of a book of photos, and a video that captured the old man at the bank atm taking my money, they told me that these men's M.O. was killing 50% of the people they robbed over two years.
Yeah, I gulped hard on that one. But, here is how I did it.
Once the big guy had me alone, and my nerves died down a bit, I struck up a simple conversation with the man, treating him like a normal human being.
I told him I understood what they had to do, and went into detail about why I believed they needed to commit this crime, and that I supported them.
Okay, I lied, a little.
But, he began to talk with me. He asked me what I do, and it was then I felt I had a chance for survival. I told him I was an actor.
He got all excited and asked if he'd seen me in anything. I joked, and said, not unless you like Broadway shows, or have watched Law & Order or As The World Turns.
He bellowed out, "OMG. I love As The World Turns. When were you on it?"
The conversation continued from there, and I made him a friend. I told him I cared about him and his partners and the lives they've been forced to live by the government and racism.
He loved it.
Acceptance and keeping your calm
Throughout 51 years of life, and so, so many tough and horrid instances, I have come to realize that you must first accept your circumstance, and stop denying it, or trying to figure out why someone is treating you the way they are, or why they are "wronging" you.
You can't fix them. You can't deter them, most of the time, and you can't fixate on the pain, nor put yourself down, and most of all, you can't fall into a deep hole that you will never climb out of, emotionally or socially.
You must look deep inside your soul. Figure out who YOU are, and focus on that. Use your good qualities, your talents, your intelligence, your heart and soul, and just be who you are.
Then, discover what it is about yourself you can change, that you recognize are not the best qualities in a person. Once you are settled on who you are, and bold about it, and proud of it, then you can talk and think your way out of almost everything that is a problem in your life.
Mindfulness, thinking deeply, taking a much bigger picture from above the situation, as I like to put it, gives you a clearer map of how to tackle the difficulties in your life, and by doing so, you find that your emotions subside more and more over time, and you become more socially active and confident, as you learn to do this in split seconds if you have to.
Someone in a group says something that upsets you, and it may even be aimed at you. Don't immediately get mad, or upset. Breath, think, create a mature and proper reply, or salvation and then put forth your best foot, and words, and suddenly, your world will begin to change when others see your confidence and recognize you are a leader, and not a follower, or someone who will harm them.
Calm the waves of your ocean, and keep your chin up!
Previously published on Vocal
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