Friday, February 08, 2013

Sex, Death, Love, and Other Lessons From 2012

Two minutes had passed since I’d made the hurried 911 call. My father lay flat on his back from when he collapsed, his large belly still and unmoving. I took a deep breath and pressed my mouth to his, and blew as hard as I could, trying to keep the life giving breath from escaping our lips. By the time a police officer in the area arrived to take over, my father was dead as best as I could tell. When the fire department EMTs arrived and hooked him up, he was clearly flatlined.

I stood and just watched as they continued providing CPR. Finally, they called it almost 45 minutes later. That’s when the shock began; not about whether he was dead, but what damage control I would have to do with my mother and my younger brother. I would have to do  it smoothly and with a definite detachment. I was happy that my younger brother, who had also been in the military, was there by the time our mother arrived—she was so distraught, there would never be a funeral, and it would take a year for her to go down to her family in Ecuador and do a Catholic mass for her husband…she’s actually there right now, doing so.

Something from way back had kicked in for me back then. It was that response we, those who have been in harm’s way, had not been taught. We just picked it up out of necessity. It was that mental skill of keeping the emotions down in order to accomplish a mission—I was back.

Returned to the Mean Green…

Cork and one of his indig counterparts

I was back alright. Within the week, I was back in a very, very bad place. Actually, I was back in a number of places and times for the next few weeks. There was a beautiful sunny day that I wished I had been down at the beach, surfing, only a few miles away. Instead I was in the shade of a mango tree, getting one indigenous soldier to hold a bag of saline, while I inserted the connecting line into the IV needle I had inserted into a vein of another who had tripped an IED and had his legs blown off just below his genitals. Then, there was the kid who had taken a 7.62 NATO round to the arm, halfway between the elbow and shoulder. The round took everything below off, and left a bloody mush of muscle and bone; a weak pulse sent a dribble of blood out of the unconscious boy’s limb. There were more instances; but thankfully, there were many more successful events in my combat life that started as a corpsman, and ended three years later as a team leader.

All of those moments have come back to me in daydreams, and twisted nightmares. But, in the later 1990s and throughout the first decade of the new millennium, they haunted me only when I was dealing with something so stressful in my present life. I was pretty much free of them, and had actually made them memories with which I had peace.

With my father’s death they came back with a traumatic vengeance. Like anyone who has experienced the shock of seeing friends and comrades killed and maimed horrifically, it's that hard to describe emotional Sensurround of hearing them scream, beg, and plead that really gets you—everyone who’s never been there, always ask what it’s like to see dead people: the dead people are easy, it’s the screamers that claw at your emotions...

Interestingly enough, I had also experienced something that I had never experienced before: survivor’s remorse, not at how my father had died, but that I had brought him back to life. Let me explain. Everyone who has been in combat or felt the loss of losing a loved one, has some form of survivor’s guilt. For those us who came back, but our combat buddies did not, it was the guilt for that very fact—it’s natural. My guilt toward bringing life to my father for only second was that he had collapsed so quickly, had he not been brought back to life; it would have been a smooth transition along what many of us imagine that “white light” to be. Had he been resuscitated, he would have had to live in a body that had been wracked by a relapse of cancer, and hip replacement (can you believe the doctors at Kaiser actually recommended a hip replacement to an unfit man in his early 80s, whose body was already fighting cancer through chemo?! Greed has many forms: it has taken down great republics and it has infected the medical field where they try to get every last cent out of you before you die...)

I had to really get my head around how my medical skills that had been refined in combat, were the same skills that prevented father from having a peaceful death. Shoot, I hope when I go, I have something as fast as his death would have been had I not gotten in the way—but how could I have not got in the way, right? It was my duty…and those are some of the things that wake us up out of a sound sleep, my friend.

Knock-knock-Knockin’ at Heaven’s Door

Two weeks after my father’s death, I got a telephone call from my rocker friend, Michael Riddle that our mutual friend and rock legend, Ronnie Montrose, had put a .38 to his temple and committed suicide. Ronnie and I were birthday brothers and had a mutual love of fishing. We had planned to go to his favorite fishing spot in the East Bay in our last conversation. I was floored when I got that call. After a number of professional trials after the really big years in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, he was once again going to ride a big wave of success—he was back with a whole slew of concerts planned that would have brought him back to those heydays.
Trout stream days for Ronnie and Cork

I tried to imagine why Ronnie would have done something like that. The original answer passed around was that his prostate cancer, the same cancer that had hit my dad, had also relapsed for Ronnie. It wasn’t until later that it was clear that his battle  with depression, as hits so many perfectionists, amplified by binge drinking, is was what led to that moment of calling his wife, seemingly joking about killing himself, and then laying back in his recliner, putting the muzzle up to his head and pulling the trigger. Personally, I think it was the fact that he was getting ready to have such a great return, that he looked at that, didn’t want to go through the inevitable dip after the rise that had been so rough over the last years, and it made him think it was better to go out with the visions in his mind’s eye of all this wonderful greatness that lay in front of him.

It was at Ronnie’s funeral at Native Hunt Ranch that we ceremoniously burned Ronnie’s recliner and said our goodbyes. I hadn’t cried for the dead in a long time—not even when my dad died: I couldn't with all the demands on my energy and attention. That day at the ranch, I cried not only for a lost friend but a lost father.

…Then SHE came in to my life

As luck would have it, bad luck, something from my past also came back—a very strong “savior” mentality (you may have read about it in my 2004 bestselling memoir, instilled by seeing the Vietnam War up close as a child, and my father killing my pet white rabbit in front of me), which resulted in me getting into a six-month relationship with a woman that I normally I would have avoided like the plague. You know the kind: there’s an immediate mutual attraction, the sex is pretty good, you see that glimmer of light in their eyes that makes it seem as though your souls are connected, and you think, you pray, that if you just do everything right, somehow,’ll be happy together, forever and ever. I had long thought I had gotten over that part of myself when I was in my twenties, just returned from war, before I realized that the savior mentality is really just an attempt to fix the world, instead of just working on ourselves first.

I’d already gone through something similar, right after my return from the war, in 1989, and even proposed to her, as though by proposing things would change, and we would both get better: we were deep into the symptoms of PTSR—mine from combat, hers from sexual abuse as a child.

I’d done my work, so that was why I never could have imagined that within a couple weeks of my father’s death and then Ronnie’s, I found myself in that relationship with a woman (let’s call her SuzyQ for legal reasons, and my own personal entertainment) that greatly appealed to that savior mentality.

Originally, I had avoided SuzyQ. But, what I expressed as playful avoidance, she took as playful banter. What was worse was that I didn’t ask for her telephone number, which really got her panties in a twist, as it often does with any attractive women who have a big ego and following of men—and expect the rest to immediately fawn over them. Thing was that I really didn’t want to interact further: something about still thinking about someone, my father, dying in my arms such a short while ago, kind of makes most people withdraw for a while for perspective—I went to the party to just not get too lost in the shock and depression… What she took as being standoffish, and surprisingly a challenge to her ego, was really me just wanting to enjoy our mutual friend’s birthday party in a relaxed environment, even if I’d felt slightly withdrawn for the last two weeks—the emotional impact of my father’s death, and breakup with my partner of 15 years (we’ll call her Rochelle to avoid the same legal ramifications, as she’ll figure into this story later), just two weeks prior were finally starting to sink in…

SuzyQ was pretty, and she had that kind of childlike quality that most other men consider the attraction cincher. You know the kind, they appeal greatly to the “protector gene” in all men. But, part of that childlike quality was her voice, which was so high pitched it drove me up the wall. Not until just a few months after the end of what would become a six-month relationship with SuzyQ did I learn how certain hormone levels can be affected by repeated rejection, and how that change in hormones leads to that high pitched tone, which explained my  initial reaction of avoidance. What I thought was goodbye that night turned into her stalking me through Facebook…imagine that!

That’s the thing about sexual attraction. It has this ability to surmount what our logical mind tells us, which was an emphatic: STAY AWAY! We hooked up and what should have just been a quick, very physical affair, turned into days, weeks and months, an emotional one where “I love yous” were exchanged. But, what became clear was transference. Even though she’s two years older than me, emotionally, she reminded me of myself, but twenty years ago, before I started a very solid path of self-awareness, and introspection—doing the work on my post-traumatic stress and major rage I had when I came back from fighting in Central America. That’s not to say she didn’t also do the same. Considering how traumatic her own childhood, teens and early twenties had been, how could she not feel a need to do some kind of self-work? But, that’s where our similarities diverged.

She read all the right books about relationships and self-awareness—after all, her own mother was a published author and respected therapist, in the field of family counseling. What SuzyQ didn’t seem to get, or it was more likely just too painful to accept, was the emotional understanding of what those books were trying to communicate. In order to do that, the reader has to do some pretty profound ego restructuring, and with her, as much as I had to do with my father, and mother, for taking me to Vietnam, as I wrote about in THE BAMBOOCHEST, she would have to forgive, forgive a lot.

The problem about ego, which is actually an important part of the human psyche to have, as it’s what protects and defines our character on this physical plane we call LIFE, is that when it becomes a beast unto itself, as it often does with those traumatized throughout their life, is that it prevents full self-awareness and reveals itself in the subject having a profound inability to forgive, and interestingly enough, to apologize, or take responsibility for dark deeds that others would have to forgive.

Within two weeks of the start of our romantic relationship, she was telling me about her previous two boyfriends and how much they had taken away from her. Most importantly, she told me how she was going to get them back…But, you  know me, maybe because I’ve always felt that there was nothing as bad as war, I’d seen war: I even started calling SuzyQ, “My sweet little Irish banshee,” what with that long, full brown hair, hazel eyes, and the wildness she had--Boy, oh boy…!

How in the world did you get into this?!

It gets better…
In reaction to how SuzyQ’d been rejected and betrayed by her previous boyfriends, I was a prime target for her increasing unrestrained anger, as I try to keep a friendship with the healthy former girlfriends of my past. Before, I wouldn’t do that, and that was why I used to be like SuzyQ: angry, vindictive, jealous, and avoiding my previous loves. But, I thought about it, and if they weren’t a headcase, and it wasn’t just physical attraction, meaning if we really had feelings for each other, shouldn’t there be a peaceful and friendly rapport, even if the breakup wasn’t so amicable? It was that wise realization twenty years ago that enabled me to have friendly relations with my girlfriends before my fifteen-year relationship with Rochelle, for which I hold responsible for my lasting that long in such a relationship: it would have been over in six months, at the most, had I not.

Instead of rejoicing in that fact that I didn’t have animosity, or major baggage, against any of my previous deep relationships, all I got was grief and jealousy-filled condemnations: according to SuzyQ, it was impossible to have a platonic friendship with anyone with whom I had previously had a romantic relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I wished and outright asked SuzyQ to contact her previous boyfriends, and just make peace with them—or at least make peace privately, forgive them for whatever slights she thought they’d committed and release all that anger she carried...Not only that, I was also asking her to make peace with her father and mother. That was the last straw. From then on there was no question where this relationship was going in her eyes.

But, it should have been clear to me long before, when I learned that she had been out of work for more than three years, and while paying $2,500 a month to keep a façade going. Yep, her identity revolved around the pretense that she had pulled herself from poverty, put herself through school, got an MBA from one of the more prestigious business schools and had risen to level of CFO in one of the fields that was still making a lot of money in the present twisted economy. Still, she lost that job for some dark mysterious reason…another red flag…and it was everyone else’s fault, according to her. It was always everyone else’s fault...

I can’t tell you how many of the clients I had to deal with as a drug and alcohol rehab counselor in the seven years I worked for Friendship House Association of American Indians in San Francisco, after I came back from Alaska in 1991, telling me that it was everyone else’s fault: the government, their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, their family, their society…the list was always long for why they were in their pickle. For SuzyQ, it was her parents, their divorce, her mother’s post-divorce lesbian experimentation while SuzyQ was a teen, and her father’s rejection of her.

Takes Two to Tango…to UNLEASH THAT DRAGON

Now I could have said the reason we didn’t work out was that she was a hypocritical, lying, psycho bitch. After all, when I’d finally had enough of her nagging and complaints—she would actually ridicule me for my military experience, for its life-threatening qualities, as though I had gone to war solely out of bravado [instead of the fact that, I was privy to the very real threat to the US, and as a result felt it was the right thing to do] and even denigrated my mother who was still mourning her husband just a few months gone—about how I wasn’t putting anything into the relationship, and then she, breaking her own rule to me(not that I would ever want to--if you have to go through your lover's phone, what's the point of going on?) by going into my cellphone and dialing my ex-girlfriend, who she’d actually demanded I not talk to, getting into a shouting match with her over the phone.

I grabbed my phone, and par for course, SuzyQ launched into a one-sided punching match as I prepared to leave. I thought she was just angry as I made preparations to leave by putting my clothes on and slipping on my cowboy boots. What I didn’t really get at the time was she was actually trying to get me to stay and  talk with her—unable to communicate verbally under intense emotional stress, other than the way she must have learned subconsciously by watching her birth mother and father go at it when she was young, she stood between me and the door and even jumped on my back and got me in a neck hold, which I got out of, while trying to lay her to the ground without too much impact to her butt.

When I left, I thought it was finally over, but then using her honed stalking techniques, and one of the many online credit check services, SuzyQ got Rochelle’s home number, calling to leave NINE messages on her phone…telling Rochelle that she was delusional, and that she should listen to SuzyQ, because she had a $2,500 a month condo and an MBA (forget that she hadn’t worked for years, and traded an initial dream of becoming a veterinarian for the short-term, and very conditional reward of only financial wealth)—Ironically, if she’d stayed with the vet school dream, she’d actually have had the personal well-being AND the wealth. Funny isn’t it, how so many of we humans use our titles and amount of wealth and university education to qualify who we are…as if who we are, and what we say, isn’t enough?

Right after rattling off her titles, she then offered her own number for Rochelle to call back if she’d like to…Call back?! Like she’d never met my ex, and after SuzyQ had called to insult her, she was expecting Rochelle to call her back and they’ll be like buds?!

Never a dull moment in my life…and whatever fears SuzyQ had about me rehooking up with my ex were made real as I tried to do damage control for an innocent bystander who was caught in the crossfire.

Now I could be like SuzyQ, and say it was all her fault, that I had nothing to do with it—I found out later from my friends that she was telling everyone it was my entire fault we didn’t work out, that Rochelle was always my girlfriend, throughout my relationship with SuzyQ...Rochelle was just appalled that I had even gotten hooked up with someone carrying as much “baggage” as SuzyQ—“With your background, you should have known better,” Rochelle said.

When I later told a friend what had happened, he said, “you’ve got to watch this!” He inserted a DVD called BITS AND PIECES, and before me played a shortened version of my six month relationship, as depicted by the comedian Pablo Francisco, in his PSYCHO CHICKS shtick.


Pablo Francisco: “Psycho chicks, Psychos!.. I think it’s after you have sex with them that you UNLEASH THAT DRAGON..’Cause you know a girl who’s psycho…and you haven’t had sex with them, they’re really nice, aren’t they?”

The part about how SuzyQ was pleasant, and friendly and even charismatic…until sex was entered into. Then that dragon was unleashed…!

It gave me an opportunity to see how much psychological abuse I had put myself through—in the last three month of her nagging, I would actually say, “STOP!! Tell me something good about me—why in the hell are you in a relationship with me if you all you do is browbeat me?”

She didn’t get it: she was worse on herself, comparing herself to her younger sister, who was married with two kids, and seemingly happy.  It was jealousy that made her repeatedly tell herself she was a loser…which made me wonder where was the woman who had achieved all she had achieved before her fall. By becoming intimate with her, I had put myself in the same pot of water she had put herself in to boil.

After the DVD was over, and the laughter died down I was left with: how did this all happen?! One of the first things you learn, whether in the news, business and military intelligence world, is that most often, all you have to do is let the subject talk, and they’ll tell you just about everything you need to know. As a human species, we can’t help it. We need to communicate. The problem is that there’s what’s being said, and then, there’s what we hear. We all have our filters that let us listen, but only hear what we want to hear. Even the best interrogators are always working on this innate quality of ourselves —in reality, even for the most jaded, we all want the world to be a better place. In so doing, we ignore a lot.

Attraction made me do some really crazy things: stay in a relationship when it was clear it was over from the very first time I was nominated as the emotional punching bag for all her rage at her parents, past relationships, and life, putting myself in a scenario that if I were a woman, and SuzyQ was a man, would have been easily labeled psychological abuse. She even used that manipulative tool adulterous spouses use to cover their tracks by saying the other one is screwing around on them…beware a woman who seeks the love of her distant and abusive father by keeping a following of adoring men, hoping and wishing to replace that love, somehow, some way.

What was it in my psyche that had taken such hold of me that I felt compelled to week after week drive over to her place, still mad as hell at her from our last conversation, and then it all seemed to fade by the time we were in bed? I can still remember me driving and saying to myself, “Why in the hell are you going down to her?! She’s mean, vindictive and nuts!” …but, there I’d go. And there’d she be...

It’s easy to say it was just a savior mentality, which along with a specific sexual attraction, was keeping me going back for more sex and abuse. It was almost like that old conditioning tool of using pain and pleasure to train a subject. Not that SuzyQ could have actually thought it out like that, as the relationship was just too unpredictable. When we understand the meaning of “physician heal thyself” is when the meaning of “savior mentality” is clear. Emotionally very similar, though years apart, I felt that I had to impart my wisdom. What was really happening was that I was trying to fix the world. More importantly, I was trying to fix myself, through her. How’s that for transference?!

Throw in the fact that SuzyQ often showed the stereotypical symptoms of post-traumatic stress, backed up by a number of traumatic incidents she revealed to me from her past, and I easily saw myself as I was when I came back for the last time from war. When I looked at her, I would often think how much of an angry terror I must have seemed to my girlfriends and then my fiancé at the time. I was a different man back then. I was a very, very angry man. Thing was that I got the tools. Instead of just looking at those tools from a very removed, logical mind point of view, I processed them from a very logical AND very emotional place. It was painful—forgiveness, remorse, and acceptance were the rewards, and trials. SuzyQ never did that, and when it became evident she never would while I was with her, I finally l had to say enough.

Lemonade Out of Lemons

It took me awhile to process what had happened. How did I get into a relationship with a woman who had so much baggage, and who had actually stalked me using Facebook? Interestingly, I realized that her stalking had appealed to me. The act of chasing is as primitive as mankind. Normally, though, it’s the man’s role to do the chasing. This is why women sit at bars and parties with their friends, with the deep hope that one of the attractive guys in the place will come up and say hello.

When a woman reverses the roles, it offers a man the opportunity to feel that feeling of excitement, the feeling of being wanted, that makes the more traditional response so exciting to not only the woman, but also the man. It often ends up as a story told to friends and family about how the couple met.

There was also another reason, kind of a dark reason, but one that I theorized was also working in favor of this attraction, and that is that there is a quality of combat that many don’t like to admit to those who’ve never been in combat, and that is that while we often hunt during war, we are also hunted. Those are the facts of search and destroy and search and capture, of which I had first-hand knowledge on very many occasions. It’s extremely exciting. There’s an old saying about “The Most Dangerous Game” and that has always been the hunting of Man. The fact that the other guy is hunting you is a big part of the rush, and one of the reasons many who used to hunt recreationally before they went to war, especially if they did so more as a challenge, instead of for table meat, often don’t hunt after they come back from war.

Still, there is that excitement of feeling pursued, and I think that was another reason I fed into the attraction, and even carried on with the romance and risk of emotions…

The key that I had to remember, and yet had forgotten, is that we all have experience and training. Some of it generic. Some of it very specialized and unique. What's hard is to do, but so important, is to remember this when our emotions from the subconscious parts of our mind are up, and they bypass the logical safeguards of the conscious mind, leading us to some very painful and self-destructive behaviors. To find out more about this amazing quality of our minds, and the conflict between emotions and logic, between what see and what we don't want to see, watch my latest FREE recording of my webinar on lie detection at GCT Magazine, by following this link: THE HUMAN LIE DETECTOR

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