Thursday, September 11, 2008

Northern Exposure ( a very personal blog)

It is true, I can't walk, well or much. But that is not my disability.

It is true, I can't bend, well or much. But that is not my disability.

It is true, I use a wheelchair, a reacher and an adapted bus. And as I do these things I can see people classify me in their heads. They think they see my disability. They're wrong.

I only began using a wheelchair three years ago.

I've beev disabled all my life. I did not enter humanity easily. Coming from a home where violence ruled, where hope was stranged by and angry mother, where expectations were cut off at the knee. Where my mother's major goal in parenting was to have me finally get the answer right to her most common question, "Who do you think you are?" The right answer, "No one."

Carrying the weight of parental disapproval and disappointment would wear out any set of legs. But, as adulthood came along, as life's current took me far from the spawning grounds, I found that I simply couldn't shake the constant feelings of inadequacy, of inferiority, the words used to my face at birth, to my back at leaving, stayed with me. Stupid, ugly, they were what began tirades ... you'll never amount to anything ... were the words that would end them.

Fear isn't an emotions, it's a crushing disability.

Even now, when something goes wrong, those words pound, pound, pound in my head. I keep on, struggle to go on, but the beat of those words is strong. It's even worse when things go well, when my first book was published I had such fear that I would be exposed as a fraud, that others would know that I type but do not write. Then other books followed. Each book I was sure to be my last. Each book happening out of chance.

Anxiety isn't a way of life, it's the way of death.

But it's the lectures where I have most difficulty. I have always had terrors of public speaking, it is a shock to me - and to those who knew me from childhood - that I ended up talking in front of an audience. I entered adulthood as shy as the day is long, I didn't want to center myself out. Didn't want to be seen. Being seen led invariably to being hurt.

Nerves clog my mind and I become convinced that I am going to embarrass myself. This gets worse and worse, the longer between lectures, the more painful this is. When I'm lecturing day after day like B.C coming up, like England in November, I get into a ritual and a routine, these protect me from the insecurities a little bit.

So yesterday I was in Adrian Michigan. I hadn't given a lecture in over a month. As we drove to Adrian, fears visited me. I could hear my mother's voice jeering me. Taunting me that I would look stupid ... and, after all, 'who do you think you are?'

Joe knows all this so he gives me support quietly. I sat there in front of all these highly expectent faces. Felt their desire for me to begin. Felt their trust in me to give them what they needed.

It was these voices that called out my best, drowned out the fears. And I was off. The day ended with a wonderful success. In the car on the way home Joe said, 'It begins' and he's right, today I'm doing a lecture for the people over to visit Vita from the British Isles. Next week Manuela and I are doing a lecture, for the first time, on how to create a safe agency for people to live in ... the fall lecture season is here. And I am now ready to greet it.

Thanks, Adrian.


wendy said...

Some scars never heal, do they? I know a little about that and I feel for the parts of you that are still being abused by that mother-voice in your head.
I can tell you who hundreds, probably thousands, of people think you are. We think you are brilliant and gifted and powerful in your teaching and your advocacy, inspiring in your life and your work, a hand that reaches out to those who have suffered their own abuse and humiliation. That's not the life and work of "nobody". Tell your mother voice I said so...better yet, tell her yourself!

Cynthia said...

Words hurt terribly, especially coming from those who are supposed to love us unconditionally. What happened to you was a terrible betrayal of the trust of a child for his mother. I hate that her words have echoed so painfully in your mind for so long. Your mother couldn't see your potential, couldn't see you. We see what you have become. You are Amazing! You have a gift at writing (you say typing...same thing, these days) and at speaking. You have made a huge positive difference in many many lives, all over the world. You are brave because you keep going, and keep trying even with this fear that was instilled in you.
And I have a strong feeling Joe thinks you are much more as well.
I'm glad you are finding your way through this, despite these echoes.
Next time she wants the "nobody" answer, tell her she is wrong, tell her!

Belinda said...

I too, heard, "Who do you think you are?" and, I am afraid that I have probably said it. Scripts don't only play in our heads they also come out of our mouths.

They are terrible words and exactly the opposite of, "You are someone. You are irreplacable and unique and you matter to the world." That's the message I wish all of us could absorb.

Anonymous said...


This a battle i personally fight on a daily basis i hope as my career grows that i am able to face my Fears with the courage you do!!

lina said...

I think Belinda put it best.
Words we have to fight off in our own heads, but can slip out of our mouths - sometimes too easily.
"You are wonderful and irreplaceable", should be shouted at the top of our voices to all those we love.

Shan said...

Thank God I have no idea what you're talking about, in any real sense. My parents gave me strength and courage by loving me unconditionally and never, never abusing me. Reading this post, it reminds me what a tremendous gift it really was, and how important to pass it along to the next generation.

John R. said...

Dave......I was given the same tirades and disgusting disapproval from my mom. The tapes run every day. I have slowly and steadily learned that those tapes can be turned "down" at least. You are totally in good company in terms of hearing Mom. My mom has been dead for 20 years and her voice still resonates at different times each day.

This mantra may help you....

I am an adult. My mom is not my boss.

It seems to help me.....

You are in good company.

It is amazing how powerful our parents can be!!

Cynthia said...

Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are your own fears.
Rudyard Kipling

Anonymous said...

David, Adrian thanks you! You made Wednesday, September 10 a very good day for the 61 direct-care providers who attended your morning lectures. The responses have been extraordinarily positive. So too for the afternoon groups. THANK YOU! Bill

Kei said...

Fears cultivated during development are rarely ever truly shaken off. Dealt with, yes, but so often are triggered by sometimes subtle occurences. The damage brought on by a demeaning parent during those crucial early developmental years are the worst of all.

What you've done, what you've accomplished, and who you have become show that you did not let her succeed in crushing the beautiful soul that you are.

"Who do you think you are?" Well, from my view you are someone that connects with people, whether they have disabilites or not, whether they know and love someone with disabilities or not. You show compassion, empathy, support, and wit. You help people find their own voice, recognize their own accomplishments, and reassure them that they are not alone.

And you've provided a much needed morning blog fix to this mom.

Anonymous said...

Dave...I've just spent the whole day delivering your 'Ethics of Touch' training. are turning intellectual light bulbs on without even being in the room. I hope I did you justice and that practice is changing because of you.

You never, ever fail to inspire and amaze me. You are such a gift...whatever has made you who and what you are. The fact that you continue to talk, write and teach, when it isn't easy for you, just makes you more admirable.

Keep rockin'. ;-)

Michelle Hoffman said...

Dave - you may not remember me - it's been over 10 years since we presented together in Oklahoma - but I want you to know that you had a huge impact on my soul.

I know about the tapes and how damaging they can be - and how difficult it is to dig them out - I once read a passge by an author talking about her mother's critical acid affect and she said "it's like I need to reach down my mother's throat and pull the crystalized pin out of her stomach in order to cut yourself free".

I thought that was an incredibly powerful description...

Tonight when I meditate I will meditate on all the "tapes" of the world melting to ash and returning as fresh air.

Anonymous said...

So many of us have similar stories from childhood. I think it is no coincidence that a lot of us with those stories end up in the helping professions. By helping others heal we are healing ouselves. While my early years were filled with every sort of abuse one can imagine, my adult years have been committed to helping, encouraging, and empowering those who need my voice. As a child I had no voice. I was powerless over the evil that swirled around me and threatened to kill my soul. Today I am strong and powerful when helping others. The time of terrorism is over...except within my own mind, usually late at night when I am alone inside my head. Then those old voices do come back. Here is what I say to them...Thank you for sharing but SHUT THE HELL UP! Yes I am damaged and I walk with an emotional limp but BY GOD I WALK!

Dave, I know that you are aware of how a lot of people feel about you. I am sometimes envious of those who know you face to face. I wish we knew each other face to face because I think you would be a great friend.
You are valuble to this world and it is sad that there were those who didn't see that value in you. Like a friend told me once, "I know I am valuble because God didn't make any junk!"

Anonymous said...

Dave, when you hear that question, "who do you think you are?" please remember to many of us you are... an inspiration, a mentor, a friend and a champion for people with disabilities.