I started playing guitar when I was a kid. A friend showed me some chords and from there I taught myself to play. For years I was probably better at air guitar than I was at actually playing 🙂 Thankfully, I got better over time and had the chance to play in some great bands over the years. I love playing songs and how it puts me in an altered state, gives me goosebumps and leaves me feeling totally uplifted and connected.
Although I started writing songs in my teens, I didn’t have the courage or confidence as a kid to make music my profession. I had a pretty difficult childhood that left me feeling worthless and unwanted. Looking back now, I had to face the darkness first. Everything I’d been through in my childhood, the abandonment I experienced, the worthlessness I took on, it was all essential. All of it led toward learning to love myself, to open my heart, and to know how to care for the hearts of others.
The journey of healing led me into the mental health profession, like it often does for people, 🙂 and to graduate school for psychology. I had a private practice for two decades and, during that time, founded GoodTherapy.org and built it into one of the largest psychotherapy resources. When I was a kid, some power-abusing therapists had really hurt my mom and, no exaggeration, broke my family into pieces. So with GoodTherapy.org I really wanted to encourage ethical, healthier forms of therapy and to support those therapists who work collaboratively with people and perceive the adaptivity and strengths, even within the destructive aspects of people.
Then in 2017 my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and it completely changed the direction of my life. It was a huge, beautifully difficult, mid-life crisis for me. The misfortune of my mom getting sick led to an unexpected gift, a silver lining, forcing me to take a trust fall with my life and start Waking Bear.
The intention with our shows is really to celebrate this life, to celebrate together with our audience. Through our songs and through these deeply personal stories about our own struggles, we want to show people, remind people, that life is always working out if we let it.
On the deepest level the misfortunes we experience serve us. There are these beautiful, unpredictable gifts borne out of our suffering. Not to minimize how painful things can feel sometimes. But at some point after the shock of suffering, if we can grieve, if we can hold self compassion, we just might have a choice, to either feel victimized and righteous about what happened OR to trust that any difficult struggle will be the birth of something wonderful.
My journey is an example of how misfortune can be such a birth.
When I was five years-old my little brother and I were separated from my parents. We didn’t see them for over a year. We didn’t have anyone nurturing or warm in our corner.
I was burdened with huge attachment wounds. I felt unlovable, unwanted and spent ages 5 and 6 in sadness. To survive the pain, I became fiercely independent, I detached from the outer world, was often drifting in my imagination, dissociated, alone, lost; all my feelings bottled up.Inside I felt worthless, unloved, unloveable and not welcome on the planet.
In grade school I was off in my own imagination, failing academically, often in trouble. In first grade I spent hours in the school bathroom throwing paper towel wads at the ceiling to see how long they would stick. In second grade I would spend recess cussing at people walking down the sidewalk outside the school. In third grade I would sometimes ditch school with the older kids, following them around the neighborhood, breaking into houses, eating people’s food. In third grade I was finally expelled for punching our principal in the nose.
During my teen years and my 20’s I was unconsciously looking to be cared for by teachers, coaches, mentors, girlfriends. I wanted to be loved, seen, approved and wanted. I was seeking redemption outside of myself.
I spent years blaming my parents and wishing they were different, rather than looking at myself or tending to my own broken heart. Of course all I ever wanted was to feel that my mom loved me, and for her to be the safe, maternal and loving mom that I always needed.
Therapy saved my life. It helped to mend my heart. Over time I shifted from trying to get the love I wanted from others to having self-compassion and learning to tend to the hurt parts of me.
At some point, I no longer needed my mom or my dad to apologize for what happened. I no longer needed redemption from my parents. I was able to redeem myself, to feel the great love, and to feel wanted and welcome on this planet.
My compassion and love for others grew. I could see that everyone was and is and always have been doing the best they can, my mom included.
And then something incredible happened.
In a powerful one on one therapy session, just me and my therapist, after deeply feeling all the grief and loss of not always having my mom’s love, and feeling incredible care for the little boy I used to be, I shifted. My heart stretched as wide as it could go with compassion for my mom, compassion for everything she had been through in her life. I imagined how much I would have loved her, how much I would have cared for her, had I been her father. I fully and completely forgave my mom.
Then, 5 minutes after the session ended, I received…. a phone call.
It was my mom.
She said, “Sweetie, I’m so sorry for how I hurt you when I left and I’m so sorry for everything you went through.“
That was 5 years ago.
A year later she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
I’m so grateful I was able to love her through her illness and in her final days, to be by her side.
Yes my mom was still cranky, pretentious and entitled.
But I could see past all that, into the little girl who was never loved and I was able to love her with all my heart before she died.
So yes, I suffered and struggled with all the contrast of my childhood.
But the emotional gifts were huge. It stretched my heart wide with compassion, I became a loving and caring guy, caring for others in a way that I wish I would have been cared for. I learned to love unconditionally, to see that everyone is truly doing the best they can. I was filled with gratitude for this life and the absolute trust that good things come out of our struggles and suffering.
The hidden gift that came out of my mom’s illness and death was the mid-life crisis I went through.
I was able to ask myself, “Am I fearlessly following my heart and my joy? Am I making the most out of the short time I am here?”
If you don’t already, I hope that you also will come to appreciate everything about your journey and how all your struggles and pain will lead to good things, if you let them.