Finding Compassion for a Broken Man

He didn’t imagine this for my life. He’s in his 40’s and walking back to his halfway house, after working a long day of construction framing. His body aches and his mind is screaming at him. He uses alcohol and drugs when he can, it quiets his mind. Yet he knows he will likely be drug tested tomorrow, so he walks past the liquor store with what little strength he has left. He gets back to his dingy room, the cockroaches hiding from the light. He swallows a couple sleeping pills and waits for sleep to come. Sleep has always been hard for him. It’s been 40 years and he still hasn’t figured out how to sleep, what type of man can’t fall asleep.

He’s being hard on himself again, that’s really the only way he knows how to speak to himself. While he remembers his past, he isn’t yet able to offer himself any compassion or forgiveness about why he can’t sleep now. When he was a toddler, the youngest of the bunch, he wasn’t able to protect his older sisters. He laid in bed hearing the repeated sound of a belt as it hit his sister’s flesh. His oldest sister would bawl so loudly, yet that seemed to end her punishments sooner. Then his mother would begin to belt the younger sister, and she never made a noise. Her beltings would last the longest. He would finally wet the bed and cry out. His mother would leave his sisters alone, now he was the one to face her pain.

Towards the end of her life, he would get to know his mother. She was a depression child, the middle of seven. After her father left the family, her mother had to try to keep seven children feed, which seemed like an impossible task. She gave her middle child away, to be a maid, for a household that had plenty of food. Over her entire life, she would only share one story of her time in that household, so what happened there would mainly be a mystery. Yet it’s evident to see, she carried a lot of pain, and it would leak out and effect those she loved the most.

Back to him though, he’s lying in bed with his noisy brain. Even in prison, he had better access to alcohol to calm his brain. Within a year in prison, he was a bootlegger, sneaking juices from the cafeteria and fermenting them in his cell. He was able to trade his moonshine for a little more safety in prison, and the alcohol allowed him to get some rest. Rest might be an overstatement, it allowed him to black out, more of a respite from his mind and his physical cell. He didn’t have alcohol in this moment, so all the memories of how he messed up everything in his life flooded his mind. How he and his wife were both been sent to prison for being marijuana farmers. His kids were in their early teens and drifted among family members, each suffering from their own trauma and not being able to provide his kids a home. By the time he got out of prison, his kids were adults, thus no longer needed and no longer spoke to him.

He had a temper, he knew that, he was far from the perfect man. When he was born, the trauma of his mother, already impacted his epigenetics. His DNA was methylated, which is actually a protective factor, if a human was born into a warring tribe, it was safer for us to think less and react more, this piece played into his temper. He spent his entire life reacting, no one had showed him a different way. The traumas of his prison life added on to the traumas of childhood meant he had a highly activated amygdala. His amygdala would take input anyone else would sense as beneigning and send him into fight of flight. What happens in fight or flight, is blood flow to the prefrontal cortex almost stops, this prevents the ability to empathize with another or even yourself (another reason he frequently speaks so harshly to himself) and shuts down logical thinking. It floods his body with stress hormones, so he’s ready to take out the threat in front of him, even when the threat is someone he loves. He has no way of sensing this, he’s flooded with cortisol and lacks blood flow to his prefrontal cortex. While it’s possible to demethylate his DNA, he didn’t know to search out for this, he keeps blaming, ridiculing, and torturing himself for not being able to act differently.

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This is my portrayal of a small part of my uncle’s story. A few months after this point, I’m 19 and visiting my grandmother and see him viciously lashing out at my grandmother. She got down on her hands and knees crying. He began yelling racial epithets, I never knew existed, at two of my friends. I held a bitterness and fear towards him for this event.

My uncle’s story does change. After his third DUI, his life begins to change with the support of his mandated counselor. He praises her frequently for altering the course of his life. He becomes the only family member of that generation who encourages me to take care of myself. He appears to release the manipulative traits he picked up as a child to obtain safety. He rebuilds the relationships with both of his sons. He’s in intense, chronic pain. He chooses to spend his money on their college education, instead of obtaining medical insurance and addressing his needs. They both get their associate’s degree and walk for their graduation on the same day. He then allows his son and myself to help him get insurance and begin to have doctor’s visits. They discover he’s already stage four cancer. He’s surrounded by his sons, nephews, and niece during the last year of his life. He’s healed many of his wounds, and supported us in beginning to do our own healing. I believe he became the man he wanted to be.


003 – Free Will and Increasing Choice

This episode explores:

  • the definition of free will
  • will demonstrate how one may have drastically less free will than they expected due to what research is showing us in regards to physical impediments
  • and show how emotional fitness can greatly increase your choices/free will in life.

These concepts have supported my movement from retributive to restorative beliefs with myself and others. As other people make this shift, I believe the amount of peace and wellbeing in one’s life grows exponentially.

 

Introduction

  • Free Will – the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded
  • I used to believe strongly in Free Will a decade ago, thinking most people including myself had little restrictions on their ability to choose whatever path or response to a event that they wanted, this has drastically shifted with my exploration of psychological theory and research. www.SamHarris.org.
  • Some possible impediments in choosing one’s actions can include: genetics, epigenetics, environment, beliefs from others close to you, cultural aggressions, trauma, and health, including gut health and inflammation
  • The following will explore the above factors, their impact on free will, and how to work on one’s emotional fitness to increase one’s choice

Genetics Impact on Free Will

  • Our genes are doing their best to protect us, though we have a rapidly evolving world, what served to protect us 800,000 years ago verses 1,000 years ago didn’t likely change that much
  • Sensitivity/Anger Gene
  • Openness/Anxiety Gene
    • Study on how Genes and Early Environment affect Openness verses Anxiety: Grazioplene, R. G., DeYoung, C. G., Rogosch, F. A., & Cicchetti, D. (2013). A novel differential susceptibility gene: CHRNA4 and moderation of the effect of maltreatment on child personality. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 54(8), 872–880. http://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12031

 

Epigenetics

  • Helpful Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Epigenetic_mechanisms.jpg
  • Possibly trauma from 3 generations can affect epigenetics
  • The tightening of the genes can prohib beneficial/protective genes from being able to express themselves
  • Physical and Emotional Trauma impact epigenetics, quickening response times, this was a benefit in times of danger and war, now when in less danger, how can I let my system know that it’s safe to unwind
  • Warring tribe verses Peace Tribe
  • Natural Blueprint in your system to return to the best place for you, when removal of impediments.

 

Environment

  • Beliefs from Family of Origin
  • Experiences During Childhood
  • Beliefs/Experiences from Religion, Culture, Ethnicity, Neighborhoods, or Other Organizations
  • Amount of Affection, Stability, and Trust in Family
  • Level of Safety in the Environment for the Individual, Impacts of Aggressions and Microaggressions

 

Trauma

  • Small and large events
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Psychological
      • Michael P. Hengartner, Lisa J. Cohen, Stephanie Rodgers, Mario Müller, Wulf Rössler, and Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross (2015). Association Between Childhood Maltreatment and Normal Adult Personality Traits: Exploration of an Understudied Field. Journal of Personality Disorders: Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi_2014_28_143

 

Neural Pathways

  • Neuroplasticity
    • Mindfulness practices have the potential to improve attention, cognitive functioning, self-control in emotion, immune function, and well-being, while decreasing stress response. Mindfulness practices may induce neuroplasticity.
      • Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., and Lazar, S.W. (2011).
        Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging
        191, 36–43.

 

Gut Health

  • “Gut microbes can produce hormones and neurotransmitters that are identical to those produced by humans.”
  • “Gut bacteria directly stimulate afferent neurons of the enteric nervous system to send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve.”
  • “Through these varied mechanisms, gut microbes shape the architecture of sleep and stress reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.”
  • “They influence memory, mood, and cognition and are clinically and therapeutically relevant to a range of disorders, including alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and restless legs syndrome.”
  • Evrensel, A., & Ceylan, M. E. (2015). The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 13(3), 239–244. http://doi.org/10.9758/cpn.2015.13.3.239

 

Inflammation

  • Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Jennifer C. Felger*. Current Neuropharmacology (2018) 16: 533. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X15666171123201142

 

Health

  • Hunger/Satiety Spectrum
  • Pain/Comfort
  • Tired/Rested
  • Hormone Balance

 

Impacts on Free Will When Viewing This on Others

  • I believe that each person is doing the best that they can in each and every moment, based on what’s impeded their free will, that their choice has narrowed down and their best action they had access to was what they did
  • Realization can allow us to see that unless a person takes action to change, they are likely to do the same thing again
  • It still means we are allowed to protect ourselves and set boundaries and consequences, we don’t say “oh, they are doing their best, it’s okay” if it’s not okay with you
  • Deep knowing that I would have done the same as they did if I had their genetics and history.
    • Personally this releases me of judgment of the other person, and allows me to evaluate if I want to offer restorative services and if so, what would that look like.
  • As a society, how can we support restorative services?

 

Impacts on Free Will When Viewing This on Ourselves

  • Release expectation of change until we’ve started working on the core issue
  • Knowing that you have done the best you could in the past, and to use this as data to decide how you want to work on yourself moving forward
  • It’s data for our starting points.
    • Personal example fear of heights

 

Weekly Invitation

  • Importance of questioning what we used to believe and is it still true
    • Petter Attia (https://peterattiamd.com/podcast/) frequently asks his guests what did you strongly believe in 5 years ago that you no longer believe, science is ever growing and changing
    • Dinner party question
  • What belief did you believe in the past that you no longer hold today? Think or journal about this, then share it with a friend, and ask them the same.

 

Comments

  • In the comments section, please share what was the most important idea you took away from this podcast?