I never expected that taking courageous action could result in enjoying such positive feelings. I want to start out this little article giving enormous credit to my eight fellow gr oup members and four staff members – and myself – for having the courage to spend a week together “Real World” style (miked and filmed almost every waking moment) for the sake of letting the world know that there’s hope out there for anyone suffering from chronic emotional pain. Our stories will be told for all to see in January on a special edition of one of the NBC Television Network’s major program series*.
This experience has tremendous significance above and beyond the NBC T-shirt I get to wear to tell all my friends that I’ve been filmed for national TV. It focuses directly on what I believe is the principal cause of crisis in the lives of adult men and women: the overwhelming (and paralyzing) fear of dealing with their personal issues. It’s not too strong a characterization to call this process ‘facing your demons.’ It’s always much easier to deal with the externals of a life going off-track than it is to come face-to-face with the changes that each of us needs to make in our beliefs, our attitudes, and our behaviors. Those two denizens of self-defeat, denial and blame, are constantly at hand to see to it that we never actually face and bring closure to the old patterns we use to provide ourselves with a sense of safety, even when those patterns have progressed way beyond futile: all the way to harmful.
What I took away from my experience of confronting my personal demons on national TV – and supporting my fellow participants in their efforts to do the same – was an appreciation for our collective and individual courage. Each one of us, without exception, was willing to go to any lengths to do the work necessary to move forward. Personally, that provided me with a sense of belonging beyond anything I had experienced before. Certainly I felt that I shared common bonds with each of us who embraced this experience, but it went way beyond that. I came away with a feeling of belonging in my own skin and taking my place in this universe to which I was entitled by birth. I experienced it as an accomplishment beyond anything I’ve done thus far. Every other accomplishment – like feats of physical strength or skill, or achieving academic honors, or speaking or publishing or whatever else I’ve done – have all been open to being bettered: I could get another degree, write another book, speak before a larger audience, create a more successful business, etc. Confronting the personal demons that continue to weigh me down and trip me up (especially with the world watching) provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can’t be repeated or surpassed. Life-altering experiences like this one, by definition, are unique.
We just love to be distracted. Most of us would do almost anything to remain distracted: the ubiquitous iPod, TV and radio going every waking moment, food or mood-altering chemicals of any sort to make us feel good inside, activities that pour on the adrenaline and give us an emotional boost. There’s literally no end to the things that we can do to make ourselves feel better without ever having to confront the reasons or causes for our feeling pain. The ‘crisis’ that comes at midlife comes down to a crisis of courage. For whatever reason, we’ve become addicted to feeling the way we feel, and we’re afraid that if we face those issues head-on that we’ll have to change. It goes way beyond the fear that we’ll have to change our behavior; it goes all the way to the terror that we’ll have to change our beliefs about ourselves and about the world and how it functions, and we’ll have to change our attitudes as well. We’ll no longer be able to look at ourselves through the fog of denial, and we’ll no longer be able to shrug off our personal responsibility by clinging to the banner of blame. We’re basically terrified that the buck really does stop here (with us personally).
The feelings that I’ve come away from this experience with are almost indescribable. Even after all the work I’ve already done to confront and combat the forces of denial and blame in my own life, experiencing the results of my having the courage not only to do my own work, but to do it publicly and for the benefit of others who may not (yet) have the courage to take on their personal demons has gone way beyond anything I could have expected. I sense that others will be able to tap into the courage that my fellow group members and I have shown and ‘borrow’ some of our courage to be able to do their own work. When life – especially midlife – seems too difficult to endure, here’s an opportunity to reach out and take heart from what we have done and where we have gone. I always wanted to make a contribution to my world; I really hadn’t expected when I signed on to this opportunity that this would be the greatest contribution that I could have made up to this point. I hope and pray that anyone currently struggling with midlife issues who has had an encounter with me and with my work will be encouraged to reach out for help, if not to me, then to someone whom you respect and admire. The truth is that, when it comes to change, together we can do what we cannot do alone.
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Copyright © 2009 H. Les Brown
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