No Yellow Ribbons Here
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Thomas Franklin is new (11-17) to thefiresidepost.com. He has no experience with being published as an author. He has a fondness for reading and an appreciation of words. His curiosity is insatiable. He carries the burdens of his youth like Marley dragging his chains of bad deeds. The difference is that Marley’s burdens were a result of his behavior. Life just happened to Mr. Franklin. These life burdens shall be the topic of Mr. Franklin’s writing. Be kind for he is quite sensitive.

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No Yellow Ribbons Here

What are some words used to describe me?  Intense, forceful, resolute, aggressive, difficult, stubborn, unyielding, Aries – You get the idea – My history is one of confrontation and unforgiving in-your-face anger. There are regular videos on facebook of soldiers returning home unannounced to reunite with their families.  The families choke up and well with tears of joy.  Even the dog goes crazy for a few moments.  There are no yellow ribbons for me.  I have alienated almost everyone who knows me.

I don’t know exactly where this stubborn righteousness comes from.  There are clues.  A self-examination is profitable for even the most saintly of humans – and is absolutely necessary for those of us who have excluded ourselves from polite society.

Let me be clear. As a teen I was in about 35 physical fights in high school.  I’m talking fists-to-face knock-down drag-out fights.  My parents called the police on me twice because I was raging out of control, threatening anyone in striking distance.  My last bar fight was when I was 29 years old.  I had a good job with a wife and three children at home – but I was in a bar – fighting.  I am not stupid – it was clear even to me that I was not in the mainstream of behavior.  As I reflect back I think the only fights I won were those where my adversary did not want to fight.  Need evidence – a number of times I punched someone in the face and they just backed away in horror.  None of this is normal behavior.

But I am also intelligent and charming to some people.  I wanted to be one of the good guys.  As a young adult I went to church and volunteered at church events.  This exposed me to mature men who knew when to fight and when to walk away.  Actually, in retrospect, they probably never had to walk away because they did not put themselves in an unfavorable position in the first place.  They did not hang out in bars or on street corners.  These men saw my conflict.

One of my early mentors was a man who ran the local Community Mental Health Center.  In the early 1980’s he suggested I might try biofeedback.  He did not say “You are out of Control”, rather he said, “We have some new equipment at the Center and would like for you to help us.”  They hooked electrical probes to my forehead to measure electrical current in my forehead muscles.  The theory is that forehead muscles tighten with stress.  Thus to minimize stress one need only relax the forehead muscles.  On this biofeedback machine there was a clicking sound.  More clicks meant more current – and thus more stress.  The clicks gave me feedback – I was to try to relax my muscles so there was no clicking,  I would go to the Center after work – at 5:00 in the afternoon and sit for an hour hooked to the machine.  Eventually I could stop the clicking in a few minutes and keep it quiet for an hour.  I would leave the Center and go to my favorite bar for a couple of quick drinks before going home to my wife and children.

So here it is.  In my adult life I have spent sixty-five days in residential mental health treatment.  I have invested over five years in outpatient counseling (not counting the biofeedback).  Three weeks of residential treatment were with Mr. Clark (firesidepost Editor) my counselor.  I have attended three different 12 Step programs, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Al-Anon.  My employer had a sophisticated Employee Assistance program.  I did therapy with them abut an hour every two weeks.  In 1986 I was treated at Hyland Center, a division of St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis, for a four week residential period.  My mentors have been Jungian, Cognitive Behavioral, Bowen Family Systems, and a retired Abbot Alcoholic from the local Benedictine Monastery.

All of these programs, of course, tested my mental health.  I did a full battery of ink blot tests and word association at Hyland Center.  I did the MMPI twice over the years. Menninger’s Clinic in Topeka tested me once.  In every instance of mental health testing I fell in the category of “no diagnosis”.

My point is that I have had world class help from the best in several disciplines.  What I know today is that almost everything is on a continuum – seldom are things as easy as black or white.  The closest I ever came to a mental health diagnosis was ‘possibly’ Bi-Polar Two.  Sort of a Bi-Polar lite.

The diagnosis, or lack thereof, means nothing if one’s life does not improve.  I stopped punching people in the face with my fist.  Sarcasm would suffice.  For a long while I believed that if I was not actually physically punching you then I was within the boundaries of normal behavior.  The truth was that I never stopped fighting.

My thoughts today are that I have been borderline wacko since I was about three years old.  Certainly there are environmental factors that shaped my life.  On the continuum scale of mental health I always tested just below the threshold of diagnosis.  Those tests may have done me a grave disservice.  Every time I was tested I was told ‘no diagnosis’.  What does that leave?  It leaves one with total responsibility for the errant behavior.  There was never a mental health diagnosis that explained my life.  I have been beating myself up for a long time.

Something changed – and that change led to me being a firesidepost contributor.

This past ten years I have devoted my life to helping others.  Mr. Clark plugged me into several opportunities for volunteer service to others.  Some simple errands like driving someone to the Food Bank for groceries, delivering meals on wheels once a week, working in a community garden to feed the homeless, and participating in 12 Step Recovery meetings.

This has not been enough.  I continue fighting with others.  Not like punching-in-the-face fighting, more like pressing my point, insisting on resolution.

My personal physician died last year.  I was assigned a female physician in the same practice.  I called for an appointment.  I told her the story I have just told you.  I told her that my inclination to fight has never wavered – I have more control today but I still struggle with intensity.  When I started talking she pulled up a chair and sat down – she listened to me for almost half an hour.  She asked if I would like to try medicine.  Well, that is why I called her.  I know the drill on therapy.  I know all of the meditation techniques.  I can stop the electrical current in my forehead.  I have plenty of relaxation skills.  She wrote me a script.

I am several weeks into this new med.  I don’t remember the name of it.  She said it is a ‘mood stabilizer’.  The jury is still out.  But closing arguments have been made and they are in favor of continuing the drug.  I called Mr. Clark.  He always says something like, “Be honest with your doctor.  Do what they say. If it does not work out be honest with them about that.”

I feel better.  Mr. Clark has asked me to write about personal environmental experiences that have contributed to my life – both good and bad.  I agreed.

“Name your demons,” says he.  “Remove their power over you”.

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