Breathing Freely

Alexander teacher Carolyn Nicholls tells Robert Rickover: “The more flexible an area, the easier it is to misuse it. I’ve had a lot of pupils who’ve had a sullen ribcage, where the ribcage stays the same shape with the in-breath and the out-breath. It moves up and down in a sullen lump. This movement is caused by an incredible shortening throughout the spine…. I’ve created a pressure down my spine and as a result, my ribs lock up.”

“If you don’t use your ribcage to breathe, the abdominal contents get increasingly squashed and it gets harder and harder for the ribs to move and then you are going to tend to mouth-breathe because it is easier to get air in through your mouth rather than your nose and that makes your whole respiratory system lazy.”

One thing cascades into another. When you are broken in one part of your life, the yearning that results from that failure to connect tends to get in the way of launching yourself into the rest of life.

It’s like attachment theory. If you grew up with secure attachment, you are likely to make friends and form secure relationships and to not seek more people and from work than what is available to you. People like me who grew up with insecure attachment don’t make and maintain friends as easily. As a result, we have to attach to something, so we tend to become addicts. We fail with people and so we attach to drugs or alcohol or sex or porn or some form of excitement.

If you don’t attach normally to people, you are going to walk around hungry for connection and you will likely misuse sex, love and work.

For instance, a normal person goes to work for the primary purpose of making money or living his vision, but a person with anxious or avoidant attachment will go to work to get attention, to try to attach to others, to find a substitute family, and to find lovers.

If you don’t bond normally with others, you’ll bond with something weird such as endlessly checking your phone.

The more freedom I’ve had over the years, the more likely I have been to abuse it. The more flexibility I’ve created in my schedule, the less I’ve achieved.

When I’ve gone to work and to school, I’ve felt myself chasing attention more than is healthy for me. I’ve sought a substitute family, I’ve looked for substitute father figures, substitute uncle and aunty figures. As a result, I have not been terribly successful at work and school as well as in my relationships.

I started working every day in sixth grade (as a gardener) but after a few months, I got fired. I was a lousy worker. I found other odd jobs over the years and I kept losing them (finally circa 1982 I began holding down jobs that didn’t end up firing me). I wasn’t much into work. What I really wanted was excitement, connection and attention.

In June of 1986, I took a job for $4 an hour in landscaping. The work was brutal. I did nothing but swing a pick and swing a shovel for the first three days. Then on the fourth day, I drove to the Roseville home of Dominion Enterprises owner Doug Hanzlick and he turned out to be a great guy. He correctly noted my accent to be Australian and he remembered my name. He also introduced me to his youngest daughter Becky, 16, who loved Australia.

Becky and I flirted most of the afternoon and that day became a turning point for my landscaping. For the first time I enjoyed my work. The Hanzlick family of parents Doug and Sharon, the two older daughters Cheryl and Shelly, and Becky praised me to my bosses Carl Elrod and Lee Gardner. They in turn promoted me to more important and better-paying work than swinging a pick.

Not only my muscles but also my ego swelled that summer. I logged over 400 hours landscaping some months, along with working 12-18 hours a week at the radio station.

My attitude to my work completely shifted from hating it to loving it all because I found a substitute family in the Hanzlicks. I wanted their love and admiration. I wanted to feel a part of their team.

A normal person would not have sought to get his needs for connection met primarily through low-paying manual labor. I had a good brain but I wasn’t using it right. I had earned more than $20 an hour in Australia a couple of years previous but now I was happy with $5 and $6 an hour because I loved the Hanzlick family. Being around them made me feel whole. I had this gaping psychic wound that was staunched by their presence.

In February of 1988, I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and my life crashed. I had to give up work and school. I retreated to the sick bed for six years. In 1994, I made a two-thirds recovery and awkwardly made my way back into the world of work.

I could no longer show off and get attention because of my endurance. I was physically weak. An eight hour day would about do me.

Due to my illness, I had missed out on finishing my degree in Economics from UCLA, so while I tried to figure things out, I took temp jobs (background work in TV and film, secretarial, etc).

I lost several jobs in the mid 1990s for hitting on women at work. I was just so ravenous for affection that I just blew through normal boundaries and made an ass of myself.

I am not arguing that there is anything wrong with seeking more from work than a paycheck. I just know that in my experience, I’ve been too needy for attention, too chatty, and just generally too too much and this has proved a hassle for those around me. They’ve had to put limits on me and I did not respond well to that. I’ve sought excitement and admiration from my work, and failing to get that, I’ve lost interest and just done the minimal amount of labor to get by until I could find something more in tune with my vision of being a big shot.

Through 12-Step programs over the past five years, I am learning to be right-sized, to think of myself as neither less than nor more than the people around me. I’m taking note of my drives that are likely to rub others the wrong way and to write them out in my journal and to discuss them with my therapist and appropriate friends instead of acting them out. I am paying attention to my tendencies to recreate the destructive drama of my early years. I am talking to people I trust about ways I’m getting in my own way. I often lack commonsense. I need feedback from others. My mind is a dangerous part of town that I don’t want to travel to alone.

Work is not necessarily the best place for me to seek love and admiration and attention. That’s what friends and lovers are for.

I hate that feeling when I try to join a conversation or a group where I am not wanted. I hate rejection, hate knowing that I have over-stepped, hate displaying my neediness. I know many people I yearn to be close to but I try to never ask more from their friendship than they want to give.

When I drive these days, I no longer listen much to NPR but instead tune into 12-step phone meetings and listen to speakers from groups such as Debtors Anonymous, Underearners Anonymous, Al-Anon, ACOA, AA and the like. When I wake up in the morning, I like to tune into a meeting to get my head on straight before taking a shower and launching into action.

I love these time tool speakers at Underearners Anonymous (UA). I love these 200 plus beginner talks for UA.

Here are some things I’ve learned from UA:

* Take out a sheet of paper in the morning and write down what you want to accomplish that day. At the end of the day, write down what you accomplished.

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