Last night I enjoyed a dinner and movie date with my oldest daughter. Home from her freshman year of college for winter break, we have enjoyed a few of these evenings together, cherished by fathers whose children are rapidly becoming adults and beginning to journey paths of their own choosing.
She is a passionate individual focused on the plight of immigrants, women, and minorities (in no particular order). And yes, her liberal views are one of the many things that I am most proud of.
With that heart, she had recently completed reading August Wilson’s 1983 play “Fences”. Therefore, we decided to take in the critically acclaimed large screen version. Before I get to the true heart of this post, let me just say that the acting was phenomenal. Off the charts. Incredible. By every. Single. Character.
However, I was forced to make the decision early on to emotionally detach myself from what I was watching. I could tell it was simply going to be too painful.
Rather than litter this entry with spoiler alerts or disclaimers, let me simply share the realities I have had to face about my life over the past six months that were directly addressed (exposed anew) and thrown in front of me by this movie…
1. Abuse is abuse no matter what decade it took place during.
I had never allowed myself the freedom to believe this prior to my hospitalization just over four months ago. Here’s the thing. If it isn’t abuse. If it is just an acceptable form of physical punishment or emotional gamesmanship. Then I deserved it. My behavior warranted it.
But if it is abuse. Then I am simply not worthy of decent treatment. I am a creature who deserves to be beaten, berated, or maybe even sexually violated (though I speak with less certainty about this due to our minds ability to deeply suppress or contort such awful memories). 1970s, 80s, or in the case of Fences…40s and 50s, abuse is abuse, and abuse is wrong.
2. Affairs cause pain and often come from a place of pain.
Let me be clear, I love my wife very dearly. She found me, rescued me from myself, and had me placed in protective custody resulting in my hospitalization. She has stood by me since. However, we met via an extramarital affair and are aware that we caused great pain to two spouses and five children in the process. At the same time, prior to the launch of our relationship, we were concurrently facing marital separations and potential divorces. We were both in places of great, life-threatening pain. While our actions caused pain, they also came from places of intense pain.
3. There is a vague line between the blame of our past and the accountability for our choices.
Vague, as in, I don’t know where it is. Yet it seems that at some point and time, no matter how horrific the past, we still become accountable for our individual choices and actions. Interestingly enough, it seems like people often get a quicker pass for this based on racism, chauvinism, or other mainstream prejudices than those of us in the mental illness universe do for behavior in line with our diagnosis. Why? Because at our core, we all know that there are few infinite excuses in the world. Eventually, we have to become accountable.
4. Escapism will never work.
Sports. Alcohol. Sexual relationships. Job promotions. Running from our inner demons will never allow us to find freedom because inner demons don’t have to do any of the work when they are along for the ride. (Damn, that’s another one of those good ones I should get credit for somewhere!) In the hospital I was told I would have to confront a life pattern of control, anger, and unaddressed mental health needs if I ever wanted to live a life of greater peace. I had to…I have to…quit running and confront my inner demons.
5. Life is hard.
Like many plays, books, or movies that are designed to in some way deal with reality rather than the Death Star, the Underworld, crazy office Christmas parties, or alien encounters (all of which can be entertaining and/or include plenty of human truth)…movies such as Fences remind us that life is hard (as if we needed that reminder). Or maybe phrased another way, that life is often harder for people than we could ever know. 99.9% of the people that encounter me on a daily basis have no idea I have a mental illness. No idea that I am Bipolar. No idea what a daily battle my life is. And the same is probably true for them.
It was all just too much to take in for one movie. Too many real life demons. Too many real life connections. Too much common ground. Which is ironic for a film about a black rubbage collector in the 1950s. At face value, we have nothing in common. But the ties of true humanity are much deeper than at face value.