I was raised in an abusive household and living that life seemed normal because it was all that I knew. I was truly a victim, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was only through extensive counseling that I realized I was continuing to play that role. It is still challenging to recognize it and in manifests in more and more subtle ways.
In 2002, I was in a terrible emotional state. I could barely get through the day; it took tremendous effort. I was still an excellent, technically competent surgeon; however, internally, I was not having much enjoyment. Most surgeons, including myself, love performing surgery. It is interesting, challenging, and satisfying to help bring a patient back to health. However, I was continuing to experience severe burnout. I had pursued every avenue possible with a vengeance. This turned me into an anxious wreck. I didn’t really know how to turn it around and couldn’t find an answer.
Mother’s Day 2002
I was in Oakland, CA on Mother’s day weekend of 2002. My future step-daughter was with my girlfriend (now wife) and me, and the three of us were washing the car on a beautiful sunny day. It was one of those special times in life where I should have been happy being with my future family. It wasn’t. I was in mental agony. For some reason, in the middle of washing the car that day, it dawned on me how tired I was tired of all of this internal unrest. I realized that I was looking for an outside source to solve my problem. I felt a deep shift and saw how deeply I was imbedded in the victim role. I made a simple decision to stop.
It took another year before I really pulled out of my tailspin, but my life took a basic turn that weekend. I had been looking for some answer that would change my life. I realized that there was no single solution to my problems and I needed to take full responsibility.
I returned to doing the writing exercises in David Burns’ book Feeling Good”, and re-committed to understanding anger. His book had already had a major effect but I had given it up. I didn’t realize it before, but by not pursuing a resource that I knew was powerful I really was choosing to remain a victim. I also did not know about the concept of developing alternative neurological pathways. It had caught my attention that the author pointed out that cognitive restructuring was effective in relieving anxiety 85% of the time using just the book.
I continue to be creative both in remaining a victim and in hiding it from myself and others. Increasing awareness of this pattern of behavior is my strongest commitment to myself and family.