November 28th, 2021

Humour can be a valuable coping mechanism

By Lethbridge Herald on November 13, 2021.


As people who grew up in highly dysfunctional homes know, having a sense of humour is key to survival.
I developed mine early and often my humour can be borderline off-limits for many. But humour is a survival mechanism that can help those traumatized by the events in their lives cope.
I know some over the years have played me for a fool or not taken me seriously and I realize part of that is because of my humour. Part of it is others haven’t recognized my knowledge or abilities.
Anyone who grew up with mental illnesses and addictions impacting their childhood may have suffered with self-esteem issues. And might still do.
Our parents play a key role in the development of our self-esteem through positive reinforcement, through encouragement, through being involved in our lives.
Those of us who had to deal with alcoholism, suicide attempts and mental illness among adult family members when we were kids never had that caring, nurturing environment to help us develop.
We had to do it ourselves and a sense of humour played a key role in our survival.
Any self-esteem I have I created for myself and I’m still working on it.
And I know there are people who don’t respect my professional abilities or me as a human being.
I know some play me for a fool.
But I’d like to think I’ve accomplished a lot in life and I’ve done it because I made the choice to strive for success.
I’ve done it because of personal discipline and the realization which I had at a very early age that only I can save myself from my family’s demons.
Only I am responsible for my actions, my treatment of others, my decisions, my successes and my failures in life.
But in this society we increasingly don’t expect people to take responsibility for themselves; society makes excuses and removes the personal responsibility for growth and development.
When I look back at my childhood, I have a hard time believing I survived. I’m having a hard time believing I’ve managed to thrive despite the adversity I’ve faced.
I graduated with honours, worked 30 hours a week at Highway 52 Feeders in high school and carried on a full social life thanks to a strong and diverse support group of friends back in Raymond who helped build my self-esteem.
The town of Fort Frances in Ontario helped nurture that esteem and the owners of the Fort Frances Times instilled in me the journalistic ethics that I hold today.
They encouraged me to express my opinions and demanded I be fair and look at all viewpoints.
The Cumming family gave me a lot of rope to play with and I never hung myself with it. Or tripped over it. Or tripped somebody else. There was a time, though, when I slashed our advertising manager and son of the owners, ,Jim Cumming, with a utility knife accidentally while animatedly talking with it in my hand while we were laying out pages. I’ll never forget that major oops.
His mom, Del who treated all of us young staff like her own kids, was livid beyond words.
It was anger I only saw twice from her, the other time being when I showed up at the office on a Honda 750 Magna that I bought on a whim as a 25th birthday present when my radio station pal Bill Toffan stopped at the Honda dealer to buy a $2 taillight bulb when we came back to town from a day on Rainy Lake.
That bulb cost me $3,800 and I’m going to remind Bill, now a CCMA-award winning morning radio host in Hamilton, Ont. if I ever see him again. And Del was right, I should have taken it back because a week later I dropped it on myself when I forgot to put the kickstand down at a gas station.
She rightfully knew buying the bike was a really stupid thing to do. But kids can be kids, even when we’re adults.
Toff actually had to teach me to shift the thing because I wasn’t even co-ordinated with a 10-speed bicycle. How I handled Bobcats, Caterpillars and the Michigan loader back at the feedlot without mishap is a bit of a miracle.
Today, like many in the Fort, I’m mourning the loss of a dear friend named Jim Fowler, a long-time sports coach and umpire who tragically died this week way too young in a nursing home.
He was among so many who helped me build confidence and learn the ropes of covering sports.
These people are a big reason why I have succeeded in life despite having to act as parent for my mom and dad, and at times my older brother growing up.
There were times I slept in the family car so I could get rest, there were many nights I didn’t sleep at all and all through this I knew my childhood trauma would affect me.
We call it PSTD now; in my childhood there was no name for it. Except maybe “suffering.”
But I’ve kept the demons at bay because I have chosen to. It’s a daily choice for me and will be the rest of my life.
I guarantee it’s a daily choice for many others, as well.
While I had opportunities to leave Lethbridge over the years, I chose to stay so my only child could have the nurturing, safe and caring home environment I didn’t. And while I failed him at times because of my own life experiences, I put him first before my career so he would have a better chance in life, so his kids – when he has them – would have a parent with better life skills than I grew up with.
I wanted Dylan to have a chance at breaking the chains of dysfunction that shackled my own family.
Sure, some play me for a fool to this day; I know it but the joke is on them because they’ve never lived my life experience.
And nobody who hasn’t will ever understand the sense of humour that we survivors of abuse, neglect, alcoholism and mental illness in our families have developed. And that’s no joke.

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