In the year I was born, 1968, Frank Sinatra released an album which contains what is my favorite song by him. The song and the album share the same name: Cycles.
The song itself was written by composer Gayle Caldwell. It only reached #23 on the Billboard Hot100 Chart, though it hit #2 on the Easy Listening Chart. It is a melancholy, reflective piece in which someone ponders the course their life has taken, and trying to remain positive about the possibility of change.
‘There isn’t much that I have learned…through all my foolish years. Except that life keeps running in cycles…first there’s laughter…then those tears.’
There are many monikers for those who repeat cycles or patterns: Creature of habit. Predictable. Inflexible. Set in your ways. Cycles exist in our lives each and every day, down to the way we put on our pants, either left leg first or right leg first. We do things without realizing we are doing them…without stopping to think why we do them…without really understanding the origins of our behavior. If you stop to think about a situation, and try to understand what created it, how it made you feel, what you did, and the outcome of your actions – you can start to trace patterns in your behavior that either lead to happiness or unhappiness. Cycles infiltrate our behaviors without our recognizing we are doing it. Then, over time, if you have the ability to truly reflect upon your life, you may realize what the cycles are, and yet just don’t know how to break them.
Yesterday I sat and did homework with one of my boys (both of whom are right-handed). He took up his pencil and tried to write a word with his left hand. I watched him, silently, try to maneuver his hand to make the switch to ambidexterity, to no avail. I, too, am right-handed. When I was roughly the age my son is now I discovered, to my absolute amazement, that my mother wrote with her left hand. I made a concentrated and concerted effort to try to change my natural right-handed inclination to pattern myself after her. Try as I may, I could not force myself to accomplish this, and I eventually gave up and acquiesced to my natural inclinations. Her left-handedness is not, by definition, a cycle. It is more of a gene-based trait. Scientific American wrote an article about it in 2004 that tries to explain the cause of hand preference. It can be found at the following link:
There are countless traits I see in myself that I can attribute to learned behavior from my childhood, just as all of us can. I don’t mean ‘traditions’, in which we put out the same ornaments on our Christmas tree each year, or use the same china on our table for a holiday meal; I mean patterns that we witness and somehow come to accept that ‘this is the way life is.’ There are cycles, good and bad, that we incorporate into our daily regimens throughout our lives. Sometimes you can see the good ones for what they are, and repeat them with ease of mind. Sometimes you can see the bad ones, and lie awake at night wondering how you ever, with a clear memory of your own past, allowed them to insinuate themselves into your life. I have nights like that. More often than I care to admit.
I have been seeing one therapist or another for over 10 years now. Since shortly after I moved to Boston in 2001. I had begun to recognize that in many aspects of my life, I was the author of my own unhappiness in many situations, and had no notion of why I did it and, more importantly; how to change it. Attending therapy went against how I was raised. I had never before seen a therapist. The closest I ever came was trying to talk to a Junior High School guidance counselor, Mrs. Robinson (not the famed one of theatrical, film, and Simon and Garfunkel song recognition). I had sat in her office trying to force myself to blurt out things that were, to me, too ‘awful’ to make them real. I felt like the life I lived then was mostly sad, but often terrifying, and I desperately wanted to feel better. I got close to telling her….I felt comfortable enough with her over time to feel it was okay to ‘drop the bomb’, and I know that she knew ‘something’ was up…..and then her life was tragically cut short. I stopped seeking help after that, and simply went back to ‘surviving’ the best I knew how. It took another 20 years before the ‘awful’ words came out of my mouth, to anyone. And in those 20 years I created and continued cycles for myself to cope with what I buried. When I did finally talk about it, I would come home from my therapist’s office and sit in a dark room alone, burying my head in my hands, and cry.
That was 12 years ago now. I’ve learned a lot since then about what is and isn’t my ‘fault’. I’ve learned that even though I might have thought at the time that that was ‘the way life was’…it wasn’t. I’ve learned that other people had experiences of their own that resulted in cycles in their own lives that they have worked very hard to break. I continue to try to uncover, define, and break the cycles I have fallen into in life….with occasional success. I don’t wish to pass them on to the next generation. They are too valuable to me to simply let that happen. So I keep trying, no matter how difficult the effort may be. The little lives I am responsible for are worth it.
There are those who believe that things happen to us in life that are just too terrible to get beyond them. That we simply find a way to live with them, and go on, and lead as much of a productive life as we can. There are situations that we find ourselves in, cycles we see spinning round and round in our lives, that we feel powerless to overcome, or fear the consequences of too much to try to break them. None of us can predict the future, yet some are simply too intimidated by the myriad possible outcomes in life that they just remain ‘stagnant’ in their cycles and allow them to keep spinning, day in and day out.
There are also some who like to believe that recovery is always possible.
As ‘Old Blue Eyes’ sang….’Life is like the seasons….after winter, comes the spring. So I’ll keep this smile a while, and see what tomorrow brings.’