The Problem with Absolutes

Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.

Let’s unmask mental illness!

Yep, still in Tijuana as I write this. Welcome to a special Saturday edition of the podcast as I will be on the road during my normal uploading day and time.

My last podcast had me thinking about things, breaking down the subtle signs of depression. A column that I just wrote, “Lessons Learned from a Bar Fight,” was a mixture of the podcast and reactions to posts I am seeing. That led me to Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.

All that led to this podcast. It is about something I have been saying for years in various forums and various lectures on many different topics. “Don’t screw up like I did.”

Learn from my mistakes. Please. If you do, it makes my mistakes more bearable, gives them purpose. I wish I had learned more from other’s mistakes but that has not been my way.

I also want to introduce you to this incredible woman that I met, though I do not know her real name. You’ll need to keep an open mind. 

Before getting into the episode, the important stuff: I just want to remind everybody that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.

If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. In the United States, there is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.

I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 in the US will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.

Now, let’s get into the episode.

First, before sitting down with Mr. Williams, this is the column I wrote with a few tweaks.

Lessons Learned from a Bar Fight

From posts I am seeing, I imagine that many people were disappointed by other people in 2022. I am reading a knee jerk reaction, about how if we don’t have expectations, we will never be disappointed. All of the memes and posts are making me facepalm. Often.

Umm, no. Don’t do that. It is all about a bar fight in SW Philly.

A very long time ago, probably when I was in high-school, I had been disappointed by a close friend and was going to cut them from my life. I was talking about it with my stepfather, and he told me of a story of a bar fight he was involved in during his younger years.

He was at a bar with two of his friends and they got into it with four other guys. At the start of the fight, his one friend ran and a 3 on 4 turned into a 2 on 4. –he never did tell me who won as it wasn’t the point, but he smiled that cocky smile of his.

Rich explained that he remained friends with the guy who ran, completely surprising me. He said that the guy that ran was a nice guy, had good qualities, but Rich learned that he would not trust him in a bar fight. He just accepted it.

It is not a black and white situation. There is a lot of gray involved.

Each person that we meet brings something into our lives and takes away, positives and negatives. We have to evaluate each relationship and see if the positives outweigh the negatives. This determines if the person should be in our lives and how far we let them in.

It confused me. It was so at odds with something I learned before. I attribute the story to my grandfather, but I don’t think it could have been him as I was more of a baby when he died but…

“If you can count your friends on one hand when you die,” he said to me, holding up a hand missing two and a half fingers from a work accident, “consider yourself lucky.”

My life became either/or, black or white, friend or enemy. Absolutes. That’s what you get for taking life lessons from a violent alcoholic.

I am a child of trauma. There is an article here based upon the effects of childhood trauma on an adult. It can really be summed up, though, by a scene in Good Will Hunting.

Robin Williams is talking to the math professor about Will’s friends. The math professor is saying something to the extent that they are gorillas and holding Will back. Williams yells back that any one of those friends would take a baseball bat to someone’s head for Will and that is what Will needed.

I remember cheering during that scene. I remember reflecting on that scene for years to come. I remember thinking about that scene from the perspective of my stepfather’s story.

My best friend in high school was Dave Pearce, may he rest in peace. From 8th grade to 11th grade, he was the Ben Affleck to my Matt Damon. Dave would, and did, do anything to protect me. He was all that you could ask for from a best friend and saw me through many difficult situations. He had my back, we’d wrestle and throw parties (sorry Mrs. Pearce), and he held me when I cried.

It was sometime in 11th or 12th grade that he found a new best friend, though. Drugs. We battled, fought, I had a few interventions, but his new best friend was far too powerful.

We got an apartment together after high school. Things went from bad to worse. What had been all positives, the ultimate best friend, went to being mostly negatives. For my safety, I had to cut him from my life and move back in with my parents. I would eventually move to Miami. It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done.

We were both screwed up kids in our own ways. I could just have easily found myself on his path but found other ways to screw up my life. He was such an incredible person, though, filled with love and loyalty, and I mourned his passing long, long before he passed away from an overdose. I never hated Dave. I hated the disease that stole him away from me.

But I was alone. I had also read the wrong books, learned the wrong lessons.

Dave epitomized that black and white scenario of friendship. It was us against the world. He was also the one who introduced me to a new world of heroes and villains, with the gift of the book, “The White Dragon,” by Anne McCaffery.

Long before I met Dave in eighth grade, that black and white world got technicolor thrown onto it when I started reading fantasy books. Everything I read was about ultimate things: ultimate good versus ultimate evil. Heroes and villains. It all lacks, well, the gray of being human.

I still remember a book I read in 4th or 5th grade that I had to get special permission as it was in the older student section of the school library. The Wolf King, by Joseph Wharton Lippincott. –yes, that Mr. Wharton. He was not only an author but he had a business school named after him. Out of print, I’m still looking for a copy of it that I can afford. Any help?

The book is much like Jack London’s Call of the Wild. A wolf cub had to grow up by himself. In this one scene, almost into adulthood, he is being harassed and harried by a group of hounds. He gets cornered in a cabin. Triggered, tired of running, he turns on the pack of hounds. The wolf arises and he tears them apart.

Not too long after reading it, I turned on the pack that was harassing and harrying me. I got tired of being tortured and teased because of my stutter. I took them all on.

No wolf king arose.

I got my ass kicked.

That became my world, though, influenced by fantasy books and stories like that attributed to my grandfather. It really screwed me up and destroyed every relationship I formed. People couldn’t be my friend, they had to be my best friend willing to take a baseball bat to someone’s head for me. Girlfriends had to love me unconditionally or else I did not recognize it as love, but as someone I was better off without. There was no such thing as acquaintances or casual relationships.

I would pour all of myself into everything I did, offer people everything that I was and had, and if that was not returned, then they were cut out of my life.

That’s not healthy. It’s unhealthy. A bad way to live. It led to a very lonely existence. It was about a total lack of boundaries. It is about that gray spectrum. Casual can lead to closer bonds. May or may not, but the potential is there. I never looked at it that way. It had to be all in or nothing. Immediately.

Then my stepfather told me his story.

Aye, I get it. 2022 was one of the most difficult years of my life, if not the most. Even now, writing this, I struggle. Do I go with my grandfather’s story or my stepfather’s? Do I go back to the old me, standing alone so no one is able to disappoint me? Me against the world? Or do I look upon it with soft eyes and accept people as people with imperfections? Do I look upon myself and make myself harder to make myself better, or do I look upon myself with soft eyes and forgive myself for being human with human imperfections and frailties?

I’ve learned in my most difficult times, when I’m struggling with what to do and how to react, to reach out to my better angel, Mike, Papa Bear. I’ve pretty much learned to just do what he says when I can’t let go of the anger. There are quite a few people and organizations I’d like to blast in a public forum, but Mike wouldn’t approve.

But isn’t 2022 the point? I’d say we all had a string of bad years. We have been traumatized and beat up. People aren’t doing well. Mental health is deteriorating. The way people act and react may be completely out of character. Them disappointing us may be the best they can do.

I understand that as well. For a long time, I was the caregiver. At my lowest point in 2022, when I was begging for money, old friends reached out to me, not knowing my situation, and asked for help. They were in awful situations. Ugly. The old me would have helped. The current me was unable to do anything except wish them the best of luck and offer advice. One would reached back out to me. The other I never heard from again.

Never have expectations and you will never be disappointed.

That’s an answer, but the wrong answer, I think. I think we need to be understanding and compassionate to others–and ourselves, not judge without knowing more. Then, if the negatives truly outweigh the positives, wish them the best and be on our way. We still need to remain open to possibilities though.

Aye, ya know, I’m still Philly. This isn’t about rainbows shooting out of my ass, turning the other cheek, and putting on a robe and flip flops to follow the Dali Lama. There’s still that one prick where one month said I saved his lab and the next month said I was too much of a risk for 60-day terms. Him, I wouldn’t…

Okay, Papa Bear, I know.

I’ve been disappointed by many, both those I know and those I don’t know. Hell, I was stood up on New Year’s Eve without a word. That hurt. When I am already hurting. But I don’t know her situation. I don’t know how she interpreted what I may have said or done. No, I don’t think I’ll let her in any further, even if she does ever text me back, but I also know it cannot allow me to continue reaching out for opportunities. As I have said, I have met some truly wonderful people here who have enriched my life.

2022 was also the year I disappointed others. I don’t want you to walk in my shoes to understand me. I would not want to put anybody through that. I’ve had a lot going on and have done the best I can.

It is really not about the others. It is about offering aloha to ourselves. Loving ourselves, being compassionate to ourselves, being merciful to ourselves. It is about not closing the door on opportunities.

It is about learning lessons from the right places and looking upon things with soft eyes. In this instance, it is about looking with soft eyes on a bar fight in Philadelphia.



I wonder what Mr. Williams, aka Sean Maguire, would say about this? In the movie, in his South Boston way, much like the Philly way, he talks about, and yells to the math professor, that it is a defense mechanism.

We isolate and make out group of friends small –if any– to protect ourselves. I’ve done this all my life.

Now that I think about it, it really hit me when I was planning for my wedding. Who do I ask to be my best man? Who do I ask to be a part of my wedding party?

Think about it. It’s the time to think about it. If you are unmarried, who is the best friend that will stand at your side? Who is the small circle of closest friends that will be in your wedding party?

At the time, it was my cat. Pretty. But that would have been kind of ridiculous. I had not been in touch with Dave in a long, long time and had not reconnected with Papa Bear yet.

My situation was simple because I think my soon to be wife was in the same situation as I was. We kept it simple because it had to be. Her maids of honor were her sister and daughter. My best men were by brother and brother-by-law–as he put it.

But then look upon the wedding. Who is invited? We decided to keep things small. Who do you invite to share in your joy? For me, it was mostly family and co-workers. For her, it was mostly co-workers and their plus ones.

I think it was about that time that I began to change, began listening to my stepfather’s advice. I had been taught love and acceptance by my girlfriend/fiancé/wife/ex-wife. I reached out to Mike, Papa Bear, and renewed our relationship. Through Facebook, I reached out to many people from the old days.

I began to open myself again. I began being open to possibilities and potential, getting away from absolutes. I began being accepting of other people and began accepting myself. I learned not everybody is ideal for every situation. I learned that I am not ideal for every situation.

I still screwed up. By that time, I had made work my addiction, and made my family, old and new, my addiction. It left very little time to cultivate new possibilities.

I made a little bit of time. I cultivated and found relationships with my neighbors in Springfield and found an awesome group of loving and caring people. I had the incredible pleasure and pride of meeting their children and watching them grow into adults.

I reached out, and despite my mind screaming at me not to do it, I joined my high school reunion committee. Again, I found this amazing group of people, this amazing group of humans. Not perfect, but wonderful.

Reconnection was the theme of the new century.

Then, I went out and formed a national association for my industry and met many people. That is really when the unhealthy coping mechanisms began to show themselves, the lack of boundaries. I was already living the co-dependent’s dream and the manageable addiction became unmanageable and I was swept into a deep ocean where I drowned. I think I understood Dave better.

It is about a bar fight, and it is also about setting healthy boundaries.

It is not about having no expectations.

It is about learning how to say, “no,” and being accepting of when others say, “no” to you. It was not until the last few years that I am learning that particular lesson. It is about learning how to be disappointed and not falling into the absolute paradigm. It is about a balance sheet.

I have been talking about this for a long time, as taught to me by my stepfather. I’ve altered and adapted what he taught me and explained it to others. It’s funny, but it is talking about being human by taking the humanity of it.

Rich was, and is, a big one for making lists. I think it is a main component of counseling as well. When faced with a tough decision, make a list. Pros and cons. I am sure you have all heard of this. Personally, I’ve never done a written list as I did it, though I should have.

Should I move to Philadelphia or Minnesota?

The same, I found, can be done for people. You can even assign values. Seriously. “Makes me smile” is plus 50. Bad drug habit is a negative 1,000. Being a perfectionist–which annoys the hell out of me, though I have been accused of it as well–is a negative 100. Standing me up with no explanation is a negative 200. Being a family member is automatic plus 200 whether I want it to be or not.

The number you come up with puts the person on a spectrum, a chart if you will. Where do they fall? Except in rare, rare cases, it will not always be on the positive or negative extreme. It will be somewhere in the middle.

Pick your “acceptance.” It can be anywhere along the spectrum, though I would suggest it not be too close to the extremes. Where the person falls, to use the wedding example, will determine whether they are your best man, part of the wedding party, part of the guest list, part of the “almost list if I could afford it,” or part of the “not worth a stamp” list.

Mental illness, depression and defense mechanisms, want to force us into extremes for our own protection.

Thinking about it now, and remembering what I spoke about in a previous podcast, makes me realize something ironic. Deciding to end my life gave me the freedom to save my life.

I spoke about it before in regard to anxiety. When you truly make the commitment to commit suicide, as I did, the anxiety vanishes. What the hell is there to be anxious about?

When I truly made the commitment to commit suicide, what the hell is the point of having defense mechanisms.

The Suicide Therapy to prevent suicide? I very strongly do not recommend this. Learn from my mistakes and accomplishments instead. But seriously. When you truly make the commitment to take your life, there is no longer any need for anything.

2020 was my journey towards self-destruction. It really started in 2019, but let’s just jump ahead. One last hurrah, I told myself, aka Scent of a Woman, before I ended my life.

The path I meant to go down was completely at odds with the path I went. I am not quite sure what happened. I was alone and isolating, on purpose. As I traveled, there would be debauchery involved. But then this interesting thing happened. I began connecting.

There was still some debauchery, but even that led me to meet some incredible people that I connected with and am still in contact with. I found teachers. Absolutes were gone, out the window, and meaningless. Instead of hardening myself to what I was about to do, I opened myself to what could happen. Just as I opened myself to the United States and any road that presented itself as I drove close to 40,000 miles, I opened myself to the humans who populate it.

Okay, okay. It was a secret but now, for this episode, I am revealing the secret. Many might find the secret not to their liking, even repulsive, but it is what I did. It is also the natural evolution of this podcast. Keep an open mind.

I am not making excuses as I still find the idea attractive, and it bears a lot of weight into my current mode of thinking and this podcast. I will not apologize.

As my marriage and business partnership were crumbling, and with the simple fact that I had not had simple human intimate contact in years, I stumbled across certain websites.

Yes, this is difficult to write, to reveal. And there is a part of me that demands I state the simple truth, that I never once cheated on my wife. I never even thought about it. I simply closed myself off to those types of feelings and buried them. In isolating myself, I closed myself off to one of the things that could help heal me: touch. Not sex, as that didn’t really work all that well anyway, but touch.

When I separated, I started going to the strip clubs again where I met a wonderful young woman who gave me the idea to explore what is called “alternative dating” websites.

I checked them out and became a member.

Mutually beneficial relationships.

Did I mention it is hard writing about this? It is not that I am embarrassed. It is more that the people who know me might not approve or understand. But it is time to open up about it because the idea of mutually beneficial relationships changed my life and potentially saved my life.

…I almost just deleted all of this, but I am going to keep going because it is important.

I would go on to use the idea in business lectures, cajoling businesses into sponsoring my nonprofit association. Mutually beneficial relationships. I just never explained where the concept came from. The concept pops up often now in my personal philosophy and ideas about mental wellness. Are you in mutually beneficial relationships? It is not about sex. It is about everything from your business relationships to your friendships to your intimate relationships.

Yes, the websites can be exactly what you think. In fact, I’d guess that 90% of the woman on there are exactly what you think. Escorts. There is a deeper level, though.

When my friend introduced me to the website, she knew me. Knew who I was and what I needed. She knew it was not just about sex for me. She explained that a close friend of hers had been involved in a relationship from the site for years. I dove deeper in looking for that 10%. It turned out to be a lot like dating.

I learned a lot from another person I met on another site, an escort site. Kate was an incredible teacher. I included a podcast that she did, below, when she was invited to be a guest on the podcast and discuss her role as an escort/companion.

One little lie, she explained, leads to a whole bunch of truth. The money exchanged create a boundary and expectations, which was really ideal for someone like myself, who had no idea what boundaries were and had very little experience in communicating my expectations and needs. It was baby steps, first grade, towards educating myself.

Kate was one of the college professors I met.

Companions like Kate offer, and prefer, longer dates. Our initial meet surprised the hell out of me. No money. Just a meet for breakfast and coffee, and she was in her gym clothes. She was very particular in who she met, and she wanted to get to know me more before we went out on our date, which included dinner and some really great conversation.

A little lie for a lot of truth.

The lie is the money. The truth is real. Because of the boundaries and up-front expectations we had set, I could tell her anything. She explained that many of her clients just want to talk. I did not believe her either, but it made sense and why would she lie?

When I began my journey across America, I had planned on taking my profile down from the website. Someone I had met, though, suggested I keep it up and just change the location. Meet women for coffee. I did.

It was expensive cups of coffee, but I did meet some exceptional women, along with some duds. Like I said, it really is just like dating. I even met some women that had far more money that I did, who were on the site just because of the boundaries and expectations. They were tired of meeting the duds on the regular dating sites.

Yeah, I am still shying away from a lot of it. I think that is enough truth for today. I will, however, be listening to Kate’s interview again. You should listen to it. There is so much relationship wisdom in it. Maybe that is my next podcast?


Kate Interview:     

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