Even Ground

As of yesterday my Mom is speaking to me again. We chatted on the phone for a little while so I could get an update on the bleeding ulcers she’s suffering from again. She brought up the blog to say that she felt overwhelmed reading it and just hopes that I can forgive her.

I avoided talking about her choice to live out in Corbett. I’m still so sad and angry about this choice, but I’m trying to at least interact from a place of non-judging. As much as it hurts to watch her make a choice that hurts her health, she is going to make those choices regardless of what I want or need. It is hard, but worthy Practice.

The thing she’s missing is that I don’t hate her, don’t hold a grudge against her. I just ache to see her suffer and know that she was so hurt in her own childhood. I’m reminded of a talk Chozen Bays Roshi recorded on forgiveness of the abusers she interviews after examining hurt children — that often these people are just abused children who grew up without ever having their abuse acknowledged, never treated, never healed.

That’s my Mom – an adult who inside is an abused child who was never held in compassion. It helps me when trying to stay on even ground with her, stay in non-judgement. It also helps me be resolved to keep going to therapy even when some of those sessions are profoundly triggering and painful.

I have been so deeply touched by the thoughtful, sharing, compassionate and supportive messages I’ve received here and in person. Even today at Vida Vegan Con someone made a point to come up to ask me how my Mom was doing and how I was. Here was this lovely woman and she took a moment to tell me she’s been reading this blog and thinking kind thoughts toward us. I feel so much gratitude that my fears around opening up have been meet with such loving-kindness.

I started talking openly and honestly about my recovery from trauma because there is a chance another person might be helped by it. Often I post stuff and I almost forget that people are out there reading it. When people reach out to me because of something I’ve written I am continually touched to learn that someone felt better for reading something I write. I’m also just humbled by the people that come to me to share their own experiences and offer their support.

Tomorrow will be my birthday, I will be 42, and on some level it feels odd to not be planning some party. I’d intended to, but with all the upset around Mom, my busy schedule at work, and getting ready to speak at Vida Vegan Con, there just wasn’t time. I unfortunately forgot that DW made extra effort to take tomorrow off of work to go to the event I’d intended to plan, but we’re going to make a point to spend some time together tomorrow afternoon. That bit of forgetfulness aside, it feels good to be speaking to Mom again and spending the weekend surrounded by people who are writing and working toward a more compassionate world.

Of Tubes and Toothpaste

The phrase, “The cat’s out of the bag.”, is often used to describe what happens when some event, bit of news, or a secret gets out.

Being a companion of cats I’ve often felt this phrase is rather incorrect. Yes, a cat recently sprung from a bag will very likely crash wildly about the place. It is also likely that the cat will saunter sedately away from the bag and go have a good lick somewhere. It is also pretty easy to get a cat back into a bag.

To Get Cat Back into Bag:

  1. Put bag on floor.
  2. Walk away.
    *With Obie, pictured, the bag only needs to be unattended.

The phrase I prefer to use when acknowledging that you can’t put something back the way it was is this, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

That’s more apt. The news is out. The time is now. You cannot return to a time when that particular bit of toothpaste was already in the tube.

The “toothpaste” that’s outta the tube right now is this blog. It would seem in recent weeks my Mom has stumbled upon it. Not sure how, but that really doesn’t matter much anyway. This is a public blog and it has my real and legal name on it. It even says where I live. There’s always been a chance my mostly non-internet-using Mother would find it.

And so she has. This apparently is the cause of the silent treatment.

I have a queasy hunch it might even be partly related to the sudden about-face on the apartment. I could see her deciding to whole-heartedly move into an environment that isn’t healthy for her physically because she’d decided I was not to be relied upon. I’ve become another in a long line of betrayals.

Here’s the scoop, as provided to me by her deeply concerned husband who had just left her bedside at the hospital (yes, again).

Mom interpreted somewhere along the way in reading my blog that I wished she would die.

Yeah. Seriously.

Her husband, WD, had asked her to show him what I’d written, but she wouldn’t. He really didn’t think I’d ever say such a thing. At the hospital this past Sunday she informed him that I was not to be called. He went home, called me and told me what’s been going on. I’ve since talked with his son as well. WD and his kids all have my phone numbers, CK’s mobile number, and my email. They also have the link to this blog.

What I told them, without knowing what it was that set Mom off, was that it was possible that I’ve written about the relief her death would bring. Not because I wish she would die, only that it will be a tremendous relief to know that she won’t be suffering in this life any longer. No more procedures. No more hospital stays. No more anxiety. No more bitterness. True and final rest.

I dread the day my Mom’s death comes. I will be profoundly sad and deeply grieve the loss of my only living parent. I will mourn her unassuaged life that only knew such fleeting joy. Knowing that she will never be in pain again will bring me relief.

I’ve resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to compulsively read through every single thing I’ve written about my Mom on my blog to find it. CK also insisted. I think I’ve got it though. It came to me when I was cross-referencing an older post for the bit I put up recently, ‘Stumbling on Joy‘.

If my Mom had been reading chronologically, likely starting at the post about my trip to Denver for Jen’s memorial, she’d have hit the post called ‘A Bitterness‘. In it I note the struggle I was having at acknowledging that her death would bring me relief.

Right there. Boom. I’m pretty certain that’s it.

And she totally missed the point of it. Missed the struggle, the guilt, the pain in that post. The profound sorrow for her unhappy life.

She also missed that it was written in the Summer of 2010 when we all thought Mom had Stage 4 stomach cancer and didn’t want to go through surgery or chemo for it. A time when I was really struggling and agonizing about my Mom’s imminent death. We were all certain we were just ticking down the days until we would lose her.

I think my Mom tends to look for the worst. She really wants the best, but she doesn’t believe it is possible. Maybe she doesn’t believe she’s worth the best, I can see her having got that message during her own childhood full of abuse. I don’t know the reason, we’ve never really talked about it, but I’m pretty sure she expects and looks for the worst.

I think she ran across what was for me a moment of real agony and profound sadness for her life. She looked for the worst in me and decided she’d found it. Then she disconnected her phone number and told WD she was moving out to Corbett. That’s why I can see her deciding that I was of no help or use to her in making the move into the apartment she’d fallen in love with.

There was a time in my life I practiced Mom’s habit of expecting the worst out of life. I was miserable, obese, depressed, and in an unhappy marriage. It wasn’t how I was as a child, but I grew into this habit almost like it was just part of “growing up”.

It has been hard work, but I think I’m coming back to expect the best, particularly out of people. I’m shaky at this relearned skill. It is pretty easy to fall back into the trap of feeling like I don’t deserve the best, something I learned in my childhood. I practice though. I acknowledge my brain coming up with all the worst-case scenarios and try to meet a person or a moment without expecting that the worst will happen. Most of the time I am relieved to find that instead of the worst, people reveal their best to me.

Sometimes we learn by watching and seeing what not to do. I watched my family and I’ve generally applied myself to doing exactly the opposite of them. Some people rebel by making destructive choices. My life of compassion, yoga, meditation, art, laughter, friends, and community is one big act of rebellion against the example my family set for me.

Stumbling on Joy

It is 9 days before my birthday and my Mom’s avoiding/shunning me. She knows I disapprove of a choice she’s made recently and since she can no longer exile me to my bedroom for weeks on end, she just doesn’t call. And it sucks. A lot.

My Mom’s health has been fragile my whole life. A couple months ago she started talking about finally moving to an apartment much closer into town. We were really relieved to hear this from her. CK and I would be able to check in on her, take her shopping, and drop food off for her regularly. She’d also be able to access public transit and have some sense of independence, something she’s felt very depressed about since she remarried.

There we were, finally looking seriously at meeting her needs and doing things to improve her quality of life, quite likely increasing the time she does have left. I did a lot of searching and out of the blue she suggested a retirement community. I hadn’t hoped for anything that good and was really excited about her choice. We’d even found a wonderful place in SE Portland. She put a deposit down on it and talked excitedly about her new apartment as I drove her back to Gresham.

Then she didn’t talk to me for 2+ weeks. I tried to call and the number had been disconnected. Her mobile phone went directly to voicemail. After a few days of that I finally called her husband’s business line and after a moment of saying hello to me he asked if I wanted to speak with my Mom.

She was sick, coughing and had laryngitis so bad I could barely understand her. She’d been out at her husband’s for a few days and was really ill again. She managed to tell me that she wasn’t going to move to the apartment in town, she was moving back out to her husband’s home in Corbett.

My Mom has been told by two different doctors that she cannot live out at her husband’s house . There are too many things that could cause her to fall (and have) and there is so much mold and dust there that it compromises her lungs. Every time she is out there for more than a couple of days she gets sick, sometimes to the point of hospitalization.

My Mom has been in the hospital over 13 times in the past few years since marrying her husband and moving out there. She has also told me over and over and over that there are far too many painful memories in Corbett, where she was raised, and she doesn’t want to live there. She really loves her husband, but living with him endangers her health and he refuses to move into “town” to be with her. Even the small suburb my Mom has been living in is too much town for him and he hates the idea of leaving Corbett unless his health makes him. His health is failing too, he has ALS, and she isn’t capable of caring for him.

After my initial shocked, “What.” I managed to calmly ask her to please phone me when she was well enough to talk to me about it.

That was at the beginning of the month and she hasn’t called. There is a part of me that is worried that her health has worsened and no one has remembered to contact me. It is possible, but it is equally likely that she doesn’t want to talk to me because it will make her feel bad and ashamed, which makes her angry with me.

I’m not calling. It grates on me daily, as does the lack of voicemails on the phone, but I resist the nagging urge to call her and make her feel better. At this point it isn’t just anger and stubbornness on my part (which she’d accuse me of), but both of my therapists have advised me not to call while I’m feeling so hurt and angry.

I feel like a terrible daughter. I feel furious. I feel deeply ashamed of myself. I feel terribly hurt. I feel abandoned. I feel betrayed.

I am also profoundly sad that she has given up on the excitement and happiness I witnessed in her so briefly. It has had me recalling a line from A Bitterness by Mary Oliver, a poem I’ve mentioned in relationship to my Mom once before.

I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.

My Mom choosing to live in an environment that physically endangers her, choosing to reject the possibility of happiness and comfort, and finding ways to sabotage it, is my Mom stumbling on joy again. Regardless of how much I wanted her to make the right choice for herself, no matter how it made me feel so much relief and like my needs around her were being met because she made a healthy choice for herself, she stumbled. She had joy in front of her and she stumbled, just like she always has, my whole life.

Last night my EMDR therapist, PB, leaned in close to me, her hands on my knees, and said emphatically, “Your Mother is mentally ill. She can’t change.”

I’m still letting these words settle.

PB told me that it was time for me to write a letter to my Mom. I don’t have to send it, but she thinks it is important for me to express the depth of betrayal and hurt I feel over all the times in my life my Mom stumbled and made choices that didn’t take my needs into account. Giving voice to my anger and hurt in this way will let me return to the place where I can love my Mom without judgement. PB also suggested drumming and spending some time in a batting cage.

I do love my Mom. I do believe she was cheated by this life. I deeply want to see her comforted after all the pain I’ve watched her suffer my whole life. As a Buddhist I know we suffer when we cling to anything, but it is exceedingly difficult to not cling to the desire to see my Mom content and at ease.

So that I may not stumble upon the considerable joy in my life I am going to learn to give back the shame my family gave me, over and over. I will acknowledge that it is not unnatural for me to be angry about my childhood and angry that my Mom’s abdicated the role of a parent, forcing it upon me for nearly all of my life. I will continue to try and make the right choices in my life; learning from my Mother’s mistakes and breaking these toxic patterns in my family.

As painful as it is to take in, I hold close the knowledge that my Mom is mentally ill. I will hold this carefully so that I may love her without any hope that she’ll ever grow up and make the right choices.

Mom Finds a Sand Dollar

I really treasure this picture I took of my Mom this spring. It is incredibly rare to capture of picture of her smiling and experiencing joy. My Mom has only experienced joy as a fleeting moment in her life, not a real presence.