So much for my National Poetry Month pledge. Ah well.
Creativity, writing or other artistic medium, has been distant this winter into spring. I'm also not really motivated to read much either. I was thinking this morning about the two kinds of shame that arise around this. First out of the gate comes the, "Why are you at your desk working on collage, polymer clay pieces, organizing, bead work, anything!?" That one is so obvious. I should be making an effort to spend time at my desk dedicated to my art. This is the way artists become selling artists.
The more subtle voice of criticism is softer and hints at some colossal, irredeemable flaw in not wanting to be creative. To be perfectly content in this slow, fugue state and not desire to break out and make art seems like the biggest betrayal, failure of them all.
Which means that some days, still many days, I work a little (3 classes a week, moving up to 5 come June), try to take care of some household errands and/or chores, and nap. I still feel kind of amazed at just how much I still nap and how an hour of therapy can throw me into a tailspin lasting for days. A particularly intense therapy session earlier this month has seen me back to nearly daily naps, many over 2-3 hours.
What finally occurred to me on the 11th was that I'm angry. I left that therapy session angry, which was a far healthier response than the shame and body disgust I went in with. That said, I'm really at a loss when it comes to anger. A childhood of being disallowed the expression of any "negative emotions", anger, disrespecting elders, "talking smart", anything perceived or labeled as "back talk", etc. As a young child this was enforced through physical action followed by banishing me to my bedroom where I was also not to cry and carry on, lest I be "given something to cry about". As I grew older I would mostly just be banished. Cut off from contact aside from school attendance. The rest of the time I was in my room with the door closed, shutting me away.
What I realized now is that when I'm angry I tend to get in a gray, exhausted, demotiavted funk really quickly. This leads me to just go to bed and nap. I go somewhere quiet and try to wait it out. Which really worked for me growing up, but as an adult.... well it still works because I'm teaching and not working some stressful, full-time+ job in IT. However, I also get that the anger I feel at the abuses I survived is a pretty reasonable response.
And yet... there are my vows, particularly the Ninth Grave Precept which directs us to, "Actualize harmony. Do not be angry."
So I'm trying to find ways that let me acknowledge and reconcile the anger I feel, particularly my "inner, younger selves" that were so utterly denied any way to express anger at what was happening in the present moment. Ways to express the anger that are safe, measured, and do not bring further harm to myself or others. I'm brainstorming some "intuitive art" sessions where I just pick colors, textures, words, and images from my collage materials that the inner anger resonates with and, on the advice of my therapist and CK, I occasionally try yelling and screaming in the car.
October is here, arriving with a burst of rain and then come days of warm, summery days and crisp evenings. Really, one of my favorite times of year in Portland. Leaves are just turning, apples are plentiful, all the moss that had gone brown in the summer heat turns to green again. I'll miss the last two weeks of the month because we'll be leaving the house, and all the beautiful creatures living in it, in the very capable hands of a dear friend while CK and I enjoy a trip.
Part of the trip for her will be work, but we have several days for just us. It has only taken two marriage ceremonies for us to have a honeymoon, but we're finally doing it. I'm getting really excited for the adventure of an entirely new place, one I've always wanted to visit. I'm also just happy for us, the last few trips CK and have taken together have been completely overshadowed by the Mama-Drama-Rama the claimed 2012 & 2013. We deserve a nice holiday with no emergencies to deal with at home.W
My talk to MozFest didn't get accepted, which is disappointing, but it is nice to not be worrying about my slides, etc. before giving a talk. I will be attending though, if anyone else is there and wants to look me up.
I've been applying for teaching positions at studios around town. Really, it feels like auditioning, particularly when I give a demo of my teaching. I never thought I'd come to prefer the grueling, multi-person, multi-hour interviews of the tech industry, but the audition thing is so nerve wracking that I'd take the old way back any day! What I've discovered is that there are a lot of teachers in the area and a lot of owners that have a very specific image they're trying to project.
No, I'm still not working in tech. The earliest review of that, a date given grudgingly, would be January 2015. However, the overwhelming opinion is in favor of me not going back to the tech industry at all. I've been noodling over this quite a bit the past few weeks after getting some unexpected news about my last company/team. I spent a good week in blue sky mode, fantasizing about going back so I could prove I could hack it, or make a difference, or finish something.
Then I had a good talk about all these feelings coming up with my therapist and after some discussion I saw that a large part of my desire to return to my last company is out of some hope it will "fix" my feelings about leaving college. It will somehow repair the past if I prove something that doesn't really matter in the present.
That brings me back to healing from the idea that you can spend 17 years building yourself into something and be told that you have to stop. I never thought that would ever happen. Maybe wouldn't have had I not had such a supportive wife and felt that I still had to keep everything moving along, regardless of my own health and the health of my relationships.
I am humbled by the abundance of support I now have in my life. Instead of trying to find a job that just gets me by, that doesn't let me take the time to really heal the hurt and trauma I've survived, I am instead thinking of ideas of how to market my private yoga sessions with people. I'm also on Week 6 of The Artist's Way, and that has been bringing me some profound insight on how I view my health and identifying the ways in which I'm mean to myself; writing things down so I can better work with them. I've also been working through a lot of anger about my Mother, huge amounts; my therapist and PMHNP both say that it is about time for me to feel angry, about a whole lot of things.
All that means I'm also still napping, which I'm trying to be less judgmental about having identified my impatience for my need to rest as a way I'm mean to myself! Some things, like having a 45 minute conversation about what it was like at my job this time last year as part of the process to review my eligibility for unemployment benefits, will leave me feeling worn out for a day or two. I am keeping in mind and trying to celebrate that it is an improvement over a week's fugue-state after challenging tasks like that.
The good news about sticking with the hard work is that it is helping things out; I am getting unemployment benefits now that I've been released to some kind of work and am actively searching. I'm going to be applying for a couple of programs that help you establish your own business, which I'm qualifying for since my physician has advised me not to return to my old career. Teaching classes here and there is going to be hectic and costly in regards to time spent commuting and fuel. CK has been brainstorming ideas for me to set up a solo teaching practice, with a class or workshop at a studio here and there.
I've also just started an Etsy shop. It isn't "open" yet because I need to face down my block over photographing artwork to post. In addition to pieces listed, I'll also be taking custom work. This winter I experienced a huge shift it what I was creating and am really excited by the direction I'm heading it, but I've avoiding photography for some fear of failure.
I'm planning to take an introduction to matting and framing artwork class at the Multnomah Arts Center next month. I plan to use at least one of my own pieces of artwork since I have so many questions on how to mat them. I know it will get me over the fear of using the mat cutter I bought a few months ago!
Since I've been doing so much with making art, I've started a new blog, ZenZada. We're also going to include stories about our life (mostly raccoon adventures thus far), reviews of places we stay when we travel, vegan/GF travel tips, and other lifestyle things like that. I started it in part to have a place to write about my co-creative art project with a Portland artist.
Vegan Nosh continues to move along, I've been doing a series of experiments with vegan burger recipes and posting about them. Since we found out CK cannot have gluten, I've been doing more experimenting and cooking at home, which is really better for us in so many ways.
**Trigger Warning: Lots and lots of Mom Stuff, Abusive behavior, references to childhood abuse and dealing with addiction issues**
It has been a year since we moved into our new home, 11 months since Mom moved in with us. It has been quite a year.
Honestly, I have found it hard to write about anything. This year has been facing the reality that I am unable to affect my Mom's happiness, no matter how hard I try.
It has also taken away my last hopes that maybe my childhood wasn't awful. That it only had moments of lousiness. That my Mom was pretty good the majority of the time.
Those last hopes are pretty much gone having seen how quickly CK has seen Mom's manipulative tendencies. How swiftly she's become horrified by and angry at Mom's behavior. It is deeply painful to really acknowledge the truth of one of my therapists observing that she felt my entire childhood was devoid of any adult who had my best interests at heart.
All I've wanted for Mom is to see her content, happy even if just in small ways. I gave up on seeing Mom have a life that's fulfilling a long time ago after realizing that I don't think I could recognize what that means to Mom. I also recognized a long time ago that what I find fulfilling, my Mother finds either amusing or baffling, which also hurts.
We hoped that by bringing Mom to live with us we could help relieve some of things she was clearly overwhelmed by. Living alone she fell several times, kept getting sick, and was clearly not coping with anything. I was going out to Gresham all the time, sometimes in a panicked rush. We knew that with some oversight with medication and meals, and some company, that she would stabilize. I'd hoped that with stability we might have the space to enjoy some of our time together.
The first weekend after she moved in we had a low blood sugar incident because Mom had taken insulin and didn't follow up with food. We were out running errands and not here to supervise. When we arrived home Mom was barely responsive, clammy, and incoherent.
By "incident" I mean a fire truck out front, 6 or 7 very large, male EMTs in our cramped living room that had just been filled with Mom's stuff, and an ambulance ride. It was the second time in my life I've been asked to "ride shotgun" in an ambulance with someone I know being stabilized in the back. I gave directions to the hospital, the ER doc went over her list of medications in shock. After returning home from the hospital we also took over Mom's medications, particularly things like Oxycodone and Ativan, which we caught her about to incorrectly dose herself.
It hit us really hard that the terrifying mix of Ambien, Ativan, Oxycode, and Fentanyl patches she was on left her in kind of a vague haze all the time. If you add to the the insulin, forgetting to eat, and not eating well we knew it was really no wonder she hadn't fallen more. A combination of over-medicating herself and low blood sugars could have very easily been lethal.
Since this incident all her diabetes medications and insulin levels have been adjusted and we most often check into be sure she's eaten after insulin. CK spent several months having weekly calls with a diabetes nurse specialist at Kaiser to track Mom's blood glucose, get Mom off the Metformin, figure out what the new R and N insulin doses should be, and what the best scale for corrective R insulin needs to be. We make sure Mom checks her blood glucose 4 times a day, correcting the insulin dose 2-3 times each day.
Every other week for the past year and a half or so I set up her meds for the next two weeks. We've also realized that she still doesn't do well getting them out of the containers, often leaving pills behind, and occasionally taking the pills incorrectly (wrong days, wrong time to take them, etc.). Since last autumn every morning we set out a day's pills in small ceramic ramekins, each resting on a colored sticky note to indicate which time it is to be taken.
I now also dispense her Fentanyl patches, which she also hadn't been taking correctly. I've got her to stop taking Ativan too and work with her in stressful situations to try and focus on her breath, reminding her that she's alright. Besides which, her last physician had prescribed it only because of the traumatic way her late husband's family dumped her at the independent living facility in January 2012. Mom isn't having panic attacks anymore, so it doesn't make sense for her to keep taking Ativan on a daily basis. At times she was taking one a few times a day in combination with Oxycodone 1-2 at a time, "as needed". Yes, that is on top of 100mg Fentanyl patches and her taking Ambien at bedtime.
We've stopped the Ambien too, particularly since she already is taking an Oxycodone at bedtime too. When she was taking those Ambien and Oxycodone at bedtime she would become alarmingly out-of-it. No surprise.
Then there's the kidney disease. After years of diabetes, and not really doing a good job managing it, with the related medications like Metformin has left Mom's kidneys is sorry shape. The result is a constant struggle with anemia since her kidneys fail to adequately do their part of the job of red blood cell production. This means bi-weekly blood work to see how her blood levels are. When they're falling, there is the scheduling for a type & cross-match followed by a transfusion, sometimes needed monthly. She had an access port installed several years ago, but to ensure that it always properly working in case a transfusion is needed we also have to have bi-weekly port flushes scheduled. Since we've engaged the help of the care management folks at least the work of taking Mom to a Kaiser facility weekly is offloaded from us, but still we're always reviewing the lab results. We also weekly dispense a dose of Procrit which stimulates the kidneys into working and have regular calls with the nephrology pharmacy as the dosage needs to change to try and keep ahead of the anemia.
It hasn't been easy getting Mom's health to stabilize, but we've done it. There have been no more serious falls and no more low blood sugar incidents. On top of that the change to a vegan diet* and stabilization of her blood glucose levels has meant that her eyes** are actually improving, her near constant digestive distress has been resolved, and her triglycerides have lowered to the point they can actually be measured.***
*Mostly vegan, we encourage her to eat as she likes outside the home.
**Mom is legally blind due to complications of the diabetes. Her eyes have had a lot of swelling in them, necessitating treatments directly too them. Her eye doctor was actually quite pleasantly surprised at our last visit and felt that the diet change and blood sugar stabilization is clearly helping. He told Mom that she should keep doing what she's been doing!
***Yes, Mom's triglycerides have been so high they've been out of measurable range.
We've worked with a new physician on what her dose of Oxycodone is, but Mom often complains about wanting to go back to when she was self-dosing with these. The amount we can get from the pharmacy is very strictly controlled and we're not allowed to pick them up early. On more than one occasion we've come up short of the date, which leaves me suspecting that she can actually get into them on the high shelf I've put them. In fact, I've moved them this week because I really think some of those prescriptions have been "short" because she's got into them.
There's been some good, but mostly it has just been a damn long couple of years we're coming up on. That said, it has been a particularly lousy week.
Sunday, when CK and I were going to leave to go take care of the week's grocery shopping Mom somewhat snidely remarked that she hoped we had fun without her.
Mom's been resentful for a while that grocery shopping isn't set aside as a fun outing for her to poke around the store. Getting the grocery shopping is largely a chore I like to get done with as efficiently as possible and I realized early on that shopping with her took at least twice as long. I also had to stop her from nearly running into people with the shopping cart she insists on using. Grocery shopping with Mom makes a tolerable chore an anxiety inducing activity.
On Monday I had to admit I was fighting a cold. Watching CK play Skyrim after dinner started making horribly dizzy so I went to lay down. While I was doing so I could overhear Mom, through her closed door, on the phone with a friend complaining about us, particularly about how "of course" we didn't take her with us shopping along with other bitterness.
This is not the first time one of us has overheard Mom bitching about us on the phone. CK even confronted Mom once after overhearing her telling a friend that I was misusing her funds. What shocked CK most about this is my lack of surprise that Mom should get caught saying awful things about me to people behind my back. She's done it many times in my life, at various ages.
On Tuesday Mom's blood glucose at dinner was unexpectedly high, particularly since she'd had lunch earlier than usual that day. It was high enough that I'd asked her what she had for lunch and asked if she'd had a snack in the afternoon. A snack would have been fine, I just wanted the 220 blood glucose to make some sense. I had her retest, assuming she had something on her hands, but it was still at 200. I just shook my head over it and gave her a higher dose of the R insulin to take before dinner. We've suspected Mom's been snacking in her room because she's been overheard munching at times and we've also caught Dora licking up crumbs off the floor. We've asked her about it, but she always denies it. sometimes really defensively.
On Thursday morning CK realized that our recycling and compost cans didn't make it down to the curb and rush out in the morning to do so. She discovered Mom had accidentally dumped the small trash can from her bedroom into the recycling. This has happened a couple of times. We've labeled the cans with big reflective letter stickers, we've suggested she not take it out when it is dim outside (which makes it even harder for her to see which can is which), and we've even noted that her trash is emptied every other week by the person who comes and cleans the house for us. Still, it is one of those things where she still wants to feel like she can do something herself, so sometimes we end up with trash in the compost and recycling, leaving whoever finds it the messy job of getting the trash out of the wrong bin and into the right one.
That's not the bad part. Yes, it is frustrating and irritating, but if that's the only irritation we dealt with it would be entirely manageable.
In the trash CK discovered several Twinkie wrappers and a receipt from buying some herbal weight loss pills while out shopping with friends when we visited Toronto for our anniversary. Take away that Twinkies aren't vegan. Take away that she's self medicating with weight loss pills that, combined with all the medications for her diabetes, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure, not to mention her pacemaker, are really a dangerous combination. Not to mention just being a bad idea to take them with Mom's combination of health challenges. Take all that away and we're left with her sneaking things that are not good for her and lying about it.
CK confronted her while I finished getting dressed. I had to take several deep breaths to go out into the kitchen where I could hear Mom implying that her hiding things was our fault. That she is forced to lie and sneak because we so rigid, don't let her have anything she wants, and "treat her like a child". I confronted her about the high blood glucose on Tuesday evening, noting that Twinkies explained it now. I told her I wouldn't have cared if she'd had a sugary treat, even if it isn't the right kind of choice for herself. I had just wanted to understand because unexplained highs or lows in the blood sugar can be indicative of something going on that should be seen to by her doctor.
Since Thursday morning Mom's barely spoken to us****. She is polite, but doesn't really engage and retreats to her room. I haven't given in to the old training that compels me to make it better for her, comfort her. CK is also not really talking to her at all after telling Mom she needed to really honestly talk to us. Right before Mom told CK that she's not a psychologist and she can't make Mom say anything.
This past spring we had an assessment of Mom done by a company in town that provides care coordination and management for seniors and other vulnerable people. They advised that Mom shouldn't be living with us, that the level of oversight and assistance she needs would require us bringing in a lot of extra help in the home. I've also been questioned pretty repeatedly by both of my therapists this past year about what I get out of having Mom live here, aside from the reassurance that direct oversight of her provides.
Mom's not happy here. My therapists believe Mom really isn't capable of happiness, that she connects with others only through misery. Lately I think the main things she gets out of being here is an increase in her monthly income, because she's not spending as much for her "rent", and access to a hot tub. I've felt for several years that while Mom says she loves me, she doesn't like me. She doesn't respect me, doesn't understand me, and feels entitled to demand respect from me.
Mom has this idea that merely attaining a certain age entitles someone to be respected regardless of how they behave. Growing up I was repeatedly told that age demanded respect, regardless of truth or what was ethically right. Mom also raised me to respond to her unhappiness, to do anything to make her happy and to make things easier for her.
Add to a huge, lifelong list of behavior and mental health issues the fact that the clear toll of the past couple of traumatic years is a decline in cognitive ability. Add to that the reality that Mom can go from generally OK to totally decompensated very quickly. This progression is so rapid that it is not advisable for her to take public transportation, not even the ride share for seniors. She does take a shuttle to the senior center, but those drivers have more experience dealing with folks like Mom.
The assessment folks were right. CK and I are so overwhelmed with the effort to care for her that that effort combined with our respective, demanding jobs, means we often have little energy left to connect with one another. It has become increasingly clear that Mom does not, cannot appreciate the tremendous effort it takes to keep her health stable. In fact, I often am left feeling like she resents our efforts to keep her health stabilized because she doesn't want to think about what she eats, she doesn't want to keep a consistent schedule around eating, she wants to take all the pills that let her put this world she hates and the pain she fears behind a haze of fog.
The reality is that Mom will be unhappy, petty, and spiteful no matter where she lives. She will continue to decline mentally, further removing any hope that she can honestly engage with us about the hurtful ways she behaves. Not that she ever really has taken responsibility for her behavior.
On Tuesday afternoon we met with a woman who specializes in placing people in care facilities. She was recommended to us by the people who did the care assessment. Her belief, given Mom's cognitive state and mental health issues, is that Mom needs a residential care facility. She is encouraging us, me particularly, to understand that it is OK to pursue this decision about Mom's long term care, that it isn't reasonable for us to sacrifice our life together just so Mom can be terrible to us, me particularly. No sacrifice on our part can actually bring Mom happiness in any way, but will only further harm us.
****As of 11pm we've had a huge blow up, but I suppose at least it isn't festering just below the surface any longer.
My wife has had her life threatened on the internet. (trigger warning on that link)
Yes, really. It happened Friday, while she was away at Grace Hopper.
I haven't really said much about it yet because it has upset me so much. Perhaps more so because I was alone, on the opposite coast, and feeling especially helpless. However, she's been home for a day now and I'm still really very upset over it.
This has been a hell of a year for CK at her new job. She's tried to exceed expectations despite all the stuff happening with my Mom, not to mention the stress that has put on me, making me less available to help her out. She's succeeded too despite a hostile work environment.
I want to call attention to the hostile work environment expressly. This death threat starts back in March with CK logging into work and as part of her everyday job activities, coming across a blog post from a community member, a contract employee* at her company, asking for support to keep "traditional marriage" safe from people like us.
To restate, in case anyone missed it: CK started a day at her job by viewing, on a web site hosted by her company, which is part of her job to keep current on, a post stating that very nature of our desire for marriage equality makes us a threat to this man's way of life and expression of his faith.
Her company didn't act on this in a timely fashion and didn't already have in place a code of conduct for community members. Clearly time was being given to think through the response the company would make, but there was a very long stretch without updates from leadership. CK drew attention to her company's lack of response to her having to face a hostile work environment on her blog, following up a post she'd written about the start of the situation.
Bringing attention to this lack of action garnered a threatening comment from another co-worker letting her know that she and another queer co-worker weren't welcome at the company.
Her company eventually responded, again taking rather a long time, and the person has been reprimanded, but without being revealed publicly. I've seen the person's apology email and I feel the person spent far too much time excusing threatening behavior than actually owning the gravity of their actions and making amends for it.
In response to the whole situation CK wrote a post about the importance of accountability in communities and for this post she's received a death threat via the comments to her blog.
I really don't have a lot to contribute other than to draw attention to the fact that my wife has had to face a hostile work environment. Because she's refused to ignore it and because she's taken steps to document the broken community and processes at her company she's had her life threatened.
Think about my wife, and think about the rights we're denied because we're queer. Think about the violence we're threatened with if we speak out.
Next time you say that the open source community is free of sexism** and homophobia, is filled with people of such good standing there's no need for codes of conduct, and that fostering a culture based upon respect is unnecessary because everyone is just so awesome and smart... take a moment reflect upon the fact my wife, a recognized leader in the open source community, has received a death threat for refusing to just keep quiet over the hostile environment in her workplace, an open source company.
*This man has actually been made a full-time employee since this all started.
**Not to mention a whole lot of other -isms against other under-represented minorities.
Today was another page in the Troubles of Mom, sadly. Still don't want to say much in such a public forum, but the end result is that I'm feeling angry and sad tonight. So angry that the poetry I come up with is something like this:
I'm reminding of a song from Bruce Cockburn, "Pacing the Cage", which has the amazing lyrical image of "eddies in the dust of rage". The difficult waiting game, waiting out the rage, reminds me a lot of this song tonight.
And then on my commute home there was an enormous rainbow, clearly seen in a glorious arc across a gray, spring sky.
It is hard practice sitting between the simple joy of rainbows and unethical people hurting my Mom. Practicing with my own anger very certainly feels like all the training wheels are off.
And yet, there is this nagging commitment to poetry...
Waiting with Anger
There's a video on YouTube of Bruce Cockburn performing "Pacing the Cage", check it out!
Xenophobia is a great, big-points-in-Scrabble kind of word. Wictionary defines it thusly:
xenophobia (plural xenophobias)
- A fear of strangers or foreigners.
- A strong antipathy or aversion to strangers or foreigners.
Realize self and others as one. Do not elevate the self and blame others.
The past ten days have been a roller coaster, a Mom roller coaster. This time it is something entirely out of the realm of the usual conflicts and hurt between us. In some ways there's a rather painful familiarity to what's been happening, but for now I don't want to go into the details, although I will in time.
What I want to talk about is what happens when we do not realize the self and others as one. What happens and what we are capable of when we don't practice with the Seventh Grave Precept.
We truly see and hear about the consequences of seeing people as other every day. Wars, murder, sexual exploitation, ethnic violence, abuse, theft, and more all happen because one group of people sees another group as other and their xenophobia lets them justify all manners of horrifying behavior.
We also witness this when animals are treated as commodities to be tortured, killed, and consumed. We tell ourselves that animals don't feel the way we do, that their suffering isn't on par with ours so we find it acceptable to treat them horrifically. We justify laws that classify sentient beings as property and allow barbarous treatment of them to be classified as "animal agriculture".
The Seventh Grave Precept asks us to keep our hearts open to the compassion of the Buddhas. It tells us to never flinch away from taking responsibility for ourselves, never put ourselves above another being either by seeing them as other or through blaming them for our own poor choices. At every moment we look at another being knowing that they are absolutely the same, equal with ourselves.
The First Noble Truth reminds us that we all suffer. It is the human condition to suffer. In this, and in so many other ways, we're each of us exactly the same. We all long to be loved and seen for who we are. We fear the suffering of illness, injury, loss, and our inevitable deaths. Each and every moment we're all out there together with our worries, hopes, dreams, and desires.
The past 10 days have created a gulf between people who have tried, in their own flawed and human way, to love each other. There's been both discord and joy, misunderstanding and communion. There have been unexpected and grave illnesses. In the end my Mom was seen as other and experienced shocking treatment because of it.
It hurts a lot and I am mindful of an anger so keen that it leaves me feeling ashamed and overwhelmed.
In contrast to the negativity that comes from not practicing the Seventh Grave Precept, loving-kindness and compassion arise naturally. In response to the events of this past week I see the true compassion people have for one another. There have been so many people, some of them complete strangers, who've offered help, time, money, creative thinking, concern, and loving-kindness. People have been giving in so many unexpected ways. These kindnesses, both small and large, help me to remember to keep my heart open instead of closed in anger.
I did go to Denver for Jen's memorial. There was never really any question in my mind that I wanted to be there, but it was a hard decision in many ways. Difficult in large part because CK was co-chairing an event in Portland the same weekend and wouldn't be able to travel with me. A good friend offered to travel with me and I lucked out in being able to get her on the same flights that I was booked on, particularly for the flight home to Portland out of Denver International Airport, which has the "advanced imaging systems" well in place.
I haven't wanted to fly anywhere at all since TSA began their policy of doing invasive pat-downs if you opt-out of the full body scans. As someone who had at least one set of chest x-rays a year throughout my entire childhood and well into my 20s and 30s, I am mindful of how many times I get exposed to those kinds of radiation levels. Being asked to submit to a full-body x-ray type blast in order than some person in a dark room somewhere and peruse my nearly-naked image really kind of bothers me. It bothers me more to have a complete stranger, regardless of gender, touch me in my genital area and my breasts. It bothers me a great deal that to travel I must submit to being seen by a stranger nearly naked or submit to a level of touching that would be considered felony sexual assault if someone not in a TSA uniform attempted it.
So I felt I was faced with two choices that were not good for my physically or mentally. Given that I have a very small number of very private, but very meaningful, piercings, I worried that these appearing either on a full-body scan or during an invasive pat-down would be cause for even more invasive, triggering, traumatic treatment. By biggest concern was clearing security to come home and I was very worried that if things were traumatizing that I wouldn't be mentally capable of getting myself onto my plane. Having a friend travel with me helped alleviate these worries to the point that thinking of the travel didn't make me feel nauseous with anxiety.
As it was, I was on full-alert mode by the time we passed through security at PDX to board our plane to Denver. It was the way a TSA agent was telling a man in the security line behind me that he was going to give him a pat down. The agent carefully and clearly explained to the man traveling that he'd be running his hands over and around the buttocks, groin and genital area.
My travel companion hadn't even noticed. I had noticed and it made me shiver with anxiety despite my own uneventful trip through the security line. We made it to DIA without any problems, got our rental car, some amusement ensued around using the map function on my phone to try to get to a Whole Foods; we ended up at the distribution center near the airport.
We found the house and it swiftly filled up with college friends who had all come to Denver to honor Jen's life. I was so grateful for the simple lentil-based spaghetti sauce BD & VD had put together upon arriving to the house first. It was a huge relief to get there and have tasty, vegan food waiting for me.
It was on my third gin & tonic that I realized that my hyper-vigilance, which almost never turns all the way off, was out-of-control. I don't make ridiculously strong drinks, but under "normal" circumstances I'd certainly have noticed the affect of 3 drinks. I wouldn't have been so foolish as to get in the car and drive to prove to myself that I wasn't affected, but I know that if some emergency had arisen I would have been perfectly focused.
Even much later, after taking Xanax to help me sleep and give my muscles some relief from the tightness and muscle spasms, I was still completely wired. I was pretty much that way all weekend long and didn't manage to drop off into fitful, troubled sleep any earlier than 4AM. The first real sleep I managed to get was on the plane back to Portland.
The trip itself, seeing many friends from college, was bittersweet. I really enjoyed connecting with folks again, and it seemed right to share our sorrow about losing Jen. However, I felt I never left a state of hurt and shame. Many times I found myself feeling like I was not really a part, having not returned for my senior year.
Seeing my EMDR therapist a couple of days following we started to look at why talking about college just leaves me stuck in so much suffering. There is just so much shame for me around not finishing, feeling like I let myself down, my family down and my friends. Jen went through so much hell during what would have been our senior year. I feel like she'd tried to help me during my big crash our junior year, and my not being there for our senior year let her down.
I often felt like I kept monopolizing the conversation while in Denver. I just felt so awkward. I felt a lot of anger too at the advisers I had who utterly failed me. In hearing about how the school psychologist made some demands upon Jennifer her senior year I was angry for how she was treated, but even angrier that I never even know our college had any kind of mental health office at all. I was never told about one, referred to one... I don't know if it would have kept me from having a nervous breakdown, but it sure has hell would have been nice to know then that there was any kind of option.
VD, my other college best friend, reminded me that my two academic advisers were known assholes. While it was good to be reminded, it was also a reminder of just how little they did to help me. If I wasn't giving it my all, they didn't have much time for me. If I was floundering after being raped... they never asked. Not once. Instead I was told by both of them to get my shit together and get my grades back up.
Everything about college brings me around and around to being hurt, betrayed, and having my faith in men destroyed. From the fiance who raped me to my advisers who never tried to help in anyway. With that there's this constant feeling that all of that was my fault. My bad choices, my not saying "No" loudly or forcefully enough, my not standing up to my advisers.
Seeing my college friends kept me in a constant state of shame, hurt, and anger. On top of that the profound grief around Jen's death and terrible guilt that I should have done more to go see her while she was living. Stir in a good dose of awkwardness and the feeling like I was talking way, way too much.... Yeah, no wonder I didn't really sleep at all there.
Ultimately I am glad I went despite the deep discomfort I felt while there. Also despite the EMDR appointment afterward that left me totally unhinged in looking at all the stuff that's wrapped up in not finishing school. Reliving and pulling this stuff out into the light of day is contrary to everything I was taught (via intimidation, isolation and shame) as a child, but I do really see the correlation between the chronic pain I've had for over 11 years as well as a lifetime of insomnia.
I'm also glad I went for the time shared in the afternoon before Jen's memorial. We hung out in the morning and chatted. I made a paper memorial and MK told us about letterboxing. We set out to find a couple of letterboxes, only finding one. We gathered and did a small memorial of our own alongside a stream. We hung tokens we'd all brought and/or made into the tree above the stream. We hid a letterbox as a memorial for Jen. Then we all rushed back to change and go to the "official" memorial. These moments were the small window during which I felt a little more myself, and not emotionally raw and wired.
It has really hit me the past couple of weeks just how ill my Mom is. It wasn't that I was truly in denial, but just a real depth of grief that I've been feeling. I think the bittersweet energy of getting ready for a trip to the Oregon coast this past weekend, the sense of urgency around taking trips with her while she can still enjoy them is part of it. Another was overhearing her say to someone at a gallery that she was dying.
What occurred to me is that I've never heard my Mom make that kind of admission. She's always met cancer, or her other ills, head on and ready for a fight. Her response has always been that she's going to beat this latest assault to her body. Now she doesn't say that, she says that she is dying. She's does offer that she believes in miracles, so who knows what could happen, but that is usually an aside to saying she's finally, right now, alright with dying.
The cancer, somewhat at the top of her stomach, is late into Stage 2. This usually means it has spread to multiple layers of the stomach and/or the lymph nodes. It is causing her discomfort, nausea, and vomiting, particularly if she eats things that are difficult for the stomach to process. Because of these problems she's fighting some malnourishment already.
Last week CK and I picked up Mom and took her to a small place south of Yachats. She had been a little worried at first about what she'd eat, but finally decided she was up for trying new things. I spent much of last week cooking several dishes that were vegan and all soy-free except for the chick pea salad, which had Vegenaise in it. Mom has at times been a little sensitive to soy, although it has been hard to pin down.
We noticed she did pretty well with small meals. I made her a fruit smoothie each morning and added some brown rice protein. She enjoyed our vegan, some raw, dishes very much and didn't seem to get sick from eating them. She did end up eating too much of the lentil/walnut loaf with mashed potatoes & gravy, this made her somewhat nauseated, but she was alright after laying down to rest for a while.
One afternoon we ate out and she ordered a hamburger with bacon and cheese. We didn't say anything, at this juncture it seems rather pointless to bug her. After, back at the inn, CK and I went out onto the rocky shore and Mom lay down. She told us later that this overly indulgent meal ended up making her really nauseated and she eventually vomited. I was relieved when later that day she was able to eat and enjoy a tostada with homemade, refried black beans on a baked corn tortilla.
There she was, very literally made ill by her bad choice and regretting it. I would later point out, after she was feeling better and able to hear it, that the animal proteins and fats are probably more difficult for her stomach to deal with, especially in such a large serving. I don't think a vegan diet will save my Mom's life at all, but I did see in the long weekend that the smaller, vegan meals we're easier on her body.
I later recalled listening to her order that hamburger, hearing the mix of defiance and guilt in her voice. She knew she was doing the wrong thing for her body, but she didn't want to feel like she was somehow denying herself. My Mom's choices so often seem like a child is making them, a child who wants to be indulged and doesn't give a damn about any potential consequences. I've watched this pattern with her again and again, in so many different variations.
Like so many things it seems pointless, cruel even, to shine a light too brightly on her continually making poor choices. Once or twice something she said triggered a painful memory and I felt angry at her for trying to rewrite events in my life, trying to cast herself in a more favorable light. It would strike me how childish the behavior was in many ways, like the bad choices about food, and how sad. The anger would die down pretty quickly I noticed, leaving behind layers and layers of sadness.
I'm sad my Mom is dying. I'll think about something, like what she's doing for Christmas, and it will occur to me that she could be gone before then. I'm sad for the anger I still feel over many of the selfish, mindless choices she's made, but it seems so trivial to bring them up when I watch her and see the layers of pain she's dealing with. I'm sad for all the poor choices she's made and the many ways those choices have left her regretful and unhappy; I can see the weight of the unhappiness and regret on her.
Had an interesting discussion with my therapist today about JS's comments about the energy of anger in Chinese medicine. She felt it made a lot of sense for this to be stuck for me. My entire life has been a long series of not having the space to set boundaries. As a child my ability to set them was either denied or taken from me if I tried. As an adult I've experienced having people, partners even, disrespect or undermine the boundaries I would try to set.
The result has always been to over compensate. Just function higher, do more, try harder and pick up the slack. Always.
Oh, and when I fail? Self-direct that anger for a perceived inability to always pick up the slack when other people break down those boundaries. Why, yes, that does mean that I beat myself up for failing to be perfect.
She felt that if I could learn to set those firm, clear boundaries around my needs that it would heal the body that responds in muscle spasms to the energy of the anger being stuck, denied. Even more importantly it would heal the awful shame that arises any time I engage my sense of vulnerability around expressing my needs. That I need to address this in the present to heal the old pain.
This seems more attainable. I've been spinning around this idea, fed in part by the writing about trauma recovery, that I've needed to get in touch with the anger I feel about the abuse. I know I do, it does make me angry and I'm really alright with it. I think this is one of those times it is OK to look at a situation and say the anger is reasonable. I've even met the rage of the child I was at 13 while in sesshin (it was deeply unsettling).
But do I feel some need to throw cups and break them? Maybe a little, only in my mind. The thought of standing out in my yard shattering pottery seems kind of silly and excessive. It is a good metaphor - break the dirty cups of my life I have such a hard time not minding. In practice though, I don't really connect to it. Perhaps because in practice I have this vow I made to not give rise to anger, but to seek the source.
When I do engage the feelings and thoughts around the anger at the abuse I feel grief. When I seek the headwaters of it, so to speak. I feel the intense hurt of an injured child and young woman. At times these things have themselves felt terrifying and overwhelming.
Even at those times when I am in direct painful contact with memories of trauma I don't feel the need to scream and throw things. These times are where I come into contact with grief again and I acknowledge that the anger is reasonable. The anger is just there, with the memory. There are memories that I know will always carry anger around them, but it is old and I don't honestly feel the need to let it come rushing back through me in the now. I just want to get it out of my left leg and hip.
GM said she's always felt that this is a more positive thing anyway, that I don't feel some intense need to express the anger beyond acknowledging that it is there. As painful and overwhelming as it gets sometimes it is expressing the emotions that fuel the anger anyway. If I was still stuck in a rage it would mean I wasn't accessing the grief causing it. She felt there isn't really any need to spend time on trying to express the past, other than to keep present to the hurt that arises and greet it compassionately.
This anger energy in the present, that is something to learn. How to use the energy of bamboo shooting up through cold, dark earth to burst forth into green life in the spring. That is the energy of boundary setting.
I feel like I've been sensing those gray edges of depression for a few weeks now. No, I don't feel like I'm sliding deeply into that dark funk, just aware of how it shows up as the growing frustration that seems closer at hand lately. I am so spun up with self-doubt from my Inner Critic that it is causing me to have problems processing what people say to me. Everything I hear comes through the filter of self-doubt and only then seems to confirm the uncertainty I feel or as if I am truly being questioned about my ability.
It is getting tedious.
A suggestion was made to me today - Perhaps I need to actually allow myself to feel the anger I have. To resent the hell out of the things I resent until I'm done resenting them. Yes, I may have acknowledged that I feel it, but I view as if from afar.
Anger feels terrifying to me. This is something not uncommon in abuse survivors. Anger is a signal that things are about to go seriously wrong on some, if not many, levels. Quite often as children we are denied it, punished for it. It is pretty understandable that I really don't have any tools to express it now.
So there it sits. I look at it and go, "eeew, scary anger." Rather like viewing a scary predator at the zoo or aquarium*.
And there I am minding the dirty cup and ignoring the pure wine in it. Again.
Today I was also reminded that the sensation of being broken, that is just the element of suffering we all share. Bad, unfair things happen and each and every one of us is touched in some way by them. We all have some way in which we feel that sensation of brokenness. This is the First Noble Truth.
Leaning into the anger, going through it, is a very sharp point indeed. Practice has taught me that it is possible to relax into grief, to settle into it. I was able to navigate myself, teach myself even in the grip of terrible, ages old fear. But my mind really pulls away from experiencing the anger.
I hear my fearful-mind rationalizing, looking at the anger closely and reminding me of the Ninth Precept. "Oh no," she says, "we cannot give rise to anger."
Yet I know that's another way of keeping that scary predator safely in the tank, behind glass. Viewed, appreciated, acknowledged, but not touched. If anger turned outward is unhealthy for those around us, and anger turned inward is depression, then what is the middle was of experiencing anger in a way that is healthy?
*Just on a side note - I fortunate to see the Great White Shark that was at the Monterey Aquarium a while ago. She was, to borrow inspiration from Umberto Eco, beautiful and terrible, like an army arrayed with banners.