Since Mom's abrupt departure this past November we've been slowly making the house feel more like our space. We've made the guest room more welcoming and moved in the dressers CK's Mom and step-father brought up for us. What was Mom's bedroom has become our practice room; a space for meditation and yoga.
Several years ago, when Mom was moving out of the home she and my Dad shared I took home the remaining of her Seven Dwarves, a little gnome, and leprechaun. Mom didn't want them, given that she was downsizing to an urban apartment she didn't have the space, and the dwarves themselves reminded her of her mother. We'd put them and a few other things at the front of the door, hoping that the familiar might help Mom in the transition to living with us.
My grandmother had made each daughter a set of the Seven Dwarves. She had got around to making a Snow White for her oldest daughter, her favorite, but never managed to get around to making one for my Mom.
As we've reclaimed the space there's been a lot of discussion about the disposition of these yard ornaments. They really weren't in good enough condition to donate, one even being broken at the back, and having them around just reminded me of the dreams for Mom I've had to let go of.
I took all the ideas and decided to put them all into play in different ways. Those ornaments that weren't already breaking I would "release into the world". Today our friend MC and I took Dora for a walk and placed the 2 unbroken dwarves and the gnome out along a trail in a small park not far from the house. It felt good to place these, I hope that these bring a smile to people walking in the park, a bit of whimsy to brighten their day.
Today is my Mom's 71st birthday. I've not sent her a card and will not be calling her later, in fact I don't even have whatever number she now has.
I feel like a terrible daughter, but I'm working on that because I know that having set this boundary with my Mother is the best choice for the sake of my health and they health of my marriage. I wisely scheduled a visit from friends for lunch and therapy this afternoon.
A year ago we were trying to make a celebration in Hawaii for Mom's 70th birthday, an age I never expected her to see. Even though we'd made all the arrangements and took special care, I was left feeling like Mom found her birthday a let down. On her birthday itself we went out to a restaurant where we could all get tasty food and she could have the fish she had said she was craving. She'd have rather gone to a different restaurant, but knew it would leave CK and I with no real choice for something we could eat. Later she'd make a point to tell me how the fish at a restaurant we like wasn't good, in fact she'd tell me at least a couple more times while in Hawaii that her birthday dinner wasn't very good. The travel back home was miserable.
I feels like things started to deteriorate rather quickly after that trip. Mom's increasing dissatisfaction in living with us; snide comments escalating to sharp words. Again overhearing her telling friends how it wasn't what it seemed here, that we didn't really take good care of her or make anything nice for her to eat or special dishes. Worse, her intimating to people that she felt I was misusing my access to her bank account. Attempts to take her out for lunch on weekends were spent in near silence, her eating but not really interested in engaging with us at all.
When Mom came to live with us I still had this desperate hope that I could really help. I had an even more tightly held hope that my Mom wasn't as bad as I thought, that some of my tense, defensive behavior toward her wasn't warranted. Seeing Mom through the lens of CK's view, free of my history, would let me heal some of that distrust that came up for me.
Only that turned out not to be the case, not entirely and not how I hoped. True, we managed to tremendously improve Mom's health. She was in better health than she'd been in for a few years. She was in much better health for making the transition to an assisted living facility. One of the things that hurts is finding out that Mom didn't really want her health improved, she didn't want to let go of her personal mythology that her health was an insurmountable obstacle and she a helpless victim of her bad health. She resented that careful blood glucose monitoring and insulin adjustments, along with a healthier, vegan diet improved her health noticeably.
The rest of it, the harder part, is how quickly CK saw the narcissistic, petty, ill person I'd been raised by. Not only was my feeling the need to defend myself warranted, it needed to be bolstered by setting the kind of boundary I've now set. As painful as this has all been, devastatingly so, I know I wouldn't have been able to see my Mom and my childhood quite so clearly if we hadn't moved Mom in with us. I was correct that in changing my view by seeing her as CK sees her would teach me a lot, the sad part is that it wasn't what I was hoping for. It wasn't that changing my stiff interactions with her would improve anything, not in the long run, since my Mom has never really wanted a relationship with me. The only relationship that is possible with her is the one where I'm not me, I'm her "miracle daughter" who takes care of her every selfish need. The mirror of the person she wanted to be.
That explains it so well, that she expected me to mirror back to her the girl she had wanted to be. Between trying to force me into becoming the person she wished she'd been, and either subverting and punishing me for asserting my own identity, it makes sense. When called on this behavior she attacked us.
I wisely scheduled a visit with one of my therapists today. She asked me what it was I was losing by sticking with my boundary-setting not contacting her. I thought about it a lot, I mean I'm clearly "losing" many things that do not further my life or my health. What is it that I feel loss for, what do I grieve, that's what I thought about. I finally replied that I was losing the fairy tale; a mother who cherished, supported, and believed in me. A mother who cheered me on as I made my way and who would always have my back. The kind of mother I see so many friends write about having. I have to set that particular hope aside so that I can move forward with healing and becoming the person I want to be.
I can still hold her in my heart, sending thoughts of loving-kindness her way along with my earnest wishes for her to experience peace and happiness, or even just contentment. I can feel great compassion for her inability to move towards health, but I cannot see her. Having compassion for her does not mean I set aside my own health or sacrifice my relationship with CK.
The last several weeks have been strange, new territory for me. Sleeping. Creating. Learning how to be cared for. Letting go into rest.
I've had a few interviews and a lot of interest, but nothing solid yet. Perhaps as spring arrives new opportunities will as well career-wise.
There's quite a lot up in the air, awaiting decisions from other parties. My goal is to try not to think too much about the unknown. As always, the practice of just being present.
We've made quite of lot of changes around our home since November. We've hung up a few more things, moved furniture around, had a few more pieces of art framed. It feels more like a home now, safer and more comforting. All the companion animals feel it too. Obie particularly has come further out of his shell and plays much more than he ever has, sometimes even bringing me one of his favorite toy mice.
Perhaps one of the most significant signs of healing has been my return to making art. In December I devoted some time to emptying boxes and really making my desk in our shared, basement office usable. I have unpacked Igal's acrylic supplies and have now added several more paint colors and mediums to the mix. At times I'm really mindful of the grief I still feel for his death, how I wish I could share with him how he's influenced my art.
I first started out by making a mixed media collage ATC. Experimenting with how the underlying black or white gesso changed the look. I made a little piece with a bit of scrap cardboard as a base and a great octopus off of a business card I'd picked up somewhere along the way. I started on a shine to feature a bit from one of Mary Oliver's poems. I finally made a page to send to Seth Apter for a combined artists project he's been collecting pages for. I've also worked on two very personal pieces that have helped me process some of the emotions around my Mom.
The puzzle pieces really are inspiring me. Those along with finding phrases and words, either torn from old kids' books found at thrift stores, or specially printed off on laser printer so the words stand up the the acrylic mediums. I had several puzzled pieces that I'd grabbed from the "conference game" at OSCON this past summer. These quickly began to take on layers of collage and acrylic medium. It has been really healing to work a little at a time with these projects, going through materials, finding words, and creating each piece.
I've made small tin shrines in the past, but really focused on using paper to cover the tin almost entirely. Now using the acrylic medium I feel like I'm creating something that has a lot more depth.
A friend recently sparked an idea I had to make a cigar box that would be filled with reminders of what to do when I'm anxious or cannot sleep. It would also have things like a small plush toy, a nice rock to hold in my hand, maybe a couple of nice marbles. I discussed the idea with my therapists and brainstormed lists of things I can do. PB suggested that rather than just note cards I use my puzzle pieces, so that each suggestion was also something lovely and tactile to hold. I then observed what I needed even more was something "travel-sized" so I could have safe, soothing activity reminders that I could do anywhere and I could carry it with me.
I've made a couple of what I'm calling "self-soothing boxes", one for myself and one for CK to take when she travels. The trick is finding the right sized puzzle pieces to fit in them! In my search for them I've found some that I want to try making into brooches. I've also found some as big as my head and am having fun working on a larger piece using one. I finished the box with the Mary Oliver quote, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (from "A Summer's Day") and am really pleased with the outcome.
I'm not yet ready to write about the past few months. The high level summary is that Mom has not returned and is living at an assisted living facility not terribly far from here. On the advice of multiple healthcare providers, and even more importantly, my wife, I have asked my Mother not to contact me further. Thus far, she has respected my request.
I was asked today by one of those care providers if making this request and having Mom respect it made me feel happy. It doesn't, it doesn't at all, it makes me feel a great deal of sorrow. I fully accept that my Mom's view of reality cannot be challenged, ever. When that happens she either reacts to destroy or flee, or both really. I've stopped responding in the way I was trained to as a child and now threaten that view of reality. For the sake of my health and the health of my marriage, I am moving on with my life.
It is really hard. The holidays, particularly as compared with all the hope I'd been filled with last year, were painful. I'm still at the stage were animated movies with a princess in it can be triggering.
What I have been allowing myself to be fine with enjoying is the feeling of rest. Not having to time my entire life around blood glucose checks and insulin adjustments for a person who was hostile to both CK and I. My relief & gratitude and my grief can be part of me concurrently, within the same space.
Since then? I've been making art again. It had quite honestly been over a year since I'd really created anything, aside from what I'd made in a workshop last May. While I still need to get back to that large project, I've made a handful of new things. I am continuing to enjoy connecting with other artists, mostly all women, once a month.
At the meet-up at the start of this month, we had all brought supplies to share at a common table. Kind of the collage artist equivalent of a party where everyone brings clothes they're no longer wearing and you pick through all the other clothes, taking home something awesome to you. I'd brought a bunch of traditional scrapbooking paper, since I've been really moving toward using mostly things I've created, and stickers. Upon overhearing how I love finding ways to use real stamps in my work, several other women started looking through the pile on the table to help find all of the stamps (quite a bundle) that someone else had put there. Likewise for to giant puzzle pieces, from another women who'd noticed the smaller, altered puzzle piece I'd brought to share. I left with my heart full at how giving, including, and supportive this group is and how grateful I am that I've made space fr it.
I've been continuing to practice my photography. Last week I was fortunate enough to get a few days in Yachats with Dora while CK was away on a business trip. A good friend joined me for 2 of the 3 nights I stayed. It was the perfect time to practice what I'd learned in November.
CK and I have been working on projects around the house and are having some more art professionally framed. It feels like bit by bit we're reclaiming the energy of the house. I've been napping a lot, which I've been advised to find time to continue to do. The same group of care providers have noted that I've been dangerously exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and it may take more than a few weeks to recover.
While I don't feel it is possible to be happy about making the decision to separate my life from my Mom, I do feel some wonder and enjoyment at starting to feel like it will be a year of changes to improve my life.
CK pointed me to Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine. I am particularly taken with his third commandment:
"Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand."
Not bad advice as a new year begins.
After a lot of thinking and talking, and frankly quite a lot of reassuring by CK, I've decided to take off most of November to recover somewhat from the past nearly 18 months of unrelenting yak-shaving, missed lunches, canceled yoga class, and late nights at work. The Project from Hell lurches ever onward, only it will do so without me for a little pause.
CK has been calling it my sabbatical. Her goal is that I start to sleep more regularly, more often, and get some rest from the intensity that took off in January 2011 with all the Mom Drama and has really not let up since. I'm also on hand to coordinate meetings, visits, etc. for Mom to transition to a different living environment.
I hope I might actually make a little art. Another casualty of the past months is art as a kind of practice. I've joined the Portland Collage Artists Guild group which meets once a month to learn about techniques and work on projects. The December meeting includes a blind gift exchange of personally made artwork. So I have a goal and a deadline for that!
I'm going to try and write about each day.
Today I woke up a bit later than I normally would and took care of the morning routine without the usual rush of needing to get out to my office. I then went over to the Southwest Community Center for a deep water exercise class. I've not done one of these in well over a year and in the year+ we've lived in our new neighborhood, I hadn't been the community center. I was careful and very mindful of my shoulders and neck, which felt a little sore by 3pm. My lower back felt better immediately.
I've ran an errand and did several chores around the house. In the evening I went to a concert with a friend. We went to see Richard Thompson opening up for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. I somehow thought "doors at 7" meant the seating doors, and rushed to get to the venue before 6:45. My friend had just arrived too. We then realized the error and reminded ourselves that this show had assigned seats and went next door for a cocktail.
Although there's really nothing on the menu I can eat at the Heathman Hotel, aside from olives and nuts, one of the sections of the hotel is this posh, grand old lounge with comfy chairs. I first went there in my early 20s and really was charmed. CK took me there for pre-birthday-dinner cocktails a few years ago and I was reminded how lovely and elegant I find it. Getting to pop in unplanned was a nice treat; we toasted my month of respite.
The whole show was very good. Richard Thompson, who we both really went to see, was fantastic. I left wishing the whole show had been just his music. I've been a fan since college but have never seen him perform live. Next time he's in town, as the headline, I'm going to make sure I don't miss getting tickets like I did earlier this year.
I've never actually taken time away without some "reason" for it. Work trips are obvious and account for the largest number of solo trips I've taken. I've also spent time away on my own to pursue yoga training, definite structure there. Then there's Zen retreat, which is nothing but structure and silence. One weekend meditating and learning about calligraphy from Kaz Tanahashi. A multi-day, Buddhist retreat for women with some guided writing practice.
Trips alone have to involve purpose. That's my way of allowing myself to go. I have to work for it.
So to be here, perched on a little bluff, in a tiny cabin, overlooking the crashing waves and buffeted by howling winds, is entirely new. A retreat from the humming and drumming of my very busy, everyday life. A retreat from structure.
From work I enjoyed the view of the barest sliver of the new moon appearing behind clouds. Once I hit the forest a long, winding, dark, and foggy drive took up all of my attention. I was grateful to stop in Waldport for a few groceries.
I arrived to the cabin outside of Yachats to find the sky miraculously clear for winter on the Oregon coast. I bundled up in my beautiful wrap, in the two blankets provided just for the purpose of sitting on the tiny deck, and watched the night. The vastness of sea and stars and wind and cold surrounding me.
Orion was bright and huge above the forested slopes of the mountains, with Betelgeuse glowing intensely red. The brightest glow, streaking out toward the sea and seeming to illuminate a patch in the center of my field of vision, was Jupiter. Eventually, my cold attention was delighted by a meteor, one of the Geminids peaking so beautifully this year. It streaked directly overhead, shooting out over the sea, or so it appeared.
This morning I searched the beach below the bluff, but struck out in my agate-hunting. In 2010 the largest agate I've ever found was hunted on the small beach here, but of course the rock field has changed considerably. I came back in as the rain picked up, my head pounding, and ate some breakfast while watching seals out in the waves. I lay down to watch the waves from the warm bed in front of a large window, eventually falling asleep again.
I could have gone to rock hunt elsewhere, but the cold made my head pound more. I went into Yachats, thinking I might go by a spa that a teammate at work recommended, or have a late lunch at a restaurant recommended to me. Instead I bought some crackers and soup before driving slowly through town, checking out some roads I've not gone down before. I stopped to watch the crashing waves from the car.
I've mostly rested today, my head intermittently pounding. The weather has stormed all day, the wind howling so fiercely at times that it feels like it is trying to blow us up the mountain! I made some food, ate some, read, slept some more, watched a movie, and listened to a new guided meditation one of my therapists gave me. I ate too much ice cream.
I have another full day tomorrow. I can choose to act on the impatient energy that compels me to do something (go for a hike, go to the Christmas celebration at Heceta Head, go to the spa, go rock hunt) or I could spend it inside again reading and napping. I'm trying to not make a plan, not to add structure. If tomorrow I feel like I want activity, it is available to me, but I'm just staying with the idea that it is also perfectly fine to just sit here with the sound of the waves and weather, resting.
On Saturday we saw a performance of The Vagina Monologues that featured CK's Mom performing one of the pieces. It was fantastic, moving, and I feel so privileged to have been there.
At the end the directors asked everyone in attendance to stand if they were the survivor of sexual abuse or domestic violence. It is hard for me at times like this. I feel a little like a traitor because I don't stand. I feel ashamed.... and then I feel ashamed of my shame.
Ugly. It too is a Practice. Someday it won't be so terrifying to stand or someday I'll just be alright with the fact that it terrifies me to self identify as a survivor of abuse, particularly a survivor of sexual abuse.
Metta Prayer for All Survivors
May I be
From the thought
It was my fault.
Rest in the
Truth that I
Be free from
Anxiety and fear.
May we all
Be at ease.
May we all
I had acupuncture today, a long session to discharge all the chaotic energy I've been running on for weeks now. Mostly the only poem I could come up with is:
So here's a great opportunity to practice with the side of me that stokes up that chaotic energy to just tough it out, get through. The side that prods the voice that's tired and small into producing anyway. Here's a chance to practice a gentleness that encourages that a haiku "counts" and isn't slacking off on the 30-poems-in-30-days goal.
And here it is, a haiku about new butterflies.
Wings wet and still unfurling.
I learned the art of "checking out" early. I would shift my attention from my body to some small detail of the moment. The vivid colors of cartoons on the television. The quality of the morning sunlight coming in through the north facing windows of my Mother's bedroom. The pattern of the paint and plaster on a ceiling. Code. Work. Writing ideas.
You get the idea. Something I could make so deeply engrossing that I was no longer connected to my body. I was outside of what was happening to my body. It is a pretty useful defensive tool and it has got me through abuse, doctor's exams, and dental work.
As a Zen practitioner we work toward being present to the moment. Fully conscious of the whole moment. The sensations of the body. The speeding of the mind. The sounds, textures and entirety of the present moment.
When I first was given the practice of Metta from my teachers it was profoundly difficult for a long time. I could send Metta all the live-long day to people I knew, people I was neutral toward, and even became more comfortable cultivating loving-kindness toward people I found difficult.
Where I got stuck was cultivating loving-kindness toward myself. The idea with Metta is that you start with yourself, filling yourself with so much loving-kindness that it very naturally extends outwards to benefit all living beings. I was right there with the benefits to all living beings, but not myself.
I realized with some shame that when I tried to focus on myself I'd "check out". Many people have a struggle with their inner critic who finds any number of reasons why they don't deserve loving-kindness, but I didn't get that. I just left the scene.
My teachers gave me all kinds of ideas on how to stick with myself. After many months, well over a year, of working with Metta practice, I can finally stick with myself. I built up slowly through the phrases, getting stuck on wishing myself happy for quite some time. Now though I can even find myself truly wishing that I be free from fear and anxiety, may I be peaceful and happy. I also sometimes add an additional loving wish that I be free from shame.
In this case it has felt like a victory to not "check out" (such a gentle way of saying "disassociate"). However, I've noticed in the past few months that I don't really check out anymore. I'm going through a period right now where it doesn't feel like progress or healing at all. It feels like I've lost one of my best allies.
I find myself fully, wholly present to what is happening to my body and mind. While at times it is great and other times tedious (chronic pain is, above all things, tedious), there are other times when it is truly horrifying and awful. I feel utterly defenseless against memories both mental and somatic. At those times I really grieve the loss of my ability to disassociate.
Don't know when or how it happened, but I feel bereft. I'm sure there's some combination of Yoga, Zen and EMDR therapy at work in this.
I am assured by both therapists that it is very certainly progress even though it feels like a terrible loss. They've also pointed out the progress I've made in being my own advocate and asking for what I need. My cognitive therapist even noted that I've been able to more clearly articulate events that have happened.
At this point I'm just going to accept that it is progress and stick with things. But I miss it.
In my 20s I was involved with someone, A, who had a daughter, DW, with a friend of his. It wasn't planned and he didn't really want to be a father. In fact, I only found out about her after he and I had been going out for a while. There came a time when her mother wasn't capable of providing a secure home for DW and A felt pressured to step in to obtain custody.
It was a rather quick, but unpleasant custody battle. In the middle of it all A and I got married. DW became my step-daughter when she was 4 and I was 25. DW hardly ever saw her biological mother again. Ultimately DW's mother committed suicide when DW was 14.
When I was 30, despite enormous misgivings around DW's well being, I decided that the relationship between her father and I was really unhealthy for me. I also felt that the unhealthy state of the marriage was not a good environment for DW. I was desperately depressed and my anxiety was so intense that I'd gone on medication for it.
DW was devastated by this change of events. We talked about it and she wanted reassurance that I wasn't divorcing her. She felt like it was her fault, as children often feel during a divorce. I let her know over and over again that the problems were between her father and I, that it wasn't her fault, and that I would do my best to remain a part of her life.
Things were really hard for a while, a few years in fact. DW spiraled into all kinds of unhealthy behavior. I kept trying to get through to her that while she was a minor my being her "Mom" was wholly contingent upon her father going along with it. That her choices were jeopardizing any help I could offer, particularly if she were injured in any way. I was heartbroken when I finally told her that she had to live with her father for a time until she could have honest communication with me. She was furious.
While she was living with her father DW ran away. She was 13.
I was utterly, completely devastated and as an adult who was not her biological nor adopted parent, and having divorced her father no longer even a step-parent, I had no legal recourse to demand to be involved in all that followed she was eventually picked up by the police. I was convinced that it was all my fault. I felt like the worst person in the world for having so grievously failed DW. More than anything else that I've been through in my life, these events are what finally drove me to seek therapy.
I would barely see or hear from DW for a few years. The incredibly strained relationship with her father meant that he quite often didn't think it was important to share information with me. When she was closer to leaving mandated treatment and group home I was asked to join a meeting with the DW and her father. She was incredibly angry when I said that I wasn't ready to just open my home to her unless she could agree to adhere to some ethical behaviors. When she left treatment at 16 she went back to live with her father and saw me infrequently.
DW made a dangerous choice in her life when she was 18. Once again it was terribly painful for me to watch her while she struggled. Even more painful to try and set my own boundaries knowing that DW felt let down by my response.
Now she's just about 5 months shy of her 21st birthday and has completely turned her life around. It admirable and a great joy to see her grow into the ethical, responsible, compassionate human I would glimpse often during her childhood. We've grown a lot closer this past year and it has meant so much to me to share her life. I feel very proud for her accomplishments, all the hard work she's done to be person she chooses to be now.
Now that DW's an adult I've shared more with her, opened up about things she felt I was withholding from her as a child. I admit to her honestly that I was withholding, but not because I didn't think she was old enough to know or didn't trust her. It is a relief to me that she is able to understand that I withheld things from her because I didn't want to color her young mind with my feelings toward her father. I wanted to treat DW and her father ethically, no matter how painful it was for me to have her feel like I wouldn't talk to her.
DW still calls me "Mom" and has told me that I'm the only one who really tried to be her mother. She just refers to her biological mother by her name, never "mom". Neither of us bother to explain our complicated relationship to people when they exclaim at the idea that I could have a nearly 21-year old daughter. If I'd had her when I was 20 it would be true. I didn't, but that doesn't really matter to either of us. We are the family we choose to be and that is no less compelling or important than biology.
We laugh a little when people remark upon our looking similar.