Ticking Away the Moments

I look back at this blog and realize that two months have whooshed on by. One of those weeks was spent celebrating Mom’s 70th birthday in on the Big Island of Hawai’i, which also felt like it went by far too quickly.

It was a bittersweet trip. Mom was delighted to be there, but the rigors of travel exhausted her. Her blood levels fell, in fact we spent the morning at the Kaiser Infusion Center having a transfusion of blood and platelets. The flight home was arduous, with her saying she was hallucinating and constantly fighting with me when I’d remind her that her bag needed to stay under the seat, that she needed to not hold her cane until the plane was on the ground, etc. I feel like we’ll never take a big trip with her again. CK thinks maybe we might, but if we’re able to bear the cost of first class tickets. Mom’s always wanted to go to EPCOT and I’d really hoped she might be able to do some of these things.

Some weeks are better for Mom, but in general she seems afraid of the world and too content to just while away the hours listening to books on tape or watching shows on the Lifetime channel. To me these all seem to be the same story line of families facing challenge that they greet with Faith and are therefore led to a happy ending. Improbable and so narrow, I don’t seem my life reflected in these stories at all, that I find them grating. I worry that this consumption of brain-candy stories to be worrisome. When I urge some engagement with her peers, attending some activities at a local senior center, she professes too great a fear of venturing into any group.

Looking back, I think Mom’s always had some level of social anxiety and I think she’s sabotaged a lot of connections. When you add to that her deteriorating eyesight and the legacy of the emotional and financial abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband’s family, I can connect it all to this fear of joining any kind of group. That said, it is hard to watch her passive consumption of mindless entertainment, ticking away the moments that make up a dull day.

When I was younger she at least tried some new things, particularly arts and crafts. She developed some skill, and enjoyed tole-painting, sewing things, some quilting, and a little machine embroidery. All pursuits that the pain in her hands and the failing eyes have taken from her life. I cannot say the same for reading materials and shows, I always remember her with a stack of Harlequin Romance novels and a fondness for movies like An Officer and a Gentleman and Ice Castles.

She resents my prodding, it makes her feel bad about herself. She hurts, profoundly. Her health has never really been well in my lifetime. It is hard to greet pain and keep going, I know this from personal experience. It takes a lot of will to try and keep moving with, and through the pain. I especially know that when the pain increases the fatigue it brings make it even more difficult to stay engaged and moving, however, I know at those times that it vitally important to keep trying.

And yet, she suffers profoundly. Physically, emotionally, mentally, she suffers. Is it wrong for her to hope to ease into death and go to the heaven she imagines in her mind? Is that so wrong for her to want that? Is it just that Dylan Thomas made too deep and lasting an impression on my young mind that I recoil at the thought of pursing, of longing for an easy death?

The other night I shared with CK that I felt like she’s just giving up and that it hurts. I felt like both my biological father and my step-dad both just turned toward pleasure, pleasure that was surely killing them, and refused to do the hard work to stay alive and present, part of my life. It hurts a lot to feel like my Mom’s doing the same thing.

Watching sunset at Kealakekua Bay – Hawaii – March 2013

Just “Wife”

I find myself making a point to use the word “wife” when referring to CK. It still can be scary.

I’ve written before about what I feel is the need to normalize these words as applying to marriages, regardless of the genders of those who have wed. I’ve found it can be a good type of social litmus test. A way to screen people and environments for how welcomed we’ll feel.

Other times I’ve carefully avoided it. Sticking with non-gendered words like “spouse”. Granted, then the immediate assumption is that I’m talking about my husband, but sometimes it doesn’t feel safe until I’ve more input to go on. A moment of safety to offset fear that we’ll be denied services because we’re queer.

We’ve been interviewing new service providers. I corrected a person we were considering for helping with house cleaning every other week. Pointing out to this person that I hadn’t said “partner”, I’d said “wife” and that it is important. There was a pause and the person responded, “You’re right, it is important. Your wife…”

Last Sunday I stood up in front of a group of complete strangers with CK at my side and introduced her as my wife, despite the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. We’ve found that we’re very close to a Unitarian fellowship community in our new neighborhood, walking distance even. Newcomers were invited to stand up and introduce themselves to everyone.

We had that near-silent, small-gestured, nuanced-look kind of conversation ahead of this moment. Were we going to stand up? OK. Who was going to introduce us? Me.

So there we were standing. I’m sure none of the other couples, all heterosexual, had any kind of struggle about how to do the introduction beyond the awkwardness of standing up . Women introduced themselves and their husbands. A man introduced himself and his wife.

We were last. I took a deep breath, looked around, looked sidewise at CK, and introduced myself and my wife.

In those quick moments until it came to us I just decided I’d just do it. I’d step off proudly into sunlight, not looking back.*

I’d call CK my wife in front of all those strangers. I figured we were checking them out as a spiritual community and there was no time lime the present to decide if we’d be welcomed. I just didn’t want to discover after my heart was more engaged that they really didn’t include us, that they just accommodated, tolerated our presence.

Later a couple of different people commented to either or both of us that they were impressed with how brave and inspiring it was.

Here’s the thing that kind of bugs me. It is really lovely that those people told us that they thought I’d done something courageous and that they were grateful for it.

What sticks with me is that it shouldn’t have to be something worthy of notice. I shouldn’t have that moment of fear every time I call CK my wife in a new, public setting. It should only be a joyful reminder of the commitment I’ve made to the woman I love, not feeling like I’m leaping off into potential danger every time.

Stairs to Sea – Waldport, Oregon – December 2012

I guess that’s why I keep saying it.

Wife.

Not out of the hope that I’ll get used to the dizzying feeling of the fear, but that it will become normal.

Not my Gay Wife. Just, Wife.

Not Gay Marriage. Just, Marriage.

 

*Here’s the rest of bit of Rumi I’d referenced in this post. This small bit of poetry is rather a kind of koan that found me. One of my old Zen teachers said sometimes it happens that way with koans. I think I may be noodling with this one for many years to come.

Ask!
Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don’t mind that you’ve been given a dirty cup.

I spend most of my time working on the “dirty cup” in this poem, but sometimes, like using the word “wife” is all about the practice of stepping off proudly into sunlight, not looking back.

Bounty

We’re still in that constant of accelerating change around here. Moving toward light, toward positive change, but still sometimes the whoosh of it all gets rather dizzying. Yes, of course, this is why I Practice in a kind of “still. whoosh. still. whoosh. still. whoosh” way. The winding path of a householder.

Soon to become holder of houses, which feels enormous at times. CK and I are co-purchasing, it feels good to have found a home together. Today’s been a tough one; makes buying our current home seem like a lovely party where at the end I got a house.

Next week I’m speaking at a conference, this one actually directly related to the work I do in Business Intelligence. Kind of a big deal and I’m feeling under prepared, as always. Oh, and there’s packing to do.

And there’s packing to do. The house, the stuff. Trying to breathe through all of the anxiety that comes up for me around moving, even when for the better. It will hopefully be back from the conference and into a big whoosh of packing and moving. Then settling a little before Mom joins us, which has been a big part of the new house. That and reducing my commute considerably, which I’ve become resigned to but it does take a big toll on my body.

Here and there, between the whooshing, we spent a leisurely weekend celebrating my birthday quietly. I also canned 8 quarts of sauce! The garden has been very productive this year, which is a little bittersweet, but mostly I’m just enjoying the bounty!

Bounty of San Marco paste tomatoes! Portland, Oregon, August 2012

FlusterCluck

Reviewing Reciepts at Open Source Bridge 2012

This has been a Hell of a year.

Stuff is still going on with Mom. We’re still applying creative solutions and aid, but some things take time and can often run into new challenges and difficulties to try and greet with equanimity. Try being the operative word.

Conference season, still on-going, has provided extra stress along with the positives. I’m speaking next month at a conference held in Orlando, at a resort next door to Walt Disney World. CK is coming with me and taking a vacation.

Work has been tough for us both this year. For me just in the sheer amount of projects and day-to-day maintenance I’m working on combined with some stuff that leaves me feeling like my managers don’t stick up for the good work we do. For CK the stress has been far more personal, unexpected, and has made for an especially challenging year.

This year has been a real “C” and “F” year. Yep, it has often been rather a cluster fuck. There’s also been a lot of crying and fatigue.

Today was a tough day at work and I left feeling demoralized. I headed home to avoid being cranky around my friends. I tossed out a request on Twitter and Facebook, asking people to give me some definitions for my day brought to me by the letters “C” and “F”.

Here’s why I love the internet: within an hour I had several creative and hilarious answers. I’m sure by morning there will be more. Feel to add new ideas to the comments.

My Creative (Compassionate, Caring) Friends Suggested:

  • “Cookies and Fudge” @vmbrasseur
  • “Chickpeas and Falafel” @smartwatermelon
  • “Chaos! Flippityjibbit!” @noirinp
  • “Celebrity Fires: The reality show about famous arsonists” – Steven
  • “Cat farts, crazy filberts, candy coated fig flippers, fuzzy critters, crumb-covered feline” – @geekgirl33
  • “Curiously fantastic” – Crystal
  • “Canned frappuccinos” – @cayleehogg
  • “FlusterCluck” @GenshoWelsh
  • “Frosted cake! Like, you know, extended birthday goodness.” @capnleela

Just a good lesson in reaching out to people when I feel like I need support. I’m so grateful for the many amazing people in my life and for the technology that keeps us connected.

And I am totally going to think of the word “FlusterCluck” the next time I’m really pissed off in a meeting. It can be my mantra to help stay present and open, which can be a real challenge at work some days.

Hopefully I will manage to not snort with laughter while in front of my team.

Bang!

This is what $550 in Suburu bumper damage looks like

On the way home a month ago, in one of those terrible evening commutes, I was rear-ended.

The Bang! surprised me more than anything at first. I noticed the affect on my body within minutes, which increased for days, staying at a 6/7 level*  for a few more days, and leveling down to the 4/5 range.

I was lucky. Wretched traffic means the other driver was going no more than 20 miles per hour.

His 1998 Suburu Forester, white, hit my 1998 Suburu Outback, also white. Very evenly matched bumpers. He was a  little uphill and my insurance recommends that his insurance pay to have my bumper replaced.

It did not make my back any worse, permanently, but the past month has been a big old less in patience. My general pain level has been in the 4/5 range, which is the point at which the pain becomes fatiguing I’ve been reminded. A 3 and I’m pretty much golden, and have been enjoying being that way for over a year!

metta. metta. metta.

My physical therapist assessed things and indicated that I had no movement in my spine or ribs for a few weeks. I was also directly by my physician to stay off my shoulders for a few weeks (things a yogini hears!) and to not teach for at least a few weeks.

metta. metta. metta.

Things are starting to move again my physical therapist said tonight. I’ve taught a handful of slower classes with no weight bearing on the arms. Even being on hands-and-knees is quickly fatiguing and painful. My students don’t seem to mind having somewhat more restorative classes and teaching is good for my brain.

Next week is OSCON and I’ve finally bought a small, rolling bag to move my laptop, hoodie, snacks & water around. Although I have a very light laptop, even carrying half the weight of it makes me ache. I’m trying to see it as a tool and not a defeat.

metta. metta. metta.

It is so frustrating to have a relapse, to be reminded just how delicate a balance my pain management is. Yep, a big opportunity for all kinds of practice.

metta. metta. metta.

I am also profoundly grateful for many things. My car is sturdy, well-maintained, and in need of only cosmetic repairs. My friends who continue to help me pick up and move things. My encouraging wife (always). My flexible job that accommodates a rush of appointments for bodywork to recover more rapidly. That I have three highly skilled bodywork professionals who care for me and who have found many additional appointments for me, they’ve also just billed insurance directly so I don’t have to fund all these unplanned appointments.

*Levels of pain: Commonly used in the treatment of people with chronic pain. You are asked to rate your pain on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain ever). It helps gauge things and quantify “pain”.

When I was first diagnosed my pain was in the 8 range often, with severe spasms that would literally take my breath away and knock me down (10s). It leveled down to the 7/8 range, which was like living in a grey fog of “ouch”. By the time it hit 5/6 I was grateful.

The past 18 months or so, with the assistance of a lot of body work and yoga, the pain hovers in the 3/4 range with some days in a 2/3 range. These is when I feel like I’m “normal” again. It is pretty easy to become attached to less pain!

Self Identify

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.

Powerful Art - Sacramento, California - April 14, 2012

Metta Prayer for All Survivors

May I be
Freed from
The misery
Of shame.

May I
Be released
From the thought
That somehow
It was my fault.

May I
Rest in the
Truth that I
Didn’t
Do anything
Wrong.

May all
Survivors
Be free from
Anxiety and fear.
May we all
Be at ease.

May we all
Be happy.

Eddies in the Dust of Rage

Broken Piano Foot - Our Basement, Portland, Oregon - June 2010

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:

Anger.
Angry.
Angrier.
Rage.

sigh

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

Difficult
Is the
Practice
of patience.

Distilling
Anger,
Impatience,
Irritation,
Into the
Stillness
Of the
Heron fishing.

 

There’s a video on YouTube of Bruce Cockburn performing “Pacing the Cage”, check it out!

Unfolding Beauty (and Practice)

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:

Too tired
To make
Poetry.

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.

New Butterflies, Westminster, Colorado, May 2011

And here it is, a haiku about new butterflies.

Emerging slowly.
Wings wet and still unfurling.
Unfolding beauty.

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.

I Miss the Disassociation

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.

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