Unraveled

I’ve been doing some knitting this week. I used to knit a lot, but when my depression got bad, I just didn’t feel the urge. I was looking for something to do to help “decompress” after work, to make a space to transition from my work world to my home world. It’s soothing; the repetitive nature of it smooths out my anxiety (which hits, like clockwork, each day around 4pm) and allows me some quiet time to move into the next phase of the day.
Knitting is interesting. One string can be pulled and pushed around and through itself to become a fabric of your choosing. You are the one in control, and have the final say in what that string ultimately becomes. There is  a certainty to it that I find comforting.
In a way, knitting parallels life—you are the master, sort of. Any number of things can go wrong, and you have to figure out how to fix it, how to live with it, or just completely unravel the whole thing and start again.
Dropping a stitch sucks. If you drop a stitch, there’s a chain reaction, and all the stitches below that one will unravel. One careless moment, and you’re left holding this thing in your hands and wondering how the hell you got into this mess.
Oh, how I know this feeling…
You can fix it, if you want to. You can follow the trail of dropped stitches to the beginning, and carefully put those stitches back where they belong. It’s tiresome and easy to screw up, but you can do it. Or you can learn to live with the hole. It all depends on when you notice your error, and how much it means to you to get it right.
I started doing EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) a couple of weeks ago.
The first session, we set up an outline for the process, which basically means going through a bunch of questions with the therapist and detailing the instances of trauma I remembered, and what I felt when thinking about those episodes. So, pretty much 90 minutes of crying. Not pretty crying either—snot-nosed,swollen-eyed sobbing. When we were done,  I felt like a wet dishrag hanging over the side of the sink. Wrung out and exhausted.

Unraveled.

The second session, you begin the reprocessing. You start going through those traumatic experiences, while “reprogramming” your brain using bilateral stimulation. You begin to quiet those feelings of terror and shame and anger. You reprocess that information so it doesn’t hurt anymore; your memories are just memories, instead of land mines on a hair-trigger.
It’s kind of magical, actually.
I certainly didn’t think that I would lose the damaging feelings that I had about those traumas, but I did. So now I’m trying to pick up my dropped stitches, patiently pulling the loops up and putting them where they belong again. It’s slow, and frustrating, but I don’t really have the option of unraveling and starting over. I can pick up the stitches, or I can learn to live with the gaping hole.

Space

I’ve been neglectful. I am supposed to be posting on this here blog, and writing my book. I have done neither. It’s getting rather ridiculous, actually, how many times I’ve tried to corral my thoughts and put something down. I keep grasping at ideas that float past, but they wriggle away like little fish. Slippery buggers…..

I wish I had some good excuses for not doing the work of writing, but I don’t. I just. haven’t. been. writing. AT. ALL. Besides, you know what they say about excuses, right?

I’ve been paying too much attention to the political hootenanny masquerading as democracy in action. The never-ending bullshit crawls into my head and makes me want to yell and throw things, and I really don’t want to be that person.  There’s so much background chatter lately, it’s made me feel like I’m fumbling around in the dark. My internal voice whispers, while the rest of the world is shouting. Disconcerting, that. I’m trying to listen more closely, to pay more attention to the thoughts coming from the inside and less to the noise on the outside worming its way in.

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It’s been tougher these last couple of weeks than usual. I just started doing  EMDR therapy with my new therapist. Gotta tell you, that shit is draining. I did the first session and spent about 3/4 of it just crying. I know the end result will be worth it, but I feel like I’m walking down a road that’s strewn with broken glass. Ouchies. Pulls out a bunch of horrible things you’ve repressed, so you not only get to think about your trauma in the details you recall, but you find new ones too….yikes. And I’m finding it’s making some of my more unpleasant PTSD symptoms float up to the surface.

I have always felt like I am not “good enough.” It was drilled into my head from a young age that I was unworthy of any love or consideration. I was, at best, OK. Just something taking up space. At worst, I was a terrible burden, selfish and stupid and all manner of disgraceful things. No matter how well I have performed, how hard I’ve worked, how successful I’ve become, I still feel this paranoid suspicion that it’s all a lie. It’s a lie because I’m a failure at being human.

I’ve spent the last several years really digging into this, and learning how to be more accepting of myself. Learning that having needs is normal, and it doesn’t make me a bad person. Learning to put myself first sometimes. Learning to stop beating myself up.

This last week, since I did the EMDR, I am full-on paranoid and anxious. I made plans with my BFF to go back to the East coast and see some friends. I haven’t seen some of them in about 25 years, and some I’ve never met in person, but we are in fairly regular contact on Facebook, so I should be excited, right? Nope. I’m paralyzed with terror. There’s no reason to be. They are good people, and I’m going to have a lovely time, but I am so paranoid (because surely they’ll decide something is wrong with me and they don’t want to be my friend) that I can hardly swallow. I feel like it’s the first day of junior high again. Thank the gods new and old for Xanax…

I thought when my meds had gotten to a good spot, I would feel great and all would be well. And to a degree, I do, and it is. But now I have to clean my closet. There’s some shit waaaayyyy in the back there, and if I don’t pull it out, it will just stay back there taking up space. I want that space back. I want room for my new, joyous stuff. This old paranoid, gloomy shit needs to go. Packing it up is going to be tough, but I can do it. Then I’ll have plenty of space for the good stuff. The stuff I want to put there.

Who doesn’t want more space?

 

 

 

 

Gifts

This week has been a tragic one, my lovelies. The world has lost two great creative minds, and the hole they leave gapes wide. The likes of David Bowie and Alan Rickman will not come again soon.
I’ve been struck by how deeply this loss has affected people, and how much flak they’re getting for it. It’s given me cause to think about art, and relationships, and kindness.

There are stories that say, when you bond with another person on an intimate, spiritual level, that you exchange pieces of your souls. There is a connection created by revealing the vulnerability within oneself, and it isn’t easily broken or overlooked. Call it a broader definition of “soulmate,” if you will.

To create art, you need to get inside yourself and touch the spots that are sore. Not just gently caress them, but probe deeply, with forceps and a bright light. Dig and poke, until within that soreness you find the thing you need to get out and share. Your art isn’t just pretty words or nice drawings, it’s you. It is your vulnerability made manifest. You are giving away a piece of your soul.
You would think that, at this rate, making art would cause you to be a very empty vessel, and quickly. But every time you pull out those shards of glass, and polish them up for someone to find, they get found. Many people will walk right by, and not understand what they see. These people will not fill that place in your soul. Your art is not meant for them. But someone else will come by, and that bit of you that’s waiting out there, it will fill a place in them that they didn’t know was empty.
It will say to them, “There you are. I see you.” And they will hear it. It is for them that your soul split apart. And it is they who will send you a piece in return. They will fill your cup.

So if you are feeling a deep loss, and getting shit for mourning someone you never knew, I say that’s crap. You knew all you needed to know, and they knew you too. They saw you, and called out to you. You exchanged pieces of your souls. Of course you’re grieving.

Of all the things people could be saying about these two men, the common thread has been that they were both self-effacing, good-humored, and above all, kind. Let’s take that as our cue, and practice more kindness towards each other. Even if you aren’t feeling the loss, give room to those that are. They lost a piece of themselves this week.

To close, one of my favorite songs. It’s a favorite because it was the first song on the first mix-tape made for me by my high school best friend, Chris. She was a lot of fun, and had a great record collection. Cheers, Chris. My sincere sympathies on your loss.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtgF1w5LsZY

 

Wistful

I’m kneading bread dough in the kitchen, on that damn warped board that has the crack in it. It’s shimmying all over the place, and I’m thinking about how I really should have replaced it already. About how you told me I needed better tools.
I’m caught up thinking about a quiet cabin in the woods, watching snow fall in feathery flakes, kneading dough on a real butcher block that’s made for such things, at the proper height and with plenty of room. There’s venison stew just beginning to bubble softly on a grate over the fire. The dog, big and furry, is stretched out full-length in front of it, baking his belly and snoring gently. I need to muck out the sheep stalls after I finish this, and spin the wool from the lamb’s last shearing, so I can replace those awful mittens of yours. The last patching is wearing out already, and they aren’t doing you any good. Your hands on my shoulders feel cold when you come inside.
I’m warmed by thoughts of being tucked up for winter in the calm and the still.
What is nostalgia for things that haven’t happened? Things that won’t happen? Wistfulness, I suppose.
Sometimes I wonder, if the noise of our combined madness hadn’t drowned out everything else, if this would be where we left things. Doesn’t matter though, because this is where it is.
This is the year of letting go. The year of releasing everything.
I shaped the dough and put it back into the bowl. I washed my hands. I let go.

Wistful music to read by…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GUE3E9w-Vg&list=PLY4gRtK2vPT35_MoDQPun1jxuZ35t49es&index=8

 

Scraps

I want to tell you about my mother. I want to tell you her story, but even I don’t really know it.
My mother was a cipher.

I found out things about her life in snips and chunks and tiny worn scraps left in pants pockets, without context or narrative thread. I’ve spent years trying to put them together into a story, her story, and make it read like a whole. It’s hard. Her story died with her. I can’t get the rest of it, and the bits that I have are stained with my own bias.

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I know her childhood was abusive, and dismal. She grew up in a cold-water tenement with a shared bathroom. Her father beat her mother. Her mother beat the kids. My grandfather, when I knew him, was generally kind but not very engaged. My grandmother was a cruel, twisted woman who could cut you down with a look or a word. She openly played favorites and shit on everyone else. She was racist, hateful and vicious. No effort was good enough if it wasn’t perfect. She was nasty, through and through.

My mother was molested by the handyman in her building when she was 7 years old. When she told her mother, she was beaten, then made to scrub herself and her clothes in the washtub. All the while, her mother screamed at her and threatened that if she told anyone, she would never have any friends and the neighbors would call her dirty names.

Did I mention that she was 7 years old?

If you’re thinking her childhood resembled some Dickensian horror story, minus the workhouse, you wouldn’t be far off. There were good times, but mostly, it was a miserable existence punctuated by periods of hunger, abuse and self-loathing. All this helped make my mother into the woman she became—a woman who didn’t know how to love. She was critical, and judgmental, and always concerned with outward appearances. She used shame and guilt to control, and she was very, very good at it.

Mom was smart, and an achiever, but she was routinely passed over for scholarships and promotions because of her gender. She embraced feminism as a means of survival. Because of her struggles, she made sure I never missed an opportunity because I was a girl. She instilled in me the belief that I could do or be anything. She banned Barbie and Disney movies. When I wanted to be an international spy, or an astronaut, it didn’t matter what other people thought. Mom said I could be anything I wanted to be.

The simplest way to tell this story is to say that my mother had a terrible childhood, and it set her up to fail. She also had a mood disorder that wasn’t treated for most of her life. She was addicted to approval. She was a good victim, and a frequent one. She made victims of her children, until we fought back or ran from her. Then she didn’t know what to do, so she sought help. This is also the least complex way to tell this story, and unfairly  one-dimensional, because my mother was a multi-faceted being full of dichotomies and hypocrisies that were, more often than not, the result of an unexamined life. She wasn’t a bad person, but she was so very ill.

Later, as an adult, I tried to come to terms with my own abuse. Given that our narratives were different, we couldn’t really talk about it together. This made resolving it more difficult. I understand that admitting her complicity wasn’t a bridge she was able to cross, but still, it wounded me deeply. I’m still bleeding a little.

The closest we ever came was when she said to me that she could understand if I hated her. That from me, she could take that. It lifted a weight from me that I hadn’t known I still carried. It also made me realize that I didn’t hate her. Despite everything, I loved her. I didn’t like her much of the time, but I loved her. I understood how damaged she was, and that she just didn’t have the tools to do things right.

In January, it will be 10 years since my mother died, here in our home. She died unexpectedly one morning. My daughter couldn’t wake her up, and her breathing was erratic, so we called for the ambulance. They loaded her into the rig, and once inside, her heart stopped. After 45 minutes of resuscitation efforts, her heart rhythm continued to be nothing more than a flat line. Despite my medical background, all my years of training and “insider” knowledge, it took me 45 minutes to ask them to stop. They remain the most difficult words I’ve ever spoken.

As I stood next to the gurney holding my mother’s cooling body, I lay my head on her chest and sobbed. This was the best we would ever be. This was the closest we would ever come to resolution. I lost more than my mother that morning. I lost a bit of myself too.

I have since learned more parts of Mom’s story, but I don’t know where they fit. I can’t ask her about them. So I sit with all my little scraps of paper and sift through them, trying to piece together what is true and what is exaggerated. Each revelation changes how I think of her, because we have no new truths to balance out the old ones. I don’t like this. I feel like maybe I’m betraying her, but I can’t be sure. Maybe by accepting the good things I was betraying myself. I can’t know.

I’m coming to this anniversary, and feeling less concerned with knowing what’s true and what isn’t. My mother will always be a mystery to me, and I will never have the answers I seek, so I will have to live with the unknown, simply because it’s unknowable.

I’m going to scatter her ashes this coming year, and let her go. Let go of the mystery and the wondering. Let the wind pick up all the scraps and bits of paper and take them. I know everything I need to know. The scraps are just scraps. They don’t make a picture. They just make a mess.

 

Blah….

The holiday season came up fast, and with it my birthday, and my son’s. I have been swimming in preparations for a trip my kids are taking with their father across the country in a couple of days, to spend Christmas with his family. I haven’t been good about sticking to my blog schedule, and tonight this is catching up with me. To be blunt, I find it biting me squarely on the ass.
I have a story to tell. I have had an eventful few days, and I have things to say, but they will have to wait. Not for long, mind, but at least until Tuesday, when I can guarantee some uninterrupted time to think and write and give my words space to breathe. Everything is in the pot, and it’s bubbling away, but the soup isn’t ready yet. The beans are still too hard.
So I will be posting late this week; though I know there isn’t really a “schedule” per se, there is one in my brain, and I’m blowing by my deadline tonight. I’ll be back later in the week. Hope you will be too.

Quietly

I am trying to write something at least weekly. This week feels like I’m digging out a splinter—push, pull, adjust the light, scrape up, scrape down, ouch. Still, that little niggling thing rests, quietly, just below the surface. It won’t oblige.

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The world outside is making introspection more difficult and more important. I’m at turns horrified and impressed by my fellow humans. I think because there is so much happening right now, I’m having a hard time distilling my thoughts down into a cohesive whole. So I’m trying to find the linkages, the human elements, and improve my understanding.

The response to the refugee crisis has been making me heartsick. I know there are so many good people, who want nothing more than to help. I know that there are so many who understand that, except for a few indigenous people, we all came from somewhere else. Some of our families came here just like these families, running for their lives, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, nothing left behind them but shelled-out buildings that they used to call home. Parents watching helplessly as their children grow thinner and colder every day. They need our help, and we should give it freely, because they are part of our human family. There is no reason that the situation couldn’t be reversed, except for an accident of birth.

But the most noise comes from those who would ban all Muslims. There are acts of terrorism, aggression and outright assault happening all over the US, targeting Muslims or those who look like they might be Muslim. Mosques are being firebombed and defaced. People are standing outside houses of worship with guns. Presidential candidates are weighing in on the merits of registering Muslims in some kind of database, and having them be somehow easily identifiable on the streets.

Each week brings new incidents of people of color being gunned down and otherwise abused at the hands of law enforcement. Cries for justice go mostly unheeded—until the video surfaces. Even then, there are those who want the “whole story,” as though there is any story that would justify the killing of an unarmed person. We are divided when we should be joining together, to understand what has gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

I could continue. You don’t need me to, though. You know what’s happening, just as clearly as I do. We have traded away intellectual discourse for talking points and propaganda. And for many, we have traded our sense of humanity for a false sense of security.

Someone commented the other day, and I’ve thought about this a lot since then, that those people who project such hatred and distrust do so to help mentally manage chaos. And I think this is the smartest statement I’ve heard in a long time.

What do people most fear? They may say they fear spiders, or dying, or being alone, but what they really fear is the unknown, and pain. They fear that which they cannot control, and that if something beyond their control or understanding happens, that they might be hurt because of it, or suffer loss. Natural feelings, these.

One of the keys to empathy, according to Brené Brown, is to make oneself vulnerable. You must be open and willing to share of yourself. This is how you find the place where you connect to others. This is how you locate them in your own heart.

Vulnerability is risky. It’s uncomfortable. It requires a level of trust, and trust can be hard to give. Vulnerability open you up to the possibility of being hurt. Without it, though, you aren’t able to access the true places within yourself, and you won’t find the connections you seek. From these connections, empathy and compassion grow and flourish. Without them, there isn’t anything but fear and distrust.

So it’s come to me that this splinter I’m picking at, this little obstinate particle of a thought, is that these people who I am so often furious with aren’t deserving of my anger. They need my compassion. They are mired in their fear. They are trapped by their need to put all the world’s misery into tidy little boxes and label each one. They hope that by corralling their fears and giving them names, this will somehow calm the chaos that is inherent in our lives; that they will know what to avoid, and what to gravitate towards, and this will somehow keep misfortune from howling at the door. They cannot withstand the strain of knowing that they are no match for the vagaries of the universe, and thus they hide under the covers of racism, and privilege, and conspiracy. And for this, they need our compassion. You wouldn’t be angry with one who was afraid of the dark; so then, I can’t continue to be angry with people who are afraid to live in the world as it exists, with all it’s wonder, and beauty, and limitless pain. I will instead sit, quietly, with my hard-won splinter, and think about how I can be kinder to everyone I meet, and especially to those I disagree with. It would seem that they may be most in need of it.

This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to protest injustices that occur. Quite the contrary. But the people who are propping up these petty dictators? They are not going to change their minds by being argued with, or judged. If they were, it would have already happened. But maybe some quiet compassion will encourage them to lean in to the discomfort of the chaos. Maybe they will make the connections that will allow them to poke their heads out from under the covers and see what’s going on.

It can be so beautiful out here.

I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment if you’re so inclined…