Fire and Rain


I’ve never really listened to James Taylor very much.  That was my first mistake. My son and I were talking about Fire and Rain because he and/or his friends were planning to perform it at an upcoming shindig. So I downloaded it.

I don’t know if music is like this for anyone else, but sometimes I ‘discover’ a song, and it speaks to me and etches itself on my soul. I find myself listening to it over and over and over again for days, while some kind of emotion releases itself in me.

It was like this with Mumford and Sons’ I Will Wait. I would listen to this over and over and when the line “Raise my hands… Paint my spirit gold..” came on, something inside me just broke, and I cried and cried and cried. Of course I’ve also been on a kick where I couldn’t seem to stop listening to Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO. Deep.

Fire and Rain is such a beautiful song, but it’s just so damn sad.  Yesterday was a bad day. Anxiety stream-rolled the whole thing. You know the drill: trigger + meltdown + no focus + out of control emotions..  blah, blah, blah.. Speckled with attempts at mindfulness and prayer and breathing. The whole thing basically running itself into the ground eventually, because one is just not physically or emotionally able to keep up that level of angst indefinitely… Thank goodness, I suppose. I don’t like being this way.

A fairly decent night’s sleep and today has me in the crappy-day hangover, which is actually a good thing.  And maybe this is weird – or maybe it’s normal – but I find that the period after these episodes contains a level of clarity and calmness and awareness.

I noticed people while I was in line at the grocery store.  Women.  Some were older.  Some I knew to have been through stuff.  And some I suspected to be going through stuff. Mainly because, the older I get, and the more I hear and see, it just seems that one does not get through this life without going through the stuff.  Till now I had mostly avoided it.  Or at least numbed away what I could. Good times.

I was in line behind two local gentlemen. People I knew (read assume!!) to struggle with mental illness. Social outcasts, for sure (shame on us). I pitied their basic existence. Maybe that’s part of the problem? The way I put my somewhat more socially acceptable struggles on a rank above theirs.

Outside I saw bike trailers, strollers and tiny two-wheelers and I was instantly brought back to those beautiful, sweet, exhausting, frustrating, horrifically sleep-deprived days. The Gong Show of packing up 4 children to transport 2 blocks so the baby could have a check-up.  We went everywhere all the time and God knows why I thought it was better to go through the circus of being out and about than to stay home — but somehow it just was.

In that moment, my heart ached for that time. A bittersweet combination of pure love and the impossible wish of a do-over.  Tears.  The kind that make it hard to breathe. Freaking awesome.

And I could tell ya’ll young moms to ‘enjoy it while they’re babies’…   I was told that. And I did enjoy it. And I didn’t.  But we don’t really know until that time has passed.  Enjoy isn’t even the right word.   It’s ridiculous to tell someone to enjoy tantrums and a house that perpetually looks like that aftermath of a frat party.  But it is a good goal to be intentional about experiencing it.  To be.  Just as it’s good to ‘just be’ where we are right now. I remind myself.

I guess what I felt this post-meltdown morning was something outside of, and bigger than myself.  When I hit low spots, I take a nose-dive deep inside me.  I don’t see other people.  I don’t comprehend that everyone is on a journey and has their own struggles. It’s not even on my radar. Maybe the woman that made an effort to be extra kind to me today, has her own set of issues. But somehow she still saw me. Maybe she is a little further in the process of transformation where, rather than projecting her pain onto other people, it has turned into compassion.

I have caught glimpses of that. Where I see people. Actually see them – their pain, their beauty, their imperfectness. But mostly when I’m suffering I go full-on douche-bag and take it out on the person closest to me.  Yesterday I was thankful that that person has been down this path far enough they could see through my douche-bagginess and my walls, to my pain.  And gave me space to feel it.

In the film version of The Shack, God (who is now officially Octavia Spencer to me) says, “Will you at least consider this: when all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?”

And I tend to think that when all we can see is our pain, we lose sight of everyone.

I’m not the only one who suffers in this world. Obviously. Nice work, Einstein. This is more of a light-bulb moment than it seems, ha.  And this is not a ‘stop-feeling-sorry-for-yourself’ kick in the ass.   I think it was a moment given to me, to feel a unity with humanity. It was the ability to feel the heaviness of a world that just has hard times.  Not heaviness in a depressing or fatalistic way, but in a wool blanket kinda way.

Richard Rohr writes, “We are often tempted to deny, fix, or run away from suffering and imperfection. The Franciscan way, in imitation of Jesus, is to stand in solidarity and intimacy with the world’s hurt… be present and loving in the midst of brokenness.”

My point here, if there is one… is that maybe this is where compassion starts. In solidarity and presence. I’ve seen sunny days I thought would never end.  I really thought that.  And now, in these moments, it sometimes feels like the rainy days will never end.

But that can’t be true. And in the mean time, it doesn’t hurt to find someone to share an umbrella.

I Need To Go On A Diet

“I need to go on a diet.”

I actually said this sentence out loud. I’m a 44 year old woman, with reasonable intelligence, and these words came out of my mouth. Granted, it was a low time, and I was in a weakened state – P(post)MS, bloaty, morning-after-the-week-long-cookie-dough-fest.

I have been on diets, but I hate them. HATE.  I hate everything about them.  I hate the planning, I hate the restriction.  Ugh, the WORK.  But absolutely most of all I hate the fact that, even as I’m doing all the planning, and reading and shopping and prepping, a little voice inside me is saying, “You know this isn’t going to work, don’t you? You know deep down that this is not your answer.”

And so I think I can honestly say that it’s been many years since I’ve gone on ‘a diet’. The thought of it, especially as an exercise in futility, absolutely exhausts me.

But, none-the-less, in that moment of desperation, I did pay actual dollars to join the online version of the classic weight-loss program we’re all familiar with.   And while I won’t name names, I will say that it does rhyme with Date Botchers. In my defence, the day that I checked it out, they were advertising a half-price sale that ENDED THAT DAY.  The Mennonite in me rose up to commit to a 6-month membership.

Now, this doesn’t really fall into the same category as a diet, she says to herself. It’s really more of a tracking method. It works on a points system, and while nothing is prohibited, it is pretty dang hard to stay within your daily points. Unless you’re some version of Gwyneth Paltrow – keeping busy living off of bun-less kale burgers.

I feel that mindfulness is half of the journey, and so I do think there’s value staying aware of what you’re eating. Because God knows this one can scarf back eleven double-stuffed Oreos, without having any notion of hunger, fullness, or the crackling sound of my tooth enamel slowly disintegrating into nothingness.

I laugh. But to be honest, this is not a funny thing for me. I’ve struggled for most of my life with weight/food/body image issues.

Disordered eating describes a variety of abnormal eating behaviours that, by themselves, do not warrant diagnosis of an eating disorder: chronic restrained eating, compulsive eating, binge eating, self-induced vomiting,

If I can remember the first period in my life where food and weight became an issue for me, it was in grade 9. And ever since then, my life has existed on this spectrum of disordered eating, sometimes hovering around the eating disorder zone. There have been many ups and downs with weight, and the whole mess is always, always a focus, if not THEE focus of my brain power.

And I think many women fall on this spectrum. Food and body image issues are more prevalent in our minds than we’d like. Maybe we struggle with some of the behaviours of disordered eating – periods of starvation followed by out-of-control or emotional eating, compulsive exercise. Or maybe we even struggle with binging and purging. Like me.

I could go into all the ‘tricks’ and methods that I’ve read about to try to be healed from this – to make peace with food and my body. I could refer you to a pile of books or magazine articles written by women who have mastered it, or who get it.  

But if you’re anything like me, you’ve already read them. And you probably kinda know what to do, you maybe just can’t figure out exactly how to do it. I mean, it is basic math – move more, eat less. And yet…

We can know all these things, and not really know how to get ourselves to do them.

It boils down to the way we use food to fill emotional needs, as opposed to fuel for our body. The same way some of us abuse alcohol.

I think most addictive behaviours are similar – just with different ‘drugs’.   The last leg of my journey with alcohol was a stretch of hopeless starts and stops, trying and failing hugely – over, and over, and over again.  I mean, my journal had so many Day 1’s listed that it never got past the level of a school day calendar. I’d reach Day 3, Day 4, maaaaaaaybe Day 6 – and then back to Day 1 again.

Until one day, Day 1 turned into Day 8, and just kept going. I wish I knew what had clicked. What’s the formula? I don’t know. Well maybe I do. When I get in that space of anxiety and all I want to do is escape from it, I don’t lie to myself anymore. I know exactly what drinking will and will not accomplish for me. And I don’t want it. I just don’t. And in the mean time, that has forced me to feel and deal. Or maybe the feeling and dealing came first. Chicken? Egg? I don’t know. But I want this with food, too. So why is this soooooo hard?

It seems like there is no one incident that causes change. Transformation is a million tiny events and choices that impact us.   And it can be helpful to look back over a span of time, and recognize small victories.

I used to be looking for the silver bullet. The thing that would kill my over-eating. I’ve read a bajillion testimonial type books/articles on health and fitness. Often I see myself in the stories, but I know (now) that they won’t save me.

I exercise regularly, but not obsessively (anymore).   I’ve mostly disassociated exercise with calorie burn. I love it, it’s part of my life, but it won’t solve my issues with food and weight. And I’m good with that.

I’ve sort of made a bit more peace with my body.   Sometimes. Some parts. At least I’ve come to realize that the ideal that is foisted on us via TV and magazines is not real.  And that deep down, I want to love real.   Because that’s what I’ve got.

It seems that, overcoming any kind of addiction, boils down to the ability to sit with discomfort or pain. Feel and deal. I used to wonder what that meant. What does it mean, to deal with things? It seems like it basically means to let yourself feel the pain. Well no wonder I’ve avoided it like the plague for most of my life. It’s not fun. But the avoidance comes with a price.

I’m reading a book on disordered eating, by Anita Johnston. She says of women who stuff their emotions, “Her denial of her feelings is quite costly. She enters a self-imposed exile from the world of spirit and nature. As beautiful as her material world may be, it is barren, without passion or life force. Only when she opens up and allows herself to feel the full force of her emotions can she then experience her feelings as gateways to wisdom and guidance rather than as stumbling blocks to be overcome. She will no longer need to use eating or starving as a way to avoid feeling her feelings.”

Okay. Not there yet.

I can’t offer much in the way of solutions. I haven’t got it together here. Maybe I should have stated that at the beginning, ha. But what I can offer is space.

As with any struggle, it’s important that we create safe space for each other. This is part of why I write. So we can all know that we’re not alone. That no matter how whacked out you feel your mind is when it comes to food and body issues – you are not the only one. You’re probably not even the worst one. See? Healthy perspective, ha.

And sometimes that is small consolation for me. GREAT. So we’re ALL doomed to a life of hating our thighs too much and not hating cheesecake enough. That doesn’t make me less doomed.

And yet… There is strength in being part of any community where there is a common struggle, no judgment, no competition or scarcity. Only a sincere and honest desire for each other to experience freedom. I have found this in a few places – Alcoholics Anonymous being one of them.

I want to create spaces where we can, as Nelle Morton put it, “….hear one another into speech… “ I came across this phrase and jumped off the page at me. I have been in that space. Where the vibe, the feeling, the presence of other people draws the words and feelings out of me. It’s a very safe place.  It’s a space that is not only safe, but one that inspires you to find your own voice and use it.

This is a journey. Most of us don’t just wake up one day cured, totally in tune with our bodies. As with anything, there is much learning, and even more unlearning.

And if I wrap my brain around the idea there is not something failed and worthless about me… That this is, as Johnston says, “…not some horrible character defect but, rather, a simple, and much-needed protective mechanism she picked up along her journey through life…” Then I move a little closer to freedom.

Unforgiveness Part 2: This Time It’s Really Not A Political Post

Forgiveness.  It’s commanded.  Jesus did it.  We know from watching re-runs of The Sopranos that unforgiveness and revenge tend to come with their fair share of complications.

With whom do I have forgiveness issues?  Well.  Basically.   It would be whoever it was that told me I was inherently bad.  I’ve narrowed that precisely down to either my church, my community, my tribe, the voices in my head, a lot of women’s conferences/retreats/studies, and probably every sermon I heard from birth to age 13 – at which point I took a break.

Is there something to forgive?  Do I want to forgive?  Or is it just another thing on the list of things I should do to be good?

Well to be totally honest, most of the time, it’s probably because I know I should – it’s hard to break the pattern of fear-based action.  I’ve spent a life-time of trying to just do the thing so you don’t get smote.

All that aside, any self-help book or daytime talk show will tell you that forgiveness is good for you.  It’s part of healing.  Anne Lamott wrote, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”  

Plus… the WORK. As if any of us have extra energy to harbor resentment.   I don’t have the energy; and yet some days the energy to be spiteful just seems to find me.

So I have a lot of questions about forgiveness.

What counts as forgiveness?  Saying it?  Feeling it?  Should I say it if I don’t feel it?  What are my chances of it happening if I’m not intentional about it?  How do I know when I’m done?

What I’ve been learning is that the only way through anything has to start with being real – no matter how ugly and far off the mark that looks.  And some really wise women told me that that includes naming the thing that hurt.

I think that it’s not okay to manipulate and control people with threats of eternal hell-fire for not following certain rules.  It’s not okay, and it’s damaging.  And when I see it, or experience anything close to it, I get cranky.  And I tend to think thoughts that, as Anne Lamott put it, “….would make Jesus want to drink gin out of the cat dish..”

And I know that it’s somewhere around this point, that I hover right above that grey area between righteous anger and something more along the lines of Sissy Spacek in the movie, Carrie.  Well, maybe not that bad.

So how do I get to forgiveness?

Being an eternal pessimist, and also practiced at the art of doing everything the hard way – I can probably tell you what does not work.

It doesn’t work to do it just because you’re supposed to, or you want to avoid the smoting.  Maybe knowing that God thinks it’s a good idea is enough to start – but in my experience, it won’t get you there.

I don’t know how to get to forgiveness, but part of it must have to do with compassion and mercy.

If there is no grace for them, there is no grace for me.  I can’t judge and condemn and continue to punish someone else, and then expect to be able to extend compassion to myself.  Some days it takes everything in me not to beat myself up for past and current failures and f***-ups.  I can easily be swallowed up by guilt and shame over pain I’ve caused people.

I survive because I’ve caught glimpses of grace from God to me, and from me to me – which is the same thing.

But when I have no grace for other people, then it’s not there for me, either.  I mean it is – but I’ll never see or feel it.

Sorry (not sorry), but I’m on an Anne Lamott kick, and she writes, “Mercy means that we soften ever so slightly, so that we don’t have to condemn others for being total shits, although they may be that. (Okay: are.)  If I do so, it makes me one.”

In other words, we’re all human.

And maybe this includes being real about anger and resentment, and saying, “I’m not okay.  I’m not ready to let this go.”

I can try and white-knuckle my way through, trying to be a nice and proper person.  There’s probably a place for that.  In of itself, it’s not bad – as far as it goes. Do I need a little self –control with the shooting off of my mouth?   Okay.  Fine.  *crosses arms, pouts, stomps foot*

But it’s a band-aid on a stab wound.  Denying the feelings will keep me right where I am.

Another part of getting to forgiveness must have to with letting go of other people’s actions, and owning your journey.  Obvious, but not easy.

To me, unforgivneess and blame are like peanut butter and chocolate – they just seem to go together.  I know in my head that my choices are my own.  But every time someone touches the wound inside me I scream, “It’s YOUR fault that I struggle with this.  If I am messed up, it’s because of YOU.”

And then it hit me (like, yesterday), being a slow learner and all.  If this is true, if it’s someone else’s fault, then I am being controlled by the person, or community, or thought patterns that were so hurtful and toxic to start with.  FABULOUS.  It’s no wonder I feel stuck.

And if I can even start to let the blame go, way off in the distance I can see the silhouette of freedom.

So I don’t know.  Maybe sometimes you can’t easily stamp FORGIVEN on a thing.  DONE.  Maybe there isn’t a finish line.  Or maybe you just won’t really know the moment that you crossed it.  But one day, you realize that you don’t feel the urge to keep throwing punches.  And then maybe the next day you do again, ha.

Maybe you can’t will yourself to forgive.  Sue Monk Kidd writes, “Maybe in the end we cannot make healing happen; perhaps it is, after all, a grace.  But we can put ourselves in its path.  We can create a healing refuge for ourselves.”

And maybe things are so entwined, that the closer you come to accepting that you – as absolutely flawed, cannot be separated from you – as absolutely beloved.

And I’ll reluctantly admit, with heels fully dug in – that maybe that goes for everyone.

Unforgiveness Part 1: This Is Not A Political Post

In the last blog, I wrote about how compassion flows when you connect with a person’s humanity, and acknowledge their path, and the different moments in time that led them to where the are.  Life is not black and white, and no one can really know what they’d do if they’ve never been in someone else’s shoes. I do really and truly believe that each of us, from Mother Teresa to Charles Manson, began as a beautiful and innocent creation – a child. And through a million different moments, sometimes, something – just goes wrong.

Easy to say, of course, until you’re the one on the receiving end of the thing that went wrong. Until you’re the victim of a crime. Or an accusation. Or an extortion plot for some incriminating pics of you in high school and thank goodness there were no interwebs back then.

Then forgiveness can feel a little out of reach, and compassion out of the question.

I’ve never really considered myself someone who struggles with forgiveness. Not that I’m really great at it, or don’t hold grudges – I hold grudges just fine.

If anything, I’m pretty sure that I’ve been much more in need of forgiveness, than I’ve needed to forgive.  Growing up, I was often the master-mind behind the Gretna version of Mean Girls.  Well there weren’t really enough of us to form cliques, but we tried to improvise as best we could.

Anyway… over the last few years, I’ve discovered a few things about myself.   One of these things was revealed around the time of the U.S. Election. This is not a political post, btw. Mostly not. Well… I’ll try.

The morning after the election I was stunned. STUNNED. And angry. And I half ripped off the head of the first person who tried to talk me down from it. Why was I SO angry?

I mean, I had legitimate concern for the state of the free world. I also had a lot of, “You idiots, what have you done, you idiots…”   And I had straight-up bewilderment.  Story after story of really, really bad behaviour, and prejudices, and pussy-grabbing just kept surfacing, and yet… here we are.

But there was also something else. Especially when I heard that 80% of the group — the tribe that I have identified with for most of my life — voted for him. It just felt so damn personal. Something inside me was screaming, “After making a lifestyle of focusing on behaviour, and anyone who isn’t Christian enough, you’re now embracing THIS GUY?”

My faith experience (and personal goal for many years) seemed that Priority One was to point out one’s every move, six ways from Sunday, that might resemble a sin.  Certain ones anyway.  And the threat of hell thrown around if the sin column started to total a little high.  Now this same collective voice is suddenly saying, “Oh that? Yeah, don’t worry about that – as long as we build the wall and fix the bathroom issue.”

But like I said, this is not a political post.

As I’ve gotten older, I’m discovering that I take some issue with the faith I grew up in. And let me be really clear – if I’m pointing a finger, I don’t even know who I’m pointing at.  Everyone?  No one in particular?  Myself?  I don’t even know with whom the issue is, exactly.  Or which parts of it are the issue?

Not all of it. Not everyone. Not even maybe.  But there are certain ideas, or the culture, or mindsets.. or something.  Maybe it’s all just something I took the wrong way, and it compounded. A cocktail of misunderstandings and a series of unfortunate events.

But it IS my experience.

Anne Lamott writes, “Forgiveness means it’s no longer important to hit back.”

I don’t know exactly who I’m swinging at, but it definitely feels like it’s still important to hit back.  My left hook is triggered by a lot of things.  Conversations I hear.  Conversations I’m in.  Facebook posts.

It feels like a wound. Somebody pokes at it, even inadvertently and I flinch and go into defense mode. Which actually looks a lot like offense mode.

Dr. Gabor Mate’s book, “In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” tells the story of a woman, addicted to crystal meth, who has been treated horribly by her mother, and who is now neglecting her own daughter.  He describes generation after generation of ruined lives, and all I can feel is compassion.  I don’t feel judgement and can only imagine the desperation and the drive to escape unimaginable pain.

But then someone makes a disparaging post about the Muslim community, or chooses to boycott a Disney flick that contains a ‘gay moment’ and I’m like, “Okay, THAT’S IT. Brace yourself for a sharply penned Facebook post of cleverly-disguised (or obviously stated) contempt.”  

Yeah. That’s my super power – a sharp wit. I asked for time travel, but I got a big mouth instead.

What IS that?

Etty Hillesum, wrote from a Nazi concentration camp, “Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.”

Drat.  I’ve heard that before.  Like the thing when you really dislike something about someone, it’s really also something that you dislike in yourself.  Shoot.

But I think that there is also the wound. And the wound is real. And my guard is up against anything that comes near it. And when that same wound is being inflicted on someone else, I can feel it. And it seems like it will take more than the passage of time to heal completely.

To be continued… possibly for longer than I want.

Kodachrome

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The novel, House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III is on the short list of fictional books that have impacted my life.  I remember choosing it because it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club.  I wanted to read something, but didn’t know where to look.  The last time I’d read a novel was against my will, and was probably something like Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Leaven of Malice.  Neither of which I actually even read, unless Coles Notes and VHS count.

I won’t give too much away about the plot or resolution of House of Sand and Fog, except to say that it’s extremely bleak and everyone dies.

Well, not quite.  But the ending of the book left me so torn, as to who was good, who was bad.  Who was at fault, who was innocent?  They all were and they all were not. 

A review on the book sums it up for me.  The reviewer writes,  “… his (the author’s) limber imagination is capable of drawing the inner lives of three very different main characters with such compassion that readers will find their sympathies hopelessly divided.”

That was exactly it.  It was probably the first story I’d heard (or noticed) where the line between the good guys and the bad guys was not clear – at all.

The novel, 19 Minutes by Jodi Piccoult, traces the events leading up to a school shooting.  In this story, the kid who does the shooting is horrifically bullied by his peers his whole life.  The author paints his pain and their cruelty so vividly, that by the time he walks into the school you are practically rooting for him to do what he does.   Of course not.  But kinda.

I just watched Monster, with Charlize Theron.  The based on real events movie portrays bits and pieces of Aileen Wuornos’s heart-breaking life, which includes prostitution and a serial killing spree which lands her on death row.   Her life is shown as a tragedy of one terrible circumstance after another; and small choices and non-choices that end up with her being hopelessly desperate.  And it’s hard to resist feeling compassion for her.  And honestly, I’m not sure we should try.

We grow up in a world of good and evil.  Snow White and the Evil Queen.  Cops and robbers.  Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.  But since the Dubus novel, I have been drawn to stories where the lines are not so clear.  The good guys are not perfect, and the bad guys have their own complicated pasts.  Like Thor and Loki.

Life is not black and white.  I used to think it was.  In fact I knew everything about everything.   I could tell you what’s black and what’s white.  Who’s right and who’s wrong.  This is the mind of someone who thinks they are above other people.  It’s the mind of someone who thinks they are incapable of falling.

But something happens when you find yourself falling to depths that  you never thought you were capable of.  When you do things that you thought only those kinds of people would do.  Those other people.

Like when you’re lying in bed at night, and you can’t remember if you picked up your child or not, but you’re too absolutely wasted to get up.  So you tell yourself that they’re at a friend’s.  They’re safe and if worst comes to worst – they’ll call.

And you find out the next day – to your relief and repulsion – that yes, you did pick them up.  You just can’t remember anything about it.

When you get to this point (and thankfully not all of us do), you realize a few things:

  1. You are probably capable of just about anything if you feel cornered or afraid or hurt enough. And so you watch yourself.  And you don’t count on making good choices just because you’re better.  You’d never do that.  Not like those people.
  1. Everyone else is also capable of just about anything if they feel cornered or afraid or hurt enough. And there’s a good chance they also didn’t wake up one day and decide to be a complete idiot.  Or a monster.
  1. It gets a little easier to see the path of other people, not just where they ended up.

Some of us just tend to come out looking cleaner than others.  I may have zigged where they zagged.  They got pulled over and I didn’t.   I had a support system, they didn’t.  Or a million other things that, had they gone a little more to the left, maybe I’d be the one in prison, or on the street, or on Maury Povich, waiting for the results of a lie detector.

I think this is one place that compassion comes from.  As Christians, I feel like we’ve thrown around the phrase, “Show love to your neighbour….”

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor…”

Maybe it’s semantics.  Maybe it doesn’t mean anything different to anyone else.  But there have been many times I have set out to show love.  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because I want to shine my light.  Be Jesus.  Be the hero.  And I’m pretty sure that they see it coming a mile away.  Hell, I’ve seen it coming a mile away.  Real caring and compassion cannot be faked.

I’m not sure you can really love someone if you think you are incapable of ever falling.  If you don’t consider yourself on the same level.  And we all do it, I think.

So maybe I’m drawn to stories that are not black and white because life is not black and white.  It’s full of color.  And I’ve started to try to see the colors in other people’s journeys.  Not the black and white of where they landed when they fell.   In some ways, the colors are not that hard to find.

In some ways, the hardest part is seeking them in myself.

On Anxiety

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A while back I bought one of these old-timey wind-up alarm clocks from the MCC.  This is a clock.  That ticks.  It’s a ticking clock.  Whenever I walk into the room, and hear the clock, it triggers a memory of my grandmother’s bedroom.  And the memory is accompanied by a mild wave of guilt because if I was in there, I was probably snooping.  Although she must have kept the good stuff somewhere else, because I never found anything.

It’s funny how triggers work.   The shitty part is that they aren’t all cutesy reminders of childhood shenanigans, snooping through your grandmother’s jewellery box.  Sometimes they trigger fears.  And sometimes suffocating, irrational, paralyzing anxiety.  I have no idea if this is how it feels for anyone else — I’ve never really talked to anyone about it.  For me it’s like a buzzing on the inside.  I can’t settle myself.  I can’t think.  I can’t focus.  It’s like a tailspin that I can’t stop — if only the thought to stop would just enter my mind.

IF, and this hardly EVER happens.. but if I can at least stop myself long enough to say something like, “This is anxiety.  What is your reality here?”  Then I have a shot at something.  I don’t even know what.  Mainly to not numb out.  That would be progress in itself.  But to actually work myself through and out of it — that’s a rarity.

And I don’t even know if I can say this really happens.  Because I have no experience working through anxiety.  What I do have is a very particular set of skills… Skills I have acquired over a long career…  I will find you and I will kil —    Oops, nope.  Not Liam Neeson skills.

I’ve acquired a set of skills where I do one of two things.  I either numb it, or I just shut down feelings, build walls against pain.  I’ve always had this, I think.   When people talk of being hurt, I don’t really know what that means.  I get mad, I get even, I stomp my foot and pout — but I don’t really get hurt.  I either just don’t feel it, or if I start to, I move straight into the numbing agent de jour — food, approval, and of course until recently, THEE most effective one – alcohol.  Thankfully I’ve never started doing drugs.  Once, at a really low point, I thought about it for a second.  But I didn’t really know where the average housewife goes to get any.  And to be honest, I wasn’t even wanting to get high.  I was tired and overwhelmed, and mostly just needed to just get some shit done.  Thankfully, no.  Very thankfully.

I always thought that the ability to shut down feelings was a benefit to me.  Why would anyone actually want feel pain, when you could just.. not.  Why?  Really, why? (crickets)   Exactly.  I thought not.

There was just one teeny glitch in my system.  It doesn’t hold.  It is possible to keep it together for a really long time.  But it’s kind of like being on a merry-go-round and someone hands you an armful of bouncy balls.  As things start to speed up, you’ll start to drop them, and the more you go after the strays the more you lose.  And the faster you spin, the further they get away from you.  And more and more head towards the edge until finally you have to let go of all of them, just so you can hang on to the centre for your own dear life.

And then there is no choice left, but to deal.  You now see your best standbys as a clear and present danger.  You could take that route — of numbing and self-medicating — but you’ve finally realized that it’s a pretty big crap shoot and you may already have lucked out more than the average person.  And that, if you continue, there is a very good chance that you could die.

So here I am.  Feeling my feelings.  And hating the f#@k out of it.  HATING IT.

Except that I am starting to learn one thing.  It doesn’t actually kill me. Sometimes I sit and wait it out.  And sometimes, I’m a bit more on the offense, and I breathe and pray through it.  I don’t know if that makes it faster or better.  I know that God is with me, either way.

And when I’m out the other side, I look back mildly perplexed, thinking, “Hey.  I made it.  It didn’t’ kill me.  I didn’t die.”  To be clear, I don’t really think I will die.  But you couldn’t tell by the extremes I’d go to avoid those feelings.

Here is what I’m practicing.  And it’s not rocket science.  But to just stop and do some kind of reality check.  Just your basic, run-of-the-mill Serenity Prayer stuff.  Throw some kind of wrench into the hamster wheel that is my brain.  And even if it’s only for a moment, it’s sometimes enough to be able to feel my feet touch the bottom of the pool again.  And then I can move in the direction I need to go.  And I don’t feel so tossed about by my own thoughts.

It’s like labour.  But less messy.  You know how, when you’re in hard labour, and the nurse is trying to encourage you saying, “You’re doing great, just keep it up, you’re doing awesome!”

And as you’re swinging the nitrous mask at her head you scream, “I’m not DOING, ANYTHING!  This is happening TO me!!  If I had ANY say in this, it would stop — RIGHT NOW!!”

Had I actually practiced any of the prenatal breathing techniques, I may have been in a position to cope with my pain a little.

So I practice it now.  The breathing.  The stopping.  The naming of my thoughts.  The reality check.  Meditation.  What is true vs. what is the story I’m telling myself

It’s funny.  Like not ha-ha funny, but it’s funny how your thoughts can push you around.  And play tricks on you.  When I was drinking, and something would trigger my anxiety, I’d be stuck in this fog of foreboding.  I’d fight the urge to drink, but eventually I would give in and jump off the wagon — running start, both feet forward. Once I made that decision to numb, I settled right down.  Everything in me was calm.  I didn’t actually even need the alcohol.  I just needed to know that there was an escape.

And now I’m learning that even if there is no escape, I know that I won’t die.  I will survive it.  And while I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer the escape route, I also know that you can go around and around and around the thing, but eventually you’re gonna have to go through.  And likely that’s the best way.  I’ve started to find my strength.  Or something.  It doesn’t actually feel like strength.  Maybe it’s just stubbornness.

Anne Lamott says, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

Even when I can’t see my way through to the next moment, something inside me hangs on until the light comes back.  And it comes back.  It just looks a little different from day to day.

Toward

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This was a few years back.   One of my boys had friends over, and I needed to go to town for a couple of things.

Me:   I’m going to go get some groceries…

Boys:  Can we go skating on the pond?

Me:  Ummmm… just wait until I get back.

Boys:  Well can we have a fire?

Me:  No.  Wait until I get back.

Boys:  Can we go shooting with pellet guns then?

Me:  NO!  For the love of… Can you please just do something that is a little less likely to cause property damage or personal injury?  I don’t even OWN all of you….

Boys:  OK.  Where are the axes?

Me:  Ugh.. just SIT THERE and don’t move until I get back.

I love this.  Mostly because it’s not even made up or exaggerated.  There they stood, earnestly waiting for me to let them run around the yard shooting each other.  They really wanted to do all of those things, and saw no issue with this.  I, on the other hand saw ALL of the issues with this.  They’ll shoot their eye out.  They’ll start the whole section on fire.  They’ll chop down the neighbour’s yard swing.  All while I run and get a jug of milk.

They knew what they wanted, and were ready to move towards that.  All I could feel was the fear of what could go wrong.  Now granted — in this particular situation I might not have been completely off base in exercising some caution.   Or all of the caution.  There was a huge chasm between the way they saw things, and the way I did.

Somewhere along the way (aka turning into adults), our drive towards something can get overshadowed by the fear of what could go wrong.  And a healthy amount of this is just called normal.  And growing up.  And staying out of prison.  And we all do it to varying degrees.

But I think that maybe it’s gone a little overboard with me — or maybe with everyone — I don’t know.  But never realized that it might be a problem until I was at a counselling session.  And my counsellor poses a question to me as he sits back in his chair, nodding, the pads of his fingertips tapping together.  (I’m kidding — just trying to make it sounds all Freudish).  He says, “What is it that you want in your life?  What is important to you?”   

And I’m like, “Well I don’t want to have any pain.”

“That’s what you don’t want.”

“Well I don’t want people to hurt.”

“That’s also what you don’t want — what DO you want?”

“Well I want me and everyone I love to be free from pain.  Ha!  Nice try.”  Leaning back in my own chair, one eyebrow cocked, I feel like I’ve won some kind of showdown.  Because that’s obviously why we’re here, ha.

And I start to think.. and I start to realize that damn near everything I do, is to avoid some kind of pain or discomfort or bad thing.  I do more running from things, and hardly any moving towards good things at all.

I drank to run away from difficulty and pain.  And especially towards the end of my drinking, there was noooo drinking for the purpose of having a good time or be sociable.  It was ALL about escape.  I mean drinking yourself into oblivion all alone, in your house is hardly a party.

Fear is what drives me when it comes to food and body image issues.  I remember the first time it ever crossed my mind that there might be something ‘wrong’ with my body.  I was in grade 3 or 4, and a friend told me something about her older sister, who had just lost a bunch of weight.  “Well my sister used to be chubby, but now she’s thin.  So maybe when we get to her age, that will happen to us, too.”

Oh yeah, sounds good.  Wait…. WHAT?  And it hit me, that there was something wrong with my body.  And blah, blah, etc, etc, fast-forward 30 years…  And the truth is, that an embarrassingly large chunk of my life — with the food,  and the thoughts, and the body image — has revolved around the singular fear of being overweight.  Even when I was underweight.  And it’s consuming, and it’s a whole nuther blog, or maybe 10 more blogs..

I was talking to my doctor about some medication (yes, for my moods, so get off my back), and I asked him about potential side effects.  As he’s reading them off — dizziness, nausea, heart condition, stroke, temporary blindness.  And my mind is going, “Man if he says weight-gain, I’m out….”

Sooooo basically blindness? Fine.  Heart trouble?  No problem.  But put on 10 pounds, and I’m like, Awwwwww HELL No!  People are just going to have to deal with the this, because NO.  Just.  Nope.

It’s one of many areas that is governed by my fear of something, as opposed to being fuel to drive me towards something — health, energy.  All the things that we could be appreciating our bodies for, is instead channelled into debilitating fear.

And this habit (habit?) permeates many of my decisions, or actually lack of them.  I have a lot of trouble making decisions – because I’m always looking for the perfect decision, where all will go well for all involved.  The guarantee of no pain.  I’m looking for the solution that will be perfect for everyone.  And sometimes, that just doesn’t exist.

And what’s left is this state of groundlessness.  Not going forward, not going back, not being at peace with anything.  Anxiety creeps in and starts to set up camp, and it will freaking stay there for days if I  let it.

But sometimes if I can stop my mind, even for a moment.  For a few deep breaths, or the words of a friend or author.  Or a meditation or prayer (they are the same to me)… There is a small clearing in that forest of anxiety that makes me stop and ask, “What is important?  What do I want?  What direction do I need to go?  What can I change?  What do I need to accept?”

And I catch a glimpse of the direction I need to go, if only the first few steps.  In the movie, “Out of Africa”, Meryl Streep’s character says of Robert Redford’s character, “Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”

And so too, maybe we are only meant to see a little ways down the road, because only the next step is the one that needs taking.  And when things are scary and unclear, we need to know that we only need to take that one next step.  Or as the poet, Rumi says, “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”

And then I know (sorta) that going forward, is worth the risk of pain.  And I try to understand the notion that love and pain are two sides of the same coin.  If you love you will have pain.  If you can manage to escape all the pain, there is probably not much love, either.  Either way, the fear that has been ruling my life has ended in pain anyway.  Drat.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I have not mastered this.  Whatever the opposite of mastered it is — that’s what I’ve done.   My default is to run from pain, but in no particular direction.  I need to be intentional.  Busyness and self-abasement are not my friends.  Sufficient sleep and focus and meditation are.

And even though it seems like crawling doesn’t get you very far — think back to a month ago, or a year.  You can cover a lot of distance when you move towards something — no matter what your speed.