Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘compassion’

Trumpatized – Canada Is Not The Answer

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I have been finding snatches of time in the day to cry since the election. A friend called it being Trumpatized. A great term combining Trump and traumatized, the cause of the trauma and the condition it is triggering. My reaction, disbelief and grief and anger over the election, has to find little crevasses in the day. Last Wednesday, I cried through Kathleen’s yoga class. I am pretty sure I was not alone. I cry between sessions and in sessions with some of my clients as they tell how they have been triggered back to memories of traumatic events from their past.

Right or wrong, whether you voted for him or not, Trump has reawakened many people’s past memories, snakes of violence jerked out of hibernation., and caused people to wonder about the moral development of the country. I can’t answer these questions.

I can give you some ideas for comfort through this time –

  • Get enough sleep – not too much and not too little. Your neurotransmitter level will thank you.
  • Eat warm and easy-to-digest foods – carbohydrates are helpful, soups, stews, chilis, tea.
  • Stay away from too much caffeine – it will further agitate you.
  • Keep your alcohol level to a minimum – flashbacks and memories seep in when guards are down and alcohol lowers the brain’s guardrails.
  • Be active – it will help you keep things in balance, regulate your nervous system, and get you out of your house (where I am likely to brood …)
  • Dress warm – it will calm your body so it doesn’t feel under siege.
  • Respect other people’s property – march and protest but this is not a time to riot nor recreate Kristallnacht.
  • Cry, find places and people who can accept your response.
  • If you can’t get out of bed or still feel numb, see a therapist. It’s okay to get some help.
  • Try not to re-Trumpatize yourself with on-going news shows and articles.
  • Turn off your blue screens one hour before bedtime to give your brain a chance to settle down. This decreases the frequency of nightmares and allows for more restful sleep.

(Holiday meals are not the time to bring up your differences. Everyone has someone dear to them who voted in a way opposite to you. Don’t spoil this time.)

Here’s the kicker – you need to do something. As I see it, we have three options –

  • Do nothing – that will keep you at war with yourself – only so many ostriches tolerated in this world.
  • Work to promote your beliefs – join a group, start a group, volunteer for a group.
  • Accept the results with grace – promote coming together with as calm a presence as you can.

You can do one or some combination of the three. But do something – the first option leads to feeling impotent which leads to violence against yourself and others. (Oh, and please don’t move to Canada.)

The choice is yours.

 

“Now?” “No not yet.”

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When anyone asks me to describe my childhood, I have a stock answer. “We had a childhood written by Stephen King starring Cruella DeVille and Captain Ahab.” That usually shuts them up. It’s painful when you don’t have the All-American-Family portrayed by Norman Rockwell. I have the European-Holocaust-AbsentShipCaptain-family portrayed by Bosch and Dali.

My dislike for my mother, Cruella, swarms like a soul-sucking tornado as Mother’s Day approaches. My mother died in 1998. The whole shebang was surreal. Mom had been dying three times a year for a decade. She had deathbeds in Alabama and California; places I could not get to without long expensive plane flights. But I tried. I really tried for the first couple of years. Then I said, “Fuck it.” With an eye on being the good daughter, I lobbied my husband for Mom to come live with us. He said, “No. I am not having that woman who caused you so much pain live with us. I can’t watch her hurt you.” He left the room, slammed every door in the house before driving off in his rusted out Camaro. I sat in our house still rattling with his anger. Okay, that was a resounding no-go.

So time passed; Mom continued to have near death experiences. My sister went to live with her. I sent money secreted from my own account but a few times from the household account. Ten years passed until one day I received a phone call from my sister. “Mom is dying. She’s not going to make it through the night. Get on a plane.” Uh-huh. My sister rambled while I rolled my eyes. I don’t remember why Mom was “dying.”

The next day, I received another phone call. “Mom’s dying. She’s not going to make it … “ I finished the sentence, “Through the night.” My sister yelled until she hung up.

My sister called again on the next day. I looked at the caller ID, answered nonplused, “Don’t tell me. Mom’s dying. She’s not going to make it through the night.” My sister was all kinds of pissed. “Look call me when she’s got one foot through death’s door,” I said and hung up.

The rest of the week passed into the weekend. Monday around a quarter to one, my father called me. We chatted in a weather-report kind of way before he said, “Well she did it.”

“What?”

“Your mother died thirty minutes ago,” he said.

I stood looking at the phone, examining the soft blue hue, feeling the weight of the receiver in my hands, and inside … nothing. Then both of us started laughing. “Oops, I misjudged this,” I said.

“She was dramatic,” he said. We hung up. Big portions of my life began. I felt free. Open to the many different possibilities of living without the specter of her cruelty.

The loss did not hit until ten years later when it was safe to mourn. I was writing a short story based on a fragment of memory – an interaction with Mom where not one character in the story was sympathetic. Mom’s motivations were beyond my understanding but I knew the event happened. I looked for explanations of Mom’s behaviors in books, class notes, newspapers, and family albums. I found them. With that information, her actions, some good but mostly horrific, made sense. Compassion for her battled my history of contempt, grown from the minefield she dug. The confusion caused my gut to knot, my head to pound, and sizzled my dreams to the point of night terrors. When my perceptions of the world have reorganized so I don’t feel like I am peeling off my skin, I’ll tell you.

Mom would say to me, “To know everything is to understand everything.” Maybe she was giving me a way to view her life and behaviors in a larger context.

My therapist would say to me, “All behavior is productive.” Maybe he was asking me to stop with the duality of right and wrong.

They were both right. I weep for my mother, the no-escaping tragic course of her life, the bad turns she took, and the relationships she blew. I weep for myself, the mother I never knew until she died, the things we could not do together, and the long years we spent hating each other. On this Mother’s Day, you can celebrate or feel nothing, mourn or let it go, I will support you either way. Not everyone has a Rockwell family.

Painful Humility

September has been a bad time coming off six months of painkillers. I have headaches, slurred speech, memory problems, weight gain, and general crabbiness. But I have clarity about human fragility.

I admit I am spectacularly judgmental about drug abuse. My mom was a horrible drug abuser and I am terrified of getting addicted. I always said I would never use drugs.

Pain wasn’t too bad until the nerve blocks wore off three days after the each of the initial surgeries in March. EEK. I thought my body was on fire and I would have done anything, well almost anything, to put it out.

The Friday after my arm surgery, in my surgeon’s building, I pleaded for painkillers. The staff was wide-eyed and scared. At one point I was sitting on the waiting room floor, sobbing, covered in body fluids, unable to see beyond my immediate painful reality. A patient handed me a box of Kleenex. An hour later, an unspecified person gave me a prescription for a strong morphine-type drug.

The pharmacist at my neighborhood drug store talked to me about having someone stay with me or at the least, check on me while taking the medication. I nodded at her. Unthinking. Wanting her to scream at her to go away so I could speed home and take the drug. Unable to see any future beyond the agony of that moment. A neighbor came over every two hours and checked on me throughout the weekend. Thank you neighbor. I hope I was civil to you.

Truthfully, I asked her to check on me because I was scared. Scared witless that the doctors would find out and take away my medication. I didn’t care about waking up as long as the opiates made the pain go away.

After about a week, when I could sit upright, I realized I would never go to the bathroom again until I stopped taking the opiates. That was my bottom. So I went off them. Coming off was a very lousy three days. I watched a lot of stupid TV, serial killer shows and sitcoms, but not movies. I could not concentrate on a feature length film. I itched all over. I ate many bags of corn chips and drank a lot of tea. I hate corn chips and tea. Corn chips taste like pasteboard. Tea tastes like my idea of embalming fluid.

During those shitty seventy-two hours, I reassessed my judgments about addiction. Forgave my mom a little more. Was humbled by how easy, how seductive, and how compromising it was and is to get hooked on a painkiller. Imagined ingenious ways to get back at my surgeons.

But chronic pain set in after another series of bloody painful procedures and in office surgeries. I spent the next four months on non-opiate painkiller medications. I am almost off these medications. Tapering off these medications has been another lesson in patience and in compassion for anyone trying to deal with pain. Starting with myself.

When I have more distance from non-opiate painkiller withdrawal, I’ll tell you about it.

I keep hearing my teachers say, “All behavior was productive at one point.” I wish I could have been more understanding with my mother.

20 Pounds or Happiness

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Everybody is exquisite. Truly, stunningly beautiful.

I keep learning one concept over and over again. As a counselor, a yoga teacher, a massage therapist, a writer, and in my own life.

This week, I am collaborating to combine story with photographs. Sunday afternoon at Barnes and Noble, I was sitting with the photographer discussing our model choice for the project.

“Wow she’s lovely.”

“Yes very photogenic.”

“And she’s athletic.”

“Yeah, the long torso implies that she was a gymnast. Bone plates shortened.”

“The other model has longer legs … “

“Let’s use both. Different looks.”

“The differences will spark more ideas.”

We grinned at each other. Two people in their 50s, feeling great about our work and about being able to see the possibilities, sweet possibilities of two very different body types. I went to get some lemonade. Walking back to our table, the beauty of every person in the store stole my breath away. I teared up. We could have used any person in the store. A cascade of memories followed the joyful epiphany.

I thought back to my first husband, initially an art director, now directing TV commercials. He was so very persnickety about how each feature of the model had to line up with his vision. I left the marriage for many reasons but there was a defining moment for me one night.

I never felt good enough, pretty enough with him. He was always checking out other women. I always felt lacking stacked against his model choices. A big issue was my weight.

“You could have made it as a model if you lost 10 pounds,” he said repeatedly.

After seven years of this, I snapped.

“I am a size 8 not a size 4. Get over it. I have other things to do with my life than live up to your celluloid ideal of beauty.”

He had stepped back. I hadn’t yelled but stated the words with a flat and factual voice.

Something changed after that. From then on, I did not let him take my power nor define me. Read that sentence again. The important words were, “I DID NOT.” The power dynamics shifted in our marriage – based upon a realization of my own worth. I wanted to be in relationship with someone who saw the beauty of the entirety of me.

After years of practicing compassion, I came to the conclusion that we had loved each other as best we could at that point in our lives.

I met my second husband when I was working my way through graduate school. Uncharacteristically, I was a size 4. I dated Rod for four years. He did not judge me; he would gently point out when I was judging him. I had unconsciously incorporated the behaviors of my first husband. With much effort, I learned to accept all the parts of him, not to judge him based on one aspect of his being.

A year before our marriage, two things happened. First, I became very ill. Treatment included medications that added twenty pounds to my body.

Second, I had to get a copy of some divorce-related papers from my first husband. The phone call to my ex went something like this.

“I don’t know where the papers are,” he said.

“Well if you remarried, they are probably near your marriage certificate. In a lock box? A file?”

“Oh yes, I remarried. You should see her. She’s young, beautiful and stylish.”

“Aaah. This is why we divorced,” I yelled.

Not my most graceful moment as I took the phone and beat it against the strong metal desk bringing my fiancé rushing into the room. He took the phone from my sweaty palm, said to my ex, “Call back when you have the papers. We’re getting married soon so we need the papers.”

Two years later, on our first anniversary, when I was well and had shed most of the 20 pounds, I felt I could ask my second husband, “Why didn’t you say anything when I gained the weight?”

“What would it have helped? Anyway that’s not all of who you are.”

I didn’t know what to do with his statement of acceptance and love.

Now I know what to do. With every person, I look for his or her one, at least one, beautiful attribute. My heart meets them from that place whether I say something about it or not.

This week, I will thank our models for their courage in showing themselves to us. I will bring them water, sandwiches, pasta, fruit, and brownies – their choice.

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