relationships

De’ja’ vu all over again: Recreating the past

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Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with special needs is hard. Parenting a girl in active adolescence is hard. Parenting from a place of trauma is hard. Parenting an adolescent girl with special needs when all aspects are points of trauma in your history, is beyond hard.

I feel like I’m constantly falling down, constantly lacking, and constantly failing . . . even though I know I’m doing my best. I know I’m a better parent now than I was seven years ago. I’m a better parent now than when my oldest daughter was the age my youngest daughter is now, 12. I’m a better parent than my mother was able to be when I was 12. But, I still don’t feel like I’m a good parent or the parent my child needs and deserves.

The reality is that I am really struggling. I love my child but I don’t like her. I love her so much and want so much good for her, but I find myself resenting her for things she has no control over. I’m so proud of her and amazed by the things she does and how strong and determined to be herself she is. At the same time, I am so incredibly ANGRY at how her strength and determination flatten and steamroll the people around her . . . like me and her nieces and nephew. I love her but I hate being her mother.

That’s awful. I know it is. But, it’s also my truth. It’s a convoluted truth rooted in the trauma, rejection, and abandonment issues between my mother and myself when I was 12 years old. Issues that I will never be able to work with her on because she died . . . committed suicide . . . when I was 12.

My little girl isn’t so little anymore. She turned 12 at the beginning of December. She’s taller than me . . . mostly because, like many children on the Autism Spectrum, she’s a “toe walker.” She travels on her tiptoes. Walking with her feet flat from heel to toe is like an impossibility for her. There was no physical reason for it and we put her through physical and occupational therapy to try to prevent any negative effects from the toe walking. To no avail. Now it’s reaching the point of discomfort and pain for her to not walk on her toes.

I wish I could let her be herself, with her idiosyncracies and quirks, without feeling so beyond frustrated and annoyed. She absolutely refuses to do anything or engage with anyone other than her preferred activities and people who she wants to be around. I feel powerless, especially in light of the societal expectations, rules, and norms regarding parenting and education, especially with children who have special needs. The thing is she doesn’t appear or seem to be autistic to most people. Even her medical evaluation team had difficulty coming to agreement regarding her autism. She’s lived in emotionally traumatic circumstances since conception. So, there are behaviors and reactions that stem from the autism and there are behaviors and reactions that are rooted in her trauma exposure history. Stir in pubescent hormones, in the middle of a pandemic that has everyone acting off and dealing with various types and degrees of trauma, and I have my very own Katie Kaboom.

If the truth be told, I’m probably as much of a Katie Kaboom as my daughter is . . . or at least I feel like I’m on the verge of exploding with her a lot of the time. There’s this surreal sense of loss of control and imminent danger creating a sense of fear of myself and what I’m capable of.

The last memory I have of an interaction between me and my mother lingers on the edges of my consiousness most of thetime when I’m around her.

I had recently turned 12. It was late June or early July, I think. We were living in an old adobe group of single story apartment buildings that had been built to use as military barracks in the 1940’s. Adobe buildings surrounded by asphalt. No trees. No grass. No shade. It was unrelenteningly sunny. The air was still and stuffy. My mom was working as a night janitor with her brother and his wife, who lived in the building catty-corner from ours. While cleaning may have been her job, it wasn’t something that was a priority in our apartment. We were a couple of clutterbugs. So my mom was embarrased for people to see the condition of our apartment. All the doors were shut tight and windows shuttered and covered so no one could see in.

I was hot. The heat was draining and I had no energy to do anything. I just wanted to breathe and I felt like I was suffocating in the stuffy heat of the closed apartment. I didn’t want to go out in the shadeless parking lot/driveway that surrounded the apartments. We had only lived here for three or four, maybe five months. I didn’t have any friends and didn’t have anywhere I could go. I was restless and listless at the same time. I decided to stand in the doorway, with my face pressed against the doorframe on the right, the door pressed against my left cheek, my stocky body filling the area between the door and it’s frame. Nothing visible from the outside.

She was embarrased, exhausted, and overwhelmed . . . I know and recognize this now, but at that time I only thought she was being controlling and unreasonable. It felt like what I needed and wanted didn’t matter to her, even a little bit. She was yelling at me, trying to get me to close the door. I was yelling back, telling her how no one could see inside. I don’t know how long it went on. Not long, I’m sure, but, it felt like it stretched on for a long time, each of us getting angrier and louder. I can’t remember specific words. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if I had called her names or cussed at her.

Suddenly my head was jerked back by my hair and the next thing I remember is that I’m laid out across the sofa and she was sitting on my legs, preventing me from moving. I was yelling at her and trying to kick her off of my legs. Finally, I was able to sit up, bend forward, and I bit her on her thigh as hard as I could until she got up.

I don’t really know what happened after she got up. I know my uncle burst through the door a short while later to check on me. He had seen me standing at the door, then disappear suddenly before the door closed. He was condemning and critical of her. She was crying. Sometime after that, she signed guardianship of me over to him and moved back down to Texas. A few weeks later we got the news that she had committed suicide.

When I’m dealing with my daughter and she’s refusing to do things like, take a shower, let me brush her hair, login to classes, do homework, or anything that isn’t playing Minecraft or drawing on her iPad I feel a rush of overwhelming feelings swirling around: anger, resentment, frustration, shame, sadness, hopelessness, helplessness. Then she starts laying on the insults and declarations of how horrible of a parent I am and how she loves her dad more than he loves me. If I attempt to remove her iPad, she lashes out at me physically – hitting, kicking, scratching, biting.

The roles appear to be switched with me as the mother. But, on a visceral level I don’t feel any more in control or that I matter than I did as a kid going through what I went through with my mom.

Maybe there’s a clue in that. Maybe it’s a hint that she wasn’t feeling in control or that she mattered. We don’t feel in control or that we matter so we do things that are about taking control and power from someone else, not because we want to feel powerful, but because we want to matter and if we don’t feel like we matter, we don’t feel safe. If I don’t matter to those who matter to me, then I don’t feel that my needs can get met. I’m supposed to meet her needs. It’s not her job to meet my needs. It’s not right or fair of me to resent her for this.

Is the resentment about her or is it about resenting that the person whose job it was to meed my needs and who I was supposed to matter too, oppressed and suppressed me instead of take care of me?

I know now that my mother experienced undiagnosed and untreated mental illness – likely Bipolar I with schizopherenic tendencies. She couldn’t help it and it wasn’t her fault. This knowledge and understanding gives framework and context, but, it doesn’t change the feelings and the child who needed protection and nurture still didn’t get protection and nurture. I struggle to protect and nurture myself and I struggle to provide that for my child.

What does it really mean to be emotionally healthy?

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I’ve been in and out of various forms of therapy since pre-adolescence. I’ve been doing it pretty consistently for the past seven years. Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to reach a point of being emotionally healthy.

The PTSD has had deep and lasting impacts on both my brain structure and neurochemistry. Bipolar II Disorder means that my brain structure and neurochemistry were already atypical. Both impact emotional health and affect my capacity for instinctively choosing emotionally healthy behavior.

Ten months ago my faith community stood beside me and supported me in my mental health recovery journey. They chose to pay for me to go through trauma recovery therapy, so I could better deal with the myriad of intense psychological and emotional stressors in my life. Past trauma is something I’ve been minimizing, avoiding, and denying most of my life. Dusting it off, picking it up, looking it in the eye, and examining it is not even close to easy. What is easy is distancing and distracting myself, even as I try to face it.

Last week I had a Telehealth appointment, which turned into an audio only appointment because of my dying phone. Since there’s no unoccupied space in my apartment and the sanctuary of a vehicle no longer exists, I walked to a coffee shop that has a large, covered, outdoor seating area. It also happens to be the socially distanced gathering place for the neighborhood dog owners and their dogs to hang out. I sat as far away as I could so as to be heard by my therapist and not heard by the community of strangers. Fun times.

I was telling her what happened the night I dropped my phone. I had gone over to my friends’ house, where I had been living from March – November, to pick up Christmas gifts for my grandkids. While I was there, the woman who had been my first friend from a DBT group I had been part of in 2018/2019, absented herself and had no interaction with me. Her wife indicated that I could try to communicate with her, but I would probably be unsuccessful. The wife is now my primary friend.

I have a lot of sad and mad feelings about this relationship break. However, when I was discussing what happened that night with my therapist, my brain fixated on the broken phone, as if that was the source of my difficult emotions. I was completely aware that’s what I was doing, but couldn’t seem to stop it. So, I said out loud that my brain was wanting to focus more on the phone than the lost friendship.

We discussed that for a bit. We drilled down some and identified some roots in prior relationships with important women in my life, starting with my mother, that ended in rejection and abandonment. Still a lot to unpack there, but both my therapist and I recognize that I’m stretched to capacity to address more trauma at this point. With that agreement in place, the question becomes, “what direction do we go and what do we work on?”

Since I’ve made some significantly bad decisions in the past several months which were decidedly co-dependent, avoidant, and risky and the outcomes of these decisions have increased the emotional, physical, and financial stress on me, thus maxing out my capacity for doing the more in depth trauma work, I figure I need to work on making emotionally healthy choices when faced with situations where my trauma responses have been triggered. I think that’s the only way to clear the path for me to do the deeper work.

My therapist suggested that my lack of emotionally healthy response is more likely rooted in the fact that I’ve never been around emotionally healthy people making emotionally healthy choices and that, while it may be possible for me to come to an understanding of what it means to be emotionally healthy, I may continually deal with an inability to operate with that same understanding. To which I responded that is why I said learning the behavior that comes from being emotionally healthy can be learned, even when the emotions aren’t healthy.

I think of it like reverse engineering good emotional health. Learning to act “as if” I am an emotionally healthy person, might enable me to become an emotionally healthy person.

I think I just found my focus for this year.

2021, the year I become an emotionally healthy responder.

What to do with the grief of others

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. ~ Romans 12:15 HCSB

How can we show up in the midst of pain and grief for our marginalized siblings in the world around us, when we have no idea what to do or say to them and what we CAN do feels futile in the face of the vitriol and intentional ignorance? How do we not wind up making our sense of ineffectiveness and futility more important than their experiences of violence and suffering?

The answer is to BE with them in their grief. Acknowledge and validate their anger. Learn why they fear the things we don’t. Share and celebrate the things and people they celebrate. Be willing to set aside your “stuff” to show them they and their “stuff” matters. In other words, treat them the way you want to be treated.

It may be challenging to look away from our own issues, circumstances, and experiences in order to look and see those of others, much less step into their world and be with them. But, it’s very much worth the effort to do so. We also have guidance on how to do this.

‘He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. ‘ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 HCSB

How do we receive comfort from God? Sometimes it’s an internal sense of peace or a lifting of the spirit, maybe a lessening of the pressure on our chest or the lessening of the restriction of our throat. Maybe it’s through a song, a poem, a meaningful writing, or piece of scripture. Perhaps a video or show. However, there are times when it is another person and their words, actions, or just them being present with us which contributes to the feeling of being comforted. Those are the things we can do and share, if they are something the person grieving is in a place to receive.

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord ’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him. ‘ Isaiah 61:1-3 HCSB

Jesus came to do these things, show us how to do these things, and teach us to do these things so we can share and demonstrate the love he shared and demonstrated to us. This is how we can learn and know how to show up in the midst of the pain and grief, anger and fear, our marginalized and brutalized brothers and sisters experience.

Legacy

‘Round and ‘round she goes
Freewheeling and spinning
Bouncing from thought to thought
From one thing to another

Up is down, down is up
Good is bad, bad is good
Riding the exhilarating waves
Crawling through the dark valleys

Always looking to be “fixed”
Always wanting a “fixer”
Needing control
Living in chaos
Dying in love

Her life is mine, as well
My children can attest
I fought like mad
Lashing out, relentlessly

Life on the edge
The art of the con
The good apprentice
Crumpled and abandoned

Obsessive plans
Frenzied achievement
Burned out
Crashed hard

Time and again
Rinse and repeat
Cycles within cycles
Antagonist and victim

The mind forgets
The body remembers
In the midst of anger
In the midst of turmoil
Conflicted life

Lost momentum
Lost joy
Lost hope
Lost self
Unmoored

Immovable mountains
Crashing and clashing
Awakened in conflict
Change begun

Spiritual awakening
Fortuitous convergence
Extraordinary and mundane
Unforeseen support
Asked, offered, given

Long and winding
Road of an epic journey
My strength is my weakness
Renewed and redeemed
Bridging the past and the present

From mother to daughter
Connecting the generations
A new future written
Shaped by what was
Walking into what will be

UBC 4/20 Day 15: Trauma Muscles

Many people are experiencing various waves of emotions about what’s going on in the world today: panic, fear, anger, sadness, etc.. These are all normal responses to the global threat and common traumatic experience. However, if those feelings get too intense and pervasive, it can become debilitating and make it difficult to function. Then, there’s also dissociation – that feeling of being disconnected from emotions surrounding these events…kind of like compartmentalizing thoughts and action separate from emotional response. In my personal experience, that kind of thing I’ve learned as an automatic coping mechanism, which is an automatic response to trauma, a symptom of my PTSD. For me, dissociating has enabled me to get through periods of life when I was experiencing things which would have triggered overwhelmingly immobilizing emotions.

The thing is, we get really good at what we practice, right? In my life, I’ve bounced from trauma to trauma to trauma and dissociating, disconnecting from my emotions to the point where it became my way of life. I got so good at it, that, not only did I not consciously experience the “negative” emotions, I was also disconnected from the “positive” ones. It’s important to realize that emotions are neither negative or positive. Emotions are instinctive tools which tell us something about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t learn how to read and understand our emotions in any given situation, then, whatever action we take as a result of the emotions we experience can have negative consequences.

Another word for practice is “exercise.” The more we exercise dissociation, the stronger our ability to ignore, push down, and function in spite of our emotions becomes. Suffice it to say, I have very strong dissociation muscles. They developed into a form of brute strength. But, brute strength only gets you so far. In order for it to be useful and constructive, that brute strength must be shaped, sculpted, and toned. In other words, training is needed.

I had a lifetime of developing the brute strength of dissociation to contain and manage my emotions until they started leaking around the edges and creating some truly negative and destructive consequences. I’ve now spent over six years training to hone and reshape how I handle my emotions. Dissociation is still my automatic “go to” response to intense emotion. However, it’s now mitigated by things I’ve been learning. Specifically, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) has been very instrumental in teaching me how to harness and use the strength of dissociation in constructive ways. All while I continue to train and learn new methods and ways to mitigate it.

Which brings me to the present time of stress and trauma we are all going through as individuals, families, communities, a nation, and the global collective.

In the past month, I have experienced the feelings and had the thoughts of many, if not most, people in the world around me. I have seen two distinctive responses to those thoughts and feelings: acknowledgment and acceptance of the world as it is now, or fear or denial about how bad things are or will get. The first response gets things done and keeps one moving forward, facing and learning to overcome these new challenges. The second response results in stagnation and, possibly, regression.

I believe my well-developed “trauma muscles” and the training they’ve been getting from therapy, DBT, and spiritual growth is what has enabled me to address the issue and effectively deal with issue of being unemployed. It is also the thing which has helped me to continue my healing and growth process in my mental health.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that trauma is the best training tool for learning how to deal with and manage emotions. It isn’t. Trauma changes us and derails our path to who we had the potential to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. It impacts our relationships and our ability effectively and constructively function in the world. But, with training and healing work, I believe that the strength we gain from surviving trauma, can become powerful and impact our lives and the lives of others in amazing ways.

UBC4/20 Day 14: Parenting from afar

At the beginning of this month’s challenge, I mentioned my youngest daughter, but, I haven’t said much about her. Since I’m having some big feels regarding her and my relationship with her, I figured I’d talk through it here. If nothing else, I’ll get some more Emotion Color Wheel practice in. I’m feeling sadness and love. Sadness about her not being with me and love simply because she’s my daughter.

Digging deeper, I realize my sadness a lot of things: distressed, melancholic, shameful, and hopeless. Exploring that more reveals that I feel agonized and hurt, depressed and sorrowful, regretful and guilty, anguished and powerless. That’s a lot of sadness that’s heavy on my heart. I’ll get to the whys in a little bit. But first, I want to explore the love more. There’s tenderness and longing. Those expand out to compassionate and caring, affectionate and sentimental. That love is all twisted and intertwined in the sadness.

The love is actually buried under the sadness in a lot of ways and I think that’s all tied to my childhood trauma and the mother wounds I carry. I know I have attachment issues. It’s very, very difficult for me to be physically affectionate. I don’t enjoy snuggling, hugging, and close physical contact with anyone. I never have. Please don’t hold my hand for more than a few seconds. I can give hugs, but, please don’t hug me. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with people and interacting with them, but, not in a physically close way. This social distancing thing and communicating via Zoom, Messenger, FB Groups, and texts are all fine for me. Much easier for me than being in a roomful of people.

But, I digress.

I’ve known about my attachment issues for a very long time. I’ve been acutely aware of it since my youngest daughter was born, a little over 11 years ago.
I decided to breastfeed. Great for her health and good for us financially. Except, that’s the only thing she would do if she wasn’t screaming or crying. She howled for 45 minutes after she was born and didn’t really stop for the next five months. She was constantly on a breast. Clinging to me. Burrowed against me. I wore her in a wrap around me because it was the only way I could get anything done. It was like being pregnant, only carrying the child on the outside of my body. My life was centered around her need to feed and have that comfort.

I hated it, but forced myself to do it because I wanted to give her that opportunity for attachment to me in ways I hadn’t been given with my mother and had been unable to give with my older children. So, I also decided to let her self-wean. Only, she didn’t really. She nursed until she was almost three. By then I had to cut her off. It took her a couple of years to stop asking for it. Part of the reason I let her nurse so long was because her dad, who she was very attached to, was a truck driver and took a long-haul over the road job and was gone weeks at a time. Then, after an incident between him and my teenage daughter, I moved out and got my own place for a couple of years, thereby limiting their ability to be with each other. So, nursing was the primary touch point for comfort and a sense of safety and stability I could give her…even though I hated it.

Her dad and I stayed separated for a couple of years, but, were still enmeshed with each other and I wound up letting him move in with me. By the time a year had gone by, I was either in an emotionally hyper-reactive state or in a near catatonic dissociated state in order to manage the depression without knowing I was also trying to manage PTSD and Bipolar Disorder (II) and not receiving treatment for it. Things came to a head on her fifth birthday and I took her and left three days later. I have not gotten back together with him, but, because of her and her issues, he’s still too much a part of my life and I continued to be psychologically and financially enmeshed with him.
It turned out that our little girl is on the autism spectrum. It’s hard to tell because she’s what’s considered high-functioning. That label implies that she’s less impacted by the spectrum issues because she’s highly verbal and more social than children on the spectrum are often characterized as being. I don’t think she’s less impacted. I think she’s impacted differently and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get her the identifications, diagnoses, services, and supports she needs.

Over the past six years, her dad and I have “co-parented.” In our case that means he got to have her with him on weekends, school breaks, and holidays, while paying for her needs and wants, providing my phone, and paying for electricity & internet. So, functionally, I was operating as single parent. I was the one to deal with all of the agencies, organizations, medical facilities, and educational systems. I was also the one who bore the brunt of her emotional/behavioral issues.

She got increasingly violent with me, both verbally and physically. I have been shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, scratched, and bitten. I have been called a bitch, told I am hated and that she wished I had never been born or that I would die like my mother and go to heaven. I was the one who dealt with the school when she would get suspended for tearing the classroom apart or physically attack staff and students. I couldn’t let her be around my grandchildren because she was very mean to them.

She wasn’t always like this. She never acted like this when she was with her dad.

Last Thanksgiving some serious things happened and my adult daughter’s family became homeless. At that time, my grandchildren were five, four, and two. I couldn’t see them living on the street or in a shelter. So, they all crowded into my apartment. My little girl’s behavior escalated again, until it reached the point where she attacked me and punched me in the spine. I couldn’t take anymore and I had her move to her dad’s.

That was just before we went to social distancing, then shelter-in orders. I’ve only seen her a couple of times since then and done video messaging a few times. I don’t know what to do or say that is meaningful for her. I miss her, or the idea of her and having a good relationship with her. At the same time, I’m relieved I don’t have to be in her presence 24/7. So, lots of sadness with bits of love sprinkled throughout.

We’re supposed to spend some time together on Friday. We’ll see how it goes.

UBC 4/20 Day 13: Not a Fish

Just like many Americans, as well as others around the world, I’m consuming an inordinate amount of television these days. Between Netflix and cable, I’m watching a lot of shows that have been in syndication and are the perpetual rerun cornerstone of channels like WE. Some of the shows, Law and Order or Criminal Minds,  I end up watching start off as mere background noise for one of the women I’ve been staying with for nearly a month now. Other shows are binge-worthy shows that have been picked up by Netflix, like The Magicians. The other woman whose home I’m staying in likes to binge-watch shows with me. We’ve decided our next binge will be Orphan Black. A couple of shows I’ve been watching are Locke & Key and Legacies.  I watch when neither woman is with me. Finally, there are their accumulated shows on their DVR…like The Closer and network staples like Grey’s Anatomy (which I never got into).

Why am I telling you about my tv watching habits? Glad you asked. Because sometimes there’s actually something useful to be learned or some bit of interesting trivia that you didn’t know. Such a thing happened to me, yesterday.

Earlier in the day, my friend was watching Grey’s Anatomy on her DVR. She offered to change what she was watching to something we had been watching together. I told her to continue watching her shows and free up some DVR space. After all, I’m a long-term guest whose presence had been invited over for a short period of, not to be a roommate. Apparently, there’s a character on there who was also an unexpected long-term guest at one of his friend’s.  He was packing up his things when the person who lived there questioned what he was doing and why. His response, “Houseguests are like fish. Both go bad after three days.” Later, we were watching a rerun of The Closer and Brenda Leigh’s mom had come for an unplanned visit and announced, out of the blue, that she was taking a flight back home the next day. Her reasoning? Houseguests are like fish, after three days they go bad.

My friend said, “You’re not a fish.”

It felt good to know that my presence hasn’t become a burden to them. I’ve basically been getting free room and board…and I feel very appreciative and blessed by them. However, I don’t want to take advantage of their hospitality. But, the longer this shelter-in order continues, the more concerned I get about whether I’m wearing out my welcome. So, I do my best to leave as little “footprint” in their home as possible.

I pick up after myself and sometimes pick up after them, too. Nothing major, just putting empty bottles in the Bottle Drop bag or gathering accumulated debris off the coffee table. I try to help with the dishes. I could do more there, so I’m going to make more of an effort…especially on the nights when the first woman cooks. (She’s an AMAZING Southern cook.)  IMG_20200412_153355Easter dinner consisted of glazed spiral ham, green bean almandine, and fried corn. Nom nom. I also go to the store with her to help her shop, so she doesn’t have to walk around too much. Her knees are bone on bone and she’s always in pain. However, she works herself like a workhorse. So, I try to help her in ways that don’t infringe on her pride and autonomy. I’m also planning on giving them some money when I start getting paid.

So, if you’re a houseguest who doesn’t want to start going bad like a three-day-old fish keep in mind the following:

  • The people you’re aren’t your maids. Pick up after yourself and see where you can pitch in with the cleaning.
  • They aren’t your cruise director. Don’t expect them to entertain you or take over their entertainment. Be willing to do what they normally do when you’re not there.
  • They’re your hosts, not your parents. Pay your way, when you can, and help out however you can that works for them.

If you’ve ever hosted someone in your home, what are some ways they can be helpful on their own, without your prompting?

If you’ve been a long-term guest, what did you do to not wear out your welcome?

What’s on your binge watch list?

UBC 4/20 Day 7: Avoidance, Fear, and Understanding Myself

I have a counseling appointment today, via computer. I really like this therapist. I met her fact-to-face just once after social distancing became a recommendation, before it became a government mandate… so, that would have been three weeks ago. I feel like she’s going to be good for me. I also think she’s going to be somewhat hard-nosed and won’t let me get away with not doing my “homework.” So, here I am, cramming homework I had all week to do, into a few hours before it’s supposed to get turned in. Just like in high school or college.

Turns out that this is exactly part of the homework I was supposed to be working on. Avoidance.

What am I avoiding, exactly?

Well, the questions she asked me to consider at our last session were about me identifying my space in the world and in my life. Not where I feel I belong, but the space that belongs to me, specifically in my own home. What do I need to work on taking back so that I can feel safe and secure? Why is there such a strong sense of avoidance? What does avoiding look like? What am I avoiding?
Believe it or not, I think tackling the questions on avoidance will be easier than the other questions. Of course, that’s also a way of avoiding examining the other questions. Right?

Aaaaand avoiding dealing with the avoiding. It’s been about an hour, maybe more, since I finished that last sentence. So, back to the question: Why such a strong sense of avoidance? I think this is the point where my “stream of consciousness” writing style may come in handy.

Fear. Fear is at the heart of avoiding. At least, I think that’s what it is. If that’s true, then, I need to figure out what it is I fear. In the context of the initial questions about space and figuring out how to take back what is mine and what I need to do to work on to taking it back, what is it my fear?
It may be two things. The first is realizing that I’ve seldom, if ever, completely had my own space, or my own place in the world. I don’t think I even understand what that looks and feels like.

I remember being a young child where a couch was my bed and the living room was my bedroom. After that, when I had my own room, it became to catch-all. Whenever my mother expected people to come into our home, all the accumulated clutter from the public spaces was moved into my room and seldom, if ever moved back out. I recall one Christmas I had been given a peppermint candy cane log – it was HUGE. If memory serves, I had carved out space for it on my dresser and I was looking at it from an angle that meant I was on the floor. I have a sense that was because the floor was the only available space and it was also where I slept. After that life fell through and we moved again, I may have had my own room for a few months before my mom and I moved to live with my grandmother. It was a small, one bedroom apartment. More moving. Then mom died, leaving me in my uncle’s custody. Another one bedroom apartment for my uncle, his wife, and me. I was 12.

Eventually, I had a room to myself, but, it never felt like it was mine or my space because I never really felt like I belonged, that I was part of his family unit. Three more moves over the next four years. Some of the time I lived with my uncle, some of the time I lived with my grandmother. Sometimes I had my own room, but, mostly not. Then, at 16, I ran away. When you’re a runaway, you really don’t get your own room. I lived out of cars and hitchhiked across the country with my son’s father, until he almost killed me in front of our two year old son. At 19, I was a single mom, with no employment history or proven work skills. So, there was no way to afford my own space. When I did afford my own space it was either studio apartments or one bedrooms that I shared with my son. Sometimes there were roommates.

During the times when I might have had my own space, I wound up helping other people out and giving them a place to stay…often for extended periods of time. Including now, when my adult daughter’s family became houseless right after Thanksgiving. Her family of five plus one on the way moved into my tiny two bedroom, one bath apartment. Even before they moved in, though, my space wasn’t my own because her younger sister, who I was partially co-parenting, but mostly single parenting, is autistic and at 10 years of age refused to sleep by herself.

So, yeah, I have no clue how to own and occupy space that’s just mine.

The second fear is that, if I push the issue and push my daughter’s family out, I’ll be abandoning them, abandoning her, the way I was. Well, maybe not the way. After all, my mother’s undiagnosed, untreated mental health issues are what caused her suicide. But, she left me alone and, even as a 50 year old woman, there are times when I wish I had a mother to turn to. I don’t want her to ever feel that I won’t be available when she needs me and, right now, she needs me.

Finally, the third fear is intertwined with the second fear. I’m afraid of losing relationship with her and my grandchildren. Six years ago, my relationship was so broken with her that I had to find out from an old family friend that she had gone into premature labor and was in the hospital. She didn’t want me there. Now she’s about to give birth to baby #4. I don’t ever want to be in a position where I am not wanted or allowed to be in my daughter’s or grandchildren’s lives again.

Well, that’s enough processing for now. I know this was long. Thank you for sticking with me until the end.

UBC 4/20, Day 5: Why Reality TV?

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness and other tru-crime documentaries.
Waka & Tammy and other “day in the life of a celebrity” shows..
Marriage Boot Camp, The Bachelor, and other reality tv competitions.

These things were highly popular before the “Stay Home. Save Lives” initiative. Now, they seem to be even more so. 92350815_3045724895467389_8313616307643744256_o I find myself caught up in these shows whenever they’re on the screen in the same room as me. It’s like they’re like a powerful drug, very addictive. I feel like a “looky-loo” driving past a three-car pile-up or a train that ran off the rails. I can’t just look away.

The daughter of the couple who I’ve been  “sheltering-in” with came over and spent the night. (Yeah, I know: that defeats the purpose of me trying to live by the social-distancing initiative. But, we’re not talking about that. Nothing I can do about it.) She decided to turn on what she called “ratchet tv.” The night before, she tried to convert me to a Tiger King viewer. I resisted. When I inquired about why she wants to watch this kind of show, She said, “It makes me feel better about my life.”

What is it about reality tv that turns us into voyeurs as fanatical as sports fans can be when cheering for their favorite teams? Why do these shows make us feel like we are psychiatrists qualified to diagnose mental health disorders? How do we become more attached to the celebrities living scripted lives, than to our own families? What gives us the right to act as judges, juries, and executioners, when we have never been part of the first-hand events, seeing and examining the first-hand evidence?

Personally, I think it’s part excapeism, from our own lives. A break from the daily trauma and drama we all experience in one way or another. Like my friends’ daughter said about feeling better about her own life it’s a way to minimize our own troubles in our heads. “Oh, at least we’re not saying/doing/experiencing THAT, my life is not that bad, so I’m good.”

I don’t know why the fascination with these kinds of shows is so prevalent. What do you think?

UBC 4/20 Day 4: Sitting on Pins and Needles

Waiting.

Waiting is one of the most difficult things to do, I believe.

I got a phone call on Thursday from the gentleman I had interviewed with the day before. The gist of the conversation was that I was only waiting to be hired until they found the right placement for me. He said they had a couple of positions. One is full-time, but, it requires working on Sunday. The other one is part-time, 24 hours a week, but, it gives me Sundays off. I haven’t really been employed for seven and a half years, unless you count my recent and very short stint as an H & R Block Tax Preparer – which I don’t. Since I’m incredibly out of shape, physically and in terms of being mentally focused for eight hours a day, part-time is probably best. Starting off slow and working my way up seems to be the prudent course of action.

After that phone call, I was explaining the details to my friend, who I’ve been sheltering in with. She gave me an incredulous look when I told her I was turning a full-time position down because I wanted to keep my Sundays because that’s the primary day I connect with the people in my faith community. She proceeded to tell me that while the bible has a place where it says to keep the Sabbath holy, there’s also a place where it talks about gleaning and healing being done on the Sabbath. In other words, even though attending church on Sunday may be sacred and holy, it’s still permissible to do what needs to be done.

First off, for a lot of reasons, I happen to believe the actual, biblical day of Sabbath rest is Saturday. I won’t go into why I believe that, I just do. For years my faith community met on Saturdays. However, for a variety of reasons, we moved our service to Sunday nights. The structure of those nights is a key reason I don’t want to give up my Sundays. Even though in our current reality we can’t meet in person, we are using technology to ensure we stay connected with one another and worship together. Prior to this time of social distancing, we spent about three hours or so worhshipping, learning, eating, and talking together, as well as praying for each other.

Secondly, I’ve volunteered weekly to support the worship team and helped to set up the building for the service. That’s probably the most consistent thing I’ve done and the only real structure I’ve had in my life since 2012. Now that we’re doing virtual church, I’m participating in ways that support the new way we have to do things. So, I still have structure and routine in my life on this day. It’s a touchstone for me in a world upended on itself.

These two things mean that holding space on Sundays isn’t a mandatory religious routine dictated by the evangelical interpretation of biblical scripture. It is an act of self-care and a very important way of me taking care of my mental health. It gives me structure, routine, and connection to a supportive community of people who know and care about me, whom I care about and want to deepen my relationships with.

I tried to explain this to my friend. I don’t think she gets it. I suspet that she doesn’t completely approve. However, that’s her stuff, not mine and I’m grateful that I’ve reached this point in my recovery process that I don’t feel the need to keep explaining myself in an effort to get her understanding and approval. I know she loves me and cares about me even if I don’t make choices that align with her opinions.

So, I don’t have to feel like I’m walking on eggshells with her while I’m sitting on pins and needles trying to wait patiently to hear about the job.