Oh, Faith-less one

The other day, my husband mentioned that his dad has a new girlfriend.

Harry was widowed last May when my mother-in-law was hit by a car in front of their house. She had dementia – probably Alzheimer’s – but her husband didn’t fight her when she wanted to walk their neighborhood (in tights and a turtle neck but no skirt) or cross the street to get their mail. Their house is situated on a truck route in New York State, with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour.

To be honest (and fair), I don’t know that Harry and his lady friend are actually an item, but this was my husband’s take, and he knows his dad pretty well.

In this moment, the news is killing me. It brings up all the pain of losing Faith, which was my mother-in-law’s name. It brings up my anger that Harry didn’t take steps to keep her safe as her dementia progressed. It makes me judgemental as all hell, wanting to shout to the world – and especially to my father-in-law, that he is truly faith-less. As in, not only living life without his wife of 63 years, but faithless to HER, her memory, and to us, her surviving family.

I am so fucking pissed off, I can barely stand it. I feel so bad and sad I could scream. How could he do this? How could he move on so quickly? What about the woman he recently professed to have loved the most out of anyone in the whole world?

The cynical side of me whispers reasons. He’s self-absorbed, and always has been. He’s self-centered and never will change. He’s of the generation of men that need a woman to care for them. He’s a man, like your own husband, who has physical needs that he/they will not deny, no matter who it hurts.

I am glad I am infrequently in touch with my father-in-law, because then I can feign acceptance of his life choices. This space gives me time to do the work of allowing my feelings in the hope that true acceptance and compassion follow.

After all, he deserves this, as does any human being walking the sometimes–painful path of life.

Namaste.

On Marriage and Writing

Marriage is interesting. Challenging. Befuddling. At least it is to me.

I’ve been a party to this institution for some-20-odd years now. Married to my husband since October 1994, and together since July 1993.

I can’t say all these years have all been fun. They’ve been a thousand other things, which I suppose points to the richness of marriage. But also to the frequent challenges. I find myself angry or frustrated with my partner more times that I could count. I sometimes feel lonely in our relationship, neglected, unseen, unheard, not valued, ignored – and yet, he’s a nice guy, a steady guy who loves me and cares about our family.

So what the hell is the problem?

Me. I’m sure whatever is going on is mostly with – and about – me.

After my last round of cycling through myriad strong feelings seemingly about my husband just this past week, I was exhausted and thankful to have moved on with him into a better place. One that was more neutral and positive. One in which I had some time and space to reflect.

Perhaps that’s why, last night, around 3 AM I had a related “ah-ha” moment. Perhaps, because I asked the questions – Why? And just what the hell is going on? – I got an answer that makes sense to me. And it had to do with my writing.

The awareness that dawned on me carried this message: when I don’t write, I literally go crazy. So I need to write, daily. I need to do this as acts of self-care and self-preservation. To ground me. I must write, I must, I must.

It’s that important for me. I get it now. Whether I prioritize my writing in a day – or not – seems a critical factor in my mental and emotional (and probably physical) health, and the health of the relationships with the various others in my life.

Perhaps those recurrent feelings of not being seen or heard or valued and ignored by my husband have to do with my relationship with myself. And for some reason I project my feelings onto my husband, to whom I turn when I’m lost. And I suppose I’ve felt lost lately. Perhaps my inner desperation about our relationship is merely reflecting the desperation I feel when I allow everything else in my life to take priority over me and my writing.

So I will make a resolution to write. I need to make time to do it, to meet myself on the page, daily.

It’s a valuable insight or theory that I will test. It resonates, it makes sense, so I’ll go with it. Already I feel better – more upbeat and lighter – from blogging yesterday and today. Writing helps me process my life. I need this too. So I will keep on this path and see where it leads.

Hopefully into health and peace and a more stable mood.

May it be so.

Namaste.

 

 

Evaluating Therapy

So I’ve been in therapy for – what – 14 years? For most of this time, I’ve done cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with emotional healing work. That’s cathartic release with bonding and it’s a way to clear out old emotional imprints in the limbic system. Essentially it’s work to rewire the brain. Anyway, I never thought I’d be in therapy as long as I have, and now I think it’s high time to pause and take stock.

Right now I’m only doing the CBT twice a month and I’m having some difficulties working with my therapist. I suppose these challenges have been going on for over a year now.

My therapist told me (in an email no less) that she thinks I’m “casting her as my mother.” I replied that I would open myself to noticing this possibility, going forward. The thing is, I’m seeing it all over the place in our relationship now, going back over at least a year, maybe more.

I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do much effective growth work with these triggers operating, but I’m going to see what kind of insights I get from blogging about this situation.

Here are all the ways my therapist triggers me into my mom:

  1. She’s the authority. She’s right – always, even when she’s not.
  2. What she says goes.
  3. Her tough love approach is really just a mask for her meanness.
  4. She invalidates me and my perspectives and my experiences and intuition. I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I really don’t need her to tell me what to do.
  5. I am not allowed to resist her. I’m supposed to shut up and swallow all of her assertions, even when my intuition is pointing me in a different direction. I’m supposed to become a fucking clone of her, I guess.
  6. I’m not allowed to leave. I honestly don’t know when I’ll ever get out of therapy. I have said I want fewer sessions and breaks from therapy to pursue other inner work, and she recommends against these ideas, always.
  7. I feel that as I get independent and move away from her, she sows doubts in me and reels me back into our relationship, where I am dependent on her (which she likes).
  8. I’m afraid to sever ties. I’m afraid it will hurt her feelings, that she’ll feel rejected and abandoned when I tell her I want to leave. I fear she’ll get irrationally angry, and never allow me a future session if I need it. I fear leaving on a negative note.
  9. I’m afraid if I do this, she’ll bad mouth me to all my former comrades in group therapy, which was led by her.
  10. By the way, I’m not allowed to go to group right now, even though I had planned a break to test my wings without this type of work in my life. I’ve been without that particular brand of support – my second family, if you will – for seven months, and I’m really starting to see some big triggers (like this one) and she has denied me access.
  11. We are not equals. Consequently, I feel disempowered in this relationship. She is the one with the power and control, even though I am the client.

So, why am I even in therapy?

Why am I doing this to myself?

Well, seeing all of this stuff – all this mirroring to my relationship with my mother, and the time of my life when I was getting independent of her and ready to launch myself and move out of her house – is really pretty amazing. My relationship with my therapist is mirroring this PERFECTLY. It IS my own bit of personal history repeating itself.

So what to I do with it? Run from it and her (my therapist, that is)? Stay with it, tell her about it and see where it leads? Inquire further into the experience with my spiritual teachers?

No, and yes, yes, yes and yes.

This is showing up for a reason. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but it’s here. It’s my work. I have no idea where it will lead, but moving away from the discomfort will only increase the possibility of this showing up for me some other time and with some other mother-figure in my life. It’s here and up so I’ll look at it. So I’ll take notice and hopefully heal.

Universe, please help me stay with this experience. Please grant me ease and grace as I move through it, and please – please, lead me into healing.

Namaste.

Processing Trump

I am having an incredibly hard time with our current U.S. president, Mr. Donald Trump.

I want to read the news and stay informed but I find it’s extremely difficult for me to neutrally peruse the abundance of news articles describing some recent policy development or statement made by Trump or one of his staff.

I appear to be unable to stay calm when his name comes up in conversation. I find myself getting easily upset, even with people who share my views. It’s almost a Pavlovian response: I hear the name “Trump” and suddenly I’m inflamed. Since I live about a 15-minute drive from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, have neighbors who work for the government, and subscribe to the “Washington Post,” this topic (and my response) occur often.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that when my husband makes a statement about something Trump-related, for some reason, I automatically relate it to my parents. Just the other day, on the subject of the false Obama wire-tapping accusation, my husband said, “Who says things like that and gets away with it – and doesn’t even apologize?” To which I automatically replied, “My mother!”

Anyway, I’m well aware of my reactivity to Trump, and I’m curious about it. So I’ve decided to write about it. I will explore myself through the written word.

Well, for one thing, Trump reminds me of the worst in people. For me, his toxic rhetoric reveals the following about the one who now occupies the highest office in our land. He seems impulsive, judgmental, bigoted, grossly ignorant of basic facts and generally accepted ways of being in the world, and full of false bravado and toughness.

Mr. Trump appears to possess an inability to see others as human beings who need our compassion (at the very least), and perhaps even our assistance.

He reveals himself as a person who makes statements containing absolutes and black-and-white comparisons and wild embellishments that are typically untrue or only partially true. He appears to be an outright liar who spins his lies as truth. He clearly – at least to me – possesses a skewed view of reality that is frightening.

Trump seems to represent people who disliked, feared or mistrusted a smart black president who was open-minded, caring, fair – and not perfect.

Donald Trump seems to embody resistance to change, and to the world as it is currently evolving. He seems to represent people who want the world to go backwards 50 years in time, to when America was supposedly “great.” When  we were a white, Christian majority fully entrenched  in the patriarchy. When there were fewer immigrants and people of color in our communities, when women and blacks knew their “places” in the world, and globalization was probably an academic concept, rather than a daily reality. When life was wholly “simpler.”

To me, Trump embodies fear. Fear of people and things that are different, fear of change, fear of moving forward into the unknown, perhaps fear of a certain demographic group in our country (the baby boomers) becoming old and obsolete.

To me, Trump fully expresses and embodies the worst of my parents. Through him, and the fact that they have embraced him, I have a clear window into their shadow sides. That is, to the hidden parts of themselves to which they are (I suspect) wholly unconscious.

I think they are afraid of change, afraid of aging, afraid of the immigrants in their communities. I believe they are afraid to see their values, and ways of seeing and being in the world, going the way of the dinosaur.

So my parents resist, they are angry and they hate (though they deny it as devoted Catholics), they are skeptical, they mistrust, and they fight.

They are, in my opinion, quite literally fighting for their lives, and the way life was in our country.

I know they are fighting a losing battle and I feel for them.

To me, Trump just has shed daylight on all about our country that must be recognized and healed first, in order for us to freely move forward into our shared futures.

So, with these insights, I can literally feel my reactions to Trump relax. I know that my dislike of Trump is not really about Trump. At least not entirely. I have my answer, my gifts of understanding through the writing process, and I am grateful.

I see the parallels between Trump and my parents: that as I hope and pray for a wise president to lead us into the next four years, so I hope and pray for wise parents to lead and teach me about living in the world.

Yet my parents and Trump are simply who they are, and where they are in their respective growth and development as souls, and as human beings living in this world. Trump and my parents are people who deserve my compassion and acceptance. For it seems to me that the hidden fears and the ugliness that lives inside them must be simply terrible.

I only wonder whether a Trump presidency will help them feel better. If and when it doesn’t, what will they do next?

I can only hope and pray that they will practice self-inquiry.

I hope they will journey deeply into themselves and mine the gifts of such a practice.

I hope they will become willing do as I do: spend time studying themselves, explore and understand – both the darkness and the light that lives within us all.

Namaste.

another reminder

This morning I was reminded about my tendency (still) to reject, rather than accept, my current experience.

In the moment, I accepted what was happening, but afterwards, I felt acute hatred towards what had occurred. I noticed myself blaming someone else (my husband) for my uncomfortable experience, yet when I journaled around it, I realized that there is no blame.

There was only the experience.

Still, I didn’t want it. I hated it. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable. It wasn’t what I would’ve chosen for myself. It kept me from other, more desirable experiences. It stood between me and peace. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to accept “what is” for what it is. I’m generally okay with my experiences as they show up in my life. Or as they “arise in my field of experience,” as one of my spiritual teachers would say. I can handle a wide range of emotions in myself and others. I accept others as they are. I’m aware of when I want someone to show up for me in a certain way, and I’ve learned to let go of that wanting.

Thankfully, I learned these skills in many years of therapy.

I can also go with the flow and switch gears quite easily. I’m not usually attached to any particular outcome. I am usually pretty clear, observant and aware of what’s going on for me – both internally and around me in my life. And, as I said, I can usually stay with whatever shows up for me in my life.

The area where I’m most challenged is when I feel others’ heavy energies in my own energy field. I’ve discovered that I’m empathic, and for me, this experience is like being crowded and suffocated by many sweaty bodies in a New York subway car. It’s obviously an area of my existence that still requires exploration and inquiry because I have so many strong feelings and so much resistance to it.

What I hate is having to stop what I’m doing to offload these unwanted energies to Mother Earth (who I’ve learned will take it – whatever it is).

I hate feeling like I have no choice in the matter. (Really I do have a choice: either to walk around feeling smothered or consciously let this energy go.)

Probably what I hate the most is feeling like a victim. Like I have no power over when this happens to me. And that is about attachment and control, and the need for better boundaries.

This experience of unwittingly receiving others’ energies has happened enough times in my life to make me detest it. I often can’t stop it when it occurs. It feels to me like others are looking to get rid of their stuff, and for some reason, it comes into my field, like water blasting at me from a fire hose. I’ve noticed that this usually happens when I let my guard down. When I am, as I was this morning – unconscious. I had been asleep and was just beginning to wake up when I became aware of my uncomfortably littered field, and my husband hugging me hard. I remembered that last night he was in a bad mood – probably missing his mother who recently passed away. While this is my story, it’s how it all seemed and felt to me.

I’ve found there’s often truth in feelings as an empath. But honestly, I don’t know for sure what was going on for him. And – I can only work with me.

So here I am, working with myself, practicing the art of “self-study,” as they say in yoga. I am curious about my experience and my strong feelings. There’s only one place for me to go: more deeply within.

Because I have learned that what shows up teaches me about myself. And that I can take what is being shown to me and work with it, or not.

I choose the former. This is my life and this is how I choose to live it: consciously – maybe not always joyously – but always with curiosity.

Namaste.

 

 

my new job, my new life

I started a new job recently. It’s a part-time gig, working 10 hours a week for a local laywer. I’m supposed to be doing marketing work for her, but there’s an administrative aspect to the position, too. It’s my first non-freelance job in about 8 years. It’s my first job – in that same time period – doing something that is dictated to me by someone else.

The job is, in my mind, temporary. It’s supposed to help partially alleviate some of  my financial concerns (and guilt about not working), while affording me precious time to re-write my book and pursue other artistic endeavors.

I’m aware of other goals, too, for this job, some of which seem wholly at odds with what I really want to do: write my book, get it published, promote it, continue to offer writing and creativity workshops to area senior citizens, and participate in writing groups myself. I also want to take some art classes. I’ve shown some of my past work in two area shows and it was a great experience.

My heart yearns for all of these things.

So why am I in the so-called “professional” workforce jumping through hoops to please someone else? I really don’t care about her dream.

I want to nurture my own.

But I’m finding that I literally don’t have (or am not making) time to write. My own artistic undertakings seem like add-ons to my regular life with family, kids, a household to run, and this new job. Collectively, everything is pushing me over the edge into exhaustion.

But I want to get back to the job.

The past two months in this new position have been an experiment, I suppose. It’s been an exercise in observation and adjustments. I am seeing a lot about myself, about how I act in relationship to an authoritarian manager, and how I am adjusting the home workload. I suppose I am still transitioning into the newness of my life as it is right now, and into this professional role.

So there’s value in that.

My stress levels have been high, but I suppose that’s internally created. Meaning, my stress (or fear) is generated based on how I orient myself to my job and manager, and to my regular and perceived “familial duties.” I can keep exploring all that, and I plan to do so, unless this job goes away.

I sometimes fantasize that I’ll get fired. I’ve made some dumb little administrative mistakes lately that leave me feeling really bad about myself. The message I hear internally is, “What, are you stupid?” And I know exactly where that comes from: my mother. Every other word out of her mouth when I was young was something along the lines of not being stupid. I think she herself heard this a lot when she was a kid.

Or I’ll hope that my manager will decide that she needs someone else – like a paralegal or a person with a law degree – to assist her with her practice.

Someone who is not me.

At the same time, I dread losing or leaving this job, although I know it is not forever. I am grateful for the money that flows into my life from it. I feel good when I complete her assigned tasks. Still, I pray when it ends, that it ends on a good note. But really I am beginning to resist and resent it, and to fear interacting with her because of everything the job is revealing to me about me.

There’s only so much a person can take.

Perhaps – maybe – if I resume my practice of prioritizing an hour of creative playtime everyday, before I start my job duties or do anything for anyone else, that will help me. Doing so grounds me in my life and my dreams. It gives me hope and joy that I am directing my energies towards me, rather than towards this lady and her dinky administrative tasks, or to driving my kids all over creation.

I need to write and blog and reflect and hope and dream and pray for my own life.

I think that’s why this job – and my life – are causing me stress. Because I am unduly focusing on them, rather than on me and my dreams.

Going into the new year I hope do write a blog post a day. I thought of doing this last year, but decided it wasn’t what I needed at the time. But it appeals at this point, in this now moment, so I plan to do it.

I will re-commit to me in the hopes of re-balancing my life.

To me, me, me, me, me. I know that my default is to care for and prioritize others first. It is my habit from childhood. Yet circling back and re-centering to myself feels good, and like an affirmation I need at this point: It’s good for me to come home to myself and do the things I value. This is good for me!

 

 

 

 

My Sister-In-Law, Marilyn

I welcomed my sister-in-law with open arms when she came into our family. Only the second girlfriend my younger brother had ever introduced to me, I knew she must be something special.

Out of everyone in our family, our mother had the most trouble accepting her.

It was because Marilyn is black and we are white.

I was looking at a picture of her, and her nose – did you see her nose? She’s black!”

Yes mom, I know. And our Catholic faith teaches that we’re all the same on the inside, right? So I don’t see any problem.”

Truthfully, the problem was that my mother had been raised in a prejudiced household. I left her to work it through.

She did, in time. In fact, Marilyn became a favorite.

This didn’t surprise me. Marilyn seemed kind, intelligent, soft-spoken, calm, patient, and professional. I couldn’t imagine her ever getting angry. One day I even told her so.

“Oh, I have a fiery side,“ she said.

I wish I had recognized that statement as foreshadowing unpleasant events to come.

Fast forward a couple of years, to when I was 33. That’s when I found myself in the midst of a sudden health crisis. That winter, I got sick with pneumonia, double mastitis, frequent fevers and boils. Some other symptoms were mystifying, like the brain fog that left me unable to think. I was making the rounds of area doctors for insights and answers, when one physician diagnosed me with a severe electrolyte imbalance. He told me I could’ve had a heart attack at any time.

I was in chaos. That’s the best word to explain what I was going through at that time in my life. My world had been rocked and I felt scared, helpless and alone.

I landed in psychotherapy, hoping it might help and, thankfully, it did. As I began to allow my personal truths into the light, my health issues began to miraculously resolve.

I don’t know what I expected from therapy (and I still don’t). Did I want it to fix me? To heal my relationships?

Well, what happened as a result of my time in therapy was this: I began to see what in my life was not working for me. At the top of the list were my stringent rules-based Catholic faith, and my relationship with my often mean, punitive, withholding, triangulating borderline mother.

I began to pull away from my church and my domineering mother, as part of my healing process. My brother and sister-in-law somehow got caught in the middle, between my mother and me.

That’s when I got to witness my sister-in-law’s fiery side. She confronted me, a few weeks after the birth of her first and only child. I’m sure she was a mess of raging emotions at that time, but she came off as righteous and coherent, judgemental and critical.

She beckoned me into the hallway outside their Manhattan appointment and lit into me. Then she said, “Your mother is a wonderful person!”

And that’s all it took – the damage was done.

Her decision to take sides rather than remain neutral hurt me deeply. While I understand that she couldn’t be what I needed in that moment, I’m still not completely over it.

That was almost eleven years ago.

After that conversation in the hallway, I pulled away from her and my brother, and concentrated my efforts on healing myself and raising my family.

Today, things are better between me, my brother, my sister-in-law and even my mother, and I’m grateful. Although I’ve noticed that Marilyn likes to drop little reminders my way of her apparent belief that adult children should never get angry at their parents.

I know that’s about her, and recognize that perhaps my very presence and actions challenge something she holds dear.

Regardless, we are not close now, nor were we ever, I see. The same goes for my brother, despite my heartfelt yearnings that things were different between us, and that the events of eleven years ago never happened.

I suppose this is the biggest impediment to my healing, to letting go. Being stuck on wishing, hoping, fantasizing, and dreaming that things wouldn’t/didn’t/shouldn’t have gone the way they did.

Even though they did.

I desperately want to believe that if I hadn’t gone up to visit them that weekend, we’d all be in a different place. We’d be close. There would be more love between us.

Giving voice to this most desperate wish of my heart lessens its secret pain and hold on me.

While another part of me reasons that if it didn’t happen that weekend, it would’ve been some other one.

Because what happened, happened. The end. It was painful, yes. But I got to see the family dynamic that was operating at that time. The experience helped me understand something about my family members. I got to decide how to be in relationship to them, going forward.

Yes, the experience hurt me deeply, but I am still here, living and breathing and healing.

And willing to accept life as it is.

 

My Father-In-Law and Me

I always used to be the last one left sitting at my in-laws’ dining room table after meals. It would be just my father-in-law and me. He’d be talking, and I’d be listening. Everyone else would’ve gone (some with eye rolls), but I would stay put and hang on his every word.

A couple of times I tried to share something about me, or my kids – his grandchildren. But he didn’t want to hear the mundane details of our lives. We weren’t “interesting” enough to him, I suppose, which is a guiding principle in his life.

Caught in the thorny bramble of his endless thoughts, he only sought a constant audience in the warm body seated before him: me.

It took me years to recognize why I sat there, sole witness to his droning monologues. I desperately wanted an active, loving father figure in my life, and I wanted him to be it.

The thing is, he never applied for the job, and I never directly asked him to fill it.

Releasing my dreams and hopes for a dad has been a process, but I’m willing to let both him – and my fantasies – go.

I’m willing to allow him to be himself – warts and all – and to free myself from this yearning. Because you see, I had a lot of energy tied up in it. Energy that’s now more available to me for living.

So now he sits, still droning endlessly on, at the head of his table. He is like a king, with others who choose to sit and keep his court, for their own reasons.

Others – while I am off living and writing.

Others, but not me.

A Cemetery & Chocolate: Remembering Faith

Today we visited my mother-in-law’s grave, still so new the headstone has not yet been placed.

It was outside of Albany, New York. We were passing through, driving home from a relaxing vacation in the Adirondack Mountains. Mechanicville is the name of the town where she was laid to rest. It’s also where she grew up in the 30s and 40s.

What I saw of the outskirts of this town was nicer than what I expected: something resembling the depressed village of her youth.

The cemetery was tiny and tucked away, up a shaded hill. We found her grave easily, and those of her kin.

We had no flowers. The stop was impromptu. But then I remembered I had something better than flowers. Something she would have appreciated and loved.

Chocolate.

In our car were some chocolate chips. Half a bag – six ounces to be exact – of semi-sweetness.

We each took a handful and scattered them across the crabgrass growing on the mound of earth that covered her coffin.

I imagined she burst out laughing at our offering. That was her way – to find the humor in almost every situation.

I whispered a prayer as I stood there, watching the chocolate chips melting in the sun:

Blessing on your life, Faith.

Blessings on your death.

Blessings on your journey, rest in peace.