not in never falling

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A repurposed necklace, the charm is mine, the cord was part of a gift from someone I loved (the original charm, it went the way of the love – gone)

I can’t find the right words to describe this. This feeling that comes when I least expect it. The feeling, as Rilke would say, of pushing through solid rock.

 

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

 

“Our greatest glory is in rising every time we fall.” Rising. I’m working on that, because I fall a lot. I fall all the time. And I rise, I do, but it’s exhausting

There’s a hollowed out feeling when I think of you, there’s sadness and anger too, but mostly I’m  hollow.  I can usually distract myself, with sleep, with TV, with work, with art, with words, with movement, with anything handy. The thought of actually sitting still with myself still overwhelms me, so I move, or I sleep. When that doesn’t work, when you bubble up unbidden, on those days, I run the same circles in my head, the same tiga786edce21585b714a56abbaa981ffafht circles that loop back on themselves and spin faster and faster.  I tell myself I’ve been an idiot once again for loving people who leave, for banging my head and my heart against your rock wall, constructed to keep people like me out. I sometimes think a different version of me might have been enough, could have make it through your emotionally unavailable barracks, but that’s not true. Occasionally I feel like throwing a rock,  a brick, or smashing a plate, perhaps that would at least get your attention. I won’t, but the thought remains attractive, if only for the moments I pick it up and hold it, pass its weight back and forth between my hands.

 

You huddle in, becoming
the deathless younger self
who will survive your dreams
and vanish in surviving.
– Self and Dream Self excerpt, by Les Murray
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It’s not just you, of course, it’s been a brutal fall. Somedays, all of its hurts lay on top of each other and weigh me down. I thought we were connected, but we weren’t, that was me telling me stories and you telling me your well practiced lies of convenience. That level of connection, of honesty, was the last thing you wanted.  At my core sits a small hard bit of certainty that if I love, you will leave. My head and my heart know somehow this is not correct, but my bones know that it is so.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything 
That is how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
There isn’t a light coming in, at least right now. It’s cold and it’s dark and it’s empty. He  also said “The Heart beneath is teaching / To the broken Heart above”, maybe that’s what this is, healing.
 
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“Into the pit” – aptly named

I don’t think you’ve ever allowed yourself to be opened, to let someone break your heart, your shell is too hard, too thick, too well formed to allow that to happen. Or maybe you did, once, and then swore never again, and that is why you remain frozen, hard, hidden and clinging to that past trauma that you will never release. You turn your focus on yourself, withdrawing into your shell if anyone gets too close, only pretending to connect, to engage, to care. If that doesn’t work  you manipulate, gaslight, play controlling games, run tests, that will always set you up as the winner. You don’t know how to live openly, you don’t know what it is to fall, and to rise again, only to withdraw and hide. There is no glory for you, only more hiding, more controlling, more walls.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall
– Confucius 
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I do know the feeling. I once had walls. They had a hollow sound behind them, but they were solid. With them in place I could play happy, charming, funny, but was just acting. Taking the walls down was excruciating, and also exhilarating; still, there are days I wish I still could hide behind my walls.
And so, I’ve fallen, and risen, and fallen again.  I’ve fallen into this mess that I have to push through (not go around, not go over, or go under). I will, push through this.
Ten Things I Hate (Love) About You / The Taming of The Shrew
10. The cold way you looked at me (the warm affection in your eyes).
9.   The way you’d protect yourself from me (the way your arm moved to protect me).
8.   Waiting hours for you (the way you greeted me).
7.   The way you made me cry (you made me laugh).
6.   Your lies of convenience (your lies of flattery).
5.   The part of you that understood me and then left  (the part of you that understood me and seemed to want to stay).
4.   The drive-in (sneaking into movies).
3.   The plans you never meant to do (the future plans we talked about).
2.   Waiting for your call (your goodnight texts).
1.    Blowing cigar smoke in my face.
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The truth is my struggles, my demons, all come from, and aim directly at the very things I am most insecure of, mainly not being lovable, being abandoned, and when they strike up the band and start to play my thoughts and emotions get sucked into that spinning wheel where no good ideas ever emerge. Don’t believe everything you think, don’t believe everything you think especially when you are tired, hurt, raw, emotional and generally broken up inside. Those are the times when throwing the rock, or smashing the plate seems like the best idea ever. Those are the times where you, as Pema Chödrön says, have to lean into the sharp points, the pain, and the discomfort, even when, especially when, this makes it hurt even more.

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Which means this won’t last forever.  I will emerge.  I might even grow a little.  Maybe not today, today is pretty awful. Today I am pushing through solid rock. Maybe another day this won’t be so heavy. At some point you do free yourself, and take your power back – flaws and all. Someday.

be fucking brave

So this. I’m10592840_10206139425545919_5843121347137963057_n riding my own personal crazy train right now. One of my own making, from the full steam ahead steam engine that burns red hot, fiery coal 24/7, through car after car full of personal baggage of all shapes, sizes, weights and colours, to the caboose that can only look back and wonder what, the fuck, was I thinking?

Aside: I did quit that job, and I LOVE the job I have now, the rest, it’s a work in progress.

This quote, and a few dear friends are  currently what is holding me together. Also, quite a bit of chocolate, and singing to very loud music in the car, off key, every single time I drive. I’m not kidding, tonight is was Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. This guy does it better. Yesterday it was Eurythmics, Smiths, and R.E.M. all day. 

I used to think that when I turned 20 two major things would happen. 1. I’d be given the ‘adult handbook’,  and 2. my skin would clear up. You know the handbook that  ALL the grown ups had. The one that gave you the answers to life. No more teenage and young adult angst for me, I would finally have the ansewers, and then BOOM, I would figure life out and become a happy, well adjusted financially secure adult. Apparently there is no such book. You can imagine my disappointment at having to figure things out for myself, and don’t even talk to me about my skin. Honestly, how does anybody figure anything out? I am a hot mess with passable hair on a good day, and on a bad, I shove it into a pony tail.

My ego took a hit last week. It was not pretty. I wasn’t so pretty, except for my hair, I had a good hair week, so it wasn’t all bad. I was just mostly bad. I may have got a little crazy, or as I like to say, super sized extra crispy crazy with side of hysterical hot sauce. Yep, I’m a grown up, and I still cannot figure this stuff out. My brain has this section I call the the hamster wheel section where all my crazy ideas spin faster and faster. I’m not allowed to go there without a friend.

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how do they know?

Fortunately, I have great friends. I spent tonight drinking pop, diet pop even… from a Wonder Woman glass, eating chocolates and watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a friend, and then confessed all my crazy thoughts and actions and, she still loves me and sent me home with cupcakes and a fortune cookie that said “Be willing to admit you may be wrong, you’re only human”. That’s love for ya.

hindsight

I likely shouldn’t be writing this, I’m tired, am nursing a migraine, and am not wearing my glasses; god knows what spelling mistakes and poor choice wording options I will make, but here I go, because it’s been too long since I’ve put words to a page or screen. Last night was the senior class party at the high school. My youngest, much to my surprise, is a senior this year so I, being the plucky parent I am “volunteered” (it was “mandatory”) to set up on Friday, and work part of the evening Saturday. It’s a big, fat, hairy deal. Twenty three different themed rooms, food, food, food, blaring music, and of course 700ish teenagers making their way through the whole thing. From my spot, in the pool hall (yes we had pool tables, and hoops, and foosball – I told you, it was a big deal) I watched various groups of kids swarm in, out and about. For a while it was really interesting, seeing kids that I had first seen in grade 1, now with facial hair and/or makeup and a bit of swagger. For moments it was poignant, the kids who had self injury scars that showed just below their T-shirts, the kids that were obvious trying really hard to fit in, and for a while it was painful, when I would see that kid who reminded me of Graham. That smiling, awkward kid, with the baggy pants, the baseball cap, and the bit of over the top swagger and laugh that may have been a cover. When I would see that kid, my heart broke a little. Graham was too messed up to go to his senior party, I can’t remember the particulars, but it was not even a consideration.  Ironically, (maybe there’s a better word), he called me while I was there. And then I came across this video on Facebook this morning, and it did me in What started Graham down his troubled path, was kids hitting him up at school for his ADHD drugs. He had problems fitting in for years and years, and only recently I found out how badly he was bullied on the school bus, but selling his ADHD meds was the way he found to fit in, to not be that outcast, to make “friends”.  If you read this blog, you know where this lead him. So the video. In the video I saw all the places I could have done more, should have known sooner, should have tried harder, defended him more, but truth be told, I really had no idea really, what he was going through. Hindsight. He is doing better than ever now. Nine months clean and sober, and the meds he takes seem to have brought the unbearable mental battleground in his head under control, but it’s a long hard road. He recently was bullied at the place he stays, and put up with it for way too long, told no one, because that’s the only way he had learned to deal with it. Thankfully it was addressed, the aggressor removed and Graham is now being taught how to advocate for himself, five (at least) hell filled years after he was first bullied in school. When they told me about it, I wanted to say, hey, I really tried to teach him that, really. I did, and I had counselors, countless social workers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, life coaches, tutors, addiction therapists, group therapists, martial arts instructors, peer groups, even a neuro-psychiatrist to help me, but it was not enough. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t that parent who buried their head in the sand, that I tried with everything I had to help him. That the times I sent him out and let him live homeless ripped out a piece of my heart that will not heal. That I look into the eyes of every homeless person I see so I can see what my son endured. That I read every day about the deaths, and the agonies that addicts and their families endure and remember what it was like, and feel so very, very lucky that my son is still alive. I wanted to say all of this, but I let it go, and talked about where he is now, but it still sits in my head, and in my heart. What could I have done better? differently? What did I do that made it worse? Could I have prevented this? I know the answer. No., I could not have prevented it. I know this in my head. I know I am far more fortunate than so many of the families I still am in contact with. I know this.  My heart still hurts when I see these wounded kids. I know I’ve put this up before, but if you have the time, it’s worth watching again

there and back again

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(thanks Bilbo)

I just got home from a 3,368mile (5,420kms) drive (there and back again) from my home in Naperville, IL to Wolfville, NS. Two days driving there, one day stop-over, Two days driving back. About 54 hours driving time. It was the longest drive to and from school I have ever taken one of my kids on.

I spent the days leading up to the drive randomly being gripped in terror. I would suddenly feel the ground drop from under my feet and my stomach would leap into my throat, my heart would pound and I would want to cry. I felt certain that I was making a huge mistake, or at the very least doing absolutely everything wrong.

I get angry at myself for remaining in situations that do not serve me, my marriage, my job, my home, okay, my life in general, but then I’ve always had that terror and painful certainty that pin me down. With any major, and most minor decisions I am generally quite certain I have, or I will make the worst possible choice, and that sitting and doing nothing is my safest option. I assume that everyone else on the planet, or at least my peers, or my betters (which is where I put most people), would be handling this, or have handled this so much better, or have, at the very least, been better organized about it (my disorganizational skills are legendary). Other people, I dangerously assume, have the support of a partner, of parent or if they’re insanely fortunate, parents,  or at least some close friends to reassure them they are making good choices. I have none of these and as a result am left with the really not nurturing voices in my own mixed up head. It’s a motley crew, the voices in my head. Part my mother (appearances are everything), my father (appearances are bullshit), my step-father (you’re utterly worthless, stupid and will make utterly worthless and stupid decisions unless you think and act as I do), ex-partners (I didn’t love you and I will leave you shortly so you better get that wall up to protect yourself), the occasional friend (hey, you’re awesome!  *but if they really  knew me they would get over that notion pretty quickly), and finally, in the back ground, usually jumping up and down like a far away but hyperactive 3 year old, is a  small fierce voice that is the part of me who hopes and tries for something better. That small voice is the one who talked me into the 50+ hour road trip, it’s the voice that took me scared shitless to surfing lessons, the one that had me running around London and later the Dominican Republic on my own while presenting this brave adventurous face to anyone looking. Inside I thought I was an idiot, and doing everything wrong.

So, my monster drive, that I still can’t decide was brave and meaningful or crazy and stupid, or maybe it was all of these. I can present a very believable case either way. It did allow me meaningful time with my daughter, to process her going onto this next important stage in her life, to honour what she has done, and to be present for part of the transition which was painful for us both. That was important and I’m very glad we had that time (not sure if we needed so many hours of that time, but that’s done now).  I brought several books to listen to, and was lost in stories for much of the drive. I drove past and through many landmarks of my life, in places I’ve lived and by people I have loved.  So many places, so many people, so many memories.

In the end, truth be told, it wasn’t really that brave a decision. I could not afford a plane ticket, my husband, who could afford one,  would not discuss it, so I did what I thought I had to to get my daughter to school. I could have pushed the issue, but decades of experience have taught me that I am on my own with this sort of thing and I rarely bother anymore. Now, of course, he is organizing for her to fly home for breaks and is the hero, where I am the one that took her on the never ending car ride. Part of the reason he is adored by both our families and I am not, that and he is a much better schmoozer than I am (to be honest I suck at schmoozing, alas…).

I try not to listen to the less than caring voices in my head. To focus on the little fierce one. I don’ t know if this is wise, or how much wisdom that voice has. In many ways it is a toddler with very basic and primordial needs, so I’m not sure if this is my Id jumping up at down, or at least my ego, but has kept me going when there was nothing else that would, and for that I’m grateful. It has kept me moving forward even when I am certain I will fail, it kept me driving all those hours, it help hold my my head up (even when I’m looking like a complete idiot), and it, usually, keeps me from curling up into a ball and giving up.

I think I need to be kinder to myself, maybe even forgive myself for not having this whole life thing figured out. Maybe even let the kind voice be heard among the rabble-rousers carrying on in my head. I think this is a rather poor ending to this blog, that I could have done better, but maybe this one will do.

kindness, pets, and kids, and the lessons they taught me

Aside

Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.

Dalai Lama

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When I was about 10 we had a small mutt my mother had found in the alley behind the library where she worked. We called him Book. He was a street smart, funny. lovable small black mutt. He was my little brother’s and my first dog, and we adored him. One night when my mom and step father were out I had a terrible feeling in my stomach about Book. That night I played with him, rubbed his belly, and must have given him half a box of dog cookies. Nothing bad happened, and I went to bed. When my they got back, my step father drove the babysitter home. We think Book must have got out and tried to follow the car. My mother woke me early the next day after she spent a sleepless night worrying and we all went looking for him. We lived about three blocks from a main street, and on the far side of that street, laying on the grass beneath a tree we saw Book. I rushed to him, and reached out my hand to wake him, and only then when my fingers touched stiff cold fur did I realize he was dead.

We buried Book in the backyard under a bed of flowers, it was the only time I ever saw my step father cry. My mother said that some kind person must have picked Book up off the road after he had been hit, and laid him gently on the grass for us to find him. Tied up with the sadness of losing our dog was the thought that someone had been kind to him, and also to us by taking the time to stop, pick up his body and gently place in on the grass.

Late last night I was coming home with my daughter and we saw the body of tortoise shell cat on the road. We circled round and stopped just behind it. She looked like she had been a well loved pet. She looked like she had died instantly. We stood and looked at her silently, my car’s headlights illuminating her. After a moment I walked back to my car and got a small white gym towel from my yoga bag. I knelt down and wrapped her still warm and pliable body in it and carried her to a grassy area under a small tree. Her back legs and fluffy tail stuck out from the end of the towel and her fur stirred slightly in the wind. I placed my hand on her side and said how sorry I was she had died. We stood a moment more and got in the car and drove the rest of the way home.

Four years ago when our young, beautiful, and foolish dog Willow got out of the yard and was run over, many people stopped, someone called me and we rushed to spend our last moments with her before she died. Someone brought a blanket that they never saw again, another person brought a board for us to lift her shattered and dying body into our car. My daughter sobbed, held her face, and said her name over and over again. The driver of the car stood crying. Before we got in our car to rush Willow to the vet in some mad hope that she could be saved, I went to the driver and told him it was not his fault. She was a skittish dog, and very fast, and he could not have avoided her. I didn’t want him to carry any more grief and guilt than he was already going to. I don’t remember anyone from that day. I have never been able to thank them for stopping, for helping our dog and us when it was most needed.

We never knew who carried Book from the road that night almost forty years ago, but that act of kindness stayed with me. It helped me tell the driver it was not his fault; it is what guided me when I carried the cat from the road last night. One act of kindness decades old still touches me and through me touches the world. Such is the way of kindness.

get used to it

ImageWhen I was pregnant with Catherine my first child, I worked as a nurse in a very busy pediatric hospital in downtown Toronto. It was here I was the most perfect parent, before I had my own kids, and for the most part, when I was surrounded by people were making mistakes with their own. Things I promised myself that I would never do. We liked to say our ward saw everything (it was actually nicknamed “Nam”, as in Vietnam) and even now I don’t think we were too far off. There were so many worst case scenarios, shaken babies, cancer, home births gone wrong, babies born with AIDS (when it was new and unknown), abuse, neglect…. for me they all were warnings about what not to do. There was one baby, Sheeva, that I will always remember. Her mother was beaten so badly during her pregnancy that the baby had seizures before she was born, and her short life afterwards was little more than seizure after seizure resulting in increasing brain damage until she died. Heartbreaking, and terrifying.  When I was pregnant I would take just about every normal prenatal symptom as a sign of something dire, and I drove myself insane with worry. One evening shift Catherine was hiccuping or kicking or just jerking around as fetuses are apt to do, but I was taking care of Sheeva that night and was terrified my baby was having seizures. I was not my most rational when I was pregnant, and when it comes to my children, I’m still slightly manic. I turned to Emma, a nurse with two young children, and asked in a semi-panicked state if she thought my baby was having seizures. She said, in a very Emma like fashion, “well, she might be having seizures, OR it could just be hiccups”. Somewhat calmed I asked her how she coped with the constant worry that I was experiencing and she gave me the best piece of parenting advice I have ever received, “Get used to it”.

Get used to it. There would be no magic day, birth, grade 1, adolescence, adulthood that a parent gets to say, whew! that’s it I don’t have to worry any more, there would always be something new to worry about. Am I reading the right books to them? Should I let them eat fast food? Do I make them clean their plates? Do I let them cry themselves to sleep? When do I wean them? Is so and so a good enough friend? What about piercings? tattooes? sex?? and will I screw them up forever if I make a wrong decision along the way? What if I’m doing everything wrong? What if ??

When I was five months pregnant with Catherine I had a routine blood test come back as positive for spina bifida. Actually, it was a could be positive and more testing would be required. Again I had taken care of some extremely disabled children with spina bifida and in my young “all knowing” mind had decided that I could never “deal with it” in my own child. Things were so much easier, so much more black and white when I was younger and knew the answers to everything (like all of those “should I?” parenting questions that became much fuzzier with each baby). So they sat us down and explained our “options”, which were, level 2 ultrasounds, amniocentesis, and termination of the pregnancy (we lived in Canada where termination is a medical decision), and there I was, my previous black and white world turned upside down by a blood result. Everything I has regarded as unchangeable fact was now up for interpretation. It was excruciating. In the end I wouldn’t even take the risk of amniocentesis, and opted for the ultrasounds, and my daughter was born healthy with an intact spine. The prenatal worries I had were, mostly, erased by the time Catherine was a a couple of weeks old, but now I was on to a whole new set of worries, and I realized how true Emma’s advice was.

Get used to it. Yeah, well that really sucks.

I was sitting the other day thinking I just had to get through the next two months with my son and then I would get a break, and then it occurred to me that the worries would not end when (if) he got to boot camp, that if anything I would find a whole new set of things to worry about, and when (if) he finishes there was another set of even bigger worries waiting for me. Get used to it. Damn.

So this is life when you love. You are open, and it will hurt, it will hurt a lot, and the answer is not to close yourself up in hope of protecting yourself from the pain, the answer is to stay open, to be hurt, to be heartbroken over and over again, because this is what will help you be kinder, gentler, more empathetic, and able to deal with life’s heartache, because you don’t get to be alive without heartache. Closing yourself off and hiding from life’s worries and pains makes you hard, brittle and frightened. I know, I’ve tried, and it was horrible.

“The term “kintsugi” means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious than before it was fractured. Some say we need to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot’s life story. Others say that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.

And so are we, more beautiful with our wrinkles, our cracked and fractured hearts, and with our worries. This is life, get used to it.

Meanwhile the world goes on

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Graham grade 3

I like sleep. I like it a lot. So waking up in the dark a full hour before I had to was not my favourite way to start the day. Waking up frightened, with a cold, hard pain in my chest even less so.

What kind of mother kicks her child out of the house? Don’t answer that. I have several excellent, well thought out answers lined up beside me right now. I don’t like any of them. In fact, I have been glaring at their calm, all-knowing, smug faces for several months now. It’s no good. I don’t like where I am now. Sorry, I really really fucking hate where I am now and the decisions I have to make. That sounds better. I have two more, very difficult months in front of me and I’m already so very tired.

I love my son.  I don’t always like the young man who lives with me now. The one who lies and steals, the one I have to keep things locked up around. My family has to keep things under lock and key and we’ve not done anything wrong. It’s exhausting, but how can I send him out?

He “ships out” on October 14th. My son, Canadian like the rest of us, has enrolled in the Untied States Marine Corps. Not a future I would have picked for him, but more and more it is looking like the only chance he has to straighten himself out. Now I’m in the somewhat ironic position of trying to keep him qualified so he can, in fact, go to boot camp. How did I get here??

Do I ruin his best hope by kicking him out? What’s fair? I have two other children who do not deserve this life in limbo lock down. We have all put our lives on hold for almost three years tying to help him, and for what??

The thought of putting him out makes me physically ill. It makes me cry. It makes my chest ache. But shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t this be really fucking hard? What does it say about you if it is not?

My oldest daughter leaves for school half a country away this month. I’m sad, proud, scared, happy and about fifty other emotions about it. I’m not forcing her out. She’s growing and leaving on her own, and while it’s not an easy transition, it is an expected one. One I can talk to empathetic friends about. Who do I talk to about my son? Where is the “What to Expect When” book with its handy check boxes and explanations of life changes and physical symptoms?? There’s no Worst Case Survival article on this. Alligator attacks and quick sand, but no steps to take to ensure you will survive sending your 18 year old son out of your home. If only all I needed to do was to stay calm and lie flat.

Maybe that is the point. There is no right way to do this. Maybe you’re not suppose  to be calm. This sort of thing is suppose to hurt like hell if you’re doing it right. Meanwhile the world goes on.

Wild Geese – Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles though the dessert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.