Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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White Magic

I’ve been reading a book that has been challenging me.  The challenge has been that it is a book that I thought I would totally identify with, but I find myself being quite uncomfortable with the ideas presented. My question is whether I am uncomfortable because the words are hitting a nerve and I need to make some changes, or if I just fundamentally disagree with some of the concepts.

Reading this book led to one of my heart-to-heart conversations with Darren (see past blogs if you want to know more about him).  We were talking about various philosophies we have both tried throughout our lives in order to achieve a higher level of whatever. For example, we both have “tried” positive affirmations. I remember coming up with a whole page of them after my divorce (in my twenties) and faithfully reading them day after day, month after month. Didn’t really make a noticeable impact.

After Tim died, I read a book about the Law of Attraction philosophy. I had a big ritual with a dozen or so of my girlfriends. We burned all of my negative thoughts into the air, and then lit up the sky with Chinese Wishing Lanterns, releasing my positive intentions into the universe. Didn’t really make a noticeable impact.

I told Darren I didn’t really believe that wishing for a parking spot when you need one could really produce one. He made some elusive but provocative statements that indicated that he did believe such things could happen. There is White Magic and Dark Magic and stuff in between. But after getting the desired outcome, he had to sit and wonder what he had actually accomplished. Then he said the nicest thing. He said that I am so purely Light in who I am, so about Love, that he would find it surprising if I did attract anything that was self-serving. He knows my deepest transgressions and the skeletons in my closet. I can’t imagine how he could think that of me so positively, but the comment touched me very deeply never-the-less.

I have to say one of the biggest “discoveries” I made, was when I was doing Spiritual Direction and was introduced to the Enneagram. It is a paradigm to understand personality and I learned that I am a “four” and read descriptions of my personality that floored me with accuracy. It was then that I switched my therapy goals from trying to change myself to understanding myself. Once I did that, I could manage my personality type more effectively. A deeper understanding of that helped me to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses with better results.

At the conclusion of our conversation, he said that he has a tiny pile of “stuff” that has helped him in his life, that has passed through the fires and stayed on the short list of things that actually are useful in life. It made me think about whether I had a pile.

I decided I really don’t. I don’t mean this in a cynical way. I really don’t. It is just an honest and genuine statement. The only thing that I have found that has lasted, is simply to just “get up every day and keep trying.” That’s it. Nothing sexy. Nothing catchy. Nothing that promises happiness or a perfect universe. Nothing magical. Just keep doing it, even when your head and heart ache so much you think it isn’t possible. Even when life is sometimes horribly hard and unrelenting. Get up anyway.

 

 

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Simplicity

I’ve been labeled (or accused) of being a drama queen several times throughout my lifetime. Then I met with a spiritual director over a decade ago who helped me understand my personality type. I was able to be less offended by it when I realized that I didn’t LIKE drama. I knew I never liked it, but when you think of a drama queen, you think of someone who craves attention and stirs up shit to get it. When I worked with the director, I came to a very sad and painful realization that I required drama in my life because I felt dead otherwise. Empty. Void of life. It’s like an uber version of no self-worth. So I would/could be attracted to people who were problem-ridden because if I could be Super Woman, then maybe I would have the worth of just an average person. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but it is really quite startling. I had to be Hercules, dealing with the toughest of things ever that most people can’t handle, in order to justify taking up human skin. Yikes.

Then another shift happened after my mother died. I really started investing more in my sisters and girlfriends. I have awesome ones, more than most people do. None of the relationships are perfect of course, but overall I am pretty damn fortunate. They get me in ways that are very deep, and it is quite healing to have that in your life. Recently, Summer (who I’ve written about several times) and I were having a conversation about life in general. I’m sure I won’t paraphrase her entirely correctly, but she said some people have messy lives because they make bad choices and then have to live with their chaos. Some people have messy lives because they are dealt a hand that is unavoidable- i.e. born with a disability or disorder of sorts, born in a war-ridden country, etc.. And some people have messy lives because the people around them do crummy things to them and hurt them. She thinks I mostly fall in that last category.

With the therapy and spiritual direction I’ve had, I’ve worked hard on minimizing the drama in my life. I’ve learned that I don’t have to save the world. My friend Mike has been pounding that in my head for the last two years. But I try to balance this without losing my generous and loving heart. I still do things (like educate about death and dying) that many people can’t do. I still do things that are too hard for some people. I am actually proud of that. But I try to keep it more manageable.

I’m trying to keep things simple, that can be kept simple. Because loving people, being present with them, being connected is not always simple or convenient, but it’s what you do when you have compassion. I realize some of the growth that I have made when I’m sometimes around people who don’t often keep things simple. In fact, some folks can take the most simplest of things and make them into complicated conflicts. I have less and less patience for it the older I get because my heart and time are busy dealing with things that really do require my attention. It makes no sense to me, but then when I try to see it from a different perspective, I soften a little. Sometimes, people use all that defensiveness and complicating of things to keep themselves from getting close to others. If true love and intimacy frightens you, you will take even the most smallest of things and create a barrier out of them so you can protect yourself. It’s kind of tragic really, if you push people away that are actually safe for you.

Anyhow, I’m being long-winded again. Point is, I will take my punches when I deserve them. When I get too complicated or too drama-ish, I will look inside and adjust myself as necessary. But when I am absolutely not being any of those things, and it is probably being projected on me, I know the difference now. I don’t take those punches or accusations when I don’t deserve them. And I will pull away from interactions that are toxic. Even if they fall in that category of wanting to protect themselves, it is not my place to take punches that aren’t warranted.

One of Freud’s most famous sayings is, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Simplicity. It’s a good thing. And I will seek it out when the important things in life really are complicated and tearing at your heart. I may be slow to learn, but I think I’m heading in the right direction!


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Successful Failure

Recently, I went to two different professionals for assistance in dealing with the after math of my daughter’s situation. Specifically, I want to know how to handle it when you have given something your all. I mean, you have really gone beyond the call of duty, done more than most people could have possibly done. But… you were still ineffective. In spite of all your knowledge, your fierce heart, and your relentless pursuit, you still weren’t able to make things happen the way they should have happened. Even though I know I was up against a system larger than life and broken to the core, I still felt like a failure. How do you accept defeat?

The first person I talked to was my first spiritual director. Her “stance” was to assume (without knowing many details) that because of my intensity, I probably offended people and overwhelmed them. She said my kids may have asked for my help, but they were probably not prepared for the tsunami that they received. Yes, she actually compared me to a tsunami. Now when I hear that word, I don’t think of anything good. I think of brutal destruction, devastation and death. Holy shit. Could that be my problem? I left with an even heavier heart than I came in with.

Thank goodness I had my session the next day with good ‘ol Scott, my therapist of 15 years. Some may same it’s time to make a change. I vehemently disagree. He not only knows me, but he knows my husband and my children. And he has seen me interact with them dozens of times, even under great distress. I trust his opinion, which is very informed and well-rounded.

Scott said that in no uncertain terms, has he ever experienced me like a tsunami. Even when the other party deserved that kind of response. I show remarkable restraint and patience and seek solutions whenever possible. I’m intense all right, but it’s internal mostly. I am incredibly hard on myself and feel deeply and passionately, which makes me try that 120% when others give up long before that.

Then he gave me something to wrap my head around. He said when he thinks of all that has happened in Georgia with my daughter and her “treatment team” (I use that term loosely), he is reminded of the movie Apollo 13. He said that mission was a failure. No one landed on the moon. Objectives not met. But the fact that everyone came back home alive, was nothing short of a miracle. It was the tenacity and intelligence and passion of a group that never gave up that brought them all home. THAT IS A SUCCESSFUL FAILURE. While the ultimate goal was not reached, those men should be proud as hell of their success.

I’ve thought about that a thousand times since my session and it has helped tremendously. While my daughter is now (in my opinion) mis-diagnosed, on the wrong medicine, cycling through mood swings and symptoms, and yet another medical professional has informed her that her mother is a pain in the butt… and every professional “helping” her has refused to talk with me in spite of her signed release, I can’t consider myself an utter failure. Yes, I was hoping to change the course of her treatment and thus change the quality of her life and my grandchildren’s. That objective was an utter failure.

But damn it, I gave it my best shot. And my best shot is pretty remarkable by most people’s standards. And maybe someone else will be helped by my blogs. And most importantly, my grandson is seeing a counselor at his school. She emails me every week and lets me know how he is. She delivers messages between us and he is now in a self-esteem group which he desperately needs.

SO THERE. I am a successful failure. And I’m slowly becoming ok with that, maybe even proud.

P.S. I politely resigned from spiritual direction. I think I will stick with my beloved Scott.


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Common Denominators

I recently restarted work with my very first spiritual director. She was my minister before that. We parted ways for a while and then I bumped into her and got thinking about her. She pushes me hard. Sometimes too hard. But the most growth and changes in my life happened when I worked with her. And because I’m tired of my own broken record, I sought her out.

We just got started yesterday. We were looking for the common denominators- i.e. overall patterns that tend to repeat themselves in my life. In other words, I started out with the question, “Why does this keep happening in my life?” Somewhere in the later part of the session, an important shift occurred. I realized that wasn’t the right question. I basically know WHY it keeps happening. What I really want to know is what the hell am I supposed to do about it?

In other words, if I try to change the parts of me that bring some of these things on, I will have two problems. One, is that some things are so ingrained in me, I might as well stop breathing than to try to change it. Secondly, some of those things are good. They can be problematic, but they are part of the things that ultimately I am proud of. They set me apart in some ways.

I could write a whole other book on this topic, but I will pick one small example which isn’t so loaded. One of my gifts and curses (at the same time) is that I can almost immediately walk into a situation and see what needs to be changed or improved. I know how to wait for opportune times, be tactful, and balance it all with love. But I don’t give up easily and will take it to the next level if I think it’s important enough. This is where my SD says I get into trouble. People get triangulated and the drama kicks in.

My small example is this. I am starting my second college semester as a professor. One of my students pointed out that the syllabus said one thing, and the handbook said another. I had caught several of these errors the first semester and they were corrected. But this one was missed. I clarified the information with her, but here is where I take it to the next level. I contacted the main office and let them know. I’m sure students think I write my own syllabus, but school has changed a lot since I attended. The syllabus is written by the department, which makes its decisions based on state licensing requirements. I contacted the right person and they said they would work on the correction.

I hear a lot of feedback about how other supervisors don’t catch things or point them out and they appreciate my taking the time to do so, which makes the program stronger in the long run. Now don’t misunderstand me. I do not think there is anything wrong with the other supervisors. Absolutely not. I think they probably clarify with the students and then leave it at that. But without even thinking about it, I go to the next level and try to make it right and improve the future.

Sounds good, right?

But here’s the pattern. Eventually, people don’t want to hear what is missing anymore. At some point, the game becomes shoot the messenger. I become the annoyance rather than the help. And I hate it. Because my heart is in the right place. I’m not trying to be arrogant. I don’t think I know everything. I’m not trying to put anyone down. I just put the extra effort in to make things better for the future.

Anyhow, I’m just starting down this new self-improvement road with my SD. I know it is going to be really, really tough. But I really don’t know how to appreciate my strengths and honor them, without going up in flames later down the road. Until I figure that out, no more new ventures for me. No church for sure. I can’t sustain any more loss right now so I need to figure it out. So pray for me, and really, really beg God to guide my SD cause she has her hands full…lol.


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Don’t Just Do Something… Sit There!

I went to see Bill (my spiritual director) today. We were discussing the lifting of my depression, but the trade-off being more angst-filled. Stuff like, what the heck is this all for anyway? Keeping it together so that you can keep it together for another day so you can keep it together for another day kind of thing. We talked about how I have never avoided pain in my life, always dealt with it head-on. Without realizing it, I think I assumed there would be some sort of pay-off eventually. So far, it’s just been another helping of tough stuff to deal with. At 48, I’m ready to move on to something new.

Anyhow, we didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we decided to start doing some meditation/prayer type stuff in session. I don’t do so well with it on my own, so if we do it together, I can probably practice it more easily at home. It was simple, interesting stuff, so I thought I would pass it along to you. Each of them were only one to two minutes long.

Exercise One:
Just sit there. Sit there quietly and just see what happens. Not for a long period, but just see what happens. I close my eyes when I do these kinds of things because it’s just easier for me. So I sat there and I was surprised that I was actually blank for a few minutes before the train left the station. Then it was, “Oh, I have to blog today. Maybe I should blog about sitting here.” And then my mind just goes from there.

Exercise Two:
Similar to the first exercise, you sit quietly but this time you actually count how many thoughts you have. I had six. I thought that was a lot, but Bill had six too. I don’t remember all of his, but his were:
1- Here. I’m just here.
2- Darcy. She’s here too.
6- Here. Here I am.

Mine were:
1- Nothing to start.
2- Have to call my friend as soon as I leave to confirm plans.
3- It’s blog day and I don’t know what to blog about.
4- I’m really hungry.
5- I wonder if that new guy I’ve been texting will contact me or not.
6- Nothing again. Can I count that twice?

Exercise Three:
Counting breaths. I had eight. Bill had three.

Does it all sound kinda goofy and pointless to you? It sounds funny to me as I write it. But when I was there, it was really cool. The object is to diminish your numbers. The goal is to be able to sit with blankness. For cripe’s sake, it was only a minute but it seemed like forever. The goal is to get your thoughts down to one or zero and be able to be empty. And the goal is to get your breaths down to three or less. Bill says the practiced monks can get down to one. That’s crazy.

Anyhow, I’m actually gonna try this the next few days. I asked him if the goal was also to increase the time you do it and he kind of chuckled. Typical question from someone like me. He said the goal is for time to be meaningless.

He doesn’t know a whole lot about acupuncture, and neither do I for that matter. But I told him it’s interesting that the big goal of those treatments is to relax. She puts a thousand needles in my body, then turns the lights off and tells me to take a nap. The more nothing I feel, the better. Hmmm… do you ever have the universe send you consistent messages?

So another paradox. Finding meaning in my life apparently requires me to conquer being empty. And yet the ultimate goal is to feel less empty. Weird. Maybe I’m just a quack that is hanging out with a bunch of quacks. But I’m liking it.

If you attempt any of these exercises, please feel free to share your stories. I’m fascinated! Really folks, it’s safe to try it at home. Just sit and try to be empty.

Crazy.


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The Winter Season

I saw Bob, my spiritual director, today. He helped me sort through another rough week and added yet another layer to my ever-growing understanding of grief.

This week was the fourth anniversary of Tim’s death. Many times, the anticipation of difficult days ends up being far worse than the actual event. Not this time. The day was tough from the moment I woke up until well after midnight.

If you know me, or if you have followed my blogs for any amount of time, you know I have been blessed with an exceptional quality and quantity of support people. Sometimes I have conversations and experiences with them that challenge my thoughts and beliefs, and sometimes I just plain end up disagreeing with them. And that is okay.

I went into Bob’s office today with a specific question in mind, based on some of the conversations I have had this week. If a person is truly grateful- i.e. really, honestly understands on a deep level- for the blessings in their life, is it possible to remain sad or depressed?

I knew my answer was yes, because that is what I am experiencing. I know enough, however, about human nature, that sometimes we are blinded to truths that are painful for us to accept. I wanted Bob’s unbiased opinion. He was quiet for a moment or two, so I knew I had asked a difficult question, one that was more complicated than it appeared on the surface. When he gathered his thoughts, he very confidently answered that yes, most definitely you can experience both at the same time.

He is a man who has experienced plenty of grief in his life. He sometimes shares some of his stories with me. Today we talked about the frustrations of complicated grief. He said that we do the “work” of grief, whether or not we are even conscious of the fact that we are doing it. He mentioned how there are times when he feels sad or angry (or both) and doesn’t know why. Then he puts two and two together and remembers it’s an anniversary date or a particular time of year that is historically related to his grief.

I kind of jumped at that. I have had that happen, too. But I pointed out how when you ARE conscious of why you are sad or angry (or both), then sometimes the criticisms come out. (At least it feels like criticism.) If you KNOW you are at a difficult time of the year (or whatever), then suddenly you are dubbed as having a negative self-image. You are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are not “letting it go.” You are holding on to your pain. I swear, you just can’t win.

I go out and preach all the time about being willing to hold opposing truths in your heart and soul, even though it’s difficult. It didn’t click with me though, until this session that this is another one of those deep paradoxes of life. Yes, I can absolutely be grateful for my home, my healthy children, my amazing friends and family. I can be completely aware of how lucky I am in regards to those things compared to other people. But that doesn’t mean for one second, that the test of that gratitude is how happy or depression free I am. I can be grateful, and yet still be knee-deep in grief and depression.

I have no idea where grief ends and depression starts or vice-versa. I don’t even know if there is a difference. And I don’t even think it really matters.

I received some gifts on the 14th, which were intended to help lift my spirits. Was I grateful? Yes. But truthfully, I had a long talk with the gift-giver about how I was a little uncomfortable with it. It was a day to grieve. Opening gifts was in opposition to that. And me being me, it created a sense of guilt. I felt pressure to be happy and grateful, when I was anything but that. After my session, I felt more secure in the fact that it might actually be just fine to feel that way.

Bob says I am in a very, very long season of winter. It is what it is. It does not seem to be going away any time soon. But he also stressed that I AM NOT STUCK. I am alive and moving. He also said not everyone will be able to wade through the journey with me.

I was hurt by a guy who wasn’t able to be there for me on the 14th. I know there was an element there of him not wanting to be bothered, which is just plain disappointing. But Bob pointed out that for most men (sorry, guys!) there is also an element of fear. Men don’t connect with their emotions as readily as women do. To sit on a couch with me while I was so in touch with my sadness, would be a place that some people (men or women) just couldn’t go to. I had to admit that is most likely true. And while genuine caring is still there, sometimes people try so hard to help, because they can’t stand their own pain of watching someone else suffer.

It’s two days after the 14th. I’m feeling a little better than I was on that day. I’m glad for that, but I am very aware that I am still deep in winter. Just know, that when people like me are there, we are not “choosing” to be. There isn’t a formula to follow that will change it. No amount of saying “positive” phrases or focusing on blessings is going to erase it. That doesn’t mean I still won’t try, because I will. But I have made a promise to myself to try not to add guilt and judgment to my sorrow, and perhaps it’s a good reminder for you support people out there, too when you are watching me (or whoever).

It is what it is. And it is winter.


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Detox Hurts

I had my spiritual direction session with Ellen yesterday. We talked about my food detox week. Later, as I described the last couple weeks of my life, she said I had a grief detox too. Both experiences are good for me I suppose, but they were not pleasant going through it, that’s for sure.

Selling the camper started a series of events, none of which would probably do me in under normal circumstances. But coming back to back, I think each one of them depleted me until I was a train wreck. Sell the camper, Father’s Day, Moving-up Day, some conflicts with people. Then another situation that I am not at liberty to talk about (yet) which blind-sided me and triggered all kinds of grief and loss and memories about the church I left two years… which triggered memories about a job I lost (unfairly) in Chicago a million years ago.

By the weekend, I was in a very dark, ugly place. I was acting like a classic Borderline Personality Disorder. I love you, I hate you. Come here, leave me alone. By Sunday I was saying horrible things like poor Frankie lost the wrong parent.

I kept all the texts I sent and shared them with Ellen. I wanted to keep no secrets from her. I actually had to laugh as I was reading them. They were so psycho I couldn’t believe I was serious at the time I sent them.

Ellen is the embodiment of calm and unruffled. She didn’t look shocked. She didn’t even gasp. I asked her over and over how I could go from being this strong woman to a person who seriously considered checking into a hospital. She just calmly shrugged her shoulders. She thinks I’m “gorgeous” and “perfect” just the way I am, no matter what way I’m acting. I think she’s crazy but she touches something very deep inside of me when I see her.

We talked and labeled and processed and I know when she hits the nail on the head because I get immediate tears. She talked about my feeling helpless and small. She said that even though I know that life isn’t fair, my emotional drop was because somewhere inside I am still desperately looking for things to be “right” and “just”… and guess what? Life just ain’t like that.

After a four-hour session, she came out with the verbage that I had this grief detox at the same time I’ve been detoxing my physical body. Good for me, yes. Probably even great for me, yes. Painful? Hell, yeah. Hard on the people who love me and care about me and worry about me? Hell, yeah. At the end of the day, even on those days when I throw myself the biggest pity party ever, life still has a taste of sweet on my lips. Thanks to all of you who shore me up. Those of you that love me when I was anything but lovely this weekend. xoxoxoxo to you!