Mindfulness and Mayhem, mmmmmm

In my twenties, mindfulness practice seemed impenetrable.  All that sitting, and focusing, and what the hell was I supposed to practice anyway? Seriously, I let the word “practice” get in my way much the same way I let the word “metaphysics” derail my first philosophy class.

Now in my fifties, DBT has come in handy as a good practical introduction to mindfulness.  We start off each group with a different mindfulness exercise.  Mindful observing, mindful knitting, mindful counting, mindful candy eating.

Folks, you can do it with candy!

I was clearly reading all the wrong books in my twenties. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind of all thoughts, it’s simply recognizing what you are thinking about and not hanging on to it.

This, along with my deep-seated need for survival, has brought me deeper into mindfulness.

At home I sometimes practice mindful dish washing (getting better), and on the road, mindful driving (lost cause).  It has really opened up my idea of what mindfulness is and how I can use it.  Almost in spite of myself, it has become a real tool.

In my current life-as never-ending-crisis cycle, I find myself reaching for this tool more and more.  Recently I have tried to incorporate it into my weekly routine, grasping for even the barest bit of sanity.

3 days a week of mindfulness practice at the beach a week—that’s the goal.

Waves of Mindfulness

Now before you get too far into imagining me sitting peacefully in lotus position on the beach in some sort of flowy garment smiling the Mona Lisa smile of a true practitioner, I should remind you that I reach for mindfulness to help me function.

Function minimally.

If I was together enough to arrange a quiet, pleasant mindfulness on the beach session, I wouldn’t need mindfulness.

No, my mindfulness consists of stopping off at the beach parking lot on my way home from carpool.  Sometimes I even manage to change out of my pajamas before I leave the house.  And as much as I would enjoy having a quiet moment to myself, usually I’m sharing the lot with a sketchy RV on one side and someone who is blasting hate radio on the other.

The goal is to do 30 min to an hour of mindfulness practice, or writing, or thinking about gratitude.

Yep, you got that right, mindfulness in my car, that’s the best I can do.

It usually turns into 15 minutes of me checking Facebook then another 15 trying to find a meme I really wanted to share with someone, 15 minutes of wondering if I’m doing it right, and maybe 5 minutes of actual mindfulness.  The ratio has been changing in the last few months, to the better I might add, but it’s roughly 5 minutes of mindfulness.

Don’t judge.

But today was different, today I went beyond mindfulness.  Today I was full on communing with nature.  Today it was dolphins!

Pulling into the parking lot I could see what I thought looked like dolphins moving close to the shore.

Remember, I always want dolphins at the beach, but I don’t always actually see them.  And when I do, it’s usually just one or two and I only see a glimpse of their back and maybe some spouting.  Maybe only 6 out of every 10 visits do I get full on, whole dolphin sightings.

I know, sometimes I hate me for living here too.

When I reached my parking spot, placed strategically between the industrial trash can and the recycling bin, I confirmed the dolphin sighting.  Lots of dolphins.  A small pod moving north.

I never even made it to checking my Facebook.  Still in my jammies, I jumped out of the car to get a closer look, noticing they were swimming toward a group moving south.  Today, I decided, watching dolphins was going to be my mindfulness practice.

Leaning back onto the hood of my car, I focused on them.  I focused on the color of them, the slide of them through the water, the arc of their backs as they surfaced. I noticed when one would surface, I absorbed the closing distance as the two groups moved toward each other. I breathed in through my nose then breathed out through my mouth (not required for mindfulness, but I do try to incorporate all the clichés I can). I was so totally rocking this mindfulness shit.

I didn’t actually take this picture

OMG there was a baby!

Not that it takes a lot to distract me, but this was total dolphin pandemonium—a couple of babies and more than a dozen other dolphins.  The two groups met up and then all began moving south together, showing off lots of flippers and tail flukes and breaching. Some were running into each other and then chasing each other.

Mindfulness evaporated, my mind was in full flight imagining what they were up to.

It was almost like the adults were going back to look for the teenagers that were lagging behind.  Teenagers trying out independence and being awful about it.  I saw the eye roll one of the girl dolphins gave her mom when asked why she wasn’t staying closer to the main group. I felt the mom’s relief and simultaneous frustration at finding her daughter safe, then realizing there was no reason to worry to begin with.

I’m sure one of the tween dolphins was bitching about having to look after his baby brother.  I imagined teenage dolphins flirting, showing off.  I saw the boys daring each other to do totally dangerous things to prove they were “cool”.  I imagined a great white shark following them around like the schoolyard bully.  An octopus trying to give them her words of wisdom, while trying not to be eaten.

I saw the whole ocean being dwarfed by the energy of the teenage emotions they were desperately learning to manage.  And the parents struggling to keep them safe while realizing there is no way to control them or their environment.  I could hear their grandparents sigh, those damn kids, where have they gone off to now?

These dolphins were living my life, I swear.  And they were doing it better!

I don’t know how I knew they were better, but it could be because they were not at all terrified of open water.  Or not.

They were clearly doing it better because they had created a community of strength and support.  It takes a pod to raise a dolphin.  The mother and father aren’t in it alone, and they’re not afraid to accept help. It was like these dolphins were speaking to me.  Directly to me.  Reminding me that I don’t only find my strength in independence, I find it in interdependence as well.  My community, my tribe, my relationships.

I wondered how dolphin parents would handle cell phones.  How do they deal with depressed teenagers?  Is it easier to manage teenage sleep when you sleep with half of your brain?  Are hypoglycemic dolphins as volatile as my daughter?  DBT talks a lot about rational mind, emotional mind, and wise mind.  But I don’t remember it talking about metaphor mind. My life works better in metaphor mind.

Realizing I didn’t make it to even 5 minutes of mindful practice, I noticed an adult break free from the crowd and take a moment to ride a wave before returning to the pod. That dolphin gets me, I’m certain of it.

 


One Step, Two Steps, Breathe

I don’t have pictures from Mother’s Day last week.  We didn’t have any special celebration.

We are fragile.  We are feeling fragile.  We are not up to noise, or cheer, or talking.  We are over talking.

For the moment.

So we went to the mountain that is not really a mountain.  And we held hands while we walked silently.

One step, two steps, breathe in.  One step, two steps, three steps, breathe out.

Hand in hand with the two who define my motherhood.  Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.

When I got distracted by my thoughts, I just went back to left foot, right foot.  I realized I still mix up my right and my left.  I laughed.

When our hands got sweaty we released and walked on our own.  Left foot, right foot. Someone behind me was talking about cats. I got annoyed.  The only directions we received:  no talking.  I needed to get back to walking.  I had to let my annoyance float away. It was hard.

One step, two steps, breathe.

I missed the soft skin of their hands in my hands, I reached for one again.  I felt love, and family, and peace.  I remembered a book, Peace is Every Step.  How long ago had I read it?  Why wasn’t I reading it now? I let it go and went back to my walking.

One, two steps, breathe in.

My husband’s knee couldn’t make it up the hill so we were three, not four. There were over a hundred of us, but for me it was only us three.  Warming up as the sun melted the mist, and breathing harder as we headed up a steeper hill.  I got tired, but still I walked and counted and breathed.  The road was rough and pocked with holes and ruts. The hand I held steadied me.  A subtle role reversal, but I noticed.

One, two, three steps, breathe out.

I thought about the Dharma talk we had just heard.  Imagined finding the baby Buddha inside me, waiting for me. Like honey inside a swarm of bees, he said.  Isn’t that nice? Or the seed hidden in the very depths of the flower.  Much nicer I thought.

We are all mothers of the baby Buddha inside us, he said.   We just need to have a clear mind and access, and…  And something else he said.  I couldn’t remember.  The talk was peppered with words in a different language, in an accent I couldn’t quite penetrate.  Like looking through a dusty window and trying to comprehend the beauty of the meadow on the other side.  I could make out the shape and color of the flower that was his talk, but couldn’t quite see its delicate structure or catch its scent.

Come back, breathe, walk.

A few people stopped walking and began staring at the bushes, pointing out something they had seen to others.  I thought of the sign posted on the way in, “Be mindful of toxic snakes and insects” it said.

I love that sign.  Every time I pass it I want to take a picture.  But I never do.

Right foot, left foot.  Be mindful of rattlesnakes.

Then we continued down, down, to harmony grove.

I guess the girl got a picture or two

A small stand of trees beside a dry creek bed.  Flowers were everywhere.  A small statue waited to be washed with flowers and water. Everyone had the opportunity to pour the sweet water on the statue.  The symbolic bathing of a child, the nurturing of the peace within us.

When we met back up with my husband, their father, we were indeed home. We had arrived.  And, in that step, there was peace.  And maybe we were a little less fragile.

11 things you absolutely must remember in a mental health crisis—number 5 will shock you!

1. No mascara. Unless it’s water proof.  Then you’re good to go, but you won’t get to wash your face for about 48 hours so frankly waterproof mascara is really not your friend.  I stick with my original advice.  No mascara.

2. Just hang up. During a crisis, you will find yourself answering all phone calls even if you don’t recognize the number.  This behavior itself is enough to throw your world totally off kilter.  You will be getting calls from doctors, social workers, case managers, treatment centers etc. You won’t recognize any of these numbers so you will end up answering all calls just so you don’t have to continue to play phone tag with the social worker.  Therefore, you will eventually pick up a call from a telemarketer.

It will be your first instinct to be polite.  You may say something like “my son is in the hospital, and I am waiting for a call from the doctor so I can’t talk right now.”  Don’t expect them to go away.  They have a script, they make minimum wage, they will just reply, “it will only take a moment”.  You may even find yourself saying, “my child is in the hospital because he attempted suicide and I can’t talk right now.”  Then they will say something like, “I’m sorry, but we really want to make sure you have all the cable services you want and let you know about some great promotional offers that are available to you.”

If you had followed my advice you would have already hung up.  If not you will kind of disassociate and see yourself actually saying, “did you understand that I just told you my son tried to kill himself?”  Then you will see yourself react as the telemarketer replies, “my condolences, but this will just take a moment.”  Just hang up and save yourself the futile exercise of trying to figure out if your cable company is run by the minions of hell.

3. Don’t answer your door. The same scenario as above will play out, but this time it will be a single mother trying to get back on her feet by selling magazines and you will have to go back to rule number one: no mascara.

4. Don’t post shit on social media. Just don’t.  It’s not your friend right now.  That being said, watching kitten videos, giraffe births, or panda babies can offer great relief.  Otters too,  don’t forget the otters.

5. One glass of wine during crisis = 10 normal glasses. Plan accordingly.

6. Ask your other child if they have perhaps agreed to take care of anybody’s pets. It may not help, but you will be prepared when the cats haven’t been fed in 2 days and they call you.

7. Get horizontal. No matter how strong you have been in each crisis leading up to this (and you know there have been a lot), your body may yell “Enough!”  You will feel a little dizzy and then you will see a long black tunnel.  This is a vagal faint.  It’s not a big deal unless you refuse to get horizontal on your own. Because your body will absolutely insist.  The floor is a pretty hard landing surface.

8. Apologize when lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety, and constant nausea lead you release your inner bitch.

9. Listen, and don’t take it personally when lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety, and constant nausea lead your loved ones to release their inner bitches.

10. Be gentle with yourself and your family. Hug as much as you are able.

11. Breathe

Dragon Slaying 101—What I Do When I Can’t Do It Anymore

I try to be mindful as I drive, let thoughts come and go as they please, but I’m not always successful.  So tears tend to hit while I’m driving. When I am alone with my thoughts the reality of what is ahead grabs me and yanks until the knot pulls so tight it can never be undone.  And that reality is the fact that this is my new normal.  One moment walking happily along feeling like all is on the right track, the next being smacked in the face with the fact that things are very, very not okay.  Suicide, overdose, death from anorexia—these all are not unreasonable ends to our story.

But so is recovery.

Recovery is not an unreasonable end to our story.

And that is my new normal.  The fact that one is just as likely as the other.  Or if not just as likely, they are all as much out of my control.

So, I really try to hold onto the hope of recovery, especially in the midst of relapse.  But I am not sure that there is anything I can do to influence the outcome.  I used to think there was, but I’m beginning to think that there is nothing I can do to make it better, the only real influence I have is to make it worse.

And that, more than anything, terrifies me.  How am I making it worse?  How am I coddling?  How am I enabling?  How am I helicoptering?

What is the line between any of those and compassion when faced with your child in agony?

My child, a heartbreakingly depressed young man trying to hold on.  And trying to move forward.

Yesterday I came home from one of these driving episodes crying.  Distraught over this relapse, this new normal of ours.   I collapsed on my husband’s chest and sobbed, “I can’t do this.”

He looked at me and said “Yes. You can.”

My initial response was a snort acknowledging the cold comfort of the truth.  Then I let my thoughts wander for a minute and remembered a recent phone call with a friend.

Of course, we can do this, we are already doing it, she reminded me.   And we have been doing it for some time now.

This is our new normal.  This working and fighting for recovery.  For wellness.  For peace.

And she is right.  We are doing this.  We have been doing this for almost 4 years.  And we can keep on doing this.

I can do this with my friends who are in the same boat (or at least a similar one) with me.  I can do this with my friends who have been there all along.  I can do this with my new friends who have come my way because of this journey.  I can do this with my husband of over 25 years.  It doesn’t matter that we aren’t on the same page.  Sometimes just reading the same book is enough.

 

I looked at my husband again and said, “I don’t want to do this.”  And this is true as well.  I don’t want this to be my reality.  I want a different normal back.  Of course, this is where the friction lies.  This is where I get caught up over and over again.  This is what saps my energy.

Instead of fighting for recovery I am fighting against what is.

Intellectually, I know this is senseless, but my emotions won’t be won over by petty things like facts.

So, I go back to my DBT workbook again.  I review, redo, reevaluate the handouts on radical acceptance, and say to myself, “our son has a serious mental health disorder that could lead to his death.”

Take a breath.  Figure out what to do with that.

And I remind myself again that this acceptance doesn’t mean I am okay with it.  Doesn’t mean I am happy about it.  It just means that this is what my life is at the moment.  This is part of what my life is.  This is the reality that I have to work with.

It doesn’t mean anything, it is just my current reality.  So, I start again.  I start again reviewing my skills, my supports. I start again practicing skills that build my resilience.  I start again practicing skills to take care of myself, to keep myself well.  I start again learning boundaries, and emotional regulation, and effectiveness.  I start again researching ways forward that we haven’t thought of before.

I start again.

And again.

And again.

I can do this.  I am doing this.  I will continue to do this. As messy and inelegant and as hard as it is.

I can do it because my child is worth the fight. Because my family is worth the fight.  Because I am fightworthy, even when I can’t do this.

More dandelion moments please

My daughter’s away. Off on an east coast adventure with her cousins. Her aunt keeps sending me pictures of her hiking in the woods, swinging on swings, playing with bugs. Doing all sorts of things that my almost grown daughter would never do around home.

I miss her.

I mean, I miss her physical presence, but I know that she will be back in a few weeks.

But what I really miss is the old her.

several feet above the water
several feet above the water

I miss her uninhibited spirit that is becoming more and more hidden as she grows up. She went from the girl who skipped everywhere to the girl who points out how silly it is that a little girl is skipping on her way to school. She went from the girl who is happy in her own skin to the one worried about what strangers will think.

From the girl who never minded making a ruckus to the one that shushes me.

She shushes me.

I never thought I would be the one getting shushed.

I miss that she is showing a little, tiny bit of that spirit again, and I am not around to see it. To breath it in and capture it in the way I was too careless to do when she was four.

Back then, I told her I was going to write down all of the wonderful words she made up and call it her Fantabulous Fictionary. But I got busy and I knew I would remember them because they were all so wonderful.

We all know what happened.

I only remember a few now. Beesgusting: means even worse than disgusting, Gianormous: a little mixture of giant and enormous for extra emphasis, and Tinky: same as stinky.

Ok, the last one wasn’t really a made up word, she had a speech impediment and couldn’t say the ST sound. She also couldn’t say the TH sound so she pronounced it as S.

And that is how she came up with my favorite noun:

Me: Please don’t blow dandelions all over the lawn, daddy works hard to keep our lawn dandelion free without chemicals.

Her: But mommy, these aren’t dandelions, they are wishing sings.

Wishing sings, wishing things, dandelions. I’ve never looked at a lawn full of them the same way since.

And when I see one now there is always a little girl in it.

With a halo of blonde curls. In a pink seersucker dress and grey eyes busy, busy, busy taking in her world.

This vision is as clear as a photograph. Seared in my mind along with the words of the conversation. Because it was one of those events that hurled me right into the moment. Like a cable was hooked to me and I was physically dragged to another place.

The right place.

I can’t imagine what my state of mind was when I told my 4 year old not to blow a dandelion. But I know that after that moment I looked at the things she did through a different lens.

It was one of those clear moments of parenting when you realize what you are doing and what you should be doing.

But I’m a slow learner it seems and I wasn’t always able to recognize those moments when they came.

not dandelions
not dandelions

Yet, now I see this girl in the middle of a field of flowers and I know it will be gone soon as well. I want more dandelion moments, but it’s too late.

She is only 15, but she has flown away. I have to focus on the moments now, knowing they are what I have.

They are all I have.

And if I pay attention, they are enough.

Adult in the making

So the boy turned 18 and the earth didn’t end.  Or shake.  Or change at all really.  It just went on spinning, taking several more turns around the sun, and the son seemed to take it all in stride.

A few weeks later he graduated.

It seems a milestone has been reached.  I’ve technically lived up to my parental responsibilities.  Although practically, I’m fairly certain you are never done as a mother.

grad 5
the son took it all in stride

I think he may have been expecting something more definitive. Myself, I was just sort of relieved.

So he is an adult now.  But there wasn’t some magical switch thrown that will allow him to make “adult” decisions.  It didn’t come with an extra tool box filled with “adult” tools.  He still has what he had, still is what he was the day before, and yet he is different.

The perspective is different.

The expectations are different; the social contract has totally changed.

He has rights that he can exercise if he chooses.  He has responsibilities that he must take on now, and some he can let slide until he is in college.  The Selective Service reminded him of one of these with a letter that arrived on his birthday.  The county registrar of voters reminded him of another when his first official election ballot arrived in the mail.

I see him picking up those responsibilities, and more, in fits and starts.  I’m hoping that he takes them a little more seriously than he takes his responsibility to clean is room.

Currently, it appears that he does.

When he was signing the consent forms at a post birthday doctor appointment, I could see him come to the realization that he is now in control of his health decisions and his information.  He had a detailed discussion with the doctor about what would be disclosed to me if he chose to sign the consent and what would be the practical implications if he didn’t.

He joked about sending me out of the room.

He really meant it though.

grad 7
funny, they don’t look like adults

I’m glad he resisted.  He is an adult, but we are still on this journey together.

He has a new lens for viewing his decisions, and I can see it is empowering to him. It’s exciting to see him finish one journey and prepare for another with this new view, and watch him adjust to what he expected and what actually is.   I can also see the Pandora’s box aspect of it, but that is something that I gave up thinking about a while ago.

We have never tried to protect him from the real world and real world consequences, figuring that learning from them is the easiest way to go about learning to adult. Although, we have tried to incorporate mercy into the process as well.

His journey has been more fraught with danger and more torturous than we would have ever wished for.  But he has risen to the occasion that no child should have to (and yet so many must) with more resilience and fortitude than I could have imagined.

My sister is in the same temporal place with her son, but she told me she has been crying lately.  I understand that, but I’m not there.  It is an amazing thing about trauma, it drags you into reality—ready or not.  It challenges ingrained behaviors and pushes you to see other perspectives.

I guess I would have preferred the slow, dawning realization.  Perhaps I would have found myself crying gently at the thought of his next adventure and tiptoeing cautiously between his 18th birthday and his graduation date.

Melancholy and excitement sharing the same space.

But that was not to be. I’ve already had to say good bye to so much during this recovery process, I feel like I have already done a large portion of the work of leaving the boy he was behind.

And at the same time I am able to hold on to that boy and realize, he is who he has always been.  His diagnosis doesn’t change who he is, it doesn’t define him.

Like all of us, only this moment defines him. And in a second, it will be a different moment. His actions will demonstrate his heart, his inner light, his joy.  As he has done in the past, he will make mistakes and, hopefully, he will not let them define him anymore than he allows the labels people try to attach to him.

And although his childhood has come to an end, I find myself hoping that he won’t totally lose the childhood perspective on life.

The possibility, hope and anticipation of his four-year-old self.  I want that to stay with him, to be in a place where he can find it when he needs it most.  I know he is going to need it.

A few years ago he asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up.  “I want you to be happy” I replied.  “I may have some ideas about what will make you happy, but in the end, you don’t have to do them, you just have to find your own way to happy.”

I probably could have given more specific hopes and goals but I couldn’t have given more honest ones.  I truly don’t care what he does with his life as long as he finds fulfillment and meaning.  As long as he creates joy and lives happy.  Accepting that sometimes you have to slog through the hard to just even taste the good.  As long as he makes his journey count.

Although I know those are all subjective and judgy, I’m pretty sure I will know

taking in the moment
taking in the moment

them when I see them.

He has the advantage (or perhaps disadvantage) of knowing that life is not always easy, things are not always fair, sometimes you get dealt a bad hand, and you just have to go with it and make the best of it.  He is farther along the road to happiness than many adults I know just having that simple building block.

My aspirations for him seem to be crystalizing.  Not so much because of his birthday, but because of the journey he has selected.  And because I have let go of what I wanted or thought I wanted.  I have followed his lead and am just taking in the moment.

Mom’s Little Jar of Sunshine

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and instead of getting all maudlin and melancholy because it’s kinda the last “our little family” one, I decided to think about the things I love about mother’s day.  Mom is just one of the hats I wear, but the one I have worn the most in the last almost 18 years so I guess it’s ok to sit back occasionally and see how it feels.

I usually get taken to a wonderful garden for mother’s day.  I remember plenty of them at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and a few at the Huntington in Pasadena.  But sometimes it has been kite flying at the park, or sandwiches on the beach.

Small or elaborate, my perfect Mother’s day needs to include just a few things:  I don’t cook, I don’t clean, and all four of us spend some time together.

I believe my first mother’s day I asked for a card, maybe flowers, but frankly that was jar of sunshinekind of a high bar for a husband that spent most of his days in the lab finishing his Ph.D.   I have been perfectly content with the no-cook/no-clean version for a while.  I was never one for presents, not on mother’s day at least, but I have always been excessively fond of tokens of affection.

Handprint flower bouquets the kids brought home from school have always been my favorite.  If both of the kids got together and made one with their now adult hands, I would keep it beside the one I got from my daughter when she was 5.  I still have them all, the handmade cards, the decorated poems, the handprint hearts.

They are some of the things I can’t get rid of no matter how much I try to declutter.

One of my favorites is the little jar of sunshine the boy made for me in second grade.  I have a sneaking suspicion that his teacher knew that when things got a little rocky in the teenage years, it would be lovely to have this little jar to look back on and remember the simpler times.  She was pretty awesome that way.

It’s so simple.  A clear jar, the lid covered in a cute floral print fabric and tied with a ribbon (now lost to the ages) and filled with a bunch of rolled up pieces of paper where he wrote things he liked about me, thank you notes, and other random things to make my heart smile.  I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried the first time I read them.

He could barely read and write in second grade so some of them took a while to figure out.  What I really noticed at the time, however, was how hard he must have worked on them.  Phonetic spelling aside, spaces between words and motor organization were things that he struggled so hard with in elementary school, the fact that they were as clear as they were indicated an intense amount of effort on his part.  That he was willing to put in that kind of effort has always been the best part of this gift.

Later, though, I realized that it was a coded message.  Road signs to point me onto the path of being the right parent for him.  I still look at them sometimes when I need some perspective, or reassurance, or even a laugh.  I don’t cry as much anymore, but they can still get me teary eyed.  I don’t like to be pensive about them so I usually come up with light translations that keep me grounded.  And so I will share them with you in that spirit.  Happy Mother’s day to all who are mothers or have mothers.

Special things about my mom and thank you notes written by my son in second grade age 7:

You like foods I like:  Meaning probably I usually cook things that he will eat, this made things easy for him and easy for me.

You are good at remembering:  I guess I used to remind him to bring his jacket so he could go out at recess.  This one is actually pretty funny because about 20 minutes ago as we were on our way to  an AP test, I stopped the car just past our driveway and asked if he remembered to bring his ID to get into the test.  We had to turn around and go back to get it!  I guess I’m still good at remembering things.

You are nice:  I probably had coffee that morning so I didn’t yell as I was rushing him to the school bus.

You support me in school:  This is when I still reminded him to bring his homework to school.

You are a queen:  Obviously, but not the Snow White queen or any Disney queen for that matter.  Hmm, not much in the way of literary good queen’s either, definitely not Gertrude from Hamlet.  Maybe I should just skip this one.

You can do anything:  Anything that he asks, at only 7 he didn’t ask much yet and didn’t understand the limits to my mommy super powers.  Cuter still because he made “anything” 2 awesome words—in ething.

You are the best mom ever:  Self evident.  I belong to him, therefore I must be the best.

You are funny:  I laugh at his jokes, sometimes I even make funny ones myself.  Q: where do cows go on Saturday nights?  A: to the mooooooovies.

You are good at cooking:  I guess he likes my food.

I love you mom:  I start crying here.

You are happy:  I am actually, no joke about this one.  He apparently likes to be around happy people.  If this was all there was to motherhood, I would be golden.

I hope you like it:  Just a little validation goes a long way.  Now I cry at this one, I wish I had paid more attention to it.

You are a great cook:  Again with the food.  Either he was running out of things to write or his obsession with food was foreshadowing some problems down the road. I’m thinking the former.

Thank you for taking me to dinner:  Perhaps I’m not as good a cook as he thought?

Thank you for helping me with problems:  This is the time, before he becomes a teenager, when he thinks that my insights and opinions have some value.  Either that or I brought him homework he left on the floor of his room.

You get me things when I need them:  I take him to Michaels at 8 pm to get poster board that he just that moment remembered he needed for a book report due tomorrow that he hasn’t started.  This is still pretty much standard practice around here, although less so with school work and more so with everything else.

You read me stories:  Still my favorite part of being mom.

You are helpful:  No matter how often I deny it, I was his Sherpa and apparently he liked it.  I have fixed this problem to a great extent, but sometimes he pretends he’s seven and asks me to do stuff.  A lot of times I do.

You read a lot: The reason for number 17 above.

You cook good:  Funny that he continues to go back to the one thing about “mothering” I Love You Momthat I truly loathe.  Is it validation when you are approved of most for the thing you like the least?

You like things I do:  I show interest in his interests.  It’s that simple and it’s that hard.

You help me when I cry:  Compassion.  My greatest strength and my biggest weakness.  I hope this is always true.

You are cool: Proof positive that at one time I was cool.

Dishes, autonomy and a mug full of wine

I am currently drinking wine out of a coffee mug. It’s a fairly plain white mug with the chemical structure of caffeine printed in black on it. I remember purchasing this for my husband when he was in graduate school. It was prior to amazon.com so I had to take the long train ride to Redding terminal market where I had seen it a few weeks before but neglected to purchase it because the panic of Christmas shopping was not yet upon me. I used cash, and it was the only thing I purchased, except maybe some yummy Amish baked goods that I can’t exactly remember but I’m sure I couldn’t resist.

Those were easy, simple days when a 15-dollar mug that spoke to where we were at that moment in time was a perfectly acceptable gift. I kind of miss those days. But as lovely as those memories are, they somehow don’t distract me from the fact that I’m pissed I am drinking a fairly decent Malbec from this same mug 20 years later.

dishes
A sinful of dishes?

Why, you might ask? Why am I pissed off or why am I drinking wine out of a coffee mug? The answer is the same to both questions. If my son had bothered to do the dishes (it’s a consequence for something he did that I can’t quite remember) on any one of the last 5 days, I would be using a wine glass instead and not be pissed off.

Or if I had decided to do the dishes myself because sometimes you need to pick your battles, I might be sipping it out of one of my regular glasses, the cute French ones with the bees on them.

Perhaps if I had really thought through giving him dish duty as a consequence I wouldn’t be so angry, because I would have never shot myself in the foot by giving him something that is important to me. Or maybe I’m just pissed he still has to have consequences at all.

Or that I’m the one doling them out.

I used to think I wanted a dish fairy who would come and magically clean the kitchen while I slept or read a book or did anything else but the dishes. To me they are a chore much like the laundry, never ending with no sense of accomplishment upon completion.

But the dishes and I have come to a sort of détente, I do them mindfully, and I don’t freak out about how they are a symbol of the lack of respect and gratitude that my entire family feels for me.

So maybe I haven’t come to détente with my dishes, but I have come to realize in the grand scheme of things dishes are not a ditch I want to die in. I just do them and they stop irritating me.

Instead of a dish fairy, now though, I want a consequence fairy. A fairy who will magically swoop in and issue the perfect consequence for whatever infraction has been brought to my attention. A consequence that will be a punishment that fits the crime sort of thing, something that will be meaningful and not punitive. Something that will be a learning opportunity and bring greater meaning and respect into all of our lives.

Or, fuck that, just something that he will do and if he doesn’t only he will suffer any negative impact. Just not the dishes, it drives me crazy having a sinful waiting to be done.

Ha-ha. Did you see that? I accidentally typed sinful instead of sink full. Maybe this is a sign I have a subconscious belief that dishes are my punishment for some horrible sin I committed.

Maybe I feel unworthy of love and the dishes have just become a projection of this deeply held, unacknowledged belief.

Maybe I’m not upset about the boy child’s refusal to do his job, but instead feel I need to be punished because, perhaps, I am a bit too jealous that my husband is in New Orleans eating his way through the best culinary city on the planet while I am at home with a sink full of dishes and drinking wine out of a coffee mug because our almost 18-year old son has decided to assert his autonomy.

who me toddlers become teenagers
Who me? Assert independence?

If I indulged in another mug of wine, I could probably come up with all sorts of Freudian issues that this anger is indicative of. I could use my now better than average knowledge of psychological wellbeing to institute a treatment plan to help me recognize and overcome these issues and start building skills to make them manageable.

I probably don’t even need another mug of wine to realize that this nest leaving behavior is the same pain-in-the-ass behavior from when he was two and asserting independence.

Enough, enough! I’m fine with independence. I can deal with change and distance and autonomy. It has been my goal as much as it has been yours. There is no need to challenge my authority, goodness knows I haven’t asserted it very much anyway. I know you are capable of independence. I know that you are ready. I know I can’t control you or anything else.

Could you please just do the dishes?

Sharks or Fog, You Get to Decide

shark following kayak
Where I feel like I am

When I talk to people about my story, I am surprised by how many have similar stories, or at least have close friends or family who have them.

When I talk to people who have children going through similar struggles, I am often taken aback by the desperation in the questions they ask me. It’s usually quiet and controlled, but ever present, as if they are looking for a lifeline of any kind that can save them.

I’m surprised, not that people are desperate, God knows I have spent considerable time trying to turn anything floating by into a life preserver.  I am surprised because they are looking to me as if I may have answers. All I can think is although I may be floating here on this apparently sturdy kayak, I’m also out in the deep ocean with a mess of hungry sharks circling me.

The thought that I have any practical information that may be of real assistance is quite strange to me. And it makes me reflect on where I was 2 years ago and where I am now, how far I have come and how far I still have to go. It brings me face to face with the mother that I was when my son came home from residential treatment, the tentative, scared, scarred women who just needed to know how this was going to end—to know that it was going to end.

The first morning after my son was discharged from his residential program he cut himself. Badly and on purpose.

We knew that 8 weeks of re-feeding and therapy and stable medication wasn’t going to “cure” him, but we were hoping that his discharge was more or less the end of the hardest part. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time musing on how things might have been different if I knew some things then that I know now. There was so much I didn’t know, about what to expect and what to look for. I was just treading water and trying to stay ahead of my emotions. I didn’t have the energy and space to look at any of the lessons that were coming from these types of experiences.

Of course, just because I wasn’t ready for the lessons didn’t mean I didn’t have to learn them, it just made things a bit harder.

And there were a lot of lessons learned in hindsight from this specific incident. The most practical and glaring was that he wasn’t ready to be sent home, and I should have fought harder. I see now it was more of a business decision on the treatment center’s part. There were easier kids on the waiting list who the insurance companies would pay for with less effort on their part. At the time, though, I thought it was something my son had done or not done, or something I had done or not done. But I still wish I had known in that moment. I feel like it would have given me some stability. But maybe not.

I sometimes write a list in my head of these things, the stuff I wish I had known then. It seems this list would have been very useful to me at the time.  I often think about taking pen to paper and writing it all down now, just to have it, kind of a talisman or even tangible evidence of progress. I’m not sure which one, it’s hard sometimes to separate hard work from dumb luck in the recovery process; I guess I should just embrace both. Yet every time I set about writing this list, it feels wrong. Like if I had known it then I wouldn’t have been able to apply it anyway or would have applied it incorrectly.

If I had known that my child’s treatment was a business decision would I have been able to handle that? Would I have been able to move forward and get the benefit we did out of it, or would I have waited and held out for perfect? Would the wait have cost my child his life?

No amount of catastrophizing is too much when I reach this point. These are the questions that spin out of control in my mind when I indulge in what-ifs. If I let them, the what-ifs will consume me, and I risk not being able to see some of the other lessons that were available to me at the time, ones I can apply in the future.

Yet I still feel the desperation of needing something to hold onto in the uncertainty.  I think, and think, and think about how to distill this journey into the one lesson of value beyond my immediate situation, something I can tuck into my kayak and use when the sharks feel closer than they are. My mind will wander around the twists and turns of this thought process for a while before it hits me that I have put this journey in the wrong frame.

I am thinking about it all wrong, I’m using the wrong metaphor.

Because the lesson always come down to one thing: There are no ends in this process, there are only beginnings. Finishing a residential program, a meditation retreat, a skills workshop is not an end. Finishing is not a rescue, I am not being pulled out of the deep. It’s just another beginning, it’s when the real work starts and the work is not your child’s alone. No one will “fix” your child, no one can “repair” your family. You, your family and your child have to do the work. It’s all a beginning.

The cure, if you can call it that, comes over time, by all of you working and working and never giving up. It comes from accepting what is and working toward what is better.

When you know you can’t handle it anymore, you still get up and do the work. Just like you did when he was an infant and needed to eat every 3 hours, just like when he was a toddler and had nightmares at 1 am, just like when he was 6 and his pet died, and again when he was 10 and 15 and 16, and on and on. Every day is a beginning. Every day you feel like you’re starting over. You’re not, it’s what it feels like, but you’re not.

It’s just the beginning. His recovery, and yours, is a series of little steps into the unknown, small yet important course corrections as the path becomes a little clearer to you.

As the fog begins to lift, you can see the trail a little better. The fog will come again and trip you up, so you can’t race blindly ahead with the false confidence that if you can just get to the end it will be okay. You just keep going and listening for clues to where you are and where you are going. Sometimes, when there is no path, you have to cut one out for yourself, hacking away with the tools you have until you get to another moment of clarity.

Those moments of clarity aren’t the end either. They are more beginnings. Hopefully they will lead you to a path that is a bit easier than the one you were on, but they may not, and you have to keep going anyway. And you can, even when you think you can’t, you can.

If you can picture it as a journey to accomplish instead of a place to escape, if you can see your child as he is,  broken and bewildered just like you are, you may be able to find the peace and space to step back and create something good and whole that you can use as a foothold.

It’s easy to fall into cynicism and doubt, and hard to let go of anger and blame.  But as comforting as those tools can sometimes feel, they rarely shine any light on the path ahead and they never help you clear it. You have to hold on to hope, even when it isn’t reasonable, and you have to question your route even as it is clear that you are on the right track. It’s a tricky and convoluted path, you are going to need all your wits about you. As Robertson Davies once wrote: “These matters require what I think of as the Shakespearean cast of thought. That is to say, a fine credulity about everything, kept in check by a lively skepticism about everything…. It keeps you constantly alert to every possibility.”

So stay alert, search for your next foothold, and breathe.

path in fog
Where I probably am.

And know. Know that this journey, as grueling as it may be sometimes, is just another opportunity to create. You can choose the frame, pick your own metaphor.

It’s not what you know going in, but how you use what you know to create your path and open up vistas. It’s okay to rest for a while, you have no end you have to reach. It’s okay to enjoy the view.

Even in the clamor, you can stop for a moment and look at how beautiful what you have created is. It will give you sustenance for the next hill, courage for the next trial, and hope for the beginnings ahead.

Bleck

So I wrote a post yesterday that was pretty close to a rant, for me at least, and my email and phone immediately lit up with so many notes of encouragement and care and concern that I was truly blown away. So I need to do two things. First and most important I need to thank you all for walking with me on this journey. Whether you are near or far, I couldn’t make it without you all. And second, I just wanted to let you know that everything is okay, or at least it is what it is (bleck!). bleck

 

 

Shortly after writing my post last night I found this quick blog post that helped me gain some perspective and hope and then I spent the rest of the night looking for more baby elephant videos. Because, adorable! xoxo

http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/why-it-is-important-to-give-yourself-grace/