Sunday, July 3, 2011
Ghandi once said that it was our light we were afraid of, not our inadequacy. What I'm discovering is that the light I shine tends to hurt people's eyes and they just want me to shut down. And so I did. But I'm getting tired of hiding within my own life.
It only took one person to tell me that I was acting ungrateful, ugly and spoiled to shut me down. It only took one person to tell me that what I was writing was hurting her feelings to stop me from heading to the keys for my own comfort. I have trouble letting others take responsibility for their own feelings and assume that I actually do have that much power.
I hold these fantasies that, someday, after this or that person is gone, I will be able to come out of hiding. I can tell my stories. I can share myself fully. I won't have to edit myself or maintain a facade that makes others comfortable. My life feels as though it is on pause until then. Which is the definition of enmeshment. Murray Bowen would have a field day with me.
It feels important that I begin here, again. Start the process again. Just sit here in this expressive space and just sit, if that's what I need to do again. Epilepsy and critical family members found my blind spot and sent me to the sidelines for quite a while. I'm limping back.
Monday, May 10, 2010
I’ve developed a seizure disorder known commonly as epilepsy but less commonly as partial complex seizures with generalized seizures. It sounds pretty bad, and I suppose it is, but after watching my mom go through a life-threatening diagnosis of brain tumor, I am happy to learn that it’s just epilepsy. Treatable with meds, which I’ll start eventually, my diagnosis and I will go on to live a happy, healthy life. That is, if I can keep my driver’s license.
However my brain, as it is now, is still having all kinds of epileptic fits leaving me all fuzzy headed and dizzy. It’s as if I’m walking around underwater, all slow motion and blurry-eyed while everyone else is moving at life’s normal pace. The chronic fatigue and lack of energy has earned me the name “Narcolepsy” with my closer friends. As I type, I find myself wishing I could just curl up on the couch and drift away.
But I can’t.
I’m still a mother. A mother who has a very energetic 3 ½ year old who, just this moment, came screaming into the room yelling “Kitty!” and jumped onto my head. And since I accidentally burned down my parent’s house recently, we’re living in a hotel without the usual grandparents and 2 acres of land to keep him occupied.
His toddler pace and my old lady pace are already unevenly matched, but this is getting ridiculous. I have absolutely zero interest in playing tag or going for a bike ride or role-playing Monsters Inc., and so I have come to refer to the TV as his nanny. Even making meals feels next to impossible. He and I have both survived on goldfish crackers and string cheese for the past few weeks. I’m lucky if he gets a vegetable or fruit in his body at any point in the day.
Fast-paced anything makes me dizzy and nauseated. It's almost like I'm drunk but without the fun lack-of-inhibitions and karaoke music. Most days, I have these strange moments where my entire left side goes numb and I sorta go away to a dream-like place in consciousness for about 20 or 30 seconds. I smell smoke when no one else does and usually this hallucinatory campfire gets so strong that it brings along it's friend Gnarly Headache and Vomiting.
After a long, nauseating day at work (nauseating because the seizures make me feel like I’m standing on a boat all day) I picked up Jack from day care and he proceeded to scream about a lost robot he wanted me to find. I found myself singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” as a coping device to drown out the child-abuse-inducing fit behind me. It worked and he’s bruise free and I’m still allowed to be within 100 feet of him without a monitor.
We’re doing alright. Everything will be okay. Everything is okay. I mean, in the midst of the house-fire and the moving into hotels and the EEG’s and the overdrawn bank accounts due to having worked only 3 out of 5 days a week since March, Jack is now potty trained. And obviously I’m writing again. I’ve even found a way to quit smoking.
I'm really happy to finally have a diagnosis that explains all of these crazy symptoms I've had and that justifies all of the help I've needed from friends and family. It's a life changing diagnosis, not a life threatening one. And so I suppose some days I’ll have to make it okay that the closest thing he has to a functional parent is Dora the Explorer. And I might need to learn a few more Patsy Cline songs to get me through the harder times, although singing the lyric, “…and I’m crazy for loving you…” feels really good to sing when I’m especially frustrated. In the meantime, I’m accepting meals and free babysitting services. Signup sheet is on the door. Best Western Hotel, Room 100.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I was really, really responsible. I studied hard and late into the night. I was in honors courses and took AP English. I was in the student body government for 3 out of the 4 years in high school. I took my job as a Christian very, very seriously and went through devotional books like it was some sort of spiritual porn. I prayed for those who didn't know the Lord, and I prayed for my friend, Amber Rady, who I found out had recently starting smoking cigarettes and who smelled like them after senior lunch last week. I prayed that I would always be focused on God, that I would honor him, that I would continue to grow closer and closer to him.
College wasn't much different. It didn't take long for me to become involved in the student ministries at my school and to be singing with the worship band in chapel. My 21st birthday went by without so much as getting tipsy and I created an accountability group to help rein in my crazy impulses to get naked with my boyfriend. When I walked across that stage and moved the tassel from one side to the other I had never been drunk, never had sex, never watched a porno, never smoked a cigarette, never smoked a joint, and never hung out with someone who was not a Christian. And I had never, ever, believed that it was okay to think for myself.
At 21 years old, I moved into a residential treatment facility for children who were victims of abuse and neglect to work as a houseparent. In short, I spent three years being a full-time mom to 10 boys who were in institutionalized foster care. At the age of 24, I became a licensed foster parent to raise one of these kids who I felt very connected to and whom I loved very deeply. My boyfriend and his two toddlers moved into my first apartment with my foster son and me and- literally overnight- I had become a wife and mother of three. By the age of 25, I had my first panic attack.
The weight of the responsibilities that I had borne were so overwhelming that I drove to a bar at one a.m. and drank 5 shots in a row, just before closing. When I called my boyfriend, I had no idea where I was. What I did know was that I felt like a little girl trying to take care of everyone around her. I was buckling.
The term "over-responsible" was new to me when I read about it in my graduate school studies a few years later. When I saw the word, it was as if it leaped off of the page and stamped itself on my forehead. I knew exactly what it meant. I knew without having to read about it that I would be defined in the sentences that followed afterword. And I knew immediately how it had set itself up in my consciousness.
My dad was a speaker and a writer for youth ministers around the world. He's kinda famous in the whole Christian subculture of America. As a kid and as a teenager, I spent a great deal of time at youth ministry seminars and conventions, surrounded by youth pastors and people like Tony Campolo, Duffy Robbins, Rich Van Pelt, and Mike Yaconelli. It was not uncommon for me to go to conventions like DC/LA or CHIC and have a staff pass so I could eat lunch with the guys from Jars of Clay or The Newsboys, or to have reserved seats with my name on them for the front row. Being my dad's daughter literally gave me a back-stage pass to the world of adults who make a living shaping teenagers into good Christian adults, and I found out really quick that I was hugely rewarded if I showed up as this uber responsible, well spoken, overly-devout, highly moral and on-fire-for-the-Lord teenager. These guys couldn't get enough of it! They would stroke me with compliments to my "maturity" and to my "heart for the Lord." They would soon realize that I was not like most teenagers who only care about sex and getting high and being angsty and hormonal.... no, I was one of them. I was this strange but amazing anomoly in the world of American teens. I was an adult in a teenager's body, not prone to the desires of the flesh but who's eyes were on the prize.
Now I know that the prize I was always seeking was approval from these men and women who were the leaders and celebrities of my culture. And I am also sadly aware that their attention and approval were filling in the space that was laid vacant by the perception that my own father did not see me or acknowledge me. To be seen and to be known, to be stroked and praised, to be acknowledged and recognized by these icons was an addictive salve for the wounded one inside. And so I became who they wanted me to be. I became the miniature adult, shirking the things of youth and vanity and play. I took in the sick and the wounded and the poor. I did mission trips and service projects and made it a point to sit next to the nerds and the weirdos at lunch, even if it meant social suicide. Jesus would have done it. Duffy definitely would have. The devotional I read last night said that I should.
In other words, I didn't have an adolescence. I didn't take any risky behaviors. I didn't experiment with drugs or multiple identities. I didn't get angry at my parents and tell them they didn't understand. I didn't become brooding and hormonal and lock mself away in my bedroom. In fact, I distanced myself away from all things adolescent and held a view of these behaviors as somehow weak, immature, and to be conquered. I didn't belong out there in the audience with the rest of the teenagers. I belonged backstage, here with the adults who were conspiring to wipe out the nasty adolescent bug that lurked in the hearts of the youth of America.
The effect is that I've lived life in reverse. I was a foster mother to teenagers in my early twenties, a stepmother to toddler/schoolaged girls in my midtwenties, and had a baby in my late twenties. And now, in my early 30's, I am finally doing the adolescence that I never had. Its a bit awkward, doing 17 at age 33, but as any psychology 101 student knows... one must complete and master each one of life's age stages. If not now, then you'll have to do it later.
I believe that this dynamic would be happening for me even if I didn't live with my parents in my childhood home, but the fact that I am living here makes everything just oh-so-much-more authentic. Like the fact that my parents walked in on me and a boy. Like how I just want them to leave me alone and pretend I don't exist. Like how I spend as much time as possible now locked inside my bedroom, listening to my music and watching my shows. Like how I hate that they want to know where I've been and where I'm going. Like how everything about them can drive me absolutely fucking nuts, like the way their breathing sounds or the way they scrape their fork across the plate. I want to sneak out every night. I want to punish them with a bad mood.
I find myself daydreaming and fantasizing about the day I can move out and be on my own, as if I didn't do that for 10+ years already. But to me, its as if I have traveled back in time to the Amber at 17 who drove away for college and never really came back until now. My relationship with my parent's didn't age even though I aged. I left at 17 and I am now back at 17, but this time feeling like the annoying, angsty, sex-crazed, wanna-get-high teenager in the audience who is just here to check out the boys.
My parents don't know what to think of me. I think they're worried. They see me taking risks and dating 22 year old boys and getting into trouble and having a bad attitude and they want to know what happened to their responsible, God-fearing daughter. I'm finally doing 17, that's what. Oddly, doing 17 at 33 makes sense to me. I think it actually makes more sense to do 17 at age 33. I can get into bars. I have a job and money. I have a car and can pass as an adult if I need to. But they won't understand that. Parents just don't understand.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Mostly I just haven't been in the mood to write. I'm a fickle blogger. A ficklogger. A flogger. A blockle. Whatever.
But today I want to write some thoughts on community. I'm a fan of community. In fact, after I finish writing this I'm gonna go officially become a fan of community on facebook. I grew up in a strong, loving, motley crew-funky bunch, church community as a child. These people loved me and the loved each other and they were messy and weird and broken and wacky and brilliant and talented and odd and creative and committed to each other and to the thing that brought them together that was the church. They came to my homecoming coronation and to my school plays. I went to their children's piano recitals. We went to pool parties and church retreats and potluck dinners and weddings and Fourth of July fireworks together. In the days before cell phones, they were who I called when my mom was not at home and I was in the school nurse's office with a 103 fever. These people were family. Old home movies prove it.
I felt like I mattered to these people. And I felt useful. Being one of two teenagers in the church, I was the valued child care staff/nursery worker. I knew I had a role. I also felt like the things of my life were important to them, like when they announced in the service that I had been elected Junior class president. They knew who my boyfriend was and when I got a new dress and when I decided to change my hairstyle. They noticed me.
Years of social work have formed in me the opinion that we are all literally dying of lonliness. We live in these separate existences, in these separate homes, in these separate lives, not connected, not knowing our neighbors, not wanting to be seen or heard or known or touched by those around us. We go from work in our cubicles to home in our apartments, careful to not raise the volume too loud on our TV's lest we become aware of the other that lives a drywall sheet away from us. We wear our ear buds and avoid eye contact and mumble polite hello's to our coworkers in the kitchen as we heat up our leftovers. And we wonder why the hell we are all so fucking depressed.
I started investigating this idea of living such independent, isolated lives and realized that this is a strictly American, late-20th century lifestlye. Up until the last few generations, everyone lived in community. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, random friends and loved ones all lived in the home together. Before this, whole tribes lived in community and everyone was valuable and had a role. If you ran fast, you became a hunter. If you liked babies, you took care of babies. If you had a knack for cooking or growing stuff or figuring out what herbs cured things you became the cook or the gardener or the witchdoctor for the tribe. Births were celebrated because it meant another valuable hunter or warrior or gardener. From the moment you were born you brought distinct value to the tribe.
A great deal of the depression and anxiety that I see as a therapist comes from feeling separate or unsupported or alone or unloved. We don't feel connected. We don't feel like we matter. We don't know how to experience intimacy with ourselves or with others. Some of the kids I work with have no other conversations with an adult all week long until they come to see me. Their parents are busy working 2 jobs each to support the lifestyle that they live or are too depressed and undersupported themselves to be present with their children.
I started looking into what is now called Intentional Community several years ago. Turns out there are other people who siing the praises of community like I do and have banded together to form their own communes. Some are religious and some are not. Some are formed around the ideals of sustainable and organic living, some are not. Some live in communal homes while others live in seperate homes and share communal yards and pools and playgrounds. My friends caught wind of my commune intentions and said I should start my own, which we would call The Radish Commune where we would all grow our own vegetables and grow our armpit hair and take showers once a month.
The Radish Commune never came to fruition, so I moved home a year ago because I could not live alone. I was working two jobs to support my family and I had become a stressed out, maniacal woman. I was angry and sleep deprived and so stressed out that I could not enjoy the 900$ 2-bedroom apartment I was living in that was what my second job was paying for. I was hating my life, hating my son, hating my job, hating my neighbors, hating myself, hating the "rat race" that I had chosen but felt victim to. In a moment of clarity, I quit my second job and moved home so that I could live and breathe again.
Now, I will not lie and tell you that I love everything about living with my parents. There are obvious drawbacks, some of which have made me wonder how I can somehow earn an extra grand a month so I can get the fuck out of here. In fact, I spent the better part of the last year dying to move out again. However, I think I may have unintentionally created the commune that I was looking for. This community of me, my son, my mother and my father is a lumpy bumpy crew. We don't like eachother a lot of the time. In fact, we really drive each other all crazy. Jack writes on my mom's walls. My dad is just socially awkward. My mom listens to the TV so loud that I can hear it down by the pool. And I am the messiest person in the world and leave my shit everywhere.
Jack has three playmates instead of one. I have dinner cooked for me every night. Mom has her own personal kitchen cleaner upper. Dad has someone to play baseball with in the backyard. Jack has two other laps to snuggle into when his mommy is mad at him. My mom has someone to vent to about her annoying coworker. Dad has a buddy to keep him company at the lawnmower every Saturday morning. I have built in babysitters for almost any night of the week. Jack and I also get a HUGE house with a HUGE yard with a pool and a sandbox and a big driveway for bikes and a swingset and a garden and treefort. Jack can actually go outside and play, whereas most kids I know have no outside and so they stay inside and play videogames all day. Why would I trade this for an apartment with a yard that can barely fit a platic kiddy pool? Because my mom fusses at me for not getting enough sleep? Because my dad makes bacon every morning that smells up the whole house? Because I can't have boys over? Because it FORCES us to be in relationship and to work through shit that we haven't had to work through sinceI moved out at 17?
Well, yeah. That's a big one. But that's the stuff of community. We are forced to deal with one another. We are forced to live with eachother, even though it's uncomfortable. But there's comfort in that. They know I'm annoying. They know I'm messy. They know I have a certain set of values that are vastly different than theirs. This has created conflict - which we've had to WORK THROUGH. And it's been ugly and uncomfortable and has made me want to move away from it all on more than one occasion. But somehow I find it comforting. It's the real life stuff of unconditional love.
Tonight my friends all came over and cooked burgers that we topped with bacon and guacamole and grilled onions and cheese. My dad played with the kids while my mom and my girlfriends made the food. I (of course) was mixing margaritas. The dads sat chatting and rocking babies. I realized that The Radish Commune had come to life, here, at my childhood home except that it's more like The Guacamole Bacon Cheeseburger Commune, which I would much rather be a member of anyways.
It's not cool to tell people I live with my parents. But it works for me. It allows me to breathe and slow down and actually enjoy my community. It allows me to feel supported and held and contained. It allows me to give my son a yard and a open sky and a tree fort and solitude that comes from being able to get space away from his mom if he wants it. Is it easy? No. Does it make me miss solitude and personal space like CRAZY? Yes. Does it force me to stretch into giving and receiving unconditional love like I never thought I was capable of? Yes. Does it make me have to grow up and be an adult around my parents? You bet. Was it awkward when my parents came home when they were supposed to be away and found my having sex on the living room floor? Umm... yeah. Would I want any of this to be different? Not right now.
Monday, May 18, 2009
FREEDOM TO CHOOSE WINS
AT THE AMERICAN PAVILION EMERGING FILMMAKERS SHOWCASE AT THE 2009 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
I'm so proud of my classmates and professors who made this film- and the healing experience at the womens' prison- possible. Congrats on your win!
"This uplifting film chronicles the extraordinary triumph of the human Spirit. Freedom to Choose shares the story of 46 graduate volunteers from USM's Master's Program in Spiritual Psychology and 160 inmates at Valley State Prison for Women who came together for a radical experiment that would change them all -- forever."
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The first thing I hear every morning is his whining. He wakes up grumpy and fussy and crying and goes to bed doing the same thing. He doesn’t know how to ask for anything without whining for it and it is driving me CRAZY. I want to grab a roll of duct tape and wrap it around his mouth and not take it off until he’s five and can ask for things in full sentences.
I totally understand that he is just doing what he knows how to do. I know that I should ignore the whining and tell him to ask for things in a nice voice. And I do. About 47 times a day. And I begin to lose my patience with it at about time 16. It’s getting really old. Really, really old. Lately all I can think about is taking a vacation to a land where toddlers don’t exist.
Most of the time, including right now, I feel pretty lame about how little patience and tolerance I have for the stuff of motherhood. I have to bite my tongue, every morning, when he refuses to get dressed and all I want to do is throw my own little tantrum. I have to force myself to remain level when he stands at my legs begging, up up up, after I’ve just stepped out of the shower. Never mind the fact that he stood at the door of the shower crying for me the entire time I was in the shower. Or that he opened the bathroom door and now my mom, dad, and their guests now know every curve, roll, and dimple on my body.
It feels as though his level of need for me is beyond what I can give. And I am starting to resent him. I know that his whining and needing and clinging and fussing is his way of letting me know that I am not present enough with him but the truth is… I’m not. I don’t want to be. I want to get as far away as possible from that black hole of need and not-enoughness. It is exhausting. It is so draining. And so I sort of stiff arm him, energetically, and he goes insane with fear and abandonment.
It hasn’t helped that he’s been sick for two weeks which just amplifies all of the icky stuff like the whininess, lack of sleep, and generally fussy mood, and leaves very little room for fun. I need to have fun with my son again. I want to enjoy being a mom with him instead of feeling like its all chore, work, and annoyance. I want to share a moment with him where we’re both surprised and delighted and enjoying the company of one another. I don’t expect every day to feel this way and I certainly don’t expect to like everything about being a parent. But I am ready to like him again. And like me around him.
Moms? Dads? Tell me you’ve been here and tell me what you did to get out.