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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Come, let us reason together..." Isaiah 1:18

I taught a lesson in church yesterday. The topic was taken from the conference talk, "Obedience to the Law is Liberty," by Elder Perry. It had the potential to blow up into a full-fledged bashing of current controversial social movements (i.e. same-sex marriage, healthcare reform, equalizing the salary gap between genders...). I nipped it in the bud by saying the entire purpose of the lesson was to help members decide how they could personally apply the precepts taught--we were not going to think or talk about how someone we knew needed to hear the Elder Perry's words, we weren't going to discuss how the world is going down the toilet, and we were instead, going to discuss how this conference address can help us do an inventory of our very own lives so we might find a bit of self-improvement.

It actually went very well. With one exception, the women respected my request to personalize the topic, and the one who did not recognized, mid-comment, that she was doing exactly what I had asked her not to do, corrected her course and apologized.

I asked one of my friends to tell us about raising children as a single parent--because her husband decided, when she was pregnant with their third child, that he didn't like the responsibility of being a husband and father. He left and is now living a life that makes him happier. But my friend was left to take care of his children. Sometimes life does not work out as the mormnorm dictates.

We talked about loving others, regardless of circumstances or beliefs--the kind of love that means involvement, not lip service. We discussed never saying, "I love this person (or group of people) but..." and instead ending the sentence early and then getting to know that person (or group of people) well enough that the words, "I love you," have meaning.

We talked about how there will always be people who do not endorse our beliefs or the laws embraced by the gospel--and that does not make them our enemies. It just means they believe different things and it's a good idea to hear and talk about different ideas, even when we disagree with them.

We discussed ways to include people, rather than excluding them because they support Obama-care, or are rabid about the right to bear arms. We wondered how to be more supportive of single parents, how to be accepting and welcoming to same-gender couples who might be our neighbors or colleagues, and how to become more involved in their lives.

We stepped outside the box.

Some of the women were obviously uncomfortable, but when I asked them, they all admitted to believing that Christ would not approve of excluding any of his children, and they remembered that the second great commandment is to love thy neighbor.

Two of the women wept through the entire lesson. Later, when I asked them why, both admitted to feeling left out in the church, for different reasons. Both said they hoped the message we discussed would be received. Both admitted that they, themselves, had been judgemental of others and wanted to do better.

I believe there are laws decreed by God. I believe some of them are absolute. I also believe only the Lawgiver, Himself, can judge people who might be transgressing those laws. I cannot. It's not my job. My job is to love. If that was the message sent by that lesson--if that was the message received by those who discussed it, then I believe it was good enough.

Darrin was sad he couldn't come to my class. He said the men's class (discussed the same conference address) was boring and contentious. They had conservative versus liberal debates and it was not fun. Which just goes to show, girls are better than boys ("I'll never grow up, Never grow up, Never, never grow up--Not Me!").

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"It's no good trying to keep up old friendships. It's painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people, and the only thing is to face it." --William Summerset Maugham

Last year I realized a few things:

1. My family has some wonderful people in it--and some less than wonderful. They communicate with me infrequently and are not usually around when I'm in need, but they still consider me an integral part of the family structure, meaning they claim me as family even though I'm not really that important in the scheme of daily life. What that means is that I have a place in my family, such as it is. Not everyone has that. I need to be grateful for what I have.

2. In the past seven years I have met person after person with whom I have fallen in love. I've wished those people were my REAL family. For awhile, as with all friendships, those people were excited to spend time with me, wanted to know about me, and checked in with me when I had difficulty. Some of them paid me the beautiful compliment of saying they considered me a part of their families. But the truth is, we all have our own families and nothing changes that.

3. No matter how much I love someone, no matter how much I would love to spend my life interacting with them, I can't make them want the same thing. Tolkien Boy told me that years ago. Well, not exactly that. He said, "Sam, you can't ask people to feel the same way you do." So...during the ensuing years I have worked very hard to allow everyone I know to feel what they do, regardless of whether or not it's what I want.

When I realized that for much of my life I had been seeking parents and a family who wanted me, I was mortified. I wanted to need no one. I wanted to be independent and self-sufficient. The last thing I wished was to acknowledge I wanted people in my life--permanent people who wanted me back. However, part of being honest with myself meant looking at the things I'd been hiding from--so I did. And in doing so, I identified those people I would keep forever. But I also knew quite a bit about friends, which was what those people were.

Friends are an essential part of life. They keep us from being lonely, expose us to a variety of personalities and opinions, and they help us learn who we are. But friends aren't family. We don't wake up to them, share daily meals with them, or take care of them in the way we care for family members. They offer us sympathy and cards and flowers when sad things happen, but they don't stay with us day after day, watching us dig through the sadness, sometimes with less grace and dignity than we might wish. They don't sit up with us night after night because we can't sleep. They don't go grocery shopping, clean bathrooms, or do laundry with us. Friends are social constructs that have infinite value, but really aren't part of the nuts and bolts of our lives.

Knowing this, I tried to make those people I loved, those who would be my friends, become more than that. I wanted them to have importance and intimacy beyond friendship--and I wanted to give that in return. I wanted a family who was involved with me, as my family never had been. And I pursued this for about six years.

Then one day I came to my senses. Tolkien Boy's words came back to haunt me, loudly. I realized that what I wanted didn't really matter. Reality is reality. The people I love are my friends. I needed to allow and honor that and stop trying to make it something it was not. I suppose Tolkien Boy is also the one who taught me this lesson with the greatest impact. As he goes about the process (one started two years ago) of making his own family, I understand how far removed I am from the real lives of my friends. I really don't know anything about them. For awhile, Tolkien Boy and others shared many details of their lives, with the intent of our getting to know one another. I mistook that intent as a desire to have that interest and intimacy permanently.

I have thought about this a great deal in the last year. I came to the conclusion that it's disrespectful for me to wish for familial relationships with friends. There are many different levels and types of friendships:
1. Passing friends--those who make an impact briefly, who bring us happiness in the moment, but who, for many legitimate reasons, must not be present often, or sometimes, ever again.
2. Good friends--those we turn to when we need to talk. They give good advice, listen with integrity, and genuinely care about our feelings and experiences. They're usually in contact with us frequently throughout the years and know our spouses and children. We keep in touch.
3. Best friends--often these are friendships formed in childhood. These are friends who know the good things and very embarrassing things about us and who continue to choose us over and over again. They're the ones who attend our weddings and help raise our children. We think of them and want to share both good and bad times together. They share their families with one another and sometimes spend extended time together. They might seem like family, but they're not.
4. Lifetime friends--the ones we've known forever in varying degrees of closeness. They'll attend our funerals and reminisce even if they've not seen us for years. They send Christmas cards and sometimes phone on a whim. They're the ones who, when we get together after years of absence, feel close almost immediately and the time we spend together feels joyful. But they're also the ones who are comfortable with limited contact. They stay in touch, but don't really know anything about us.

I didn't want any of those things. I wanted siblings who knew me and parents who were proud of me. People who shared my blood and my life.

I freely admit that I was wrong to seek for that among my friends. I also understand that my reasons, however invalid, were tendered under the best of intentions. This year, finally, I was able to let those needs go. I had to honor the friendships offered me, regardless of the temporary or intermittent nature of those. I needed to let my friends be separate from me, to live lives without my involvement, to be who they are--which did not include being my family members.

So I've worked on that with a fair amount of success. The success might not be apparent in my contact frequency with those involved, but it's becoming more and more clear in the way my heart perceives them. They are my friends. Friends are a very good thing.

I have built my own family. I have a husband and children who love me and wish to be intimately involved in my life. I'm hopeful this will always be so. They belong to me. As for my first family, I no longer worry about being in their lives. I don't have the time or energy to make certain it happens and if they're unwilling to put forth effort to meet me halfway, I'm okay with that.

And what I'm realizing about friendships is that because of their transient natures, they might not last, but there always seems to be another waiting in the wings. One day I'll be ready to embrace that. I'll learn how to mourn losses less deeply, and seek out new people to fill the needs created when one friends becomes unavailable. Or I'll learn to fill those needs through other means. This is what real people do all the time. I'm pretty sure, with a bit of practice, I can do it, too.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Forty-Year-Old Virgin...

...ears, that is. They've never been pierced. I've never wanted them to be. I don't really wear jewelry and the thought of putting holes in my lobes has never appealed to me.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting in a chair with a piercing gun on my earlobe.

I drove home, walked into my house and said to Darrin, "I just had my ears pierced. I don't know why."

And for a day and a half I've been wandering around wondering why I did it. I don't like it. I want to take the earrings out right now. They bug me. And I'm supposed to keep them in, day and night, for more weeks than I want to think about.

But on the long drive to Utah today I figured it out. Darrin was snoring in the passenger seat and I was thinking about a number of things and it dawned on me: I got my ears pierced because I CAN. For the first time in my memory, I'm able to allow someone to get that close to me, to touch my face, my ears, without me panicking or having flashbacks. I don't necessarily want the piercings or the earrings, I just wanted to do something because I'm able to--and I wasn't before now.

I'm not sure what I want to do next. Part of me wants to say, Okay--I did it! and take out the earrings so the holes will heal up. The other part of me wants to keep the piercings as proof that I was able to overcome my fear of touch in that area of my body and allow the close proximity necessary for the piercing to take place.

I can't decide.

In the meantime, I really dislike having things in my earlobes. Sigh...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tomorrow I will go with Darrin to bring Tabitha home. I've missed my daughter.

What I haven't missed is the constant stress of wondering if she's safe, not knowing how to help or support her, and wanting desperately to be released from the pain of daily life with her. When we left Tabitha at the managed care center, I felt as though someone had wrenched my guts out and I thought I might drown in the constant tears. Three months later I resurfaced. I had mourned the temporary loss of my daughter and begun to reassemble my life. I realized at that point that the thought of her coming back any time soon sent me into a panic attack that was completely unmanageable.

Nine months later, knowing she's coming back home, I still experience panic, but it's minor. I'm excited to have her home.

And I'm afraid.

I never want to feel that my life is not my own--that I'm held hostage to Tabitha's mood swings and tantrums and that nothing I do to regain control or prevent being sucked in is effective.

I don't want to wake up in the morning, dreading the day and wanting only to go back to sleep--forever.

I never want to be in a place again where, should my daughter threaten suicide repeatedly, my gut reaction is: Please. Please just do it so I can be released from the constant agony of not knowing if you will.

I don't want to feel that I must shield everyone I love from the nightmare of my life, that there is no help for me, that I am sentenced to sadness and desperation forever.

I believe Tabitha has made progress. I think acknowledging the sexual molestation that occurred when she was a child has helped. I think she will come home and try to make a good life for herself.

However, while Tabitha has been gone, I've made some decisions. Darrin's not thrilled with all of them, but he didn't bear the brunt of Tabitha's behavior the past two years. He just checked out--and I don't blame him at all. I wish I could have done the same, but probably, had I chosen that, Tabitha would not be coming home tomorrow, or ever.

Decision One: I am not Tabitha's therapist. I do not have to make anything better for her. She must do this for herself. She knows I love her and I support her. That has to be enough.

Decision Two: Should Tabitha's behavior begin to escalate to the point where it is clear that nothing I do or say is helpful, I will walk away. She is an adult now. It is her responsibility to find healthy ways to cope with stress. When she is calm again, I will come back.

Decision Three: Tabitha has at least three months of aftercare, during which she will have therapy visits through Skype and the phone. I insist that she carry through with this. There is also and eight-month option. If she needs further help after the three month mark, I will insist on the eight-month option. If she chooses not to take advantage of this (because she is an adult, she does not have to do what I say), I will ask her to find lodging elsewhere. I can never again live the life I had a year ago.

Decision Four: I will continue to make my health and healing a priority--perhaps above everything else. I must carry through with the physical therapy so that my body will again be whole, and I must continue to become emotionally healthy. I cannot allow Tabitha's homecoming to interrupt this process.

While I understand that the above list sounds egocentric, I also do not apologize for this. I nearly lost myself during Tabitha's crisis. Had she remained in our home even one more month, I worry that I might not have recovered.

Therapist asked me if I've been able to work through the trauma of many of the events. I think I have. I don't know that I'm finished. If you are reading this, I will say that what follows might not be something you wish to know, but it is something I wish to write. I suppose that's a warning not to continue if unpleasant details bother you. However, Therapist reminded me that part of healing is acknowledging not only what has happened, but how it has affected me. So the rest of this post will be random thoughts and memories. I'm purging.

After Tabitha left, I decided I needed to clean her room. It was filthy. She's never been good about cleaning it, but when her emotional stamina left, her room became unlivable. I threw away, half-eaten food, used tissues, wrappers of all sorts, used sanitary napkins--I was appalled that she had made many of the messes. There were stacks of paper filled with morbid, twisted poems that made her seem so unbalanced and extreme. I stopped reading and I threw the poems away. Then I came upon the saved stash of bloody tissues used when she was cutting. As is normal for me, I methodically and unemotionally placed the dark red tissues into the trash bag. Then I vacuumed the floor, wiped down the surfaces and left the room.

Later, I cried. What happened to my beautiful Tabitha? I think at that point, even though she had yet to tell me, I knew there was more than she was letting ut know. Her arms, legs, and stomach were laddered with scars. And I didn't know what that meant in terms of who I am. What could cause such an extreme need to cope? How could I, the overprotective mother, not know what happened? I was unable to go into Tabitha's room for more than a week.

I had nightmares. Lots of them. I was driving alone in my car at night. It was calm and quiet. Then I heard gagging noises and Tabitha was in the passenger seat. The seatbelt was twisted about her neck and choking her. I cried out, "Tabitha, take off your seatbelt!" Then I realized she was doing this to herself, carefully clicking the seatbelt tighter and tighter. She would lose consciousness briefly, then tighten the belt again. I woke up.

I was in my bed. Tabitha was at the care center. But I was left with the knowledge that the nightmare wasn't a nightmare at all. It was real. The memories would come flooding back, along with the knowledge that in the moment I felt nothing at all. I hadn't told Tabitha to take off her seatbelt. I changed directions and drove directly to the hospital, certain that at some point Tabitha would lose consciousness for a longer period of time, at which point I could release the seatbelt and she would live. This happened as we parked in the hospital lot. I released the belt and carried my daughter into the emergency room.

Much later, hours and hours later, while we waited to see if a room would be made available for my daughter, Tabitha said quietly, "Mom, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." She was crying. I don't remember moving toward her, but the next moment I was lying next to my daughter in her narrow hospital bed, holding her tightly. I stroked her hair and kissed her. I told her she was beautiful. I talked about all the things that made me love her. She sobbed and so did I. She said, "Mom, there's something wrong with me." I said, "Yes." She said, "I'm not getting better." I nodded. She said, "I don't know what to do." I felt my heart break as I said, "I'm sorry, Tabitha. Neither do I."

I think in that moment, I felt I had completely lost my daughter. I could do nothing more to help her. I had failed.

I remember the feeling of being beaten down, time and time again. I lost my job because I was unable to concentrate. The insurance denied all claims in regards to Tabitha's care and hospitalizations. People who know me would ask about her and when I would tell them of our desperate situation, it was too much. They would express sympathy and quickly close the conversation. My siblings and parents became overwhelmed with health and family problems of their own. Some of my support people outside of my family became busy with their lives and less available to me. I felt abandoned and hopeless.

Today is better. There are still nightmares and minor panic attacks. I have found out which people stick with me even when my life is messy and desperate. But I'm getting the help I need to heal. I feel optimistic while being realistic, which is normal for me. I'm in the process of cleaning up the financial mess created by Tabitha's problems. I no longer feel intense longings to dissociate. I also have to acknowledge that all of the positive movement has come at an incredibly painful price.

I don't know what the future will bring. At some point I will need to finish my emotional healing. Based on past experience, I'm fairly certain what I need for that. I'm also fairly certain that it will never happen. So I'm looking at my current state of being and wondering if it's "good enough." I think, maybe, it is.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." ~Albert Einstein

I can run again. Somehow, because I'm blessed or lucky or whatever, I was paired with a physical therapist who misses nothing. She has found the cause of every problem I've encountered in the past three months, and given me the solution to solve those problems. It's possible that I will love her forever.

When one does not experience pain in a "normal" way, one becomes very judgemental toward people who live with chronic pain. Yes. I'm talking about me. Fortunately, Therapist has guided me through a series of exercises designed by both of us to help me learn to recognize pain naturally. Consequently, I've felt a great deal of it in the past year. More than I wanted to, or wish to experience again. Ever.

However, I've also developed a great deal of empathy for those like my father who live daily with pain. He has done so for most of his life. His journey with the pain of Post-Polio Syndrome began about thirty years ago. I don't know how he does it.

I found myself not wanting to sleep--because sleep was painful physically and emotionally (too many nightmares). And in the morning, I found the pain had worsened to the point that getting out of bed was nauseating. And dressing made me scream (nope, not kidding--my poor, poor family). Coping with the pain sapped me of strength during the day. Simply sitting at my computer to work, or walking to my classroom to accompany was a hideous chore.

I learned that people in pain are not slow or lazy. Yes, movement will help alleviate the pain, but the mental and emotional exhaustion required for that movement is difficult to combat. I learned that I was intolerant on a level I had not known about--and I am humbly repentant today. Any person who has not experienced daily, chronic pain for an extended period of time has no idea what it is like and it would be a very good idea to reserve judgement.

I further learned that pain affects my ability to control my stress levels, panic problems, and overall feelings of wellbeing. I was unable to do the exercises I put in place years ago to help control the dream sequences I went through at night. As a result, I felt myself groping for past coping devices--the unhealthy ones. I wanted to do anything possible to block the pain I was feeling.

Which brings me back to my physical therapist, who added new depth to my current pain and made me want to punch her--except the next day I felt fabulous, so I knew it was working. At this point I still have intermittent pain but it's tolerable, and some of it can be alleviated by massage and stretching.

And I can run again.

I know. I said that all ready. I don't care. I woke up the day after my first run with every muscle aching and barely being able to walk up the stairs...well, barely able to walk. Period. And I didn't care. I understand that pain. It means my muscles are waking up and getting stronger, I will sleep more deeply at night, deal with stress in healthy ways, and become the person I've always been--but whom I've been unable to find for a couple of years.

Also, it's spring. This year I will probably plant things in my garden, and volunteer at our local soup kitchen, and take long walks, and notice everything, because that's what I do.

All this is not to say that I don't still have enormous amounts of crappiness to process. Therapist told me it would be impossible for anyone to go through the things I've experienced in the past two years without feeling it somewhere. I told him I would like to feel it in the Bahamas...preferable for at least two weeks. He didn't laugh. Sometimes Therapist has no sense of humor.