Blueberry

I haven’t been here in a while and want to get back into blogging. I’ve changed the name of my blog because I want it to just be a place to share my words, and not about weight loss or physical health. This is a piece I wrote this past weekend at a women’s writer’s retreat with trusted friends. The visit is fiction, but the memories are real. I miss the Blueberry House every day.

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It is a beautiful sunny July day, and I am standing at the bottom of the final hill on the road that leads to The Blueberry House. The new owners will be taking possession of the place on September first, so I have only this summer, this weekend, to be here one last time. With me are some trusted and beloved friends – Vajranada, who has been here many times having dinner on the back porch with my family and I, and emotionally and spiritually buffering me from the toxicity of my mother. Bonnie, best friend, yoga teacher, and meditation guide. And Tesse, whom I am managing to befriend after months of trying to figure out how to do so without weirding her out with my Aspie bluntness. We are a group of four women and three dogs, standing on the road, breathing in the piney smell, listening to the birds singing and the critters shuffling in the dead leaves.

We ascend the hill, humans trudging, dogs joyfully bounding. I show them the rock where my sister Abigail fell and skinned her knee not once, not twice, but three times. The third time she did it her cry was not of pain but of rage that she had been subjected to this experience yet again. I show them the two halves of a giant rock on either side of the road and tell them about how Abigail and I had supposed that it was a meteor from space. The deer flies and mosquitos are buzzing around our heads and in our ears, which I worry is annoying for my friends but which for me is just another stitch in the quilt of memory that softly enveloped me the day this trip began to be planned.

When we arrive at the top of the hill the tip of the A-frame peeks through the leaves, and there is a familiar tug in my chest as though this place and my heart are two halves of a magnet being drawn together. “You’re home,” it whispers. “You’re where you belong.” Vajra, being Vajra, notices right away that the garden has yielded copious amounts of cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and string beans which will go bad if we don’t eat them. When my parents sold the place, they were done – they didn’t want to be here anymore. To them, this is a place where we had fun, but it’s just a place. Vajra knows they won’t be back so she sets about harvesting the beautiful vegetables, already dreaming about the salads and mosaic scrambled eggs that will spring from her nimble fingers. To Bonnie and Tesse, who are seeing the place for the first time, I tell the story of how my father found this place and the first time I’d seen it.

It was 1977, and my sister and I were 2 and 5 years old. It was spring, and the weather was still cool enough for ski caps outdoors. We were staying at my grandparents’ farm in Henniker NH. Given the difficulty I had with both grandparents, I was stressed and hiding behind the coats in the mud room. The door opened, and even through the coats I felt a blast of air that was too cold to be comfortable, but welcome because it dispersed the cloying odor of my grandmother’s perfume and shitty cooking.

My dad drew the coats aside, looked at me, and said in a stage whisper, “We found a magic place!”

“Narnia?” I whispered back hopefully. I was already obsessed with the C.S. Lewis books and had decided that Aslan was my friend and that he followed me to school every day.

“Not Narnia,” Dad said, “but just as good!”

With that, he bundled Abigail and I into the car, ignoring the protests from my grandmother that she’d already cooked dinner for us, and we were off.

We arrived at the top of Windsor mountain and the A-frame came into view. Once the vehicle stopped, a silence enveloped us. No traffic noise, no rumbling furnace sound, or the sound of my grandmother’s radio station where people always talked, and no one ever sang. I could hear the breeze moving through the grass which hadn’t been mown in long enough that the top of each blade tickled Abigail’s nose with its seeds. I could hear birds. We walked toward the A-frame and went inside. Aside from the wooden skeletons of a couple of walls, there was absolutely nothing there. It was one big empty space that went all the way to the peak of the A. The place smelled like cut wood and mouse poop. You might think I would have been disappointed by the contrast between this place and Narnia, but energetically there was no contrast. I fell in love with the place the moment we arrived, and something inside me knew it would be a safe refuge. I could feel my shoulders drop and my fists relax.

Bonnie and Tesse listen to this description as we walk the rest of the way to the cabin. I point out the wooden board that my dad had balanced between two huge pines and hung two homemade swings from – one with a seat and the other a stick tied to a rope. I explain how you could climb the rock next to one of the trees holding the “Tarzan swing” as we called it, and jump, feeling your body move through the air in an arc until you let go and dropped to the ground just before crashing into the other tree. I describe how exhilarating that had been, and I can see in their eyes that they understand. I show them where the space trolley had begun and where it had ended.

We walk across the front yard from there and move past the garage to an ancient green bus. The bus was there when my family arrived, and the previous owners had used it as a makeshift stable for their horses. It was empty inside, the steering wheel the only thing left as all the seats had been removed. As we duck to enter, I tell Bonnie and Tesse about how we shoveled all the horse manure out of the bus and replaced it with sand, so we could play with all our sand toys in there even when it rained. As they are looking around, another memory comes to me.

It was 1988 and Abigail was 13 and I was16. She was brown and the bottoms of her feet were calloused from running around barefoot. I was pasty white and soft, as I had spent most of the summer on the inpatient psych unit of Norwood Hospital. We decided to go into the bus and play in the sand for old time’s sake. Once there we discovered a bunch of little playmobile toys, little men and women dressed as police officers and firemen and nurses and construction workers. In our family they were called “Wolfgang Toys” since they had been given to us many years ago by a German colleague of my dad’s.

“What was it like?” Abigail asked. “Did they shock your brain like in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’?”

“Nah,” I said. “They didn’t even make me take many drugs. It was mostly just boring. They’re a bunch of retards too. They’d ask me to tell them ‘what was bothering me’ and if I gave them a fuckin’ honest answer they’d say I was lying. So, after a while I just made shit up. The fun part was trying to shock them.”

“How’d you do that?” She asked.

“Like just acting as weird as you could think of. Like shouting ‘anal warts’ at the top of your lungs right behind a nurse’s back, or, like, slicing your arm right in front of people.”

Abigail took a few minutes to digest this. As the kid saddled with the “good child” label she had it worse than me in a lot of ways. Not only did her behavior have to be perfect enough to satisfy my mother, but it had to be perfect enough to counteract all my crazy. My mom had to be able to hold her up and say “See? This one proves I’m a good mother.” I could see that Abigail was hearing what I was saying the way I’d hoped she would – as a description of how one could use behavior to create a feeling of freedom, even on a locked psych ward.

“What could we do?” She wondered, and I understood what she was asking. How can I get a taste of that freedom? Right here and right now? So, I took a lime green Bic lighter out of my pocket, picked up one of the Wolfgang Toys, and melted its legs off. The smell was horrific and inhaling the chemical fumes probably didn’t do either of us any good. But for the next several minutes we took turns incinerating the little plastic men and women until we had nothing but a puddle of grayish melted plastic and a bus full of smoke. Wordlessly, we buried the evidence under the sand and quickly exited the bus.

By the time I am finished relaying that story, Tesse is already digging around looking for the remnants of the little plastic men, and before long her searching fingers unearth an object that looks like a grey mutant hockey puck with little flecks of primary colors. “You can keep it if you want,” I tell her, laughing. “It might inspire your inner rebel.” Tesse instead opts to leave it in the bus but uncovered, imagining the two little boys who will be here finding it and trying to figure out what the hell it is.

From there we walk to the A-frame itself, stopping to peek into the garage which never housed a car but was used for dad’s lawnmowers, tools, and workbench. I described the clubhouse Abigail and I had built in the back of it, with an old holey sheet with Keep Out” printed with black sharpie. I told them about all our secret places – the treehouse, the little cave in the woods, the falling down shelter even deeper in the woods that we had made curtains for. The whole place had been safe, but when we wanted an extra layer of safety, we could retreat to one of those places and get lost in one fantasy game or another.

Entering the house itself still feels like crossing over into Narnia. The walls are covered with Abigail’s and my artwork spanning the entirety of the time we owned the place. They’re displayed in no particular order, an intricate charcoal drawing done in high school art class next to a drawing of Aslan I made in kindergarten. There is a dining room table, a couch, and some bookshelves in the corner with a single mattress and pillow for lounging and reading. We called it The Cozy Nook. There is a sink with a pump for washing dishes, which is in a little room that used to be a bedroom for Abigail and me when we were younger.

One can no longer see all the way to the top of the A, because my father built in a second floor to the house, which one can enter by climbing a steep set of steps which are half ladder. The first half of the bedroom was built separately from the second half, so for a while the second floor also had a balcony with a railing, and one could look down on those in the living room from the bedroom. I tell Bonnie and Tesse about a game we used to play with a small tin saucepan with a handle and a rope. In the game, we were rescuing all our stuffed animals from a fire, lowering each in the pan with the rope. One person was up, and one was down, receiving the animals. When everyone was saved, we’d switch places and start again. When dad extended the floor the rest of the way across the space, we couldn’t play that game anymore, but we always found new games.

Bonnie and Tesse climb up and I follow, showing them the double bed where mom and dad had slept. Above the bed are criss crossing strings, and atop the string lattice is a tarp.

“What’s that for?” Bonnie asks.

“To protect them from bat poop.” I reply. “They didn’t mind the bats themselves flying around but didn’t want to be pooped on as they slept.”

I tell them about how Abigail and I used to pretend we were selling each other my mom’s clothes and dressed up in them. There is also a coffee table and a couch. The coffee table reminds me of another story. Tesse and Bonnie look at each other and sit on the couch, having gotten used to my interludes during this tour.

It was 1980 and Abigail and I were 5 and 8. When we arrived that weekend, we saw that the place had been broken into. It was the only time anyone had stolen anything. My father called the police, and they said they’d be up “at some point” during the day. So, we went about our business, playing outside, eating homemade blueberry muffins, feasting ourselves on the smell of the air and the sight of so many shades of green. My sister’s new thing was to take every stitch of clothing off and run around naked, which my parents had no problem with. That was also the summer she started insisting my father leave her a circle of unmown grass that she could lie in and hunt for bugs.

I was playing upstairs in my parents’ bedroom and decided that it would be fun to run across the room and slide on my butt across the coffee table. The first few times, it was indeed fun. The last time, mid slide, I felt a sharp foreign object imbed itself in my left butt cheek. I shrieked and descended the ladder as quickly as my insulted gluteus maximus would allow.

“What happened?” My mother asked.

“I got a splinter in my fanny!” I yelled. She called my dad in to try and get it out.

This is what the two policemen saw when they arrived at our property: A buck naked 5 year old apparently dead and half concealed in a patch of tall grass, and an 8 year old lying face down on the couch with her pants down, screaming bloody murder as her father bent over her doing God knows what with a metal implement. One of the cops ran over to see if Abigail was OK, while the other one slammed into the cabin with his hand on the butt of his gun.

It took my parents a bit to get them settled down, but after that their visit was pretty cool. We got to sit in their cop car and turn the siren on, and after they’d finished assessing the damage and taken inventory of what had been stolen, they stayed for turkey sandwiches and blueberry buckle. Would have been a happy ending if it weren’t for the fact that my dad was unable to remove the damned splinter, and I had to ride home like that and have a doctor remove it after giving me Novocain.

We descend the ladder just as Vajra clomps onto the front porch with a large enough harvest of veggies basketed in her shirt that we can’t see the bottom half of her face. We open the door for her, and she sashays through the living room to the kitchen area, chirping about the amazing salad she is going to make. She has fresh dill and other herbs to make homemade dressing. She is joyfully reminiscing about her macrobiotic days, and I realize that the magic of The Blueberry House can touch anyone – not just those who grew up in its sacred protective vibe.

Bonnie and Tesse and I continue forward and out onto the back porch, where we all sit down facing The Big Rock – a behemoth that my sister and I climbed many times and even picnicked on once or twice. There is no longer a porch swing there but being there still reminds me of the happiest memory of all.

It was 1980, or 1982, or 1993. It is an amalgam of every warm summer evening I spent on the porch. It was after dinner, and the sun was thinking about setting. My parents were washing dishes. My sister was maybe playing outside among the devil’s paintbrush, or maybe dressing her barbies in her room, or maybe on the porch with me alternately using her crayons to color with and sniffing them.

I, having procured my favorite book at the time, maybe an Encyclopedia Brown, maybe a Nancy Drew, maybe the 14th reading of the Narnia books, lay down on the porch swing, shifting the cushions so that one was behind my head on the armrest and the other alongside my body. I rested one foot on the opposite armrest and used the other toe to gently push off from the swing frame and rock me gently back and forth as the evening breeze caresses me.

On cue, as they did every evening, the hermit thrushes began their exquisitely beautiful song. One long note followed by several short ones that almost sound like yodeling. First just one or two birds, but soon there was an exhilarating chorus of them, trilling back and forth to one another sharing the story of their day. I lay my book on my chest and listened to them with my eyes closed, partly to keep from crying, and partly to be able to enjoy their symphony without any visual distraction. Each note seemed to reach into my heart and tug at it, asking it to re-open and take in the love of God. I felt grief with the knowledge that I couldn’t risk doing that yet, but it was overridden by the joy and sacredness of the moment. Being in my safe happy place, knowing that for this moment, this evening, life was good.

When I opened my eyes, I saw the dragonflies. Dozens of them, maybe hundreds. All flying around looking for a mate. Their wings caught the light of the setting sun and seemed to sparkle. It was nearly like watching the fireflies that would come out after the sun had completed his evening performance. The sparkling apparitions would meet one another, and their two bodies would meld, and soon the air was filled with couples, engaging in the act of procreation without a care in the world. I watched them, being careful to move the swing just enough to be rocked but not enough to make a sound, feeling like I was observing a secret sacred rite which demanded silence and reverence.

I look over at Bonnie and Tesse and they both have their eyes closed, and Bonnie is making her “prayer face” with her hands upturned and the glow of spiritual connection playing across her features. Vajra has silently joined us and is smiling at two grosbeaks darting on and off the bird feeder. Tomorrow I will bring them the rest of the way up the hill to the Back Pasture, and show them where I used to climb my favorite tree and observe what felt like the entire world, and the flat rock where we had picnics, and the spot where we once saw two grey wolves. For now, though, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude that my beloved friends are here, and that I have been able to share the magic of The Blueberry House with them, and that I can see the understanding and peace and joy on their faces. I scoot forward to hold all of their hands at once, unmindful of the grateful tears running down my cheeks, and just say “thank you.”

I live in Maine now, but I visit Keene, NH once a month to lead Kirtan with my friend Vajranada. Driving to Keene from Lewiston, I pass through Antrim. I have not been able to drive past the turn off to Lovern’s Mill Road without tears. I always slow my car, reach my hand toward the road, and whisper “I love you” as I drive by, blotting my eyes on my sleeve before speeding up again.

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Strength

In January I did a 3 week cleanse which involved giving up sugar, gluten, caffeine, dairy, and alcohol. Since I’ve been sober 1046 days the alcohol part wasn’t much of a change. The rest was more difficult. Still, I made it through the 21 days and lost 10 pounds. A few weeks later I started working with a personal trainer at Primal Conditioning. I have been working out with her twice a week since then.

It has got me thinking about the word “strength.” It’s a word that can be used in so many different contexts. I am working out with weights because I want my muscles to get stronger. This will increase my metabolism, and hopefully prevent injuries at work transferring people. I’ve made slow steady progress; it would be faster if my diet was better.

The reason my diet sucks is because I don’t know how to cook. I mean, I can read, which means I can read a recipe and sort of follow the directions, but there is more to cooking than that. I have a hard time understanding a lot of the directions, since they aren’t really written in the extreme concrete way my mind needs. For example, how small are the pieces when they say “diced?” What does “season to taste” mean? How can you know how much seasoning you will like until you taste it, and how can you taste it before you’ve finished cooking it? Which setting on my electric stove is “low heat” and which one is “medium heat?” Most people who have tried to teach me to cook are good enough at it that they can just eye ball and estimate things, and have a hard time when I ask for everything to be exactly measured. Or they say “use a package” of something and when I go to the store there are three different sized packages.

Cooking is a dumb thing to be afraid of in the grand scheme of things, but when I think about it, the greater percentage of fears are irrational; if only because they involve thinking you know what the future will bring when you don’t. Knowing that you’re being irrational doesn’t tend to stop you from being afraid. Doing something anyway when you’re afraid to do it is another kind of strength.  It’s kind of funny when I think about it, some of the fears I have faced, and I’m still avoiding the whole cooking thing. If I want to fulfill my goal of being healthier though, it’s the next thing to face.

Strength is also standing up for what you believe when it’s not the popular opinion. 50 presumably gay people were killed in Orlando a few weeks ago. I say presumably because being in a gay club doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gay. Stereotyping people is the whole problem. There are some people who are in my gay circle of online friends who turned around and made a bunch of angry stereotypical comments about Muslims after the shooting. When I pointed out that they were engaging in the same kind of behavior we as gay people have been asking the straight world not to engage in for years, people were annoyed with me and pointed out ways in which it was “different.” Here is what I think: Strength does not lie in getting revenge. Or even getting justice, which is just the more socially acceptable word. It doesn’t lie in shooting all of the people who have been defined as “the bad guys” or building some ridiculous wall around the country to keep them from getting in.

I saw Sweet Honey in the Rock perform a few weeks after 9/11, and they had written a song in response to it about peace. To introduce the song, Ysaye Barnwell, one of the strongest women I have ever met, said to the audience: “What if we had responded to that with love?” I was sitting there thinking that it was one of the most brilliant things I’d ever heard, and the woman next to me snorted and said: “How can you respond with love to people who are willing to die to show you how much they hate you?” I didn’t say anything to her, but I was thinking: “How can you not?” It’s the people who are that angry, which really means they are that scared, who need our love and compassion the most. Whether their reasons for hating us are reality-based or not (and I think a lot more of it is reality-based than the George W. Bushes and the Donald Trumps would lead us to believe), it’s still they way they feel. Think about that that lady said: “People who are willing to die to how you how much they hate you.” What cure is there for that but love and compassion?

Strength is embracing, forgiving, and loving the person who is showing you that they hate you, whether you choose to define them as your enemy or not, and it takes just as much strength if you are the person who is that angry, and underneath that, that scared, and if someone responds to you with love, to accept that love. Being a child of the 80’s I grew up with Dr. Seuss’s “Bread and Butter Battle” question always in the back of my mind: Who will drop the bomb first? Even though everyone knows that we’d all end up incinerated no matter who started it? All the powers that be have been measuring our country’s strength by who has the most money, the most power, the tallest buildings, the most weapons…basically the biggest dick, if we are being honest. What none of them seem to realize is that power and strength are actually opposites.

Earlier today in my writing group I wrote about some things from the past about which I still have a lot of old feelings of shame and doubt and anger. I steeled myself for people’s responses. I didn’t think they would come out and say I was an idiot for doing those things, or writing about them. Or that I was a bad person. But I was afraid I would see it in their eyes. I was shocked when I was told that I was brave, wise, and strong, and that my compassion for my family came through in my writing. Holy shit. It got me thinking about how ingrained early childhood messages are and how damned hard it is to get them out of your head, and to stop expecting to hear them from other people. If I haven’t completely mastered that after years of therapy, how can I expect a suicide bomber who has been indoctrinated from infancy (and probably has no access to therapy) to do it? That person isn’t going to respond to me with love unless I provide an example. If I demonstrate my strength by laying down my sword and shield and showing that person my heart, offering them love and compassion, maybe he or she will learn.

I might not ever be able to do more than one push-up, but I can, without minimizing the suffering of the victims and their right to their own healing process, tell the Omar Mateens of the world:  I see your pain and fear. I love you. I forgive you.

World Peace

 

Evolution

I haven’t posted in a while, as I’ve been going through kind of a dark patch. Not that uncommon for when the days are getting really short and it’s gotten colder. I read a lot of blogs where people complain about how unhappy they are and how much their life sucks. I’m not judging people for doing that. People can write whatever they want on a blog, and people can choose to read it or not read it. I choose to be positive on this blog for two reasons. One, because I believe strongly in the law of attraction. What you focus on, you invite more of. I want to invite more joy and positive emotion and experience into my life. Two, because if anyone does read my words I want them to feel better afterward, not worse.

This past summer was my 11th at Kindred Spirits Camp, and this year my friend Lisa said something that really stuck with me. She said “all judgment is violence.” It made me think for weeks. I’ve learned a lot about communication and being respectful and how to interact with other human beings without being hurtful, even if I’ve allowed myself to become upset with something they’ve said or done. I’ve gotten a lot better at it. In my head though, I can still be a judgmental bitch. Even though I don’t say the mean thought aloud to the person, or say it about the person behind their back, the thoughts still come. I’m not proud of it. I’d like to be able to say that I don’t think mean things about other people, but it would be dishonest. I started thinking about what I could do to try to break that habit. In the end, I decided to get new tattoos, created by the amazing Carolyn Hawkins of the Shelton Tattoo Studio who also did my Ganesha tattoo.

Tattoos

The left hand has the sanskrit word for non-violence: Ahimsa. The right hand has the sanskrit word for compassion: Karuna. I figured if I had a reminder to be compassionate towards others, and not to send them the negative vibes of my own judgmental thoughts, i might be less likely to do so. I knew it wouldn’t change overnight, and it hasn’t, but it has raised my awareness of it. When I find myself thinking a judgmental thought about someone, I notice my tattoos and I make myself say something kind about them in my head, kind of an antidote. It’s making a difference.

This is a time of year when a lot of people make New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve done it myself. Pretty much every year it involves issues around food; losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier. This year isn’t any different, as my weight is at an all time high and my food addiction is out of control. My good friend and Kirtan partner Vajranada read me an amazing essay on New Year’s Day. I won’t copy the whole thing here because I don’t know who to credit, but two things stuck out for me about it: One, they suggested changing your concept from “resolution” to “evolution.” Two, they suggested changing it from “discipline” to “blissipline.” Which isn’t all that different from the point I was trying to make in my original post on this blog. Find something that is blissful, and you will keep doing it. It won’t seem like a chore.

There’s a woman named Patricia Moreno who was with us at Soul Camp for the two years it has been happening. She is the creator of IntenSati – a workout that combines affirmations with exercising your body. The first year she did this I stayed away, because I thought the “inten” part was short for “intense,” and I figured it was another one of those aerobics classes where I’d stick out as the only fat out of shape person there. The second year IntenSati was an all camp event, so I got to see what it was like. Turns out, the “inten” part stands for “intention,” and “sati” means mindfulness. That’s what I get for making assumptions! It’s totally doable for just about anyone. The past few days I have been listening in on Patricia’s daily “scopes” (referring to an app called “Periscope” which is an offshoot of Twitter, where you can broadcast a live video feed and people who are your friends on there get an alert and can interact with you). You never know when she’s going to do it, you hear the little chirping alert and there she is, walking on a treadmill, or eating butternut squash and purple cabbage, and offering us her words of wisdom for the day. I love listening in on these short little moments. I always leave feeling hopeful and excited and juiced to change my life for the better. And I love how she calls us “kitty cats.” 🙂

As a night shifter, I try to sleep from 8am to 4pm. Today I woke up at 1:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep and I was very grumpy about it. I got up and made my bed, and turned my phone on, and there she was! It was like the universe woke me up on purpose, saying “I know you’d like more sleep, but there’s a message you need to hear!” Patricia was talking about losing weight and how hard it is, and how it’s her opinion that it’s not a physical issue at all – it’s a spiritual issue. It all comes down to a lack of self-love. It’s not that I’ve never heard anyone say that before, but it just didn’t hit me the right way, or I wasn’t ready to hear it, or something. Today it brought me right back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this post. It’s not enough to try not to judge other people. I need to stop being so mean to myself in my head, because every time I put myself down, I’m inviting more self-loathing and shame. Every time I feel self-loathing or shame, I’m going to behave in unhealthy ways. Which will make me negatively judge myself more. I’ve been going about this backward. I can’t wait until I’m finally satisfied with my appearance to be nice to myself. I need to love myself now, overweight and out of shape as I am, and show myself the same exuberant love and encouragement that Patricia shows us in her scopes. I need to practice “ahimsa” and “karuna” on myself. By the time Patricia was done talking and eating her squash, my mood had done a 180.

Also at Soul Camp, we were given information on a 21 day cleanse. I decided on January 1st to do it. It’s called the Clean Cleanse, and it involves giving up alcohol, caffeine, sugar, flour, and dairy. It seemed like a lot, especially the coffee for a night shifter, but I figured I could do it for 3 weeks. I’m on the 6th day, and it’s actually not as bad as I thought it would be. It feels like a way of showing compassion and love to my body. When the 21 days are up I plan to stay off sugar and flour, as I know that’s what my food addictions are. I already don’t drink. I will decide about caffeine and dairy when I see how my body feels without them.

I’m also trying to show myself compassion and love by trying again to stop biting my nails and cuticles. I’m really bad with that – more often than not having a bunch of band-aids on my fingers. I’m taking a new approach though. Instead of putting something bad-tasting on my fingers, I am intentionally treating my hands with compassion and love. Several times a day I rub Working Hands lotion into each fingertip, while thinking about how grateful I am for my hands. They play guitar and piano. They care for me, and my kittens, and my patients at work. They’re really one of the most useful body parts we have.

So there you have it. My new year’s “evolution” is to practice self-love and compassion. If that brings about the changes in my behavior that I want it to, great. If it’s a slow process with ups and downs and successful and less successful days, that doesn’t make me any less deserving of love. I’m going to keep listening to what Patricia has to say, and other people I have met who have shown me that there’s a different way to live that is totally beyond this diet or that exercise plan.

How are you going to show yourself love and compassion today?

 

 

 

Patience Lost

(A short story written in the second person, by yours truly.)

You don’t realize when you wake up that it isn’t going to be another hum-drum-can’t-remember-what-you-had-for-breakfast day. You hit your snooze alarm with the same sharp annoyed motion. You drag yourself out of bed and into the bathroom, and stub your toe on the same chair leg because your clueless inconsiderate husband hasn’t pushed his chair in again. You experience the same stab of irritation as usual when you’re sitting on the toilet peeing and realize too late he has left you 2 squares of toilet paper. You burn your mouth on the same too-strong-slightly-burned coffee he has left for you every morning, and you experience the same rising anxiety trying to find your car keys quickly enough that you’ll escape rush hour traffic on the way to work. Your stomach has the same dropping sensation when you realize you haven’t remembered to fill the gas tank and you’ll have to stop on your way to work to avoid being stranded by the side of the road watching one oblivious motorist after another whiz by you talking on their cell phone and not caring about your predicament. No, the day is unfolding in just about the same way as usual, and you have no sense that all of this is leading somewhere very different than where it led yesterday.

You drive through town, grinding your teeth every time you have to stop for a pedestrian or risk a $200 ticket from one of the fat lackadaisical police officers that sit in their cars all morning eating donuts, wasting gas by running their AC and waiting to ruin someone’s day. At the end of Main Street you pull into the gas station, already mentally rehearsing the speech you will give your boss about why you’re late when you get to work. You decide to go into the convenience store for some coffee that doesn’t taste like the sludge you had at home, and you’re so busy tweaking that speech to your boss that you don’t notice how quiet it is. Your ears are trained to pick up sounds, so at first you don’t register the lack of them in the store. But after a while you look up and realize that every person in the store is staring at something and not moving a muscle.

Slowly, your cup of hazelnut coffee with Splenda and extra cream forgotten in your hand, you turn in the direction everyone is looking. At the counter is a man with a gun. He doesn’t stand out in any way. His hair is cut short and neatly styled. His clothes, which consist of a polo shirt and jeans, are clean. His battered Nikes are the only thing about him that seem less that put together. He looks like a college kid, out for a cup of coffee to help him get through his classes without falling asleep and drooling on his books. His face, however, does not match the rest of him. His features are arranged in an expression of abject terror. Even in this completely unexpected and shocking situation you find yourself in, your mind pauses to reflect on this. Why would the man with the gun be the one who looks afraid? The girl at the register looks scared too, but not to the degree that the young gunman does. You would have expected him to look angry, or triumphant, or maybe even bored if this isn’t his first convenience store holdup. But he is clearly terrified. 

You are so intrigued by this discrepancy between reality and your expectations, you begin slowly to approach. You become able to hear the man’s words.

“Just give me the money! It’s an emergency! I’ve never done anything like this before but there’s no other way!” the man is talking in a low urgent voice to the girl. The girl has showed the man what she has in her register, and clearly the man isn’t satisfied with this. “It isn’t enough! We need a lot more money than that!”

“I’m sorry sir we aren’t allowed to keep that much cash in the registers. Because of stuff like this I guess,” the girl looks at the man pleadingly.

Suddenly, you no longer feel intrigued by the situation. Suddenly you feel your patience drain out of you like dirty bathwater. You realize that you still have the cup of coffee in your hand. It is steaming up into your face and smells delicious. The vacuum left in your psyche after patience is gone is filled quickly with rage. You’ve experienced something like it while driving before, but this is magnified like those images of bugs looked at under a microscope. You can see every facet of this rage in your mind. In one smooth motion, you run toward the gunman and thrust your right hand forward. The coffee flies out of the cup in a shiny brown arc and hits the man squarely on the right side of his face. He has been so busy arguing with the woman he didn’t even register your approach, and as the hot liquid hits his face he screams and drops the gun on the floor.

Not yet satisfied that this man understands your fury, you then launch your body at him. You don’t care that you weigh 118 pounds and he looks to weigh nearly 200. You hit him with the force of every crappy thing that has happened to you every day of your adult life. The two of you drop to the floor and you feel your hands circle around his neck which is slick with sweat. You open your mouth and scream right into his face.

“You are making me late for work!!!”

Later, after the cops have arrived and questioned you, after the man has been taken away, after some of the people in the store have called you a hero, after you’ve called your boss and been given the day off, it occurs to you that maybe you should feel scared. But you’re surprised to discover that all you feel is relief, and the absence of the low dose of annoyance and anxiety that has been running through your emotional veins for years. 

Gratefully, you decide to spend the afternoon at Bloomingdale’s.

Ambivalence

It’s 72 decrees outside today here in Keene, NH. On November 5th. While that might be nice for people, myself included, I can’t completely enjoy it. Even as I’m riding my big wheel with just a long-sleeved t-shirt on, and feeling the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I am also aware of how fundamentally *wrong* it is. It was never this warm this time of year when I was growing up. Yet there are still so many people with their heads in the sand about global warming.

I went to have a massage today, which was awesome. I know it’s helping me, but it’s another ambivalent experience because I know that being there will involve a great deal of physical and emotional pain. At first it was just physical, but for the last month or so I’ve ended up bawling on the table every time. I store emotion in my muscles, which I imagine is why I need massage in the first place.

That kind of brings me to the last ambivalence. What will it be like for me when I finally become healed from the past? My compatriots in AA tend to be scared of step 5, the one where you have to tell someone else all the screwed up things you did in your life. I have no fear of that whatsoever, because I’m used to defining myself by what’s “wrong” with me. I’m used to people seeing me as crazy, or odd, or other such things. That’s not to say people don’t like me; but I always get the feeling that they like me despite the things that are “wrong” with me, and I’m sure I perpetuate that with my behavior and beliefs about myself.

Me, I’m scared of steps 6 and 7. Asking my higher power to remove my defects of character. Who will I be without my character defects? Not that I believe you get on your knees and ask God to remove your defects and are made into a perfect person – POOF – just like that. I know that isn’t how it works. But I am ambivalent about even asking. I’m ambivalent about giving up my character defects, because without them I feel like I wouldn’t know who I am. Even shifting my paradigm from “I’m a total fuck up who can pass for a semi-normal good person” to “I’m an essentially good person who makes mistakes and has some issues” feels scary.

I don’t even really know what I’m afraid of. Where the ambivalence comes from. I guess change has just always been hard for me. The unfamiliar always feels scary to me. So, because I know that not all change is bad, and because I trust the healing process, I will keep showing up at meetings. Keep showing up at massage sessions no matter how snotty I get. Keep going to breathwork weekends. It could be that the person I become could be both amazing for me and helpful to others. That’d be pretty awesome. 🙂

New Life

November is National Blog Posting Month, and several of my friends are challenging themselves to post every day for the month of November. I thought I would do my best to participate, even though I am starting on November 2nd.

Today I got to visit my future kittens! The litter has four black kittens and one tiger kitten, although one of the black kittens clearly has some stripes kind of hidden underneath the black fur. I had been awake for 24 hours, smelled like God knows what from my nursing home job, and had dumped water down my leg in the car, but the owner of Mama Roxie was still kind enough to let me stop by.

I think the babies liked me better because I was stinky. They all climbed on me and smelled me, and I snuggled each and every one of them before settling on the little tiger and the fluffiest black kitten. We don’t know their genders yet so I will hold off on choosing names. I have to wait another month to bring them home. It was a very very happy start to my November.

I am still sad about losing my other cats. I will always love them and remember them. Susie is still alive and hopefully settling into her new home with someone who can afford her fancy digestive enzymes and meds. Georgie will always be my angel kitty. I’m just one of those people who is more easily comforted and healed with other furbabies in my life. Not replacements – just love-receivers. 🙂

11.2.15 (03) 11.2.15 (20) 11.2.15 (06) 11.2.15 (17)

Perfectomundo

I’ve always been somewhat OCD. A lot of people throw that term around, sometimes joking, sometimes more serious. They may or may not actually qualify for the official diagnosis. I want to be sure not to come across as belittling the diagnosis or those who suffer from it, because I know from my time in psychiatric hospitals as a teen and young adult how painful it is. Not to mention crippling as it interferes so much with life. The people with OCD I met were desperately unhappy, longing to be free of their obsessions and subsequent compulsions and not finding a way to this freedom. It interfered with every aspect of their lives, from eating and sleeping, to being able to work, to their relationships.
I do think that there are members of my extended family who would have been diagnosed with OCD had they ever sought help for their symptoms. I heard stories about famy members having to turn the light switch on and off several times, and going back to check the stove or the locks on the doors again and again. I have never been diagnosed with OCD and don’t think that I have enough of the diagnostic criteria, but I do have some of the symptoms. As a child I had several rituals that made me feel safe, and I had an obsession with symmetry and even numbers. Not only did I have to step over cracks in the side walk, but they had to be stepped over with my left foot (I had an idea that my left side was “good” and my right side was “bad”), and there had to be an even number of steps taken before the next crack. At times I was able to ignore the cracks, especially if I was walking with another person, but at other times it made the walk to and from school longer. I was unable to tolerate asymmetry and would always fix crooked pictures. If I had a bag of M&Ms there had to be an even number of each color and if there wasn’t, I would give the “odd” candies to my sister or someone else. Despite my love of chocolate, I would even throw the odd candies away if no one was there to give them to.

If I saw a floor or ceiling with a pattern of squares, I had to count them and make sure there was an even number. If the number was odd but still symmetrical, like a square of 25 smaller squares, it was still OK. If not, I was made uncomfortable and was distracted by it until I could leave the room. Shutter slats, stairs, I counted everything. Thank God my childhood home staircase had 12 stairs and then 4 more around the corner, both even numbers. My childhood kitchen had wallpaper with a rooster pattern on it, and there was a place next to the kitchen table where the wallpaper pieces were misaligned. It bothered me every time I sat at the table. The pattern was a series of green dots, and because they weren’t lined up they actually looked like a snake. I didn’t like to sit by the snake.
My body in space also had to be even. If I turned around in a circle, I became “twisted” and consequently I had to turn back around the other way. I insisted that my parents give me two kisses at night instead of one, so it would be even. I had to put my left shoe and sock on before the right. I had two pillows and had to alternate each night so they would be used the same number of times. I had an elaborate ritual of saying goodnight to all my stuffed animals which had to be completed every night in the exact same way. If for some reason I slept at another house away from them, I still had to say goodnight to them in my head, and I had to hold my breath so they would “hear” me. If I breathed before the ritual was completed, I had to start over. I was *twenty-one* years old when I forced myself to stop doing this. If I saw someone with one sleeve rolled up or one pant leg rolled up I would insist that they roll it down or roll the other one up so they would be even. You get the idea.
In July of 2013 I went to see an expert who diagnosed me as being on the mild end of the Autism spectrum. Most people are surprised when I share that piece of information, mostly because I have learned over time how to behave like an NT (neurotypical person). I dislike eye contact, but I force myself to do it at work or in social situations where I’m concerned someone could be offended. The diagnosis explained some of the OCD-like behaviors though, as well as some of my intolerance of both sound and texture. I can’t tolerate repetitive sound at all. Ticking clocks, dripping faucets, the beeping alarms at work. Fluorescent lights bother me both with the light itself and the buzzing noise they make which no one else seems to hear. Most of my texture intolerance is in my mouth. Foods that are slimy like oysters and clams, or okra, I can’t do. Also if a food has too many different textures at once. I also comfort myself with rocking, or getting lost in patterns.
One of the things I loved as a kid was kaleidoscopes. A room could be full of crooked pictures and uneven numbers of things, and if I looked at it through a kaleidoscope everything became a perfect symmetrical design. I kind of forgot about that for a while, and then I read a book called “Bee Season” by Myla Goldberg. There is one character in the book who made that same discovery as a child – that looking through a kaleidoscope alleviated her anxiety. She called it the world of Perfectomundo. When I read that book (and saw the movie made from it starring Richard Gere, which was very good but not as good as the book) I remembered my childhood kaleidoscope and how happy and safe and comforted it made me feel. Perfectomundo was a GREAT word to describe the perfectly symmetrical world one could see through the tiny little tube of mirrors.
True to my recent form, I decided to see if there were kaleidoscopes for adults, and sure enough, there are. I guess they can be a collector’s item because some of the ones I found online are stunningly beautiful and cost hundreds of dollars. They come in all sizes, from pocket-sized to giant ones the size of a telescope that one would have to hold with two hands. Some of them have colored glass or other things inside to form the designs, but I wanted one that just had mirrors. That way the perfection is being created by the world itself and not by the material inside the kaleidoscope. I settled on a small one that was 5 inches long and had beautiful patterns with inlaid wood. It came in a wooden box. I wish I could take a picture of the Perfectomundo I see through it to post here, but alas, you’re going to have to take my word for it that it is beautiful and symmetrical and deeply satisfying.