Monday, September 28, 2009

Matters of life and death

Maelstrom #3 -Kauai, Hawaii
Originally uploaded by PatrickSmithPhotography

My kabbalistic healer is one of the wisest people I know. Not because of degrees, training, ego or intellect. But because of her ability to re-frame the ordinary in extraordinary ways.

In our session today, I wanted to understand the connection between what has happened when I've walked near death with another and how this has propelled me into Hesed of Yesod territory.
She explained to me that death/dying is a very honest place. When one is approaching death, it asks you to no longer lie to yourself. Being close to others who are getting ready to die, brings us vividly into our relationship with the ways we distort life and death.

In Hesed of Yesod territory, the parent uses the child to create a life. When the child is a certain way, then the parent can be a certain way.
For me, if I could remain small, invisible, not express disappointment or anger or sadness, then my father and mother could remain in their bubble of not feeling, not dealing, not experiencing their own pain. The "poisoned ground" of our childhood is that place in which we perceive that if we don't adjust, if we don't shape-shift for our parents, then we're gonna die. In my case, I didn't want to feel how displeased my parents were with me, I didn't want to feel their disappointment and my own. "I can't bear _____, so I'll cut off life here."

This feeling of not being able to bear the disappointment of another turned me into a person who lived by the motto: "Kill or be killed". Especially during my drinking days. If I had a hint that you were displeased with me in any way, I bailed and cut you off before you did it to me. Re-locating, changing phone numbers, eventually email addresses were all ways that I cut off life. I perceived that if I didn't, I would not survive.

My healer spoke today of the notion that in being whole, life and death are always entwined. Saying "YES" to one's feelings, needs may result in many "NO's" for other things. With a birth comes a death. Each cannot exist without the other. My healer went on to say this: "The life/death you can't bear is the one you have to kill."   I paused deeply on the other end of the phone as I took in the magnitude of this statement. I operated like this for nearly my entire life. Fear and terror permeated my every cell, coursing through my veins. I thought I would die to feel what was actually in my being, so I "killed" it off. I understand now why alcohol was so so seductive and magical. It was the potion that could kill off anything. At least this was the illusion. And when the alcohol was no longer the weapon of choice,  it was workaholism. Or exercise. Or cleaning. Or mindless TV. Or web-surfing. Or busying. Or stuffing. Or denying.
My healer further explained that operating like this exiled places in me. I deemed it so that those places were not allowed to exist.

So walking close to death with someone, I realize, is a very painful reminder about how I cut off and killed off life in all forms. This may be why the subject of death transports me back like a time machine into Hesed of Yesod. I was a little girl who lived hypervigilantly in a war zone where I thought I would die any minute.

And it is even more interesting that this discussion would be on the heels of doing 9th step amends work this weekend. I re-visited those people and situations which I formerly killed off to save myself. To be awake to my regrets and resentments and disappointments and to want to address and take ownership of my fear-based actions is yet another plea from my very soul longing to be whole. To fully embrace both life and death.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Over a cup of joe ...

Coffee made with Love
Originally uploaded by d1andonlykar1

It is a rare and cherished thing for me to have a weekend that is plans-free. A Saturday in which I could move in whatever direction I wanted, including not moving at all.

After taking a long, luxurious bath in the mid-afternoon I decided that I would take my squeaky-clean self to my favorite coffeeshop and enjoy the company of others incognito behind a newspaper. As I found a spot for myself close to the window of the cafe, my eyes were met by those of a man, roughly in his 60's. There was a sadness in them that felt familiar to me. I asked him how he was doing and he said "Not so good." I knew that this was a door he swung partially open in hopes to have connection. This very "manly man" (barrel-chested, full white beard) told me how he was missing his wife today, who died in January of a rare leukemia. His eyes welled up and he tried to brush quickly past what was happening in front of this stranger at the table next to him. All I said was "I understand." And he proceeded to tell me all about the procedures, their hopes when she went into remission, her rapid deterioration. He wondered if there was an end to grief and I shared with him that I felt like it was a continuous cycle that waxed and waned, drawing upon my own experiences of loss. He told me about her oil paintings and how he was going to make t-shirts with one of the images from his favorite painting of hers and give them out to all who knew her as Christmas presents this year. He beamed with love as he shared this. He spoke of how his missing her hits him at the oddest of times, with no rhyme or reason. Like in the frozen foods aisle of the grocery store. And how the tears just come.

He went on to tell me a host of other things too and I had this sense that he hadn't spoke to anyone in awhile and was thankful to have a set of ears to listen. And it was just as good for me. I deeply appreciated the company and the intimate conversation. I no longer had a need to get lost in a newspaper. Or to forget my own bouts of loneliness. I am always amazed at what is possible when we are awake to the presence of another human being. And equally disheartened at all the near-misses of ignoring the countless others.

Funny thing is this: I almost by-passed him because of first impressions. I saw the "McCain" presidential button on his baseball cap and immediately judged him for his open Republican-ness and assumed we'd have nothing to say to one another. It turns out this guy and I are alumni of the same university. And he swims at the pool on campus where I now teach. And he's interested in metaphysics and Buddhism.

And, more importantly, he was looking for company so that he would not feel his aloneness today. Me too.

Taming our voice

Angry kitty
Originally uploaded by Tambako the Jaguar

This morning's AA mtg discussion topic was about restraint of pen and tongue and, specifically, about how to respond and not react to people and situations.

People's shares on this topic ranged from those who held everything in to those who spewed venom as they "drank at" others. When alcohol was not in my system, I barricaded everything inside of me behind several gates with bolts. As I got good and juiced, the dam burst and it took 1 of 2 forms: crying or raging. If I had an issue with someone, it would surface under the influence of alcohol. And not only did it rear its ugly head, but it would be in the form of ceaseless ranting -- as reported to me by a number of now ex-friends. Primarily though, I was a crying drunk. Slobbering and pathetic, wallowing in deep self-loathing and pity. I am told that I frequently cried about losing people and would repeatedly tell them that I loved them and that they were my bestest friend in the world. This was my abandonment stuff through and through. Alcohol left us without any filter. It was truth serum. And it was poisonous. It is the damage from this behavior that is often the reason we need to make amends.

And even after getting sober, understanding that alcohol was only a symptom of a larger problem, this behavior may continue until we begin to work the steps. I'm just learning now how invaluable this work truly is in terms of my being able to find my "right voice".

When I put down the bottle, my voice shriveled up and returned to its former state from the years of childhood conditioning. Say things that are pleasing. Say things that will endear people to you. Don't say "no". Speak when spoken to. Don't be a "pot stirrer". These are all the spoken and unspoken messages I learned from my parents. Holding back my voice created a build-up of venom that ate away my insides. My mind was full of razors. And eventually, this crap leaked out. In the form of passive-aggressiveness. In sarcasm. In control-freakishness. In witholding. In digs. In eventually snapping at someone or something seemingly out of the blue. I was a rubber-band tightly wound, unable to hold its shape and then shooting in every direction in its unmanageable elasticity.

In Step 1 we admit to our powerlessness and our unmanageability. At 1st, this is a surrender to alcohol. Over time, you can put any defect or unhealthy trait in the place of the word alcohol. And in acknowledging this powerlessness, we actually become empowered, re-gain control.

In today's meeting, many people spoke about finding their own voice in sobriety. The one that speaks the truth of ourselves. The one that leads us to do the next right thing. My sponsor refers to this as our "God-voice". My kabbalistic healer might call this our "Future Self". It is the voice that has both kindness and directness. It is the voice that does not aim to harm but rather seeks to heal. This is the voice I'm beginning to listen to and the one I want to speak out into the world.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Amending regrets

A Sleeping Cherub in Babyland
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca

Amends: something given or done to make up for harm that one has caused or done.

Regrets: a troubled feeling or remorse over something one has done or left undone.

Last evening, as I took my 1st steps toward 9th step work, I learned a very important distinction from my sponsor between what are amends versus what are regrets. The list I presented before her consisted of situations that were primarily regrets. She helped me to understand how our own remorseful feelings about situations can lead us to believe that we were the sole cause of harm and therefore it must be something that we need to make an amends for. And the reality is, that we DID have a role to play when we experience regret about a situation AND the other half of the equation is that the other person also played a role.

I had several friends ( including couples) who were mutual friends of both my ex and I. After our break-up, some friends gravitated toward my ex and some toward me. In a few instances, friends that gravitated toward my ex had made attempts, in minor ways, to contact me. I made some contact as well. And then, it no longer felt safe. I didn't want to take a chance that what i shared with them would possibly be passed on to my ex. And I ended the contacts without any warning, without any notice. And I didn't return some phone calls or text messages. And over time, there was no contact made by either party. In allowing these situations to be in my awareness, I am experiencing regrets for my actions as well as the losses. At the same time, I need to be gentle with myself about "who I was" when I made those decisions and how safety was crucial for me, given that I had left an unsafe relationship.

The amending of these regrets can take a variety of forms. In some cases, it may just be to "hold" the other person(s) in prayer and myself and ask for the ability to "let go" of the regret. In other cases, it may be writing a letter to simply reach out and to say "I'm thinking of you. It's been a long time since we've been in touch" - without any expectation of forgiveness, a reply or reuniting.

Those situations which most definitely require making an amends are ones which no longer have a comfortable place in my being. Their life inside of me has expired and the space they are taking up is interfering with my integrity. These may be direct and in person and some will be a written letter that is mailed. This is about my cleaning up my side of the street and being clear. It is about giving an eviction notice to what has been kept as a dirty secret inside of my being.

And I realize too that the pull and tug inside of me that I can no longer live with that moves me toward making an amends is also filled with regret. It is the recognition that I did something to harm another and in the harboring of it inside of me, I also harmed myself.

This morning I did the 3rd step prayer as a way to "seal" my commitment toward taking the steps to make these amends, to address these regrets. I already feel the weight being lifted.

"God, I offer myself to Thee - to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always."

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Another Purple Flower Droste
Originally uploaded by Josh Sommers

As I have let myself drop further and further into feeling what is underneath several layers of sorrow and guilt which had surfaced in my supervision group Monday, I experienced some powerful insights today sitting on a bench to have lunch while taking my break from a training class.

A question posed about my client who's been diagnosed with terminal cancer actually turns out to be an equally significant question for me: "Who will catch me?" This question originated in a supervision group a few months back when my client was expressing a lot of anxiety about literally falling. In the moment of recalling this, I was transported to my earliest experiences in life -- my entry into the world in a place of the unknown was probably the hugest experience of "falling", then into the laps of strangers who would adopt me, then trying to desperately find somewhere or someone to connect with in my chaotic home. I experienced terror, danger, isolation and abandonment and there was no one available to catch me, no safety net.

In kabbalistic healing, there is a territory called Hesed of Yesod. This terrain is treaded upon when we've gone through enough shatterings and are willing to sip the "poison" of what we've been raised in and know it's not going to kill us. It is our willingness to meet life as it is.

The experience of being close to death when doing kabbalistic healing with a friend's uncle brought me directly into Hesed of Yesod once before. That time around, my friend's uncle was struggling with "letting go" and was resisting leaving this earth. This triggered my entry into the "nega" (dark side) of my experience of abandonment. Both her uncle and I were having parallel experiences of our deep fear of the unknown. I recalled vividly today that I often ruminated what it would be like to die as a child. Sometimes I'd awake in the middle of the night with my heart pounding and in a cold sweat thinking about what happens when you die. For me, it felt very final. A darkness that was beyond terrifying and simply incomprehensible for this little brain.

It is no longer a mystery why I would be visiting Hesed of Yesod land given that I am in relationship to a client who is approaching death. Yet, this go-round is not nearly as intense or debilitating. I could feel being knocked off my center, shaky, yet having enough of myself to remain upright. And it is my client's reference to her own deceased father and what upsets her as she thinks about him in heaven with his eyes closed that peels away another layer for me. I spent all of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood trying to please my father in hopes that I would feel and know his love. And his eyes were closed. He didn't see me. He could only see the bottles in front of his face as he poured the liquid down his throat.   It was too much for him to bear looking into my pleading eyes.

And the spiraling continues.

The layers of guilt. This is the moment that I become acutely aware about why I have been stalled at the 9th step of my AA program. This is the step about making direct amends. And what I realize first is this: my guilt about telling my client 4 years ago after her mastectomy that she was safe, that the cancer was gone and now having it return with enough force to kill her revealed to me a number of other situations in which I've made "false promises". These are the very situations for which I've needed to make amends and could not bring them fully into my consciousness. The most painful of these is the promise I made to my former partner's father on his deathbed -- that he need not worry about his daughter after he crossed over, as I would ensure to take care of her. And then 4 years later, I left her. And I have never really allowed for the full expression of remorse or taking ownership for my part in this situation because I could always justify my actions as a response to her substance abuse and associated behaviors. It is no coincidence that I made arrangements to do this very step with my sponsor this week.

"Who will catch me?" is not about the reliance of leaning on a human being in my life but rather it is about my own trustworthiness and my faith. It is about being in connection (Yesod) and trusting my own inner wisdom (Tiferet). It is about my relationship with my Higher Power/G-d. This is where my healing work lies. Then there is no longer a question, but rather a statement: "I am caught."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fragile: Handle with care

Originally uploaded by Tom Leuntjens Photography

Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.
So it's fairly simple to cut right through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess.

And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just
Breakable, breakable, breakable
girls and boys.
~ Ingrid Michaelson

We always, always get exactly what we need, especially if we are open and willing to receive. This has been my experience today, in the largest of ways.

As I've begun to explore the allowance of messiness and to diligently pursue rigorous honesty, I was given a prime opportunity to do just that in my kabbalistic supervision group today. I was presenting the case about my client who's been diagnosed with terminal cancer. And, in the manner that I've become accustomed to throughout most of my life, I skirted around the "pink elephant" in the room, until it was gently brought to my attention by those who know me well. And, I was aware of my anxiousness and my sadness about this case after I exited the shower this morning and put it away in another compartment in my being so that I didn't have to let it interfere with my presentation of this case. So I could be "together". So I wouldn't appear overly emotional. The pink elephant was my guilt and sorrow over the fact that I had assured this client after her mastectomy 4 years ago, that she was now safe. That the cancer was removed. And I was reminded today that I am not omnipotent and do not have that power. To really feel the depth of this and allow these feelings to be openly expressed, to have a place to live is powerful and healing and it is also raw and vulnerable and leaves me feeling naked in a way that I haven't before.

Hiding has been the defense mechanism that I have operated from for the better portion of my life. My father could not tolerate any expression of disappointment, pouting, sadness and especially not crying. In trying to understand his world view at that time from the place of a Korean war vet who engaged in unmentionable acts, it is my best guess that any display of emotion by a child that smelled of vulnerability or helplessness would be a trigger for him. Something he could not bear because of what he held inside. This was his own version of hiding.

Hiding is a form of pretending, yet another way in which I've been dishonest -- with myself first and with others. It was a way that I didn't give myself permission to feel what I really felt because it wasn't safe. Hiding also does not allow for an intimate connection with others. It is about not letting another really see me. To be invited in to know the real me.

My sponsor speaks of the "squidgies" felt in her body that she calls her "truth-tellers". When I do pause to really listen to my body, these signs are there. To be impeccable in following them will always point me in the direction of my truth.

At tonight's AA meeting, we focused on Step 9 in terms of the amends that we need to make to ourselves first before anyone else we harmed. This could not have been more appropriate, given what arose for me today.

The conversations I have in my head when I've recognized I'm hiding or when I only peek out have been damaging over time. The words I use to berate myself are not kind. I have intimidated myself into remaining in hiding. And then beat myself up for not speaking up, speaking out. And the illusion is that this is being in control. The reality is that it is the fear of losing control that drives the hiding. When I give up the need to be in control, to really allow myself to feel my powerlessness, to show my vulnerability, I am more here and more in relationship with others. And I am no longer hiding.

To make room for my feelings, regardless of how I perceive they will be received, is to honor myself. To be in integrity. To embrace my humanness. To be a living amends for me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In the land of misfits ...

We're Snow Angels!!
Originally uploaded by GioLovesYou

The speaker at tonight's AA meeting very painstakingly recalled all of the ways in which she didn't "fit" or have a sense of belonging when she drank. This is a very common thread joining alcoholics, as it is replayed over and over again during stories shared in meetings.

Perhaps this is why the famous quote from Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true" is engraved on every AA anniversary coin.

Outside of the rooms, we are in the land of misfits ... not unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer or the elf Herbie who wants to be a dentist in the well-known Christmas special that's been aired since I was a child. The speaker tonight recalled how all she wanted to do was ballet and because of a variety of circumstances in her home, it never came to fruition. And she jumped from 1 thing to another, still feeling like a mishapen puzzle piece. Until she was introduced to alcohol. And then she could turn into anything she had desired to be.

This is the illusion of alcohol. That we are more confident. That we are funny. That we are attractive. The life of the party. Cunning, baffling, powerful. It convinces us that we are all these things and more.

I thought all of these things came true when I poured that magical substance down my throat and felt its spell. I suddenly had self-esteem. I was desirable. I was hysterically funny and everyone wanted to be around me. Lies, Lies, Lies. This is what alcohol will lead you to believe. And then the spell wears off. And you keep chasing those feelings. And you begin to sink. To drown. And then you drink so you don't have to feel as bad as you do. And to not see how ugly you've become. And to not let yourself know that people are now laughing AT you, not with you. It's a vicious cycle.

People shared tonight the myriad of ways that they didn't fit in. Being adopted. Being too short. Being too fat. Being abused. Being gay. Not smart enough. Not good enough. Not enough period.

I have written about many of the ways I didn't fit in. And also how I separated myself. My misfitness was also an illusion, a story I told myself and then convinced myself of. I've learned in my kabbalistic healing that, particularly if our history is dysfunctional which is most often the case for alcoholics, we don't have enough of ourselves. So we shape-shift and change form in order to try to fit, to be accepted, to conform.

And then the miracle happens. Rudolph became the lead reindeer on Santa's sleigh because of his bright snout. Herbie tamed the hairy beast that terrorized everyone by repairing his aching tooth. And one by one, we alcoholics experienced divine intervention that led us through the doors of AA. And when we look around the room and we share our stories of experience, strength and hope, we feel a sense of belonging. We are no longer an outcast, a misfit toy. Someone opens their mouth and what we hear is an echo of our own voice, our own story.

Each time I enter the rooms of AA, there is a chair with my name on it. And I know I belong just as much as the person next to me. In AA, I am coming home to me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flying solo

Snow Goose Subject Separation
Originally uploaded by Fort Photo

I found myself tonight face-to-face with some of the ways I've separated myself from others and how this is connected to the judgment I have about my geographical and adopted roots.

The person who was to accompany me to AA this evening had a last minute change in plans and directed me to the meeting where she got sober. So I ventured solo to a town that is much like the one I was raised in. Family-owned restaurants, corner bars, flannel shirts, pepsi-in-hand, marlboro-smokin', on-the-verge- of- being- redneck territory. I grabbed a bite to eat in a small pizza joint and the stares of the mostly white-haired heads fell upon me. Funny thing is, I look like a lot of the guys in these parts with my baseball cap, tattooed arms, chain wallet and sneakers, only I have boobs poking out and this perhaps is puzzling. And I realize while sitting there trying to settle in with my slices that many of the faces in this tiny establishment look much like the ones I grew up with and there is this familiar old feeling inside of me about wanting to deny that this is where I come from, so to speak, and wanting to be completely disconnected from them all at the same time. I listen with judgment to the conversations around me and there's a woman in the booth in front of me talking about how the butter is on sale at the Giant supermarket and how she had a coupon for another 20 cents off and I hear my mother's voice in hers.

I was raised in a Pennsylvania Dutch and Hungarian home, much more strongly influenced by the Dutch half. I knew on some level, at quite a young age, that I was "not of these people". This was validated when I found out that I was adopted and I also felt that I was "different" having the sub-conscious awareness that I was attracted to girls over boys. And perhaps even greater than these factors was that I didn't want to be identified with the lower middle class kinds of people that I was surrounded by, which includes all of my immediate and extended family members.

My father was the embodiment of Archie Bunker - live and in person. He worked at the steel mill and made his way up the ranks to become a safety foreman. He oversaw a part of the factory that was comprised of primarily Hispanic and other minority workers. His running commentary of racial slurs that he shouted at the TV included : "Spics" and "Gooks" and "Jig-a-boos" and hearing them made my stomach turn into knots. When we were old enough to begin thinking about boyfriends, my sister & I were told things like: "If you ever bring one of them (black, Hispanic or any other minority) home, they'll be lookin down the barrel of my rifle."

I befriended the only black girl in my elementary school. One afternoon the boys were calling her the very same kinds of derogatory names as I'd heard come out of my father's mouth when we were playing on the jungle gym. I fought with several of those boys and kicked one who ran crying to the teacher. I was the one sent to the principal's office where I was given a proper "paddling". I was a disgrace to my parents, especially to my father when he found out I was defending one of those "niggers". It was this event that began my slow and steady movement, separating from not only my family but the association with this small farming town.

As I began to visit the homes of friends in junior high and high school, I soaked up any form of culture other than my own like a sponge. To find out there were other things to eat outside of the meat and potatoes variety was an eye opener. I was envious of the clothes and sneakers other kids were sporting and was very embarassed by my out-dated hand-me-downs from cousins or the handsewn outfits my grammy made for me or the K-mart knock-offs that just didn't cut it. Finding odd jobs of every kind and then landing a job at McDonald's enabled me to scrape money together for the occasional "cool" purchase, like REAL painters pants and Adidas sneakers so I could find ways of fitting in and not standing out as one of those kids from the "sticks".

I was the first person in my entire extended family to attend college. I knew from a fairly early age that being able to do this was my ticket out of my crazy home and upward to a better life for myself. I had high hopes for myself when I arrived there on a partial field hockey scholarship and over time, I just was high. And very drunk. And not too hopeful. I was terrified after graduation thinking about the idea of moving back to the torture chamber of my parents' home. This was my worst nightmare.

Moving into the "big city" and physically away from my family was met with fearfulness and resistance by my parents who had very rigid ideas about what life was like in an urban setting not to mention that I was going against the "rules" of what all of my cousins and my siblings did, which is that you stayed close to the flock. I realize now that this was partly rebellion and partly fear coupled with a strong desire to flee from anything remotely connected to this aspect of my life. I literally wanted to delete it. Having lived here for 23 years now, when asked where I'm from, I often have to stop and think before replying.

Fast-forward to the AA meeting tonight. As I walk into the musty church basement, I am surrounded by folks who look very much like those I would associate with my hometown. Everyone is white. Most have smoked their last cigarette before coming inside. The chairperson acknowledges that while this is a Big Book meeting, he apologizes ahead of time for his poor reading skills. He is not alone and there are many others who stumble phonetically to get through the sentences. There is clearly a woman who is mentally ill and symptomatic. Half-way through the meeting, a man stumbles into the back where I am seated and he clearly smells both of alcohol and several days' body odor. He is carrying 2 backpacks and appears to be living out of them. And we continue to read, most folks not skipping a beat. And then the floor is opened up for sharing and what comes out of the mouths of this motley crew is gem after gem of wisdom. Years of working solid programs. A deep and rich understanding of the Big Book.

And I am seated among them. I am one of them. I am of them. And I am no longer feeling my separation.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Came to believe ...

Originally uploaded by Dude Crush

There are 2 things in this life that are certain:
1) Change is inevitable.
2) Each of us will die someday.

And for some of us, we will be given a window of time in which we may experience deep life-altering changes as we approach our impending death.

A cancer diagnosis can bring everything in one's world to a screeching halt; what was previously urgent or important no longer matters. Questions arise that we may have previously ignored or dismissed as "I don't need to think about that."  The reputation of cancer is that it's like having a visit from a relative who wreaks havoc on everything they touch and you hope and pray they never return again.

For my former partner's father, his pancreatic cancer diagnosis was a gateway to having a relationship with God. And it deepened his connections with his loved ones. It brought about a painful life-in-review experience that ultimately led to his ability to make peace with his mistakes and to let go.

For a client of mine, a woman in her late 40's with a developmental disability,  medical tests this week uncovered the recurrence of her breast cancer, which has now metasticized to her other breast, her bones and her brain. She has been given 1-6 months to live. There will be no chemotherapy.

For her, the intellectual comprehension of what a cancer diagnosis means is minimal at best and yet, the exploration with her today showed that there too is an opportunity for her to experience a spiritual awakening in the face of death.

At the suggestion of one of the members of last night's women's meeting who happens to be an oncology nurse practitioner, I began session with my client today by asking her if she knew what was happening to her body. She knew she had x-rays and there were dots and she didn't know much more than that. I spoke with her about what happened with her body 4 years ago and asked if she could remember what happened to her right breast. She could state that it was breast cancer and when asked what they did in the hospital about the cancer, she replied: "they took it out". I shared with her that the dots on her x-rays meant that the cancer was making another visit and that I didn't know all the places it went. But what I did know was that she wouldn't have any large needles or machines to deal with. I could see her visible anxiousness during this part of the talk, so I moved onto a different yet related topic.

I asked her if she had been sad or crying, because her staff had reported that this had increased for her. And she told me that she was missing her father (he has been deceased for about 12 yrs). I asked her if she knew where he was and she replied and pointed to the ceiling: "Heaven." I asked her if she knew how he got there and she began to cry and said "He died." And I asked what she remembered about that and she spoke of being at his funeral and how it was scary. And when asked about what was scary, she said: "Because his eyes were closed." And I validated how this must've been scary to see him like that; I then wondered aloud with her how she liked remembering him and she could say "He smiled". And that led to us talking about what it might be like for him in heaven and she got teary again and said "I'm scared to go to heaven" and when I asked her what made it scary, she said that she didn't want to see her father with his eyes closed. And I said aloud: "I think he might be smiling. You know nobody ever comes back here, so maybe it's an okay place."

Feeling the heaviness of this discussion and knowing that she responds well to humor, I said to her: "How do you think he got to heaven ... do you think he took a bus?" A crack  of a smile widened on her face. "Or a rollercoaster?" which made her laugh and tell me I was silly. "Or maybe he flew?" which brought on more laughter. I posed aloud: "It might not be so bad going there, what do you think?" And she just gazed at me, quite deeply and tenderly yet not uttering any response. It was in this moment that there was a shift, an unspoken understanding.

The last thing that came up in our time together today was that she had been feeling scared at night and crying more then. When asked if she talked to anyone, she just shook her head. Across the room, I kept being drawn to a large teddybear on her dresser. So in this moment, I brought it over and sat him next to her. I told her that it helps me when I'm sad or scared to hug something in bed and I had wondered if she might try that with this teddy? I moved it just a little bit closer to her and encouraged her to try it out. And when she hugged him, she just stayed there with her head resting on his shoulder. And we sat in stillness. "Grace" had entered this space between us. There was no need to talk any more about anything else today.

While cancer is an unwelcome guest, it sometimes arrives to your house with hidden gifts. The time today with my client was one such treasure. I shared in a meeting tonight that amid the heaviness and sadness that I experienced about my client's terminal prognosis, I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to walk this road with her -- present and sober. And to be held by the power of the rooms. And of my kabbalistic community.  And to be led to the next right action.

Today, I came to believe ...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rigorous Honesty

Originally uploaded by kennymuz

If you search for tenderness
it isn't hard to find.
You can have the love you need to live.
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind.
It always seems to be so hard to give.

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

~ Billy Joel

In last night's meeting, the speaker very humbly spoke about her struggle with the concept of Higher Power/ God when she got sober and that the word she substituted in was "Truth". This was primarily because her dishonesty and constant telling of lies was what she needed to work on in order to have sober behavior.

Many members last night identified with dishonesty as both a significant part of their drinking behavior and even as they were beginning to get sober. It is emphasized to us as we read "How it works" from the Big Book at the start of every meeting that this is a program of Rigorous Honesty.

I have struggled with honesty for the majority of my life. Growing up in a home that required me to hold its dirty little secrets when I was out in the world was the start of a long trail of deceipt that I'd walk. My first big lie was in 6th grade when other kids shared about the fantastic things they did over the summer and I had spent mine not doing anything that was noteworthy or that I could be proud of. I think that I may have been old enough at this point that I was likely mowing the lawn and helping my mother put laundry on the line. Instead, when it's my turn to share, I tell my entire class that I was in California on a kid's game show ( that was well-known at that time) and won $500. I instantly became the talk of the class. The truth was that I watched that kids game show on TV and had wished I was on it because I knew many of the answers to the questions.

At a parent-teacher conference just a few weeks later, my teacher boasted to my mother about how proud she was of me doing so well on the game show, leaving my mother completely confused and infuriated with me. I remember her yelling very loudly at me the entire way home in the car about how I embarassed her. I sobbed and sobbed about how we don't do anything like the other kids get to do and this sent her into a bigger tyrade of how I don't know how lucky I am, blah blah blah ...

Getting caught red-handed didn't stop me from lying. It only propelled me to be more clever and more selective and less public about what I told. I was now a junior high school girl who had private singing lessons, dance lessons and my own solo recital. This is what I shared with a small group of girls I wanted to impress who were 1 year older than me. The truth was that I did take ballet for a few years when I was a little girl and didn't like it but loved the idea of doing "real" dancing that I watched on TV. And I constantly sang to myself in a small tape recorder, imagining being on the radio. I would get so lost in music and I could really feel the emotions of the people singing and identify with them. My rich fantasy life was what saved me during that time so that I wouldn't be anhilated by my father's path of self-destruction in our home.

In high school, the lies worsened and I'm aware that they increased in direct proportion to the chaos in my home and in relationship to the plummeting of my self-esteem and sense of worth. The deceipt at this time period centered around things that would draw attention to me for the purposes of feeling sorry for me. Hitting my knees with hammers in my basement and creating stories about the causes. Pretending I had asthma. Having allergies to everything, you name it. All to test if people cared about me. There was no sense of love or caring that I could visibly see anywhere around me and particularly not in my house.

As my drinking took off in college, so did the exaggerations, the tall tales, the bold-faced lies. The web of deceit was so expansive that I could not begin to recount what was what. I had to tell lies to cover up lies and then there were back-up lies. It is hard to imagine that anyone ever took me seriously about anything. The only huge truth I told to a few people was about being raped and getting pregnant. My roommates found me amid the remanants of the act so there was no covering it up. And I knew enough to ask some friends for help so that I could be supported when I had my abortion.
And outside of that event, there was not much else in my life that was very honest.

And as I deteriorated in alcohol and drugs, the lies were compounded. They took the form of excuses mostly. There were always health reasons for why I couldn't perform my work duties. And other more important things I was doing to explain my absences or to account for my whereabouts. It surprises me to this day that I was never fired from a job. Probably because I left them just in time, when I could tell I was walking on thin ice and it was about to break beneath me. Alcoholics speak frequently of geographic changes with the hopes of getting better, drinking less, living right. I can most definitely relate to that. During the height of my drinking, I moved 6 times within a 5 year period.

I've written about my history of stealing which was the more overt aspect of my dishonest behavior. To me, it is the covert acts of deception that are insidious and can be glossed over and which are at the core of my character defects and at the heart of the work of being rigorously honest.

Omissions. Leaving a few small details out that I don't think really matter. Which might be displeasing or hurt the other person. After all, they won't know. Leaving information out is dishonest. It is not giving the other person the full story, the complete picture. I've been criticized in my present life sometimes for giving too much detail and yet this is the work for me of not omitting.

Excuses. Providing a reason or explanation that is a partial truth or not the truth at all in order to save face or to protect another's feelings or to not take ownership for my own behavior. In my drinking days and during the time period I was with my former partner, I was the wizard of excuse-making. All sizes. Many of my excuses were about covering up something I didn't want you to see about me. Because then you would think differently of me, not like me as much or make a judgment about me. And then the excuses were about covering up what was happening in my relationship with my partner and so that no one would see the ugliness underneath the pretty picture that was painted for show. These excuses were really about not letting others know that I wasn't in control. And that I was enabling her. And that I had given my power away and was participating in an abusive situation. The excuses were driven by an overwhelming sense of shame.

Fear of abandonment. To tell you the full truth of me would reveal things that were not attractive. Downright hideous. And once you really saw me, you would not only not like me but you would leave me. And I couldn't bear that. Sometimes I'd leave you first, without a trace and no return phone calls because I had to protect myself from being hurt by you. During my drinking career, I dropped people like flies before they could ever squash me. And then people with more self-esteem dumped me because they didn't deserve to be treated like shit. I totally get it now.
Fear of abandonment is my most core wounding resulting in the character defect of dishonesty -- with myself and with others. It is the area of my life that I have devoted the greatest time in terms of healing and self-reflection during this past year.

And then there's the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive living in our own skin.   Pretending:  to not be who I really am or live the way I really want to live or to know what I don't really know or to feel what I'm not really feeling.   Rationalization:   to smoothe over and make okay what is really not okay.  It's a story to tell myself in order to protect and soothe myself from feeling reality.    And of course the infamous Denial.  To block out of my mind anything that might be too hard to take in or too painful to feel.   Because doing so means that I have to do something.   I have to take an action.   I have to admit to the truth.

This is the work of rigorous honesty. Today, at least 98% of the time I can safely attest, you get ALL of me. No holding back. No excuses. No omissions. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not being honest is not an option any longer.  I need to have my insides match my outsides.   And to be authentic.   To live with integrity.   And as I dig deeper, I get more honest. I'm not done shoveling, so bear with me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dear dad ...

It's been 16 years since I last saw you.    You were finishing a jigsaw puzzle in the livingroom and didn't want to join us at Musikfest.    Mom made it a point to show me an article in the newspaper about a high school friend's wedding and you got irritated and told her that  "Kerry's not interested in that stuff".    I think that was your way of letting me know that you knew I was gay and the fact that it would be the last time we saw one another before you quietly checked out of life on earth a few days later.
Since you crossed over to the other side,  I've been doing a lot of mending and healing from the turmoil of our relationship.   I am just now coming to fully understand and to have compassion toward you and how torturous it must have been for you to endure the pain you carried while you were here.    I am aware that you were very broken.   I do not say this to make a judgment about your being in need of repair but rather as a statement of fact - the reality of what was.    
I spoke in great detail about you and your relationships with your parents and siblings in a healing session that I had a few days ago.  I remember how harsh your parents were and how grammy would tell you to tell us kids to shut up.   And that you should control us better.   It made me think of how she must've spoken to you when you were a child.   Her words and her tone cut the air like a sharp knife.  You must have been stabbed over and over.   I remember how gentle you were with your sister.   It touches me today because I know that you probably protected her because I'm aware that pappy beat her.   And I am guessing that he beat you.   Once in awhile when you were drunk,   you'd make a statement to us about  "how good we had it".    I never knew what you were referring to,  but now I believe it was about the fact that you didn't hit us and that we didn't have to endure what you did from your father.   My healer believes that you used alcohol to numb yourself so that you wouldn't act out in the ways that your father did.   It enabled you to protect yourself from hurting us physically.   My healer said that this was your attempt at wholeness.  
I used to question a lot about why you adopted me and my sister. I never felt like you wanted children or could even be bothered with us. Fatherhood didn't seem like a natural fit for you. It felt awkward. Though when our brother was born, you did seem happy for a little while. That faded pretty quickly. I am learning from my kabbalistic healer that when our parents have not healed their own wounds and they carry on the pain from their parents that they use us to try to complete themselves. To fill a void. It feels like that is true for you and mom and perhaps that is the reason you adopted me. You tried to teach me to fish but got so frustrated because I would cast my line into the weeds and it didn't turn out to be as peaceful as you had hoped it would be. I felt your frustration and impatience and irritation all the time. I know now that it wasn't personal. The whole being a father was not what you thought it would be. And you were so wounded by your own father that it just spilled over into everything.
For most of my childhood,  I was terrified by you.   Let me re-phrase that:   I was terrified by your behavior.   You were unpredictable.   Your raging scared me the most.   Especially when you gave that certain look and raised your hand.   It was the potential threat of what you could do that really scared me.   And when you yelled at mom in the middle of the night in a drunken stupor.   I spent countless nights with my pillow over my ears in an attempt to drown you out.  
And then when I got older,   I was so angry at you.   Vengeful.   I hated you.   I wished you dead.  I realize today that all of these expressions of feeling toward you boiled down to one thing:   I wanted to feel your love.   I wanted to know I was loved by you.   I can say today that you loved me in the only ways you knew how and yet this may always be an unanswered question for me until we meet again on the other side.

I spoke to mom about your time in the Korean war while we were in Hawaii taking a walk on the beach and I asked her if she knew what you had witnessed because it was obvious that being there had a significant impact on you,  especially when you would freak out about any TV program related to war being on.   She told me how you witnessed your sergeant,  who was your closest friend,   throw himself into the moving blades of a helicopter.   I cannot even fathom having witnessed this let alone having this image plague my mind on a regular basis.   As a fellow alcoholic,   I surely know that I'd want to drink myself into oblivion just to make that picture in my head disappear.   Sometimes when you were drunk you would make mention out loud that "we had no idea what you saw over there"  or  "what was done to women and children".    I know dad that you probably saw and perhaps did horrific things in the name of fighting for your country and that you were not honored when you returned or considered a "hero".   It was an invisible war.  And you too made every attempt,  day by day,  to slowly disappear.    No one knew yet about PTSD and it is so apparent to me today that you were riddled with anxiety and the only way you knew how to deal with the terror you felt inside was to anesthetize yourself with booze.   I too know about the seductive power of alcohol and what we believe it's capable of.
When you did a brief stint in a rehab,   I was really proud of you.   And I'm aware you had no choice and that your doctor sent you there or the booze would kill you.   And it eventually did. 
When we had family therapy group sessions there,   I wanted my siblings to come and it was too scary for them.   I was pretty new to sobriety myself and my therapist encouraged me to see you because it would be healing for me.    I remember reading you the letter about the impact of your drinking and I could barely speak through all of my sobbing.   I don't know if I had ever before sobbed that hard in my life.   I have a few times since then and, ironically,  they involved my own pain associated with you.    I always wondered if my reading that letter was helpful to you or if you were even able to take it in.   I don't remember you having much of a reaction and perhaps you were dissociated or detached or just felt too much shame.    I am aware that mom and my siblings hid the fact that you picked up booze again about a month or two after you got out of the rehab and I kept cheering you on and when I found this out,  I felt duped.  Betrayed.  I get it now why you couldn't say anything when I see folks in AA meetings who return after having relapsed and come back with their tail between their legs and the weight of the remorse and guilt for being deceptive.   And I know everyone else was protecting me since I was newly sober and they knew I'd be so let down.    
You must have been so so tired to live after all that you experienced.   You probably doubted that God even existed.   And it was just easier to let go and slip away so you wouldn't have to feel any more pain any longer.   Or be a burden to mom with your medical issues.   Or be a disappointment to the rest of us. 
I am working hard in my life today dad to accept you for the person you were and what you were capable of.   To let go of what happened.   To know you did the best you possibly could given the circumstances.   To forgive.   To move forward. 
I hope that you have found peace on the other side.  

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stolen moments...

Originally uploaded by J o r

In tonight's meeting, the focus was on Step 9: making direct amends to those we harmed. The theme that kept arising in share after share was the rampant theft among us alcoholics during our drinking and even non-drinking periods.

Stealing takes a myriad of forms, some I hadn't given a lot of thought about until the sharing began. Shoplifting, taking money out of wallets, misappropriating funds from work are the obvious forms. Borrowing items without asking, stealing time from people and from work places are the less obvious ones.

Confession time. I committed every type of thievery. Drunk and sober. Most I've made amends for; some I have not.

My first acts of stealing were long before I became an alcoholic. A number of members spoke about this same phenomenon tonight. My mother had  pocketbooks in every color for every occasion, which is what women aspired to in her generation. And at a very young age, perhaps as early as 9 years old, an accidental discovery when exploring the purses in her closet for their contents revealed that my mother would tuck away dollar bills in certain compartments. This "game" turned into an obsession that produced a "rush", a "high". I acquired many dollar bills over the course of probably 4-5 years. I was clever enough to know to not do this every week and not to target the same purse, so as to not get caught.

When I began to drink in high school and even though I was working, I wanted and believed I deserved more. And I was resentful that I had to work to pay for college because my parents would not be paying for it. The purse thefts graduated to 10 dollar bills, then 20 dollar bills. And cigarettes from my father's cartons. And then beer bottles from the garage. After all, he put me through hell.

In college, particularly as my drinking progressed, I would "borrow" items from roommates -- clothing mostly, then food, cigarettes, booze. After awhile, it was all about the booze. When I lived off campus, I regularly stole bags of chips from the quick mart near my apartment. I think they felt sorry for me because it would be so obvious I was stealing; I would stumble in, not buy anything and you could hear the crackling of the chip bag in my coat pocket. The worst of my thieving, however, was at the hoagie shop that I worked at during my junior and senior years. It started witih giving away hoagies to friends. Then, it was taking money from the cash register. Back then, nothing was computerized so it was really easy to pull it off. A twenty here and there. Sometimes more, as my drinking habit got more expensive. And of course, I needed to show off and buy rounds for people at the bar. About 7-8 years after I got sober, I was doing trainings in the town next to that college campus. I made a special trip to that hoagie shop and made an amends. I wrote them a check for $200 to pay back what I believed I had stolen. It was very fulfilling to be able to do this.

Stealing took many other forms when I was in the throws of my alcoholism and working in a "real" job. At the first group home I supervised, I collected a paycheck for hours that I actually didn't work. I justified this by the fact that I was the live-in supervisor and was "on-site", yet was often stoned and drunk and holed up in my attached apartment and not working at all. I sat the women in front of a rented video and called it a "leisure activity" in my notes. I robbed them of opportunities that they could have been receiving quality support. During this time, I had a 2nd job -- bartender. An absolutely PERFECT sideline job for a budding alcoholic. I stole so much liquor on every shift I worked; I didn't carry it out the door, mind you, I delivered it straight down my throat with each trip to the basement to "bring up stock". I never made any amends to either of these places of employment.

I wanted to keep up with everyone in terms of clothes and material items during my drinking years. And you couldn't do that on a human services paycheck. Not even with the supplemental bartending, which was all drank away. So I got credit cards for every place imaginable. And then didn't pay them. This is stealing what you don't have. And when I maxed out on those cards, I took out cards in my mother's name. Now it's identity theft. It took me close to 7 years to eventually get my credit in good standing. And a very remorseful amends to my mother.

The stealing I've had the greatest shame and guilt about was when I moved to the city I currently live in and worked as a group home supervisor for 6 men. I was responsible for their money and had access to their bank accounts. On several occasions, I cashed money orders from their accounts, forging them, and using the money for drinking sprees. I stole approximately $500. A year into my sobriety, having tearfully shared this crime with the women's therapy group I attended, it was suggested that I make an amends with an anonymous donation to this agency. On 2 different occasions, I sent money orders for $250 a piece. Even thinking about what I did in this moment brings up an uneasiness and the thought aloud of "Who WAS this person?" She is barely recognizable.

And, the stealing is not over.

In sobriety, I stole time at plenty of jobs by not doing the work I was supposed to be doing while on the job but rather doing non-work things and still getting paid. And then there was the taking of extra office supplies for my own personal use. "Everyone else does it" was my justification.

And then there was the unsober act that came with me shortly after returning to the rooms of AA. Stealing from Uncle Sam. Being behind on paying my taxes as a self-employed person. And having to admit to this to those I loved. And to once again come to my mother about a financial bind I've gotten myself into. This is humbling beyond words.

The re-entry into AA brought me right into Step 9. I had to "own" that I created the financial mess that I was now facing. And, I was willing to do something about it. I was taking self-responsibility. This amends was being made by me to myself.

The session I had with my kabbalistic healer when all of this came to a head was very powerful and very healing. She acknowledged to me that I have enough tools in my being now to handle this. That I was led back to AA so that I could get support to re-visit the places I was drowning in when I was drinking. First, sorrow. Then, anger. It was anger that fueled my stealing. My warped reasoning had me believing that I was entitled to things because of what I was exposed to, what I had to endure.

The work I am doing in AA and in my healing is helping me build a bigger container so that these feelings have a place to live inside of me. So that they are safe. So that I don't have to steal from anyone or anywhere ever again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An intimate walk with nature: a dedication

A tender,  connected conversation today brought me to a place where my usual walk in the woods was captured from the inside-out,  rather than being the observer of  what is outside of me,  on the surface.   This feels like a reflection of where I am moving in my life,  in my recovery,  in my healing.   I realized on this walk today that in order to meet insects, foliage or even stones in the places where they live,  it requires a level of  personal intimacy  and a desire to be looking at the world from that place inside myself.   

To be touched by a butterfly is like having
an angel's wings brush your shoulder.  It's knowing
you too are a creation of G-d.
Both the fragility and the bravery of a living being
 can be seen in the movement of a spider.
I built this cairn to express my
gratitude and to honor 
the beauty felt within me
and surrounding me. 

 A parting from summer and an entrance into autumn
expressed in the deep hue of this leaf
reminds me of how transformation on the inside 
 is reflected on the outside. 
Like the seasons of our lives. 
Seeing the world from an acorn's view
helps me to truly recognize the vastness of the
universe and to understand my place in it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Breaking free from the shackles of my history

Destino / Destiny
Originally uploaded by Shavy

I am deeply grateful to have a trusted confidante in my life to de-brief with after I write. It is much like the power of the meeting-after-the-meeting in AA when you continue to process and uncover what was shared in the meeting.

Today's post-writing conversation about being messy revealed a longing in me, which I would venture to guess is shared by many, to break free from the self-imposed prison I've created, shackled to my history. And, of equal importance, to look at what kept me chained.

I think over the years I've come to find a twisted sort of comfort in knowing that I was bound to something -- my umbilical cord, if you will, to connect me to an identity, a story to explain myself. Especially given my entry into the world and having no biological roots beneath me. Alcoholic anxious daughter is the result of an alcoholic father and anxious housewife. This is what I've been chained to. I know today that I am so much more than this.

It is quite a paradox to be conditioned to maintain a tidy home and a pleasing appearance while the floor is crumbling beneath you. And this is all I knew. It is what I was exposed to day in and day out. If dad raged at one of us after he had a few in him because we were not maintaining order in the house, my mother's answer was to clean the oven. I am reminded of an old quote: "An idle mind is the devil's playground." There was no pausing or stillness in my house. It was like living in a gigantic pinball machine, just bouncing off one thing to another and not wanting to fall into the scary dark hole at the bottom.

My kabbalistic healer shared with me during one of our sessions that my alcoholic years actually enabled me to survive my time "served" in this house. Leaving to go to college was like being released from captivity and set loose into the world without an understanding of how regular folk act and behave.

And getting sober did not equal a return to normal. After 2 years of sporadic AA meetings and therapy, I entered into a relationship in which I would replicate, almost exactly, the conditions of my childhood history. This is the link on the chain that perhaps kept me connected to the only things I knew in terms of what a home was. Did I consciously choose to marry my father and become my mother ? Or were these circumstances re-created so that I could eventually heal my history ? In kabbalistic healing, we learn about poisoned ground that we take in as children from the damaged soil our parents have raised us in. And how generational pain gets passed down. When the mother and father feel their own incompleteness and use the child to fill the void. I was toxic from swallowing so much dirt and the carrier of that pain. And when I was with my former partner, I didn't yet know another way of being in the world. In a sick way, the relationship with her kept my father's memory alive long after he died. There was something oddly comforting about the presence of chaos underground in our home and enduring it like some kind of martyr. A mission I was assigned. That perhaps I would be stronger than my mother and actually change my partner. And create a loving home and live happily ever after. I was living in an illusion. The reality was that I was running with the baton that was passed onto me by my mother and her mother and so on. You find a companion and you settle and you put up with. Til death do us part. And you stay in motion so you don't have to feel or deal. That is, until you've taken in so much of this rotten soil that you begin to choke on the rocks below the surface. And this is the wake-up call that perhaps there's something more nutritious in life for you than this. I had a taste for something sweeter.

When I ended the relationship with my partner and was awaiting a ride at the top of my street after she threw me out of the house, I called my mother and told her what happened. And the only thing that mattered was that she wanted me to be safe and to be happy. And there was this odd kinship in that moment that was one of our very few real, intimate connections. Like we were both survivors of the same prisoner-of-war camp and knew what is was like to finally get a taste of freedom.

And in the 3 years since the ending of this relationship, I am arriving at a place in my life where the need to be linked to my father and mother in this way is no longer an option. I want to experience my individual self while my father's soul rests contented somewhere on the other side and my mother lives out her aging days in the best way she is capable of.

And here is the place where I can meet messiness. In healthy doses. Healed Chesed is water and flow and loving-kindness. I want to be a free floating buoy on the ocean of life.

Being messy

The speaker in last night's AA meeting highlighted the fact that while he grew up in an alcoholic home,  there was never any discussion or mention of his father's alcoholism.  There was emphasis,  instead,  on the appearance of normality in the family.   I could relate to this so much and there is a strong connection,  I believe,   to my present behavior in terms of control,  strongly disliking any kind of disorder, disarray,  or downright messiness.   An honest conversation last evening separate from this meeting uncovered more layers of this for me -- of all things,  it was about my intolerance for allowing my hair to be in the " in between"  stage and how this is most definitely a visible and tangible aspect of my relationship with all things messy.    
The origins of my aversion to messiness are rooted in my alcoholic home of childhood.  My home was captained by my ex-marine father,  who required it to be run in an orderly way,  including dinner on the table no later than 4:30pm every weeknight.  And, while my father got drunk every single day,  it was usually a quiet oblivion (at least when I was younger,  then the raging increased when I got older).  And, he made sure to shower right after work,  greasing his hair back perfectly,  before the beer drinking commenced. I was curious as a child about what was in the brown bottles and the amber substance that I would see being methodically poured into glass after glass by him on the recliner chair and there was never any discussion about it.  What I did understand as even a small child was that my father never parted from those bottles or his chair and you didn't engage with him or get in between he and the TV.  And that his words came out slurry later in the night and his breath smelled funny.  And sometimes I'd find him snoring loudly slumped over in his chair when I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
My mother, on the other hand,  scurried about the house nervously keeping everything clean, in order & organized and by the time I was tall enough to reach the counter,  I was enlisted to be part of this cleaning frenzy -- doing dishes,  using the vacuum, folding laundry.   I was not allowed to go out to play with the other kids until I finished chores,  which infuriated me and I didn't understand why other kids got out of doing these things. 
Our family presented a neatly groomed package when we were out in the world,  which was not very often and it was generally in church on Sunday mornings.  My sister and I had nicely ironed dresses,  bows in our hair as we sat like good little girls bookended by our parents in the pew.  My father wore the same suit every week and never uttered a word to anyone.  My mother flit about being the social butterfly, checking in to see how everyone was doing and who needed a visit at a nursing home or cards to be sent or what she could bake for a church rummage sale.   It was this kind of presence that deflected the church community and public at large away from knowing the dirt that was tidily swept under the rug of our dysfunctional home.      
I have one disturbing memory as I write this which is that when I was of the age to begin getting pimples,  my father would have me lie down on the sofa under a bright light so he could use this small silver device that had a round hole in it that you put over a blackhead or pimple about to burst to actually "unearth" it from the skin.  I was about 11 years old when he began this practice on Friday nights and I would squirm and hold back tears and I didn't understand why I couldn't just have these blemishes on my face.  And there was no arguing with him about this,  though I found that if I closed my eyes tightly and thought about things that made me smile I could get through this "grooming" process.   This went on for about 3-4 years and then his drinking worsened and I am guessing he probably could no longer manipulate the little silver thing in his tremoring hands.    
And my mother's pet peeve about tidiness was that our shirts had to be tucked in neatly and that we had to wear a belt.   And she ironed EVERYTHING.   Even my father's handkerchiefs.   She would lose herself in afternoon soap operas while ironing piles of freshly washed clothes.   I can remember sitting under the ironing board when I was really little just to be able to be close to her.     
So I go off to college and the rebellion begins.  I wear untucked shirts and unironed pants.  And let the zits have their place on my face.   I soothe myself in alcohol and as my drinking advances quickly,  my hygiene and appearance and neatness deteriorate.   I sometimes don't shower.   My dorm room and subsequent apartment bedrooms are littered with piles of clothes.  I smell the crotches of jeans to see which is the least unpleasant so I can wear them out and not have to do my wash.   Dirty dishes overtake the sink.  Ashtrays are overflowing with butts.  The refrigerator has unwrapped items that smell and are growing mold.  When I get my 1st car after college,  it becomes a mobile garbage can,  filled with fast food and candy wrappers and empty beer cans and spilled drinks and it downright stinks.   I am living my mother's worst nightmare.   And I don't care.     
And then I stop drinking.   And without the alcohol to numb the unpleasant feelings and anxiety,  I revert to the conditioning of my childhood and I turn into an obsessive-compulsive control freak.   I clean my apartment constantly.  The items in my kitchen cabinets need to be lined up just so.  I scrub my tub until my hands are raw.   I cannot tolerate a single crumb or a hair out of place.   There are no piles of anything to be found.

Co-habitating with my former partner put my cleanly habits into overdrive.  The more I freaked out about mail piles and cabinet disarray and toothpaste in the bathroom sink,  the more rebellious she became.  And when her substance abuse began to take off,  I found myself every weekend furiously mopping hardwood floors,  vacuuming and straightening and scrubbing. My cabinets and office and closets were meticulously kept.  A clean house for entertaining friends would disguise the filth that was neatly tucked away.   And when her addiction was full blown,  the guests stopped being invited.  And I had every excuse in the world to decline invitations.  No one would know about the mess in my home.   I was turning into my mother and didn't even know it.

In kabbalistic healing,  this territory is found on the Tree of Life in the branches of Chesed and Gevurah.  Chesed is masculine and has qualities of loving-kindness, flow, endlessness, altruism.   Gevurah is feminine and is about strength, boundary, structure, restraint and discipline.   When Chesed is unhealed,  it has the appearance, of all things,  being "messy".   When Gevurah is unhealed, in "lay terms"  that this would have the appearance of being tightly wound,  a control freak.   And one of these can be "presenting"  yet be disguising the other.   I am very aware of the fact that the origins of my family's presentation in terms of appearance and then my own replication of this would be bound in a nice, neat Gevuric package that contained a pile of messy, unhealed Chesed.  
It takes a lot of energy to live like this.  I'm just becoming aware of how inauthentic it feels.  And I want to understand more of how it shows up in me.   One small experiment I am conducting in my life right now is about my hair.  And my need to have it be "just so".  And my obsession with getting it cut every 3-4 weeks.   I believe it is an outgrowth, no pun intended,  of a much larger piece of my history that I want to re-write.   So I canceled my scheduled haircut today.  And I'm going to feel what it's like to have it appear in ways that I am not normally comfortable with.   And to let it grow.  And unfold.   And to be messy.    
To be continued ...