Tag Archives: ACOA

So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

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So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

The vertigo has been helpful, or at least it has pushed me into the direction I mean to head. I have been taking prednisone for it. On Tuesday (three days ago) I got an 80mg shot of it in my ass. From my understanding, that’s a strong dose. My doctor said, as she was seated on one of those round leatherette-upholstered low stools that roll around the linoleum while glancing between me and her computer, “Hmm. Should we just go for it and give you the 80? That would likely do the job… we may as well while we are here…” and she ordered it.

I don’t claim to know the difference between 2mg of prednisone and 100mg of it*.

*“Of it.” That was such a Doug Turnerism. He would say “of it” at the end of sentences… after the sentence had paused, even and we were ready to move on. And he’d just say “of it.” Like an old man. And I guess it’s because he was an old man… but it was like this all-encompassing tie off, so to speak, of what he was expressing… so that I suppose, to him … maybe it was a complete thought? That none of us would wonder if he were done? Or if he’d heard himself? Hard to say. Of it.

Anyway, the prednisone has kept me awake longer — and when I say “awake” I mean staring-at-the-ceiling-maybe-I-should-just-go-do-some-laundry-or-walk-the-dogs-in-the-cold-dark-night-alone-or-join-a-neighborhood-watch-patrol-do-they-even-have-those-anymore-maybe-we-should-get-a-ring-doorbell-but-that’s-an-Amazon-thing-no-better-not-do-that-but-what-will-help-us-stay-safe awake… in other words awake and stupid.

But I was also awake and aware enough to shift gears from thinking about letting Jeff Bezos have any more of my money for things than I’m comfortable with to figure out what to do about my writing at least for now and whereas Miriam, (a reference to my first book) is concerned.

I’m going to keep that manuscript and keep writing for the Unpulled Pin (fiction based on real shit) to flesh that out and because it’s so helpful to me emotionally, and it’s sort of essential to set the framework of her origin story. Then I’d launch into Miriam with a new beginning basically being me:

Miriam wanted to be a writer; and she was good at it, plus there was no getting away from it: it was in her blood for many generations and she sees it in her own children as well. She also wanted to be a good person. She also grew up with some really weird shit going on in her home. While some of it resembled Running with Scissors and it wasn’t as thoroughly dark as August: Osage County, it was haunting like Long Day’s Journey Into Night it was true that it ended ok, because Here She Was.

She knew her story was good enough to fill some pages, especially because she was healthier now, after, during and because of her therapy, yoga and having a family of her own, but she also knew that “tell alls” are for presidents and their lovers.

But this wasn’t going to be a “tell all” — she’s not out for blood anymore; that ship has sailed, but Miriam knew her story was interesting enough to share and be helpful for people who thought they were alone: upper middle class, adult children of well-educated, connected and upwardly mobile alcoholics.

So Miriam was at a crossroads: she could write her book about her story, but she’d have to tell the truth and to her, that “truth” part was at odds with being a good person. People who loved her parents didn’t really KNOW her parents, and while her parents were pretty fucked up people, they also deserved some dignity. But then she recalled what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird,

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Sounds good.

So there’s that. It’s going to be a story about a story. Funny, now that I reflect on the last few days — I’ve been humming “Paperback Writer” to myself, especially the lines “It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear, and I need a job so I want to be a paperback writer…” What I’m doing is a story about a writer who wants to write a book. Pretty meta.

So I have determined that I will channel Miriam with me as my muse and maybe sass it up a bit from time to time to make things seem super outrageous so that people won’t know up from down? I’m not going to sweat the details right now — that’s a way to keep from writing. I’m just going to get going.

In the meantime, Mary Oliver beckons:

Later!

Unexpected Grace: When a Dream Shifts Everything

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This morning, I awoke from a dream that left me utterly jammed in the head with its images, and the profound energy (you’re going to hear a lot of that word, “energy,” in this post) and vibration that I was to record it, write it all down and learn from it.

I also have a friend, who’s a loyal reader and who has taken the time to get to know me and share with me her own wisdom. We all have our stories, and yet we can share them to help others heal. She shares her knowledge about messages we carry inside ourselves, and the wisdom we are supposed to gain from them, when we learn to step out of our own way.

This friend, T, said something a few times in our recent correspondence, and she has been patient with me, and I am so grateful, to let it sink in as I know it requires slow, gentle rainfalls to soak into a parched earth. Downpours simply run off and cause chaos and floods. When it soaks in, we loosen up and learn who we are.

She said to me, in an exchange in which I was fixated on my childhood and the familiar feelings of helplessness. I wanted to blame my mother for things I missed out on (even though I absolutely have a sense of knowing that everything happens for a reason, sometimes it’s hard to let go of that because it’s easier to blame someone else for our situation). She wrote back “At 47, this is not about your mother. If there’s one thing I can tell you, this has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with you.”

“Screw you” I wanted to say to her. But I didn’t. “You don’t know my pain,” I wanted to add on. But I didn’t. While I knew in my head that she was right, I didn’t necessarily agree in my heart.

They take some time to soak in, these messages, and the people who are in our lives who are blunt enough to stand there and hold up a mirror to us deserve some major love. Their shoulders are burning from lactic acid build-up, their forearms are tired, it’s cold out there holding up that mirror. They can’t see your expressions because the mirror is blocking it and they also can’t see anything else around them because they have to hold that heavy beveled mirror stable, in its massive gilded frame in the light of day, in the cold, in the heat, in the windy eerie dark… they wait there, holding up that mirror, saying those few little words, “Not at 47 is this about your mother…”

And your gut churns and your throat thickens and your jaw sets; you gulp. Your brows furrow and your eyes shift left and right, but your head won’t turn because that mirror won’t escape you. It follows your face until Truth sinks in. Until you see you, staring back at you, reminding you that at whatever stage you’re fighting in your life, when your long-lost mother (who was essentially lost to you long before she died), that your life is about you; it always has been about you; it was never about her, or your dad, or your siblings, or your best friend, or your cousins, or the dog.

It’s about you and the fact that you have created the life you live today with your thoughts, fears, intentions, biases, dreams, lies, and hopes… All the things in it: from the obvious, such as your hairstyle, your car, the box of tea you bought for company when you over-performed, the books in your house, the computer at your desk, the can of expired soup in your cupboard, the cat on your couch … that ALL of it, is the stuff of your mind and your intentions. The more subtle stuff, the stuff we want to blame on our history, or boss, or enemies or our environment, things like addiction, neuroses, obsessions and fears: that’s all you too. With Just A Thought, conscious or otherwise, you brought it in because what we think about most becomes our reality. So if you think about fear: your world will be fearful. If you think about peace, you will see with peaceful intention.

For good or for bad, in the warm sun and the eerie dark: all of it, your state of relationships; all the friends and enemies in your life; all your easy slopes and stumbling blocks; all your confusion and your state of function, are all yours. They start with you and then end with you.

This is hard. This is hugely humbling as well as terrifyingly egoic.

The flow of my dream was totally random, as dreams can be. The point is, I woke convinced that it was about my mother. However, that’s bullshit. She was me, but I was me and the other people too… It’s how this stuff goes. It’s always about the dreamer. This is what I’m starting to understand, that what T said to me is starting to integrate into my consciousness, because rather than having it wait three weeks before I “got” it, I arrived at the realization an hour after waking; after thinking about it, making my coffee, taking my son to school. I got it.

The scene is that I was amongst a mob of people (all me), like we were in a train station or leaving a concert — lots of people, streams of them, absent any panic or doom. We were just people on a crowded space heading in our various directions — much like how life actually is. I looked to my left, and I saw an older woman, with chin-length silver hair, much like Mom’s, and she turned her face to me. She had age spots where Mom did, but her face was not Mom’s; it was more rounded, like Betty White’s and then it sort of morphed into my mother, but not until I asked, “Mom? Is that you?” — all in real-time, knowing in my dream that she had died. The woman’s face brightened, morphing in and out between my mother and another elderly woman, perhaps all the women I knew as a child.

This woman sort of nodded, and gently smiled, not in a “you’re nuts” way, but in a kind, nervous way — the energy was that she knew I was seeking something… so she was going to stand by until I found it. My energy shifted as well, I sensed this wasn’t a match, but it was more of a surrogate, and the clothes that this woman was wearing was a full indicator of that: she was wearing pastels, and an eyelet blouse with a rounded collar and a pink cashmere scarf and an off-white soft cardigan, wearing a string of pearls like Mom’s — these colors lit up her face in a super-healthy way, rosy cheeks and bright eyes. The clothes accented her sylvan hair in a way completely opposite than my mother’s complexion would ever allow.

I turned back to my right side and discovered some friends from my yoga retreat. I felt uncomfortable with this older woman in the pastels. My yoga retreat roommate was there, energetically supporting me and pushing me to continue this “experience” with this mother / not-mother woman. I started to sob in the dream, nodding reluctantly to my roommate, whom I know loves me very much, to return to the woman. I had a strong sense that this interaction, this “moment” was not going to last long, nor would it return any time soon. The Moment was “Now” as they say.

I turned back toward the Mom energy being, and this time she was in a car, but it was British, because there was no steering wheel, but she was on the left side of the car. In fact, in my notes, I say this version of my mother is like an “English” version of herself. I said “Mom … I love you. I always did. And I’m so sorry I was unkind to you in our relationship; especially as we both aged. I was so hurt and you were so patient with me even though I never lightened up, that I was constantly on vigil for you and unyielding. I do love you. I did love you… But this was our path…”

I reached in to touch her face, which was still energetically my mother, but physically not at all her, and when I pulled out my hand, it was filled with water. I turned back toward my yoga retreat friends and one of them was now drastically weakened, lying on the floor, and she needed the water, so I gave it to her to sip. I had enough water for all my retreat friends, who were now all present, guiding me forward. The energy of the crowd was shifting, it felt more dire.

I turned back to that mother energy and all the colors were gone. Everything now was black and white, and gray tones. The folds in her sweater were now like stripes and she appeared to be weakening, aging right before my eyes; her smile straightened a little. Her eyes and cheekbones started to fall, hollow. Her  chin became sharper and I began to realize she was dying right in front of me — all of it: from her vibrant, rosy cheeks to her aging to her wasting to her last breaths … in one dream, in one experience (which of course is true: this life is one continuous, connected experience isn’t it?).

She was fading away before my eyes. She became soft and nodded slowly and kindly and patiently to me. Silent, saying not a peep, not even “Piffle” (which was one of my favoritest things Mom said). The sense that this was a surrogate being was so strong at this point, that while my mother’s energy visited my psyche, that her energetic visage in complete attendance to my experience, was unavailable. And of course it left me wanting more of her. But the message was strong to me: that I was meant to have this realization that just as my mind was confused about who she was in the dream, such was it in life in our relationship: I have always felt confused, spongy, mostly antagonistic, distrustful, and ultimately misaligned with her, that our conversations were more parallel than intersecting; and even then, even though they were parallel, they were ideologically disparate.

I went to bed last night thinking in a high level (for me anyhow) way about her, that I need to really stop trying to figure her out; and I’ve become good about that: I’ve stopped trying to figure her out. Even if she was a puzzle wrapped in an enigma inside a riddle, that’s all I need to know. Anything else is a distraction from the life I have created and the life which is slipping through my own fingers. So having this dream, now in retrospect, was extremely healing.

I wrote this morning after returning from dropping my son at school, “I am now feeling authentically and not rationalizing that the tone of neutrality and statements of fact in my “apology” to the mother energy in my dream is (finally) just that: neutral: no sense of ownership for me or for her or a “role” that I had to play. The simple reality is that I am regretful that things weren’t better, more stable, sincere, softer, authentic and real between us — BUT THEY WERE! THEY WERE AS REAL AS THEY WERE GOING TO GET BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED!

The thing is, if Mom were still here today, and if I’d had the presence to say anything like that (which I know I have) the relationship wouldn’t change, because it didn’t before.

That same sense of confusion I felt in my dream regarding my mother’s “identity” (which I finally just stop insisting that it “check in” and decide to BE something) was/is so closely aligned with my ever-constant state of trying to “figure out” who she was (“was she in there?”) ALL MY LIFE. She was who she was. Why couldn’t I see this until now? Because I wanted to blame her for everything. ‘Not at 47…’

The point to all of this is the co-creation: this life IS what it is. We can think we see something else, we can try to twist it, chew it, shape it, rationalize it, describe it, experience it, let it torque and turn us. We can lie to ourselves and say it’s something else; we can enable it and abuse it, but the point is: it’s all futile to do much other than just Be with it (this is so deep even I’m getting lost now).

Typical of me: I take something that is so incredibly simple and complicate the piss out of it. I think that’s the point though isn’t it? To see things properly, to break all the shards away after we’ve twisted and smashed up the glass trying to see things the way we THINK we’re supposed to.

Trying to see life with our -isms and our people with their -isms with filtered lenses is an exhausting waste of energy and time. I interpret my fixation with “Mom’s” visage in the dream as a trap now: something to trip me up, like a technicality in a football game, because what she looked like –in this dream state– didn’t matter, the energy aligned with her and so that “familiarity” was with Mom. So as we are in real carbon-based life not in a dream: we are the energies rather than the forms… it’s the energy we respond do, never the form — think about it: you don’t respond to a person’s form, you respond to their subtle intention, the expression they make, the snicker or the smile… not the “body” or the face. The face and the body are identifiers, they are not the energy / essence of the person…

So that mirror I wrote about earlier? It’s to remind you of your intention and your energy. That phrase of Carl Jung’s could never be truer, something along the lines of what we find to be irritating or considerable in other people says more about ourselves. If you think someone is smug, it’s because you are too. If you think someone is wonderful, it’s because you are too. “When you point at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you…” all that shit. It’s time to get real.

So I thought about my friend T and I realized again after realizing the above, that this dream, and all my life that my mother’s “energy” was who she was. I wasn’t put here to crack her “code” or fight for justice or shame or out her and her issues. That was all a ruse, a distraction, construct of ego, to keep me (and anyone else in that schema) from attending to me and performing to my highest potential (even though if you ask me, I have performed pretty freakin’ spectacularly), and it’s been a rut in a greater part of my adult life. One I am quite ready to break out of.

And what of that apology or statement of regret? I’m very close to seeing it as a release: that in forgiving her for her path in life, and realizing that I’m here to be me, that I can forgive me for being so “hard” (just being me) on her for so many years. Which is really, what I want more than anything: to forgive myself for being such a bull dog. I can’t necessarily blame it on the circumstance of my very young years: I eventually “grew up.” That’s what T means: it’s about me, not Mom. I can choose to be softer, more patient with Mom me now (and it’s so much easier…)

My mother and I were given to each other for teaching and learning. Just as you have been given your people and circumstances to teach and learn. These are the pockets of Grace; they are everywhere waiting for us to pick them, when we learn to let go of our shame and unfold into ourSelves.

Thank you.

Do No Harm.

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My previous post, written mostly as a way to share a voice to those of us who grew up or are in relationships with people existing in tremendous dysfunction, was not difficult to write (although I was taxed heavily by writing it). It was difficult to share. I have tried to maintain a “code” of sorts in my heart, along with my appeals to Archangel Gabriel, that what I write “do no harm” — at least not intentionally.

I feel as though I did not honor that code as effectively as I would have liked. I was filled with regret, an urge to take down the post, and a feeling of shame after writing it. Those feelings were deeply similar to those I would experience after an argument with someone, as though I’d said something horrible, unforgivable to a person, to my mother.

Those feelings were again familiar. I recalled, and have recalled, numerous times when Mom and I would disagree about the course of things, and how I would suffer emotionally for telling her exactly how I felt.

Regarding that post, my greatest wish, to forgive — to actively forgive! — eludes. It’s like some prison I’m in, but it’s not all day, it’s not a life sentence and it’s open. It’s as though the prison gate is ajar and unlocked; there is no key. Yet I go in. I sit there, with my back to the window, avoiding the light. I do not understand it. I have a great life: a loving marriage; beautiful, healthy children; hobbies I thrive in; activities which fulfill my heart … yet … it eludes.

Like she did. She eluded.

Do you know how tired I am of thinking about this?

“Then don’t. Think about something else,” someone I used to know would say all the time about me or other people whose activities or looping thoughts drove her mad. It’s not that simple, or maybe it is. I used to be like that: super black & white. I could flip a switch and move on.

But then I had kids. It all changed after the kids were born. It’s like the DNA was activated: I joke now, but suddenly I cared about China. Like how an addict’s dopamine response to a certain pleasure-giving stimulus was heretofore asleep. I was always hard on Mom, but I could flip the switch when I was younger: lash out and move on.

But once I became a mother, I had a narrower window of forgiveness. It went suddenly from a case of “I don’t know what it’s like” (and to a degree, I will never actually know her life’s depth, so it still applies) to “I know what this is like, and I choose X.”

So back to my premise: do no harm. I feel like I hurt her again. I feel like I was mean to her again and that the shame and the hairshirt of regret I wore was there, cold, stiff and waiting for me to put on again.

I went to sleep that night, fitfully. I woke around 2:30 with a thought based on a quote from Rumi that I read the night before during yoga:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

I woke with the thought:

Regrets are like bricks that we use to build walls around ourselves to keep love out.

That works. Right? If I stay regretful, then I don’t forgive my behavior which was a reaction to the first behavior. Up goes a brick.

So then I come back to this place of “do no harm” because I am filled with regret about the previous post. Another brick.

But then the comments from readers, and the amount of traffic the post garnered, and I know that people “clicked” to “read” it (about 300 actually) but a few people commented to me privately or on the site (2). Basically, if anyone disagreed with me, they didn’t bother to tell me. Those that were grateful for sharing what I did were extremely supportive and candid and they have my thanks.

So it begs the question: did I do harm? Make no mistake: I loved my mother. Make no mistake, I hated what she became. My dad is largely supportive of me; he’s not driving the bus, but he hasn’t come down on me and that’s just so nice.

It’s like I was still 18. I knew that was kooky, so to do what I could to move forward or investigate my allegations, I decided to open a box I had stored under nondescript stuff and wrapped in tape to supposedly protect it from little peepers since I moved out.

paranoid much?

paranoid much? When you have a situation like I did, with a parent who clearly had self-esteem issues and who mishandled a lot of parenting due to the management of those issues, there is going to be a lot of espionage. She wanted my assessments of things, but she didn’t REALLY want my assessments of things, y’dig?

On top of it all was my diary. Which inside it, was another diary.

Many of the items were from high school and college friends. In some moment of haste, I removed most potentially scandalous content. I discovered a letter from an old beau, telling me he didn’t know what to say about the direction of our relationship, and I found the letter to be a perfect example of what I would want my sons to send to a girl should they find themselves in that predicament. It was heartfelt, written in pen without one mistake, and encouraging.

I found some school papers I wrote and was thrilled to see some comments from my teachers: “Tremendous! Your voice is strong, but the run-ons and fragments made what could have been an ‘A’ paper a ‘B-‘…” (run-ons? P’shaw.) and “Deep characterization, such imagery… this would be better as a novella…” Me again: “run-ons?”   (I’ll write more about that box later, it was interesting!)

I was hopeful that I would find a warm letter from my brother written the month before my marriage but I couldn’t. I remember several years ago my mother citing that letter from him to me (it was about both our possessions of sharpened steel tongues and that we were both blessed to be marrying people who were soft and kind and “normal”), she paid particular attention to my tendency for verbal evisceration. The letter was not there, she took it. I will likely never see it again.

I looked for evidence of my tumult with Mom. There wasn’t much in the way of play-by-play. This both confused and delighted me. I don’t think I gave her much mind then. Well, there was evidence of her tampering: she’d scrawled a phone number on the corner of that old beau’s letter I mentioned, so that broke my heart a little, again. There was a comment from her in my diary, which was a very hard for me to reconcile. She was who she was. The time with that box went very quickly; it was fun, most of it.

I wrote immediately upon closing it all back up:

I read most of the content in here. The diary is full of ramblings, some funny and insightful but mostly just the neurotic, insecure blather of an American, single, young woman. Ennui, strife, doom — it’s how I got through it all. … The sum is that I had a lot of energy and was a lot of work for my parents. [My license was suspended at least twice for speeding and while I commuted to my university, I lived at home as though I were on campus, coming in at all hours.] There isn’t much of anything about Mom or from her [cards, drawings — likely because I actively disliked her during those years … brick] in here. I’m surprised by that — but I’m also relieved because despite the drama I was pretty resilient and self-absorbed. That, or it was all so ‘par for the course’ with her that I didn’t find much of it remarkable; or that I knew she would read everything, why give her an audience? … I feel lighter, not mad at all about Mom now. I saw my college work and I feel as though I’ve been rinsed delicately but completely, like an old garment. … It’s all OK now, I can let it just be…

And then the next day, that stupid regret came back. Brick… About that “actively disliking her” then, hey: that’s OK. That was part of my gig our dynamic then. I crossed that “my gig” out because I have to allow that I wasn’t formed in a vacuum; I was a product of an environment, just as we all are, just as my kids are. That as much as the 47-year-old me wants to understand that we are 1) connected, we are still 2) all our own people with our own choices, she has to allow the 16-20 -year-old me some rebellion, separation, and defense.

What I’m realizing as I write is that this “do no harm” code is foolishly not applied to myself. How much of this do we put upon ourselves? I’m guessing about 90% of it.

My mother had won the affections of SO many people from SO many generations and places in life that it made me wonder if I was the crazy one: she was like this silk scarf; a light and fun Daisy Buchanan butterfly to them and it was so different when we were alone. I compare myself to her as a heavy armored beetle.

I wondered, “Didn’t people see something?” It was the 70s. Who knows. The recurring baseline fear was that my memories were just … hijacked and rewritten. I actually considered calling a cousin for back-up, but I asked her to read the post. She did. She validated me. She saw a lot of it.

To properly understand my mom a little more, I watched Gray Gardens from 1976, and it helped so much. I gleaned from it a comment from Big Edie during one of Little Edie’s wide-ranging rants about how she could have made it on Broadway (something I heard a lot of) and her blame at her parents for her failure. Big Edie said something like this, “That’s the problem with the past. If it were right at the time, she would’ve done it. But something in her didn’t do it; I didn’t stop her… but the fact is that if it were right at that time it would’ve happened. You can’t stop fate…” Now, in all honesty, those women were a tangled mess, but I liked what Big Edie said about perception and timing — if it all was aligned and Little Edie wanted to do “it” then, she would’ve. You can’t blame other people for crap you [don’t] do. And I think that’s where I need to Work on me: I screwed up a lot then, but I was also ‘supposed’ to… the thing is though: I don’t know how much room there was in our household for more than one ‘spirited’ female.   

But the regret comes back and looms. It’s born of biblical guilt: Honor thy Mother and Father (or whatever it’s supposed to say) and I don’t know of many who did when they were teenagers. Probably Jesus was the only one.

That regret is born of my fear of other peoples’ perceptions because I was such an untamed mare then. I worry so much about how I’m perceived, that I either hold things back or I don’t admit them to myself. When I was younger, I didn’t care… I miss part of that spirit, just not the recklessness.

One of my readers suggested I read Anne Lammot’s Small Victories and the chapter on Anne’s struggle to forgive her mother after her death. In typical fashion I downloaded the book, but I will admit this: I am afraid to read it. I don’t know why. No, wait. I do: because something in me only knows Mom one way, in this one-dimensional way, that refuses to let her evolve and refused to allow her other aspects. That is not “do no harm” to anyone. I know it’s a knee-jerk reaction: you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. But I’m supposed to be evolving. And Mom’s gone… so what the what? It’s like that open prison…

Brick, please.

So it’s a lot. I’m tired of this wall building.

It’s nearing the end of the first month of the year. I need to make a change I think, in my writing, if just for a little while. I’m thinking mostly fiction for February. I think I’ll read some of those old stories I wrote and share some, updated and cleaned up. See where that goes.

I bought a new set of technical pens, based on the one I found in the box. I started doodling immediately last night. Here’s my first mandala for the year.

mandala_1

I would like to do one a day. I would like to run out of ink doing them.

I say things like that “would like to” because I fear I won’t keep the commitment. But how hard is it to doodle every day? I guess I will find out.

One of the writing people I subscribe to is Jill Jepson. She has a blog, “Writing a Sacred Path” and she got me thinking about this “do no harm” thing most of all, or rather as I believe, it came to me right on time. I needed something to bring me back to center. I was flinging around so much blame that I was leery of becoming toxic. For the month’s final post on January 26 (it’s not up yet today), she wrote about the concept of writing generously and what it meant. And smack in the middle of the post was this:

boom. thank you, Fate.

boom. thank you, Fate. I don’t if I’ve told secrets that weren’t mine to tell. I’ve certainly been harsh. I don’t know about cruel, but I know I’ve been angry enough to be vindictive, but I don’t know. It’s a delicate balance: where does one story end and the other begin?

To be fair, she also wrote that we don’t have to write sweetly and kindly all the time either or else there’d be no satire or horror. But that’s where my bricks are lately: in that “do no harm” concept. It’s been such a whirly 18 months for me that I guess I can see how I’ve both wanted to dodge some bullets while fire some at the same time.

So there is an in-between; and maybe I’ve struck it, in a lot of what I write. Maybe I struck it in the previous post — maybe I can just move on and stop it already. I think I’ve figured it out (I took an hour away to make chili): I regret the way it all went down. I think I just really have the saddest heart about how my mother and I treated each other and how our family had to cope. That’s a big brick, but I hope it’s the keystone. So I need to let it drop so the wall comes down…

So that’s it… I have to get off this bus, and start something new. The only way to do something different is to do something different. Start some fiction writing again or at least less posts about Mom and anger and shitty experiences. Air out my feathers and have some fun. Fiction or bust. Fiction and mandalas are from the land of Do No Harm. Right?

Thank you.

Grief: Alcoholics are Not Nice. ACOAs Have their Moments Too

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Little known facts:

Before I write publicly, I always take a few breaths and meditate on what I’m about to do.

Each post I write tends to have 20 small revisions before I click “publish” (which really is a misnomer, because I’m sharing, not exactly publishing, but that’s another post sentence paragraph altogether).

For the past year, I’ve not only meditated, but I’ve gone with my gut when I write, doing my best to cast any fear aside so I may best and most freely express myself.

For the past nine months, I have appealed to Archangel Gabriel, the angel of messaging and the one who visited Mary and told her about her pregnancy — to me Gabriel has it going on, and if I can get a smidge of that, I’m happy. What I’ve specifically asked for of Gabriel is three things: candor, humility and humor. Sometimes in differing order; I determined that Gabriel really knows the best way to parse out these things.

Last weekend, I hosted my family for what we call “Second Christmas” — it’s named as such because we don’t all see each other on Christmas. I host every other year. Thanksgiving is all my side of the family and Christmas is my husband’s.

Mom has been gone now about 16 months. Some “holidays” are easier than others; the last time we celebrated Second Christmas at my house, it was February 2013 and the experience was really emotionally profound for me personally. I recall going outside and looking at all the snow which had recently fallen and seeing our outdoor Christmas lights still on our bushes out front light up the snow from beneath it.

The street was silent. The snow, in its big fluffy flakes, was heavy yet soft and I could hear it land on all sorts of surfaces, other flakes, the leaves of the bushes, my jacket, my cheek … and I remember saying to myself that I was really so very happy. I took it all in, privately and alone outside looking in toward my home where everyone I cared for most deeply in all the world was existing, for just that moment, in what I inferred as a state of harmony and presence.

I remember coming back into the house, the contrasting heat and voices rushed over me. I came in from silent, dark yet white to chatty, bright and yellow. I said to everyone, “There could be no finer hour for me again because everyone I love most — in all the world — is safe and here right now.” I am sure one of my brothers made some snarky remark because I can tend toward the sentimental at times (it’s seldom but it happens), or maybe he didn’t, but the truth is that I was in such a state of bliss, it didn’t matter.

That was the last time I hosted and it was the last one Mom attended. She died seven months later of a massive cardiac arrest on her way to get a root beer float.

So this year, we were all together again at my house. I knew it was going to be hard for me; I was twitchy the week before and I knew it was just something I had to push through and I was really happy to do it. My immediate family is one of my most favorite things, but it was still a lot.

During one of our down times, we turned on the previous night’s Saturday Night Live. The musical guest was a former hip-hop artist named Sia and I’d never heard of her because I’m ancient and I listen to Pandora or yoga music. Her first performance was really … just so bizarre that I couldn’t turn myself away from wondering what the hell she was going to do for the encore. She did nothing bizarre, but she sang a song called “Chandelier” which simply took my breath away.

I Googled Sia. I wanted to know about her song, about her as an artist beyond what my family could tell me: she went completely underground for a while, but now she’s back. She obscures her face, in some form of ironic protest to the amount of publicity she gets, so now, instead of having a face everyone can see, she has created more interest in her face because you can’t see it now…I don’t know… People are weird.

Anyway, the song is about alcoholism and it’s an autobiographical anthem and when I say anthem, I mean Anthem: she belts out this song as though her life –and possibly others– depended on it. I could have been Sia; I could have been an alcoholic.

Maybe it’s the chords, or the song’s structure of minor keys and minor chords, but I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it. It spoke to me about my own mother and the sadnesses she must’ve pushed away in order to perform as much as she could in a real world with real children who have real needs.

Sia isn’t asking for acceptance or your pity in this song. She’s just telling you how it is in the most primal and aggressive and self-sacrificing and beautiful way she can. I don’t know how she can speak after singing that song — not only is it emotionally draining, but her vocal range and thrust of the sounds that come out of her head are insane.

So it got me thinking, after reading about her, the song, her history and as much as I want to give my mother a break — even though she’s dead — for all the shit she put me through as a child and young woman and young adult and middle aged adult, there is a part of me that just … isn’t quite ready.

It’s not that I want to re-live all that hell, and I definitely don’t court it. Simply, part of me can’t move on entirely from it yet because I think I haven’t processed it fully; I haven’t fully accepted and decided that what all the books say about Adult Children of Alcoholics is correct: that we aren’t the cure, the cause, nor can we control it — “it” being the alcoholic’s alcoholism — and that thinking you have some control over someone else’s life choices is a bit of an ego rush, no matter how sick.

As much as I want to let it all go, there’s a hang nail: if I keep it — the pain of being an ACOA — in my chi, then I also keep Mom alive, and that’s really hard to deny, so I don’t bother. If that’s all I had with her, for the most part: her rages, her narcissism, her deflection, her projections, her denial, her lies, her manipulations, her rages and rages and rages — all those things coupled with my fear dressed as anger, then she isn’t really dead is she? And I get to still play a victim to it. (Lots of layers…)

The other thing is that I lived on “alert” about Mom for more than 40 years, so it’s going to take some time to wind down and let it all go and relax.

I have many wonderful people in my life who tell me to let it go, to move on, to forgive her, to let it go to let it go to let it go… and I have, for the most part, but it’s completely impossible, isn’t it: expecting me to release all the pain and fear and hurt and shame and guilt and rage is like expecting me to forget what the sun on my skin feels like. We love it when the sun rests on our skin for a few moments, don’t we? We do. And we recognize it immediately as a good thing, a familiar thing. It powers us, it feeds us vitamin D, it cleanses our senses for just a moment when we are zapped into that moment — from WHATEVER we had going on in our heads — to feel that eight-minute-old blast of heat, nourishment and “celestial love” from our giant blazing gas orb. The sun sustains us.

So it is the same with me and being my mother’s daughter. That relationship lasted almost 46 years. I’m no masochist and so I ask of anyone who knows an ACOA (who admits they are an ACOA) to cut us some slack when we get swept up by a song, a memory, a smell, a sound, a feeling or a silence. Just cut us some slack. This shit’s hard.

Growing up with an alcoholic parent is hard — like, the kind of hard some people can’t even imagine: We have to rely on someone like “Drunk Uncle” to take us to school or make our lunches or wake us for school or bathe us or take us to the doctor… But “Drunk Uncle” is a sloppy drunk; he’s funny and creepy but not super angry. Replace sloppy, funny, and creepy with pissed, snobby, paranoid, mean and morose and that’s what I had. Imagine that taking you to a friend’s house and meeting their parents. Imagine that opening the door or answering a phone call for you.

A part of my being an ACOA denies my mom her affliction because that is too hard to admit: that she chose a substance over caring for me. Plus, I protected my mother like a guard dog from a harsh society and its realities. It’s nuts.

How do we do it? Well, I do it with humor and candor and humility (“There but for the Grace of God go I”) which keeps me as stable as possible and well, slightly more off center than someone who grew up in a “regular” home. But I cheer myself also, because unlike someone who grew up in a regular home, I’ve overcome shit you don’t even understand and while that doesn’t make me better than anyone else, it does mean I’m not a damaged loser either — I’ve overcome it, with a semblance of love, kindness, humor, silent compassion and reality which can astound.

ACOAs are not into trivialities — we don’t have time to bullshit. We hug you because we mean it. We love you because we feel it. We repel you because we feel you’re toxic; we are like human barometers — we don’t have time to suffer your delusions, rationalizations, intellectualizations and obfuscation, excuses and blathering tedium because WE HAVE LIVED THROUGH IT already. So if we cut you out, it’s because we’re done; likewise, if we keep you around, it’s because we love you with a love that is powerful, humble, vulnerable and loyal. When we Do The Work of being an aware ACOA, we are probably one of the best things to have in your life. We’re like rescued pets…

Candor.

My dad asked me yesterday after I ranted about what a wretch my mother could be, about her rages (which he knew nothing about because he and the rest of the world was at work or asleep), “You say you miss your mother…. why do you say that and then say things like this?”

I thought I’d explained it before, but he’s older now and it’s been a rough ride for him — almost 60 years with that woman will take its toll and he has his own health as an aging human — so I cut him slack and say, “Sure. I get it. I know it’s a conflict. The thing is: I always missed her, or what she was supposed to represent: a mother. I mean, I am still here; she didn’t completely jack it all up…” But I don’t miss HER at all. I really don’t. Not for a second.

The worst was some of her AA friends. Mom had all the books, attended all the meetings, even worked the phones for AA at midnight to help people who were suffering as she was, to support them and try to encourage them from taking that drink in the middle of the night. I remember the phone would ring at all hours, waking me up. But I supported it. Some of the people calling were really hammered though. I resented them; I knew she would likely fall to having a drink on the call. The lure was too strong.

And her meetings friends … they were really insufferable, saying all the sayings and using all their codes, nodding knowingly at me as I would walk by, snarling and hissing. They disregarded my pain, the suffering of our family. They said many times that I needed to cool my jets, be a better daughter because my mother was so fragile, that I would toss her over the brink. Many times I told them to go to hell. I see it now, it was a form of self-protection: a tribal “thing”: they were doing the same things to their families and kids, they had to protect her from assholes like me… There was only ONE person I respected in her lineage of sponsors: Ellianet. She was a tall, lean and sporty woman. She was still in Buffalo. She was tough and real and she would allow my anger. Not enable it, but “see” it and she understood it. She was a loving, consistent and firm hand to Mom. Mom thrived with her. I think she was sober for a couple years with her. Then we moved. Even if Ellianet lived here, there was no way she’d hang with some of the cheap-shoe, big-haired, Cadillac-driving poseurs my mother ensnared in her web. I honestly think Mom went to those meetings to recruit actors for her plays and Tennessee Williams readings in our moody, suburban, book-lined living room…

But there were good years for her. Mom worked the program for a bit, she made real changes and I was proud of her. Still bitter as hell, but proud. I knew better than to let my guard down as I became a full-blown teenager. She would help people, staying sober for a few months at a time, maybe even a year or two. She was lovely then. But the relapses… oh, they were crushing.

Humor.

We talked about people on my Facebook page who have much fonder memories of my mother than I was ever blessed with (why they can’t imagine that a person like Judy Garland, Carol Channing or Liza Minelli would ever make a good parent is beyond me). They offer their plastic platitudes and essentially refuse to see the other side of the story — that having an angry Bette Davis for a mother is really, not cool. They would gloss over my pain and ignore the truth I’d love to skywrite on our cyan canopy. I say that says more about them, not her and certainly not me.

These people mean well, I know they do guess, but they have an appreciation of my mother that … simply didn’t exist in my world. That version of Mom was more of a visitor. Dad understood that; lots of people didn’t know my mom. She was a secret wrapped in an enigma disguised as a puzzle. I don’t think she knew herself.

Alcoholics are really difficult people. They booze up to cover their pain which they won’t tell you about because __________ and then they expect you to just rainbows and butterflies deal with it; that you’re the one with the problem if you have a problem with their problem. 

I told Dad, “They say things like “think of her fondly…” and “she was a wonderful woman …” and “she loved you so much… ” or “she was your mother, of course she loved you…” (so all those times she woke me in a rage at midnight 1) to find her things she was convinced I stole; 2) correct or defend a paper or diary entry I wrote; 3) or to clean up a mess I made hours before when she was out of commission was her way of showing love).

I rolled my eyes, laughing in contempt.

He understood it only partially. So I went further. Dad is one of the funniest people I know, and so I portrayed and parodied my response to those platitudes, “Oh! Yes, I can recall those wonderful moments … sure. Give me a second …” and I used my left forefinger to count on my right hand, finger by finger and opening my palm recounting the kindnesses, moments of fearless love, and security my mother selflessly extended to me and I mocked myself, pushed back pain, feigned enthusiasm and difficulty discerning the pleasantries and I counted to four. He laughed and we moved on.

Was it all for effect? Was I performing? Yes and no. Sometimes humor is all I can muster to deal with the reality.

Humility.

Reflecting on that with my dad revealed to me that it was yet another moment for me in my life of now 47 years that I realized that I’m no walk in the park either. I joke with friends, “It’s so nice being perfect…”

I can be super reactive like a viper; I can say some really stupid things — completely without thinking — as a result. I have a sense of “humor” honed by years of pain and hurt and rage which can either lift you up or stun you. I try to apologize when I figure it out. I try to grow.

So I listen to this song by Sia again and again to flush it out of my system and then I get it, as I’ve gotten it so many times before in my life and this won’t be the last time (thanking God)… because

There but for the Grace of God go I…

I’m a lucky person. I am so aware of what this year means to me — when my mother was 47, she was uprooted from her hometown of her entire life and essentially forced to pitch tent in a new place… oh! Hers was an emotional tsunami that no one could’ve ever predicted.

If I ever thought my mother was “weak” (and I have plenty), her defiance of that life we all tried to make in 1981, has shown me otherwise. Mom was not weak, she was a force, but it broke her, that move.

So I will be on my toes for weird stuff this year.

I believe in genetic energies — that when she was 47, I was almost 14. I was her middle child. I am 47, my middle son is almost 14, and this year has lots of messages for me and my son and I plan to do my best to watch it all and stay present and stay humble and stay grateful for the fact that I’ve survived what I did.

I also need to give myself the latitude of knowing that I am NOT her and that if we end up (randomly and unexpectedly) moving this year and start a new life, that it will be OK because I am ME, not her.

I can embrace that whatever lesson my mother had to endure to teach me by example to keep my life together –despite all the pressure and feelings of entrapment and bullshit of life that she and we all endured– that she taught me well.

Mom taught me well. She used to say she was so grateful that I’d escaped alcoholism. She used to say she was proud of me for it, but those conversations only resulted in me being mad that she wouldn’t stop. And then we would fight.

I haven’t had a hangover in 17 years. I’ve never submitted to the “hair of the dog” to convalesce after drinking. Somehow I knew that having a drink because I was sick from having too many drinks was a reeeeeeally bad idea. She would tell me often of how I am genetically marked, that I exist in the crosshairs of a fatal condition.

Will I think only fondly of Mom from now on? No. And please don’t ask me to because I’m messed up too. She didn’t always speak of her mother with 24k golden love either.

For some people, when I write about Mom in this way, they chafe, the shift in their seats, they furrow their brows, they take breaths and sigh… They get mad. That’s on them… that’s their messaging from their own bodies that they need to pay attention to.

If what I say bugs you SO much, I posit to you: why? Why can’t YOU handle me writing about my alcoholic mother in such a fierce way? Is it because to you she was so much more than that? Ok… I’ll allow it. But as much as I allow it in you, I ask you to allow it in me that she (as any alcoholic is) was a fatal, atomic combination. She, in particular, was a talented, entitled, narcissistic artist; an actor; and a drunk. You try growing up in that and let me know how you turn out. Let me know if you fart rainbows.

In her egoic, human state she would want only gorgeous remembrances — that she was more than what I paint her to have been. She would want me to throw her a bone because she refused many times to permit my recollection of the horrors of my life as her child. She never apologized, she never owned her stuff nor allowed that she shaped me. She used to say, “You have anger issues, Maally…” and I’d be thinking in my head, “YA THINK?! I WONDER WHY…”

But as much as she couldn’t allow it in her human state, in her energetic, spiritual state I feel “she” gets it and “she” knows that it’s not so simple: Mother sets the tone — I know this more than anything — as she recalled of her own mother. My mother set the tone and I fell in line, like a duckling. Maybe in some crazy way, she didn’t want me to get too close to her because she was teaching, training and honing me in order for me to stop the cycle.

This is my lemonade.

So this past weekend was the last revolving holiday “tradition” Mom attended and for me, writing about it was cleansing. I feel as though I’ve been able to close the chapter now. Moving on.

Maybe it’s time to think about forgiveness.

Thank you.