calm · compassion · relationships

Learning to Love.

12.6.18.jpgSometimes dating feels a lot like teaching:

You have to remind yourself that the other person doesn’t know what they don’t know.

You have to remember that when people get frustrated or act out, there’s usually something else going on for them.

You have to accept that they’re truly doing the best they can with the tools they know.

And, you have to know a few things yourself:

You have to offer alternative tools if the ones they’re using are causing harm.

You have to bring a deep patience that can require you to close your eyes and take a breath before saying any next thing.

And sometimes you just take a day off.

What all this has in common to me is that I need to care for myself while also showing up (and yes, sometimes “showing up” means leaving the room!).

I need to remember that this person in front of me, partner or student, is a child of G-d.  I have to remember that I am a child of G-d.  And, most critically, that we’re both doing the very best we can with the tools we have.

My very own frustration in a moment is the best that I can do.  Another’s acting out in a moment is the best they can do.

I was at a workout class last night that ends in a “moment of stillness,” and the teacher asked us to close our eyes and send compassion to ourselves.  She said that self-compassion is often the hardest quality or emotion to have.  When I feel judgy of another person, when I want to change another person, when I want to run away from another person, I need to remember that this is just because I, too, need a little compassion for myself.

I’m feeling afraid, activated.  I’m feeling a fear that I won’t be okay because another person is “not okay” at the moment.  I’m feeling afraid that I can’t control a situation or a person, and that if I cannot do that — particularly if I cannot calm another person down — then none of us will be okay.

In this vein, I’ve been recalling a story my mom told me from about when I was seven or so.  She was driving with me in the car and something happened with another driver on the highway, and she got apoplectic.

As the lore has it, I cautioned her then: “Mom, you’re too angry.”

She tells me this story, because she heard it.  She heard that she was frightening her child.  She heard that her reaction was outsized to the cause.

And in many ways, I think I’ve grown up feeling like I have to calm other people’s emotions.  (As you can imagine, a middle-schooler has a lot of emotions!)

What strikes me this morning is to remember that what this person is seeking—student, parent, partner, other driver—is their own version of safety, by whatever means they know how.

Indeed, when I become frustrated or afraid, it’s only because I’m seeking safety by whatever means I know how — which has meant the belief that if others are not okay, then I’m not okay.

This … is not true.

There is a truth, and it is this: I am okay, despite what occurs around me.

I, of course, stand for no legitimately egregious guff, but I can allow what’s happening for someone else to soften around me instead of bowl me over.  When others’ emotions bowl me over, I feel that I must dig in, I must close off, and I must push back against them.

None of that is true.

In moments of distress, there’s only one thing I must do: Remember that I am a child of G-d, that I am safe, that I am lovable exactly as I am.   Just like everybody else.

 

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chaos · compassion · order

My humanity is showing.

11.12.18.jpgPardon the mess, it’s just the inside of my brain.  You’ve arrived at a consequential time for me and I haven’t had the time to put all the belongings into their rightful place and order.

This pile here, atop what used to resemble a desk, is all my pending work tasks—the ones at the bottom over a month old.  Over in the kitchen, this disarray is where I collect all of my home related things.  As you see, the junk drawer holds, “Call the shade installer,” “Look up glucosamine supplements,” and “Find a better place for the Sodastream.”

In the heart of the living area is the jumble of my relationships, a pile of body parts.  The ear of my mom, for listening to the chaos and whose call I have to return.  The pointer finger of my dad for his accusation of missing his birthday.  The palm up, “Stop” sign of my inner self reminding me to pause, slow down, and remember my divinity, stillness, and truth.

On the porch, are my running shoes—sorry you tripped on them when you arrived!— dusty, beside a study about the precipitous drop-off of muscle tone as we age and a mishmash of the area’s workout classes.

So, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t pause to look you in the eye right now.  If my fingernails have created a series of half-moons in my clenched palms, if a fistful of chocolate chips is a reasonable dinner, if my sleep cycle is a jackinthebox poised to awaken me at any moment.

Because, do know: There’s a robot vacuum on its way.

And a bed frame.  And a holiday break.  There are boxes unpacked so I have my favorite bread knife again, designated desk space, and a re-organized medicine cabinet.

Help is on its way.  I’m taking the action—some areas more slowly than others—but the pile will get unpiled, the sneakers will get sneaked, and I will learn anew what it’s like to let myself be human.

 

compassion · resilience · TEACHING

Humanity isn’t a bad word, just a hard one.

8.25.18.jpgBeing the first week of middle school, there are a lot of nervous students and even more nervous parents.  Meeting with a few of these parents this week, I said to a coworker that underneath the specifics of each child, underneath their “learning style” and labels, all any parent wants to hear from us teachers is:  Your child will be loved.  Your child will be held.  Your child will be okay.

It’s this last piece that I think is the hardest for some to grasp, because I think it’s hard to grasp about ourselves.  But a child is a developing being, and often what that means is that there are moments when they will not be “okay.”  They will feel angry, frustrated, lonely, righteous, overwhelmed, and frightened.  In other words, they will feel human.

The faculty read this summer was The Gift of Failure, and while there are efforts in place to disseminate this information to the parents of our students, too, until that happens, it’s a one-on-one meeting at a time to say, Yes, I hear that your child is having a hard time.  However, I also hear that this is a chance for them to learn something new about resilience, flexibility, perseverance, and independence.

The ironic piece is that, in my own way, I’m trying to protect these students, too!  Trying to save them — from “bio-doming” themselves, or their parents doing it for them.  I’m trying to save them from not experiencing the slings and arrows.  To be clear, I’m not injuring these children!!! I’m just holding what I see as the bigger picture… and that picture sometimes clashes mightily with the bigger picture a parent sees.

And, oy, how that “is what it is.”

There is little I can do to change the perspective of parents, except to gently encourage them to take their hands off the back of the bicycle seat and allow their child to falter.

I can also work on my own letting go of their experience and actions.  I want them to see things my way, but that’s a two-way street.

What I want and what is are generally extraordinarily disparate until I can get on board with what is.  And what “is” is that people are nervous, people are frightened, and I don’t have to save them from those feelings.  But I do need to open to the experiences of others and not consider my way the right way, either.

There’s so much “learning” going on, and we haven’t even had a full week of class!;)

G-d save and help us.  We are all only human.

 

abundance · compassion · deprivation · family · love · motherhood · recovery

Maybe Baby 2

I have been looking at porn.
This porn comes in the form of a Facebook page for local moms who are selling or giving away baby stuff. 
I’m on this page because one of my best friends is pregnant, and I have hopped so far aboard her baby-train, I’m surprised I’m not morning-sick myself!
In the past few weeks, I’ve begun reading a book on pregnancy that she read and loved (The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy), crocheting baby bibs, buying scrap fabric for burp clothes, and practically stalking her to ask if she wants a breast pump I found online. 
As I spoke of in my 2014 blog post “Maybe Baby,” I am not sure whether I want children. 
As then, I am not in a serious relationship, and I still am not willing to go the motherhood route alone, so there’s no real reason to question if I do or do not. But, reasonable or not, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. 
With every article on our drought, the cost of living, the planet’s imminent demise, the expansion of the stupid class — I am convinced for a few moments never to bring children into this hateful world. 
And with every true breath of fresh air, every warm hug, every belly laugh — I am convinced for a few moments that I want another human to bear witness to this world’s incandescent beauty. 
I am the age my mom was when she carried me (33), and then my brother at 36. I have been emailing and asking her all kinds of questions about her pregnancies since I began reading the pregnancy book — what was your morning sickness like? what does pregnancy feel like? did you have food aversions? stretch marks? hemorrhoids? (god help us, she did not!)
I have had the liberty and the luxury of asking my mom these questions, and too, my friend who is pregnant, does not. And I am very aware of this fact, and I think it has spurred my devoted interest in her pregnancy — I want to be there as much as I can, because I want to make up for any absence she might be feeling (real or imagined, to me, since I haven’t spoken to her about it yet). 

I was on the phone with my mom this morning, telling her that I feel my heightened interest in my friend’s impending mommy-hood is also that she’s my first local BFF to be pregnant. One of my other best friends in Long Island had a baby last year, and I was able to be there for a few days when the baby was a month old, but that’s all. There wasn’t the same imminent babyhood. 
I told my mom that I’d been thinking about my very best friend from childhood, a woman I’ve known since we were 3 years old, and how I can’t imagine what it will be like if and when she gets pregnant across the country from me. And I began to cry. 
Of course, it’s about her, my New Jersey friend, and it’s also about me. About how I’ll feel, if and when I also choose to have a family — assuming I’m able — so far from her and my own family. 
This is big business. This mommy stuff. 
And I am wanting to prepare to make that decision in a realistic way — so I have doubled-down on my work around intimacy and relationships (or in my case, habitual lack thereof). This morning, I told the woman I’d been working on these issues with by phone for about 6 weeks (a stranger whose name was passed along to me from a woman I admire) that I have reached out to someone local to work the rest of this stuff with. 
And I have. I will continue this relationship work with this local woman who has known me for nearly 8 years, who has seen me at my best and worst, who can call me out, see patterns, and provide so much space for my feelings and vulnerability that I can practically swim in them and still feel safe. 
Yesterday morning, this same woman (as we were talking about what my issues were and what I wanted to work out) said that she’d always felt for me that my issue was around deprivation. 
… 

She’s very astute. 
And it’s also funny to me because it’s one of those things that doesn’t come into focus about yourself until someone else (who knows you well) reflects it back. 
I am very aware of this time in the generation of women around me. My friends who are certain they don’t want kids, ones who know they do, the ones who can’t, and ones who, like me, are unsure.
It’s a particular, cordoned off time in our lives. And I’m holding the space for that, leaning into the grief of potentially not seeing friends change their whole lives, them not seeing me do the same. I’m aware this is “future-tripping,” but it’s fair to acknowledge my feelings around it, anyway. 
I’m allowed to not know what will happen (for me or for my friends), and I’m allowed to have feelings either way. 
Today, what that looks like is picking up a bitchin’ breast pump for my best friend. Continuing to do the work toward an intimate relationship with a man. And letting myself be both sad and happy for and with my peers. 
community · compassion · learning · levity

Still?

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While waiting backstage last night for a long scene I’m not
in to finish, I leafed through an old book of opera history, the only book in
the room.
In it, are pages and pages of photos, and I was struck by
how similar everyone looked to today. Yep, there’re the same cheeckbones, facial
structure, haughty gaze we still see in others and starlets today. Some of the
photos were dated 1898.
Over a hundred years ago, people looked relatively the same.
They portrayed the same stories of love, hatred, betrayal, and sacrifice. And I
commented to the other actor who was also waiting backstage on how shockingly
similar we looked, and how our stories, our desires haven’t changed for tens of
thousands of years. Mythology and the Bible tell the same stories, and people probably looked
relatively similar too.
Sure, we might be a little more refined about it, not
sacrificing goats or children as often. Not slaying enemies in the street. But
for the most part, looking back through time, we’re the same people we were
thousands of years ago.
And my co-actor said something that struck me: Well, yeah,
because we have the same brains we’ve had for thousands of years.
For some reason, this made me pause, and things clicked into
place in my head. We’ve been retelling these stories through pictoral, oral,
and written history for eons. Homer wrote about the same passions and impulses
as Shakespeare as Langston Hughes as Brene Brown.
We’ve all been processing the same emotions for millennia.
There’s something kind of humbling and shocking about that realization. Perhaps
even a little bit disheartening! But mostly, I think, connecting.
It makes all humanity more relatable.
I remember reading a story of a therapist who was going to
be working with a group of Rwandan refugees. She was worried that she
wouldn’t know how to relate to them, how she would be able to talk to them
about what they’d been through because it was so alien to her experience.
What she found was charming: Her first client wanted
to talk about how the guy she had her eye on was hot for her cousin.
We all have the same impulses. We all have the same
chemistry and wiring, inhibitions and ambitions. Beyond the length of recorded
time, we’ve all been trying to make a go at this thing called life.
And I find that oddly comforting. 

compassion · disappointment · family · self-care · self-preservation

Stay in Touch.

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I received a birthday card in the mail from my father the
other day.
On the front are printed all these large, cartoony instructions saying, “Daughter, Whatever you do, don’t open this card!”
On opening it, the message inside reads, “You still don’t do
as you’re told.”
And there’s a handwritten note, wishing me a happy birthday
and telling me to stay in touch.
It’s both funny and tragic. It’s funny, not for it’s printed
content, but for the fact that it continues my father’s understanding of me and
our relationship: He’s the good one, I’m the fuck-up. He makes the rules, and I don’t follow them. What a set-up. 
This is “funny,” because it’s sad. Because it’s continued
confirmation of how unrealistic our relationship is, and because it confirms
that this is not a person I want to be in communication with.
Lest you think me harsh to judge or condemn a relationship
based on one tin-eared card, believe me, this is the softest of these messages
I’ve received. And continue to receive from him.
On Saturday, I got the chance to talk to my mentor. We were
talking about amending relationships where there is discord, or where I simply
don’t feel at peace.
This, of course, is one of them.
But, my father was listed in a category of others, too:
People I’ve fallen out of touch with out of self-preservation.
I wanted to talk to my mentor about whether I’m in the
wrong… that still-lingering “good daughter” or “good friend” guilt. Shouldn’t
you show up no matter what? Isn’t that love? Or is that obligation? And does it
matter?
Isn’t it my job to adjust myself and meet these people where
they’re at, regardless of how they’re harming me?
Because as painful as it is to know how intractable the
situation with my dad is, I still lash myself with reproval.
I should be able to withstand my crazy aunt’s needling about
my family’s ills. I should be able to listen to her constant health complaints
and victim-laden phone calls. I should be able to because she’s family and because she’s alienated nearly everyone else
she’s related to.
I should be able to sit in a car with my manic friend, even
though I get quiet and withdrawn around that kind of unpredictable behavior. I
should be able to meet her level of enthusiasm and kookiness because that’s
cool, right? Why can’t I just be cool, like her?
I should be able to be in relationships with people I don’t
want to be in relationships with, because that’s what “good” people do, right? Because
that’s what we’re told good people do.
But, to quote that myopic card, I rarely do what I’m told. …
What my mentor offered me was there are some relationships that
are once or twice a year out-reaches. And that’s okay.
Send your aunt a birthday and holiday card, and call it a
day.
Allow your friend who makes you uncomfortable to have her
own experience, and you don’t have to be a part of it if you don’t like how you
feel around her.
Reply to your dad’s occasional emails, thank him for the
card. And leave it at that.
There are relationships that we invest more in and there are
those we invest less. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for the person. It
doesn’t mean that they are bad, or that I am.
It just means that my self-exacting standard of
communication needs relaxing.
You don’t have to invest in relationships that cause you
pain.
Believe me, I’ve done enough work in trying to make these
particular ones work. To find common ground and compromise and a way of
communicating that is healthy, or at least not harmful. And unfortunately,
there isn’t one.
I wish and try and hope and beg Universes that they were,
particularly with my dad, because who wouldn’t? But, this is an intractable
situation. And I have bloodied my fists knocking on a closed door, trying to
break in through a side window, and torn fingernails trying to dig underneath
all the battle defenses that each of us have drawn to come to a relationship with him that I can be in.
But, when you come to the end of the line, it’s time to get off
the train. This one doesn’t go any farther, no matter how much I wish it did.
And I do. And I probably always will.
But in the reality of today, these relationships are not serving
either of us. I can’t demand someone to show up or behave how I want. I can
only adjust myself to what is. And allow myself the compassion to stop
haranguing myself for not being able to adjust them.
And I can do that by staying in touch. Just barely. 

addiction · compassion

Elegy.

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He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will
be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know
loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish
for the end
.
Alcoholics
Anonymous
, p. 152
If your newsfeed is anything like mine, over the last two
days it has been flush with messages of condolence, sorrow, bafflement,
gratitude and even ire.
In response to the suicide of Robin Williams, I have seen an
interesting splice of my “friends” wrestle with his end.
One friend wrote that he, too, suffered from depression and
loneliness, but he “pulled himself out of it,” without the “resources” available
to someone like a celebrity. This friend was angry that someone could be so
selfish and blind to the opportunities present to him.
But as we can read in the above quoted paragraph, there are
times when we ourselves are blind, and
nothing can make us see. Or we believe that nothing can. Or we believe that
whatever “is” is not fast enough or strong enough or consistent enough. We
believe only in our aloneness and our constriction. And from that place, there is
no perspective, hope, or option. From that place, there is only annihilation to
end the suffering.
Money, fame, or accolades do nothing to quiet the internal
storm. In fact, they can often keep us farther from our truth because we now
believe that people are counting on us, maybe in this case, to be funny and on
and up and impervious. Don’t show weakness because that’s not what they want to
see. And the further we drift from our truth, the larger the distance between
how we feel and what we show to the world, the more gaping the hole and gnawing
the desire for relief from that fissure.
I cannot claim to be inside the head of anyone other than
myself. And from that vantage point, I can admit that I hear that voice at
times which tells me there is no solution except for annihilation. I am not
alone in hearing it, but I am lucky enough to know to reach out when it
whispers. Although that doesn’t necessarily quell that voice. I can’t really
know what it is that shifts when that desperation is upon me, but my experience
has told me that something does.
In those bleak moments however, that is impossible to remember.
Impossible.
I rely on the faith and fortitude of others in those
moments, but I have also built a conversation and culture among my friends that
allows for that vulnerability. I have built conversations that can include
language that is desolate, dark, and hopeless, and I have faith that these friends
can hear that and hold it for me.
Because I have come before to that place where what you saw
and what I felt were so antithetical, it landed me in lock-down psychiatric treatment.
I have come to that place where I screamed for someone to
see beyond my mask to what was really going on and to who I really was.

When they say, “It was a cry for help,” that’s what is meant: Please see
beyond the smoke and mirrors that have kept you from me, that I thought were
protecting me, and see through to the hemorrhaging, terrified, devastated human heart.
We can only be reached, and potentially helped, in the
sharing and access of that heart.
But that is the most vulnerable, humbling, and painful admission I
know.
It’s been written that it seems everyone loved Robin
Williams except himself. Some argue there is more to it, to depression, to addiction.
But it seems to me that the chasm between internal and
external became so great, that the only solution he saw was to fall in.
And that decision (although decision implies choice) — selfish as some may call it, unseeing as
some may believe it to be — is one of the loudest calls to compassion that I
know.