growth · recovery · surrender

Friend Breakups

When I limped into recovery over 12 years ago in San Francisco and raised my hand as new to the group, I cried.

I cried with mourning and grief; I also cried with relief.

The mourning was multilayered: I was grieving for having realized how much time I’d spent battling a demon in single-handed combat—a battle I could (and would) never win but continued to launch attack after attack to get under control, to get my life, my heart, my sanity under control.  And I could not.

My efforts were meaningless, but I railed against that monster for a decade.  The opposite of “chasing the dragon,” I quickly learned the consequences of waking the beast and fought tooth and nail to put it back to sleep.  Like an overtired toddler, the beast of addiction could not be soothed with my mortal tools.

So, I cried in that meeting because of all the wounds I’d suffered in that hopeless fight.

I cried, also, because that dragon and the fight I’d waged with it had become the most constant companion I’d ever had (or at least realized I had — it would be a little longer before I came to realize the benevolent forces abundant in my life during all that hellacious time, too).

I cried in grief over the pal I knew I was coming here to say goodbye to with a finality.  Oh Palsy, the times we had!  Together, we travelled from small-town suburbia, to college-town alleyways, to South Korean karaoke bars, and all over the South Pacific.

All the way, like a boulder tumulting down a cliff face, onto a couch in San Francisco.

And here we were, you and I, palsy, having the same ol’ fight again.  The scenery changed, but nothing else had.  And I knew, ultimately, that I had to leave you to find other folks to talk with, to give me new and different ideas and new tools for walking through this marvelous miasma of existence.

And so, I cried for the loss of this dragon-friend with whom I’d traversed continents and decades.

I also cried with relief.

The clatter of swords, I call it.  That moment when you see the brave knight tete-a-tete with the gilded beast, the hero all sweaty and injured and launching her assault again and again.  And you can see, anyone watching can see, that she cannot win.  That what is happening here is a travesty of power — this is twisted and sick to make her continue to fight that monster.  What kind of sick bastard are you continuing to encourage this harm to our hero??

And the hero finally understands.  She realizes the hopelessness of winning and she lets her longsword fall.

It’s slow motion, an end-over-end descent of metal, til it clatters to the floor of the dark cave and echoes against the stone, bouncing and oscillating just a little in its death throes before it comes to a deep stop on the ground.

There is silence.

The hero stands there now, empty-handed, the dragon overhead watching this change.  This isn’t some battle tactic, this isn’t some sly made-ya-look.  Our hero has dropped all of her fight and knows that, if absolutely nothing else, her fight is over.

Relief tumults upon her in waves.  Cleansing, heaving, sobbing waves that I cried in that new room of people who understood.

I am intimately reminded of that moment today as I continue to do my work around Judgment and Control, these friends who have been with me since before the above dragon was awoken.

These two friends have been so close to me, I have thought of them as myself.  I have not seen the molecule of air there is between me and them; I have thought we were the same.

But something has begun to shift, G-d’s Infinite Crowbar prying these stranger, more insidious demons apart from me, and showing me that they are, in fact, not really me.

I have worn them as closely as my skin, and it is a painful process to pull them off, or have them pried from me.

You remember being in ballet when you were little, and you had those thick opaque tights for recitals?  And dancing in your ballet shoes, all the friction created from that movement rubbed your ankles raw?  You sucked in your breath as you danced because a smile was required, and you let those shoes and tights meld into your skin, wearing away parts of yourself, and replacing them with the fabric of this alien material.

You remember after each performance, sitting in the changing room with tightly top-bunned heads, unwrapping those gorgeous silk ribbons from around the white opaqueness, and impatiently yanking or tenderly pulling off those shoes and beginning to unfurl your tights back off down your legs?

You remember that moment when the tights are down to your feet and they have caught?  They are attached to the skin of your heel with blood and a little ooze?  It’s a moist but hard affixing, and the fabric of the tights pulls thin as you tug on it to see how deeply attached it is to your body.

You tug, you make bargains with god, you tell yourself “1,2,3” but start back at 1 when you’ve chickened out.

Sometimes in that moment, you take a deep breath, steel yourself, and rip it off.  You watch the raw patch of skin saturate with new blood and maybe begin to pool into real droplets.  Sometimes in that moment, you know you’re too scared to handle it on your own, and you ask a friend to come and just do it and, like how you do with a phlebotomist, you look the other way while they do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

I am right now both the puller and the asker for help in the pulling.

Judgment and Control are so enmeshed in my person that this individuation is painful, raw, grief-laden, and … a relief.

 

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control · humility · surrender

“Can I ask you a control freak question?”

10.1.18.jpgUmm, YES, ALWAYS!!

This was the exchange between myself and a coworker on Friday.  We were in the library where our Scribbles! club had just met (Yearbook, Lit Mag, AV club), and as she looked over to the book stacks she paused and asked me the title question: “Can I ask you a control freak question?”

I lit up:  “YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN!”  How did you KNOW that I spend my life waiting for that question?!  Is there something at all that I can help to put in order, set right, make perfect?!?!

She walked me over to the shelves of books and we had a brief exchange of ideas about how this genre should be displayed.  She expressed worry that if by changing the work someone else did (a volunteer whom she’d asked to do the organizing), she was being too anal.  I assured her that her display idea was the right one—that she wasn’t “correcting” the work, she was “improving” it!—and to go for it.

There is a compulsion to believe that by making order of the world, we are safe or the world is fixed or that we are the reincarnation of Atlas, ensuring the world is hugged and held properly for ourselves and everyone on it.

My mother tells me that her mom had OCD.  I don’t know the veracity of this, but my mom tells me that her mother would lock the door a certain number of times on the way out, check over the oven range knobs a certain number of times, and whether OCD-related, that she’d wash a slab of meat with dish soap before cooking it.

I laughed to my coworker on Friday, as we sussed out the perfect book display, that it was a sheer wonder that I never developed OCD.

My deep-set desire for the world to lack chaos has certainly manifested in a myriad of ways.  My desk at work is generally lickable (should one ever desire to), two people in the last week called me “diligent,” and I’ll straighten all the place settings in a restaurant once I’ve sat down, touching everything just so, not as if I can’t enjoy my meal if it isn’t aligned, but just… well, it makes me calmer to feel like everything is set “correctly.”

While none of these impulses leaks over into the compulsion category, my desire for order in the world can mean that I have little tolerance for very many things that involve other people:  The person who doesn’t understand that merging is a “you go, I go” zipper up the highway, the physical disarray of another person’s home, receiving a promise from someone to do something and that promise not being fulfilled…

Allowing for the fact of others’ good intentions, without seeing the actual proof in the pudding, is agonizing for some parts of myself.  You told me you would do X, and you didn’t.  You did X, but it’s not right, and now I have to ask you to do it again.  You did X, and it wasn’t right, so I took it on myself to do it even though it wasn’t my job and now I resent you.

So many thought cells devoted to how others are “behaving” or not, how others “should” be or not… how “right” I am or not!

The elemental desire for hospital corners (not that I ever have or will put those on my bed!) can bring friction to my relationships.  I want a perfection of my own invention, whiiiich relates back to my blog recently about being the “bitch” and demanding everything from others to be just so.  But, I have zero true desire to be a bitch — which is also to be alone.

There is zero effect I can have on others.  So I suppose I try to find it by organizing books, cupboards, and forks.

If this ordering of the world brings me solace, then, yes, I’m happy to remain a conduit for “control freak” questions.  Where this ordering causes me to suffer in the world, then, yes, I’m going to have to accept, release, and remember that I am Safe.

 

 

codependence · friendship · surrender

The Heart Cell does not judge the Liver Cell.

2.23.18 flood.jpg

In true ‘Universe’ fashion, my commitment to give up worrying about others has been put to immediate and raging test.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve formed a friendship with a now 91-year old gentleman because of my work on overcoming my debting thinking and behavior.  Together with another person (ostensibly) committed to the same, the three of us meet on a monthly basis to review Dennis’s financial situation and suggest actions for him to take.  Dennis is one of the sweetest people, a trumpet player in a veteran’s band, a coronet player in another band, and perpetually tan from his daily sun-lamp “health” regimen.

Dennis is also totally drowning in debting behavior.  He lives in a cramped, cluttered illegal studio/porch behind his two-story house, where he’s rented 2 units to other people — one of whom recently called the fire inspector and has created a chaos of tasks Dennis “must” complete in order to keep his house.

Over and again during these 2 years, there’s always been something that Dennis must pay for or a crisis he must overcome.  And, diligent compatriot that I am, I attempt to mitigate the advice he’s receiving from the other member of the triad (“pack up everything and move to Bali;” “escape the tax man by moving to Mexico”) and from his own brain (“I have to take down all the paintings in the foyer because my tenant wants me to;” “She wants a gold door, so I have to pay for it”).

When we began, Dennis had $24,000 in savings; now he has less than $5k.

And when he called me yesterday to give me the update on his situation in advance of our monthly meeting, and told me about this freaking gold door situation, I kind of lost my cool.

… well, not kind of.

I became enraged that people are taking advantage of him; that this tenant now feels she can play him for a piggybank because she can “call the fire chief” on him.  And I feel enraged that he’s allowing this, that he’s allowing spiders to spin webs in his head and breed lies.

I feel angry, … and I feel powerless.  And sometimes when I feel those things, particularly when I feel that an injured person is being harmed, I try to control it ALL.  What the tenant does, what Dennis does, what the other member of the triad does… I try to make it all better for Dennis because it’s obviously and clearly not going “well.”

… however, more to the point, it’s merely not going the way I want it.  For all I truly know, this is exactly how it should unfold.  Maybe Dennis is supposed to move into an assisted living program and forfeit his home to these mongers.  …

But whatever it is that he is or is not supposed to be doing, my ire does not help anything.  It makes him defensive, me offensive, and doesn’t help move the needle forward.

I am powerless over his situation, and judging him only serves to make me ill.

I am not his Higher Power.  I can’t read the runes.  I can’t make him change his thinking from these behaviors — and this is a hard fact for me to swallow: I cannot change others’ minds to act in ways I think they should.

And so, also in true Universe form, this morning’s Oprah/Deepak meditation emphasized the following sentence:  I find success without judging others or myself.

I am in a middle place, where I haven’t yet relinquished this habit of judging, caretaking, controlling and saving others, and where I haven’t yet found a replacement way of being.

This is “okay for now,” as my bf says, because I do at least know that wherever is next will have more dignity and humility — for me, and for those I love.

determination · fortitude · health · life · recovery · spirituality · surrender

Snookered.

See, the thing about being saved is that it’s not an
absolution.  You aren’t swept back from
the cliff’s edge and wrapped in a cosmic swaddling, rocked into unseeing bliss.  What you are is placed back firmly onto a
path.  A long one.  Back from the edge, back from the place of
giving up on the work of this lifetime, you are nudged—not so gently, but not
without compassion—onto a path that will require of you work for the rest of
your lifetime.
The cliff’s edge, the leap from it, the ultimate sacrifice
as it might be called is the choice to give up all the work that will ever be
asked of you.  It is to say, Forget it,
too hard, too much, there’s no help, no hope. 
To be placed back onto the path you had made some kind of decision—by
omission or commission—to leave means that you are now responsible to take up
the work you’d abandoned.  It is to look
up from your crumpled knees and see winding before you the path of your
lifetime, the work that will surely be needed to accomplish it, and the
knowledge that to be alive is to do that work.
To be alive is to agree. 
To be alive is to sign an agreement daily that you will, however
falteringly, place one foot before the other. 
To be alive is to agree that you yourself and your life are more
worthwhile than eliminating all the possibilities it holds, all the better and
all the worse. 

And so, pulled back from the edge, “saved” as it were, you
walk with a grim humor, knowing that somewhere you have chosen this.

action · despair · dreams · fear · friendship · god · miracle · perseverance · persistence · spirituality · surrender · theology · trying · vision

Men at Work.

  2/17/09: G-d Jar Projects:
  – My band
  – my mural
  – the play or musical I will be in
  – the songs I write
  – the essays and poems
  – the bass I play
  – the vacation I take to Hawaii
  – the sketches I make
  – the painting I do
  – the creative job I am making
At the time I wrote this list, none of these were true or in my life. Today, of this task list I wanted “God” to complete, all except two have come to fruition.
It would be a year from putting this list in my “g-d box”
when I would apply to graduate school for creative writing in poetry. It would
be two years from then when I would take my first oil painting class at that
college and start writing my daily blog.
It would be 4 years from putting this list in the jar when
my friend would become a flight attendant, and ask me if I wanted to escape winter and my chemo treatments and go to Hawaii for cheap.
A few months from there, a year ago, I would finally accept
the invitation to be a part of the band my friend had been asking me to join
for years, and actually use the bass I’d bought for $5 when I was 19. And not
long from then, I would begin auditioning and taking acting classes, and eventually be cast in a play.
The only items on this list that haven’t come to fruition
yet are the mural and the creative job.
The mural seems less important than it did 5 years ago, though
it would still be very cool to do.
The creative job “I am making” (whatever that means!) is still in
flux, in process.
Astonishing, isn’t it, that things I had no idea how they
would come to pass have all come to
pass? I could never have imagined when I wrote that list that I would actually
be in a band, or be able to go to Hawaii. Those were
the gifts and “rewards” of successful, other people. But, some part of me has
always believed that I can be one, or they wouldn’t have been in the box.
I love looking at this list. It is so concrete. I can check each off with a stroke of joy and elation: I
painted! I wrote! I acted! I vacationed! WHOOP! Look at me, enjoying a life (in spite of my self).
We all know what I’m going to say: If everything else on the
list has come to pass except the last one, then there must be hope that even
that can come to pass as well.
I am not sure I’m exactly an optimist, but I am a believer
in the efficacy of asking for help, not doing it alone, but doing it. Eventually.
Because, I should mention that going to school has saddled me
with nearly $90,000 in student loan debt and sent me into a recovery program
around my relationship to money and scarcity. I should mention that my airline
friend offered me the trip to Hawaii because I needed a break from cancer. And that I only finally reached back out to my
friend with the band as I was sitting alone and bald in my apartment, listening to a CD,
and busted out crying because I wanted to be a part of something like that –
because I didn’t want to be taken from the chance to have that in my life.
It’s not as if this list got checked off according to the
“easy way,” is my point. It took a lot of work, help, reaching out, despair,
action, pleading, and god damned willing it to be.
I would not have
chosen this route to getting these items checked off, and yet, here I sit
elated that so many of them have been. They say that it’s the journey not the
destination, but these journeys sucked. The routes to getting here, to crossing
off these accomplishments that have brought me joy, were really horrible, scary, and
painful.
It’s a strange dichotomy to sit with: The immense gratitude for being where I am, and the questioning
of the benevolence and efficacy of the path that brought me here.
So I guess what I sit with now is whether I want the road
to crossing off the last item on this list – “my creative job” – to be as
arduous as the roads before it. It is true that sometimes we don’t have a
choice, and choices are made for us, but I feel today that I do have a choice
on whether I want to struggle toward this final goal, whatever the
circumstances, or if I want to acquiesce toward it. Maybe not even “acquiesce,”
but move with joy. I mean I have a whole list of accomplishments to buoy this
part of my journey, right? 

Maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have to be so hard. 

action · anger · faith · fear · god · hope · perseverance · rage · self-will · spirituality · surrender

But, damnit, I *do* care.

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I’ve had “I’ve got you, babe” stuck in my head for the last
few days. I’m catching up on the 2nd half of the final season of House, and one of the characters was singing and playing
it the other day. I’ve been thinking about it, vaguely, in relation to the
whole “turning it over” concept that’s asked of me in my current work. Turn it,
everything, present, past, future, over to something else, something “caring,” it tells us because, as we’ve learned by now, trying to do it, to finagle it on my
own, doesn’t work out too well.
However, this “care” business… Well, we heard me gripe about
“god” the other day. And luckily I still have a few prompt questions to write
through and maybe get somewhere with around … “god.” I just don’t know what
will come of it. Although I’ll do it anyway.
I know I’m “not alone,” I know that there’s healing and
progress and momentum in doing this work without knowing the outcome. But, I’ve
had to up my own woo-woo-ness to help get me there a little. Because, as I’ve
said, sometimes “god’s plan” includes some really fucked up shit. And fuck
trusting that “thing” whatsoever. Asshole.
Jews are supposed to “wrestle and grapple” with god. It’s
part of what we’re asked and allowed to do.
On Saturday night, I saw a play that was focused around a
Catholic family in the 50s and their relationship to each other, Catholicism,
and a nun with a heart condition. The main character is a 12 year old boy,
heading to confirmation, and he keeps on questioning the doctrines. Why did god
put us here, is one of the questions the nun asks. He replies, To have fun. –
That’s not the proscribed answer, by the way.
If you don’t learn this, you go to hell. Well, I’m not sure
I believe in hell, he replies.
He isn’t quashed at the end; in fact, his questioning helps
to open everyone else up.
And so, I have to believe that my questioning, my hesitance,
my ire will do the same.
I am past a point of blind faith. But, sometimes there’s
nothing else than that either. So, what then?
There’s a billboard I drive past on the way to work. For
about a month, it was an ad for a casino, portraying simply the eyes of a
ravenous, coy, coaxing woman. The copy read: Luck will find you.
Each time I drove past it, I said aloud, No it won’t.
Luck doesn’t find us. We find Luck. To quote the 80s: “There is no fate but what we make.”
And yet, … I’m past the point of blind willfulness, too.
I know that a belief in hope and change, in love, lead me to
show up for things that are uncomfortable. I know that my knowledge that I
really can’t do it alone leads me to call people, write this homework shit, and hope
that the next right action will open up to me.
I know I’m not hopeless, or a hopeless case. I know I’m not
throwing off the mantle of faith in favor of self will-ing myself through my
life. I’ve spent plenty of torn-up hours trying to “make it work.” Trying to
change others, my past, present, and future.
So, I know I’m at surrender. I know I’m at the place of
letting go, and trusting “what is.” Or trying to trust it, rather.
But, I’m scared. I’m scared for me, I’m cautious with my
hope for others; I’m a great scoop more apathetic about the god thing, at the
same time I’m more charged about “moving forward” in many places in my life.
I’m tired. I’m grieving the loss of innocence. I cannot yet
believe in the (fucking) “care” of a higher power. I think Fate is an asshole.
The schmuck who pulls your chair out from beneath you when you’re about to sit
and, like Nelson on The Simpsons,
cackles, “Heh Heh!”
I thought I’d given up that one, that punitive idea, that
pull me closer/push me away god.
I could decide to call this all evidence of that god, and therefore defy and reject the whole concept. Every
day I go to work with a woman who lost her baby at 8 months pregnant. Every
day, she and I, simply by our presence, remind one another that nothing is certain in this life. Joy is not guaranteed.
So, like I said, I’m ramping up my woo-woo tools again. I’m
reading affirmations, listening to them, signed up for the Oprah/Deepak
meditation month. I’ve got to. I’ve got to give myself some pudding in which
the medicine is slipped.
I’ve got to tell myself, in a fake it till you make it way,
that I am alright. That 5-year mortality statistics don’t mean anything to a bad-ass like me.
That I am cooler than I think I am, and worth every effort and so much ‘then
some’ that I take toward my health and my goals.
I’ve got to say, I believe in the care of these simple
things. In the care of a little self-love. In the care of a coffee date with a
friend, the soft breathing of a baby.
Anything else can go fuck itself. 

change · faith · letting go · life · surrender

And now for something completely different!

in the eventuality of time, there is a sacrifice that must
be made.
we are never sure what we must give up in order to move
forward,
but we come to a bridge with a toll and are demanded a pound
of
flesh in exchange for passage to the new place.
it is never clear if this new place is where we intend or
want to go but our anima will impel us forward along
the continuity of movement.
how many bridges we already traversed
does not factor into how many we must pass again. 
we may have already sacrificed pride
love
pain
fear
desire
isolation. and this bridge requires from us another token.
perhaps you feel like the knight in a monty python sketch,
quartered from limb and limb and limb, a torso now, you are
asked to divest even more from what you carry. perhaps though,
you are a lancelot, fueled and lifted, freed by all you’ve
been asked to dispense with, grateful for the chance to
expel another pebble from your shoe.
in the eventuality of time, we will all offer this sacrifice.
we must, because we are alive
and so, we do.