what I am learning

April 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have decided to interpret my fights with my husband in a new way. Instead of seeing them as indicators that our relationship is disintegrating and coming to an end, I have decided to interpret them as developmental events where I am learning what I can do to improve my relationships, not only with him, but also with everyone I interact with. In the past, my interpretation of our fights as ending our relationship caused me a great deal of pain and distress. This new interpretation gives me hope.

In my relationship with my husband tensions build over time. We have known each other for twenty years, we have been married for nine years. We are a bonded pair. We are also both addicts in recovery, so we both brought a significant individual internal condition of developmental neediness to the relationship. Our marriage vows acknowledged this issue. We both promised to seek outside help when we were struggling in our relationship.

I have never objectively charted to the trajectory of our fights.



April 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

It isn’t that I am depressed. I don’t think I am. Or if I am, it is situational. There are many moments in any given day where I am truly enjoying my life. That is, the situation I am in, the people I am with, and my perception of myself within it. In these moments I feel expansive, full of hope, positively oriented toward my future.

However. Maybe I am depressed. Because, on any given day, I will experience a deep discord, a sense that the situation I am in, the people I am with and my perception of myself are all WRONG. In these moments I feel shut down, hopeless, trapped and unable to make positive changes on my own behalf.

These two scenarios remind me of my childhood summers on the Gulf Islands. When the tide was out tide pools would form in the sandstone depressions. These tide pools teemed with life. There would be miniature bullish, barnacles, sea snails, hermit crabs, and sea anenomes.

The barnacles and anemones were endlessly fascinating because they had two distinct states of being. When all was quiet and they did not feel threatened they would open up and extend their feeding tentacles outward. The barnacles would slide open their bifold shells and a delicate whips tongue would tentatively comb the water for food particles. The anemones did not have a hard shell. Their skin was soft, smooth and muscular. They would open up from the inside out, their pearly translucent tubules extending outward to siphon food into their centre.

When we children would sneak up on them and startle them with a splash, both these creatures would withdraw into an immovable object. Their gentle grazing explorations transformed into an inanimate lump.

That is what I feel like. In one moment I am open and receiving, the next I am shut down and blocking.

It is so frustrating to have my life operate on the level of a mollusc. I wish I was tougher, more resilient, able to laugh at the adverse conditions that erupt in my life without warning. Able to retire quietly to rebuild my energy, not collapsing in exhaustion when I am too tired or overwhelmed to fight off emotionally draining relationships anymore.

There are certain simple things that I can do to help myself, but I have a very difficult time remembering that I can. Most of the time I feel overwhelmed by other people’s emotional states and find myself struggling to cope with the most basic life tasks. When I can manage to ground myself, I can feel better and function at a higher level. But that is also hard won. I need energy to do even that.

The alarm has gone off and it is time to walk the dog before loading up and heading off to work. I did not sleep well last night. I am besieged by rumination about what I am going to do next in relation to this person or that. The fact is that, as we age, there are only so many toxic people we can shut out of our lives. And when we are married to an emotionally toxic person, who we love, it is all the more difficult.


free writing 20 minutes

April 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have learned a simple trick to change the course of my life – that is, to transform my own possibilities of thought, what I am capable of thinking and what I have the capacity to enact in my life.

This simple trick is based on 20 minute periods of time. To use 20 minute periods to enact new activities that change the course of my life. I use three basic 20 minute activities as my first choice. From these three basics all other possibilities emerge. These three choices are: meditation (sitting quietly with my eyes closed), writing (free writing with no plan or agenda) and yoga (stretching and breathing, again, no plan). When I do any one of these choices each day the possibilities of my life course is transformed in unexpected but desired ways. When I do more than one, the possibilities for positive change increase exponentially.

Right now I am exercising my free writing choice for 20 minutes. It is the middle of a quiet Saturday afternoon. I woke up with a bad headache, sores in my mouth, and aching in my back, hip and neck. I rinsed my mouth with mouthwash, took a tylenol and ibuprofen, and had breakfast. By the time I took the dog out for a walk I was feeling a little better, a little more hopeful. While I was out walking Brother2 called in and we talked about family and work events from the past week.

I have been visiting my mother in one hospital and than another throughout the week. She was released from Hospital1 on Monday morning. Brother4 picked her up and delivered her to her group home. Everyone assumed she would have a quiet day settling into her new life post-surgery. She had a perforated ulcer repaired and had only been on solid foods for one day. I planned to check in on her at the end of the day to see how she was settling in.

When I got to her group home at 730 pm I was told that she had gone out for a walk to get cigarettes. Of course I was very surprised at this news, as it hadn’t occurred to me that she would go out for a walk so soon after her surgery and just having gotten back on solid food. I left the group home and after a short delay helping a man with a puppy, I got on the road, thinking I would proceed to my al-anon meeting.

I turned onto the road to take me south and saw, in a bus shelter, my Mom, bleeding from her forehead, with three kind strangers holding her hand and on their cell phones. I pulled over and put on my hazard lights and ran up to find out what had happened. Mom had fallen and smashed her head on the sidewalk. She was dazed, confused, and scared. Within a minute or two the ambulance arrived. The ambulance workers determined that Mom had to go back to the hospital for assessment. So that put Mom back in the hospital Monday night.

Tuesday I took the day off work to attend to Mom and figure out what we were going to do next. She had a very sore right knee and she couldn’t put weight on it. There wasn’t any definitive conclusion about what caused her to fall. Eventually we settled on dizziness from weakness arising from over exertion too soon after a protracted illness. However, this brought a new problem to light, that Mom had a knee that was damaged from arthritis and the pain of falling on it made her unable to put weight on it.

I was in the hospital on Tuesday from 9 am to 530 pm waiting for different diagnostics to sort out what to do with Mom. She had stitches in her forehead from the fall and various scrapes and bruises. She could not be sent home to her group home because she could not get up and down the stairs. However, she didn’t need to stay in the hospital for acute care. The recommendation was for her to go out to a transitional care unit to recover from her injuries while still getting help to recover from her surgery.

It took a couple of hours to get her to agree to this course of action. She wanted to get back to her room in the group home so badly. Finally she agreed to the plan for transitional care. In the interim she would have one more night in the acute care hospital before getting transported to the new facility.

So that was Wednesday, she got moved to the transitional care unit. I checked in on her on my way to work, and Brother2 stayed with her during the day and rode out with her to the new facility to help her make the transition to a new facility. They got her settled in ok. I was able to get out to visit her late that evening just before visitors hours ended.

Thursday evening I stopped by the group home and picked up some things for Mom and then went out to visit. I had not had dinner, so I had to leave earlier because I just got too hungry. Mom was a little cranky, perhaps a little depressed, too. She brightened up a bit when we read some Jeeves and Wooster. It was difficult leaving her but she was in the right spot.

Friday evening I visited her again having had my own dinner and we were both feeling better. It was clear to me that she was in better condition. She was able to demonstrate her physiotherapy exercises and we took a walk with her operating the walker. We read some poetry and both felt the transcendence of artful words conveying difficult life. It was sublime and I left feeling much heartened by developments.

Today I am taking a day to myself. I have walked the dog, washed the dishes, done a little laundry and I will next get out the vacuum cleaner. I have to get the suite ready for guests as well.

At present the cold sores and inflammation in my mouth are being beaten back with oral rinse and lip balm. I have rested and I am not in as much pain every time I bend or stretch. My headache is gone.

I am feeling better, and the simple act of writing my way through 20 minutes of time has given me a sense of calm and purpose. It is strange how it works, but it does work.

out of emerg and into icu

April 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

At the end of the day yesterday I kissed my mom’s forehead and bade her good night as she rested with a tube draining the contents of her stomach through her nose.

She had woken up from emergency surgery to repair a perforated ulcer in her stomach.

The day started with a missed call from her group home to let me know she had decided to go into the hospital that morning. She had been unwell for a couple of weeks, most seriously the last few days as she dropped 10 pounds because she was unable to eat. Last Friday my sister had accompanied her to a consult with a general practitioner who diagnosed her with gallstones and arranged for a specialist appointment for a week later to deal with them.

I saw her on Saturday evening and was shocked at her decline. In two days she had gone from resting fairly comfortably and getting up for a smoke to lying on the bed barely able to turn over or pull the blankets up.

Sunday morning she agreed with her group home attendant to go to the hospital.

I arrived mid-morning at the hospital just in time to help out with the first round of diagnostic questions from the resident physician. For every question the resident physician asked Mom, I had to correct her answer to ensure the right information was conveyed. Mom was minimizing her symptoms and their effects. I hate to think what diagnostic decisions would have been made if they had only gone with Mom’s version of her condition.

As it was, they ran an x-ray and a ct scan and found issues in her abdomen. But these issues had nothing with gall stones. Mom had a perforated ulcer that was allowing contents from her gastrointestinal tract to leak into her abdominal cavity, causing damage and an infection. We were very lucky to catch it in time before she went into shock from sepsis.

By 2 pm we had the diagnosis and a treatment plan was put into effect. Mom was to go into surgery at 4 pm.

It was such a relief to drive home from the hospital at 10 pm knowing Mom was in ICU and on the mend. She has a bit of a rough road ahead, but it is nothing compared to not knowing what was wrong, seeing her in pain, and watching her weaken with each passing day.

Very grateful for her improved condition and the great work of the medical professionals at the hospital. Also, so very grateful for the wonderful staff at Mom’s group home, who do such a great job of taking care of there residents.

we are all okay (for now)

April 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

It was a pretty bad week. My sister-in-law was hit with a stroke last weekend and my mother has been losing weight and unable to eat properly for weeks. My family does not have any language for talking about feelings. If you ask anyone how they are feeling, about anything, they will answer, “Fine”. It is extremely frustrating, especially when we have catastrophic health events that clearly cannot be experienced as Fine.

My sister-in-law survived the stroke with minimum impairment (she can’t sing in tune right now). It turns out my mother has gall stones, a urinary tract infection, impacted ear wax, a possible B12 deficiency, and artheroschlerosis in the arteries in her stomach lining. She does not have cancer and that is good news. Each of these conditions can be addressed and she will feel better.

By mid-week I was feeling pretty blue. I was so frustrated that there wasn’t anyone in my family that I could talk to about the emotional reality of what was going on. In fact, when my sister-in-law was discharged from the hospital on Thursday, still with a blood clot in her brain, but on the mend, her highest priority was to get out to sing at a gig. That was when she found out she couldn’t sing in tune. It probably has something to do with the inflammation in her brain from the stroke. It is as if no one in my family ever feels scared, sad, lonely, depressed, anxious, disappointed or discouraged. It is utter taboo to attempt to talk about any feelings that might be appropriate to the situation we are facing.

I find it incredibly burdensome because I am not good at denying what I am feeling, in fact, I suck at it. However, in my family, my authentic emotional response to difficulty, which is to admit what I am feeling so I can move onto other things, is met with an attitude of invalidation, or perception that I am somehow weak. And I am not week. It is possible that I am the strongest of the bunch, simply because I can tolerate and accept the reality that we experience a range of feelings and I am okay with admitting that.

Anyway, at the end of the week all the health crisis have passed, for the time being. My family is aging and we are bound to have more health emergencies coming up. My task is to find support from people who are able to be emotionally honest, and accept the emotional brick wall that makes up the structure of my family. I mean, what would happen if family members were actually able to admit what they were feeling? Really folks, it isn’t that bad. It actually feels good, and, bonus, you get to feel closer to the people you love.

It is Saturday and a clear blue sky. The sun is rising and the dog is waiting patiently for me to take him out for a nice long morning walk.

And that is just what I am going to do.

a talk with my brother

April 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

We have already died

I am a spirit that is wandering around the world

I have seen death firsthand

You don’t scare me

You don’t fucking scare me

A ribald way of thumbing my nose

Not afraid of life

Not afraid of death

I used to get really really scared

Don’t push it

Don’t push life

Don’t push death

Don’t push relationships

Be kind, considerate and careful

With everything

Be it creatures

What that behaviour was all about

Who were you

Egocentric self-centred SOB

Why you didn’t care

Now you do

We’re carpenters

a visit to the hospital

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

Last night my husband and I visited my ailing sister-in-law in the hospital. She was admitted on the weekend having suffered a stroke. At present there is a 2 cm blood clot lodged in her brain and they are running tests to figure out what caused the blood clot and what caused her to black out when the stroke hit.

When we walked into the hospital room, before she saw us, I could see my sister-in-law sitting in a chair. She was sitting in her hospital gown with various machines and apparatus attached to her body, monitoring vital signs and administering fluids. She did not know we were approaching and her head was down. Her arms were folded across her chest and she was rocking, as if she was in a rocking chair, but she was in a regular chair. When she looked up and saw us she stopped rocking and her face belied the extreme emotion that lay beneath the surface.

My husband and I sat down to talk. I had never seen my sister-in-law’s face to open and unguarded. Normally she has a kind of hard, happy mask that she wears like make-up. It never, or only very rarely slips. This evening her eyes were tired, the muscles sagged, her entire face weighed down. She did not smile and her mouth drew down at the sides. I had never seen her like this before. It was a little disconcerting, not because I was uncomfortable with the nakedness of feeling expressed in her face, but that I was not used to this amount of honesty in her facial expression.

She talked openly about how her situation ‘sucked’ and how embarrassed she felt to be in this condition. She admitted feeling scared and expressed anger that her physical health should thwart her from doing what she wanted to do. Today was the first day that the doctors had allowed her to get out of bed and she was feeling better for that, but she was scheduled for another two days in the hospital to complete tests and she wanted to go home.

She talked about a music gig she had scheduled for the next night and how she wanted to get home so she could go out to play it the following night.

She mentioned that the headache from the blood clot in her brain was gradually going away, although she didn’t know how much that could be attributed to the pain killers they were giving her at the hospital.

In this one brief visit I saw so much of the quality and characteristics of my family system being played out by my sister-in-law. I felt a great compassion for her, and empathy for her situation. I also felt a great upwelling of pain in my own heart, as I realized the disconnect made apparent by the physical realities of her condition and her obsession to get out to play a music gig the next night.

It was painfully familiar, and, at the same time, like the mystifying curtain of family insanity had been pulled back for me to glimpse behind.

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