Sunday, May 17, 2015

Apology

He came to visit.  Well, visit is a strange word for it.  It's not like it was just a social call.

Before you go any further, I need to let you know that the "he" I'm referring to is my husband, who passed away in 2008.  We maintain a relationship of sorts, and although we don't communicate often, he is still very much a part of my life at times.  


He came to me and apologized.  And it was profound.  And I don't think I would have been able to really hear and accept it until that very day. 


I should go back to the beginning of this part of my story.  It's about anger again.  Maybe you can relate to the relationship I have with anger.  Or maybe you will be able to one day.


I've had some organs in my body fail me.  First, it was my gallbladder.  I had a couple of years of having a sort of ticking time bomb in my belly, never knowing exactly when it would go off and leave me in so much excruciating pain that I would have to have neighbors rush in to stay with my children while I was rushed to the hospital to be on morphine until it subsided.  After reading everything I could get my hands on and trying everything I knew of to try to save that piece of my body, it ended up being removed.  It was as if the damage had already been done, and keeping it around any longer was of no use, it only added pain and complication to my life.  So, it came out.  It was a scary and painful process, nothing at all like the "simple arthroscopic, outpatient procedure" that had been described.  It left me helpless in bed, writhing in pain, for days.  This meant that my daughter, who had already had her father literally fall off the face of the earth, and who had dedicated her life to making sure the same fate didn't reach me, stayed plastered to my side for all of it.  


Fun times.


Anyway, it was gone, I was healed, and life moved on.  I was told that I seemed to have some issues with my liver, and that I needed to just keep an eye on it.  Over the years, anytime any doctor would take blood to check out anything, they always found that my liver enzymes were elevated.  The levels continued to go up over the next few years.  "Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease" is what it eventually was called.  Ultrasounds showed a sluggish, fatty liver.  Chinese medicine doctors warned that my spleen/ liver meridian was always weak, and that it could continue to cause issues.  I was tested genetically and found to have inherited a tendency for a certain liver disease, which was now causing some serious problems throughout my body.  My acupuncture doctor warned about this same thing.  But then he added something else.  "Do you ever just get really pissed off about your life?  You may want to make sure you can."  


Well, OK.  So, in Chinese medicine, as well as other traditions, the liver, and it's supporting organs, are organs of anger.   In theory, if you don't express your anger in a healthy way, if you internalize it, it literally gets stored in your liver.  It literally causes dis-ease.  For many of you, this is not a new idea.  It wasn't for me either.  The thing was, I really didn't believe I was doing such a thing.  Because I never felt angry.  I mean, I could get pretty angry and irritated about someone being thoughtless or cruel, and I was not afraid to speak my mind.  I was no shrinking violet.  But I didn't walk around angry.  I was never trying to control my anger.  And I had never just been angry at the world, or the universe about things that have happened to me.  I've never been angry with my husband for dying.  (Irritated, yes, when things like taxes came around, or fixing the lawn mower, things that were his jobs before.  But not angry.)  My husband was kind and loving, and has left me with an amazing daughter.  He did not choose to leave me, he was killed.  What on earth did I have to be angry about?


So, here I am, facing new health challenges.  And they're kind of scary.  Especially considering the weight of being the sole surviving parent for this girl.  I've got to figure out how to keep this body going as well and for as long as possible.  Not just for me, but for her.  And every time I turn around, I hear about anger.  And I don't get it.  


Someone says to me, "You know, it would be so normal for you to shake your fist at the sky and curse the deal you've been dealt.  Your husband was killed.  You were left alone to care for your child and live a life you hadn't planned for."  Sure, OK.  And then he added, "You may be so spiritually advanced that you are in a place of understanding that things happened the way they were meant to, and have no anger to feel.  But that would be so unusual.  Someone that spiritually advanced may not even be living on the earth.  Or, you may be using your spirituality as an excuse to not have to feel your own anger.  It is a common pitfall."  He points out that, although I may indeed be some sort of spiritually advanced human being, my body is in fact telling a very different story.  My body is literally becoming diseased and falling apart, all involving organs of anger.  


Later that week, I hear this same basic message from several other people.  Friends who are somewhat "woo woo", doctors who are pretty "mainstream" medical-minded.  Strangers who think they are sharing something that has nothing to do with my own life.  It's astounding.  


So, I decide to dedicate myself to exploring the depths of my very existence, and see if I can muster up some authentic anger from myself.  And the journey is not what I expected.  


I journaled, I meditated, I talked things out.  Nothing.  No anger.  Then, one day, my favorite hen died.  And it may have been my fault.  This was surprisingly painful.  I can still feel it today when I think about it.  I'm not sure exactly why.  That same day, I had a realization about a person I considered to be a good friend, and realized that they were not in fact a real friend at all.  By the end of the day, in the middle of doing laundry, I fell apart.  I found myself curled in a ball, crying my eyes out, retching with emotional pain.  I wasn't sure why, but I just felt cracked open, and I just let it out.  At the end, sitting there and feeling much lighter, I realized something.  It was huge, and I'm not sure why that pain brought it to me.  


I realized why I had not gotten angry.  It was because I wasn't worth enough.


I realized that true anger contains a certain amount of indignation.  It is a response to receiving something that is contradictory to what you had expected and felt you had a right to.  If you are not worthy of receiving anything different or better, you do not experience this indignation, or this anger.  When my husband passed away, I fell apart.  I lost my mind.  I became so sad that it took years to be able to even allow myself to feel all of the sadness available to me.  It was unfathomable.  But even during this experience, there was nothing in me that had really believed that I deserved what I had lost.  And I hadn't just lost what I had in that moment.  No, I'd lost the parent for my child for the rest of her life.  I'd lost the partner that would love me unconditionally for the rest of my life.  I'd lost all the dreams and plans we had for the future.  All of it.  


And I hadn't been worthy of any of it after all.  So all I could do was fall apart and grieve.  There was nothing to be angry about.  The universe has order and intelligence, and I could see and feel my part in it.  I could accept it all on some level.  And, I didn't deserve any better anyway.  


I have always known on some surface level that I had been brought up to believe that I was not valuable, and not worthy of anything good.  I had literally been told so regularly from an early age.  And I've worked on this.  But I don't think I'd ever really seen how deep that belief went, and how far-reaching it was, until that moment.  On the laundry room floor, grieving my big black hen.  


Was there some part of me that could believe that I deserved better?  That I had deserved to have something different, even if it wasn't meant to be?  Was it possible that deep down, somewhere inside me, there was more self-worth to be had that I hadn't known about before?  If so, it seemed very important to find it.  Not just to see how things would go once I had it, but to see if it did in fact lead to my new true goal:  to experience true anger.


I got little glimpses of it over the next couple of weeks.  Once in the hardware store (yes, this is a theme of mine. I make a lot of trips to hardware stores.)  I saw a man out of the corner of my eye who looked, in my periphery, just like my husband.  This is not an unusual occurrence for me.  But this time, something caught my eye.  As he reached for something on the shelf, his gold wedding band glittered.  I looked right at it.  The hand resembled my husband's hand.  I became enraged, for just a split second.  The thought flashed across my mind, "what right does this man have to live his life with his wife, while my husband is dead??".  I instantly snapped out of it and laughed it off.  But, I was secretly proud of myself for having accessed a glimmer of anger.


There were several little events like this one over the following weeks.  Until one day last week, when I woke up, with the first thought crossing my mind being,


"What???  You have got to be fucking kidding me!!!"  


I got up and made coffee.  It stayed.  I went back to bed briefly.  It was still there.  I talked sweetly with my daughter.  Still there.  Wow, this was really happening.  I was one of those people shaking their fist at the sky.  Seven years later.  Huh.


I stood in the kitchen with my coffee and just let it pour through me.  Goddammit, this was supposed to be different.  He was supposed to be here with me.  He was supposed to be helping me.  With the house, with money, with raising this child, with making big decisions.  He was absolutely supposed to be here, a part of my life in this home, in this new state we'd moved to.  Supposed to be my friend, my confidant, my partner, my ally in this freaking world.  Yes! 


I was so very angry.  It wasn't right.  It wasn't fair.  None of it.  Damned fatherless child, damned middle-aged single parent who is overwhelmed, damned life without my partner.  He had made promises to me!  Promises!  And he hadn't kept them!  And I was pissed.  


It didn't take hold of me.  It moved through me.  Or maybe I moved through it.  Anyway, after a little while, it felt different.  It was still there, but I was experiencing other things, and felt more peaceful.  


So, I poured a cup of coffee, and sat down at the kitchen table.  Alone.  Again.  


And then I realized that I had a visitor that morning.  And when I looked up to see what was going on with him, he apologized.  He didn't say that this wasn't the way it was supposed to be.  And he didn't say that there was a reason for all of this and that I should find solace in that.  He  just said, "I'm so sorry."  And he said, "This isn't what I wanted for you."  


And I am grateful to have received this gift, after going through this part of my journey that included lessons about anger.  I know that I could not have heard that before.  In fact I may have heard it before, but if I did, I would have dismissed it as unnecessary.  


Thank you.

Iron Chef, Survivor, and the village

So, many of you, like me, do not watch much TV.  But many of you, like me, have seen bits of the shows "Iron Chef" and "Survivor".  Enough to get the gist.  If not, I apologize for referring to them so heavily.  

I was visiting with a friend last night, lamenting my new diet.  It wasn't a fad diet or a weight loss diet.  It was one that was strongly suggested by my Dr after she let me know that I had liver disease.  

I had just learned that among other things, I was to eliminate all grains and fruit from my diet.  Which, basically were my diet.  I have been a vegetarian since I was a child, and started eating fish occasionally a few years ago.  It literally pained me to think of starting my day with no fruit in my protein smoothie.  Summertime was coming.  No strawberries, watermelon, no sip of juice when I craved something sweet.  And no rice.  My daughter is also vegetarian, and she basically lives on beans and rice, with a few vegetables thrown in when I can manage it.  

So, I was feeling sorry for myself, and while I was with my friend, I started joking about it.  It felt as if there were only three things left on the planet that I could eat.  And I knew she could relate.  She had been in exactly the same boat before.  Actually, she had been in a boat much more confining that this one.  So she sweetly listened.  

Our conversation, as usual, took on a life of its own with lots of silly exaggerations and laughter.  And eventually we realized that me coming to face this diet really resembled someone who found themselves on the set of Iron Chef.  "D'Anne, tonight's ingredients are................turtle shell, tree bark, and sunflower seeds!!!"  "You must make a dessert!!!........Now begin!!"  

Except the difference was, the show didn't end, and you didn't get to go home and make yourself a nice big pizza for dinner.  You had to stay there.  And you had to actually live on the food you'd prepared.  Forever.  And ever.  You had to survive on this island, with these ingredients, for the rest of your life.  It made for some pretty entertaining conversation, in my opinion.  

My friend commented that this is really something so many people face, and they all probably have had some version of this reaction.  She suggested that I write about it and share it with others.  It would be a fun activity, and maybe I'd get some good suggestions for recipes.  I was all over it.  I knew the secret to my surviving this was to have a lot of yummy options at my disposal, so I wouldn't focus on what I couldn't have.  

So, I posted my list on Facebook.  It sure did look pitiful.  I had a couple of people respond with sympathy, and a couple ask clarifying questions.  You can't have eggs?  Oh, wait!  Yes I can.  I forgot to put that on my list.  OK.  Carry on.

Recipes and suggestions start coming in.  It's quite hopeful.  For some reason, all the silly sarcasm is gone.  My friend from the night before isn't part of the conversation now.  It's mostly people who've joined my life at various stages and only see and participate in the major events that I share.  They are looking at this very seriously.  This is no joke to them.  They have diet restrictions themselves, and they've already figured it all out.  They have an enormous arsenal of recipes at their disposal.  Then more questions come.  No dairy, huh?  Wait!  Yes, I can, I just forgot to put it on the list!  Sorry!  

Well, the sympathy went away at that point.  I even got a couple of "Pshht"s and "Oh, you're set then!"s.  But was sympathy really what I was after?  Maybe.  I mean, this was all in fun, along with a little sincere worry about how difficult a transition this would be for me.  But I didn't think I was really asking for actual sympathy.  I mean, it's just food.  And at least I can eat food, and afford food, right?  I had nothing really to complain about.  It was just kind of a joke.  But, I felt I had lost something when the sympathy went away.  

And then, something else happened.  More and more people responded.  My friend from last night's conversation joined in.  Friends I had known only virtually for many years but had never met in person joined in.  Friends that were like family to me that lived far away.  People that I didn't know well at all, but were just aware of me online.  They all offered suggestions.  They didn't laugh, or wander off to focus on something else when they saw that my distress was not warranted.  It was the opposite.  They stayed.  They shared what they had found that worked for them and their family.  They offered different ways of looking at what I was going to be eating.  They offered support.  

Huh.  

That's what I was looking for.  I had disguised it as a crisis wrapped up in silly jokes.  But what I was honestly doing was offering myself up to my village and asking for support.  I was allowing anyone to judge me for how seriously I was taking my challenge, or for how well I was adapting.  I was opening myself up to anyone who had challenges that were more trying than mine, to possibly see how petty I was, or how self-absorbed, or how irrational.  But what I got was, support.  Support in where I was, for who I was.  

Funny, for some reason, I didn't really realize that village was out there.  They must have been there for quite a while before today.  And if they step up without judgement about my diet, I can only imagine what they are capable of in other circumstances, if I only deem myself worthy of including them.

Which is quite amazing to me.  A person who had onions for breakfast.  Not with.  For.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Anger

We are taught to fear our own anger.  And to suppress it.  And most importantly, to hide it away from others.  Right?  Were you taught this?  It sounds a little paranoid, and maybe a little like irresponsible parent-blaming, huh?  

Yeah, I thought so, even as I was standing in a parking lot, crying and yelling with my own mother.  I was upset about some pretty serious boundaries that I felt had just been violated of my young daughter's.  And I was very frustrated about my mother, who was getting ready to take my daughter away with her to another state for a long visit, for not hearing my concerns.  I was scared, and frustrated, and worried.....and angry.  And what was I using my energy to say to her, to try to get her to calm down and listen to me?  "I'm not angry!  I'm not angry!"  Really.  Why?  She kept smiling and shaking her head.  The message was clear.  No, you are angry.  The things you are saying are not valid, because you cannot prove that you are not saying them while you are angry.   


It wasn't until a month later, after doing some work myself, on my own anger "issues", that I realized how preposterous that whole idea was, how common a theme it was in my own life, and, how common it seems to be in so many others' lives.  


We are not really allowed to be angry.  At least, we are not supported in being angry.  Walking through a hardware store, feeling emotional, and needing to ask a question of someone...I have found myself in this predicament numerous times in the last few years.  Life goes on.  We need plants for the yard, we need spackling for the wall.  We need things to help our house function.  And the person who needs to get those things, is me.  The single mom.  The scared, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed widow.  Hmm.  Well, let's see how it goes.  I have found that a few tears seem to be acceptable at Home Depot.  And even more than a little being frazzled and overwhelmed.  It's understandable.  Things happen.  People get upset, and they still need nails and spackling, even before the upset has completely gone away.  Right?  I've received my share of kind understanding glances, discreet smiles that were intended to be reassuring.  (Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about walking around while being a blubbering basketcase.  Not anymore.  Ha.  I'm talking just your basic, little more than average amount of being emotional while out in public here.)  Sad, ok.  Worried, ok.  Frazzled, confused.  Hey, happy, elated, excited, that's ok too.  We are supported in some small ways (and some big ways sometimes) in being whatever we seem to be experiencing and feeling at any given moment, as long as we are able to function in the world.


As long as we're not angry.  


Why?  Well, I think it's because it makes people uncomfortable.  I think it scares people.  And I think it scares them because of the messages they've been given about being angry themselves.  I think many people have been brought up to believe that anger and violence are the same thing.  Or that anger is the same thing as losing control of yourself, or having personal boundaries violated.  Whatever, it means something bad is about to happen.  And that's very understandable. For many of us, this has been true for much of our lives.  When someone is angry, it can often mean that we need to protect ourselves, against physical harm, against emotional harm, or we may need to protect someone or something around us.  We are taught that, to be really safe, anger needs to be something that is experienced away from people, to make sure that they are not hurt.  Therefore, it is disrespectful to behave in an angry way around people.  It makes you unsafe to them, unpredictable.  Well, you get the idea.


The reason I'm going on and on about this, the reason I've had to rethink this whole anger thing, is that I've come to realize I have a problem.  An anger issue, if you will.  


I don't walk around angry.  I don't hold onto resentments and let them fester until I unexpectedly explode on someone.  I don't get angry easily, or often.  


I have not been able to relate to people who talk about being angry with the universe for the cards they've been dealt, or people who talk about being angry at their spouse for dying.  Or being angry about life in general.  It seemed they just didn't understand something.  I'm not sure what exactly that thing is.  Probably that there is an intelligence to the universe, and that things have happened the way they were supposed to.  I was never one of these people, and I didn't understand them.  Until recently, when my body started to seriously fall apart, from what I believe was anger being directed inwards.  Apparently, it happens whether you feel it's appropriate or not, and if it doesn't come out, it just goes in.  But, I digress....this is a conversation for another day.  


No, my anger problem was that I didn't experience it.  I internalized it.  (Such a cliche, in my opinion, but, it turned out to be true in my case.)  And now I'm absolutely fascinated with anger.  It is fascinating to me when I see someone who is comfortable with their own anger.  I actually want to be around them.  I want to learn all there is to learn about it.  


What if our anger were met the way any of our other natural human emotions were?  Sometimes we're sad; we speak and act as if we are sad.  Sometimes we are scared.  The way we speak changes.  When we are happy, our speech is different, our body language is different.  Somewhere in the back of our minds, we think, "that person is sad", or "that person seems happy" when we experience this.  


Of course if we are angry, our tone of voice reflects that, as does our body language.  And of course this does not make it acceptable to throw something in a threatening way, or say something that is damaging to another person.  That is the difference between anger and violence.  There is a huge difference.  


I wonder how different we would be, and how we would interact differently with each other as strangers, parents, friends, if we were all supported in experiencing our anger in a safe way.  If we started now, I wonder how long it would take before this was the norm.