Dancing in the rain

It was tomorrow already and the rains had not come. They had chided her for wanting this house, more like a niche, all the way at the end of the alley at the lowest part of the city. The cobblestones directed the water this way, all of it, every last trip and drop. And then it ran, tumbling, gurgling, into the tiny alleyway beside her abode, rushing out to the sea which was the border of not only this city, but this state, this country. It might as well have been the border of the world for all she cared because she had no plans to venture out beyond it. Here is where she had been born and here was where she would die. There was no melancholy in it, no pathos. This was her fate and she was happy to accept it.

It hasn’t always been this way. The usual fits and starts occupied her in her youth, all that you would expect from a child. All of her classmates had wanderlust or itchy feet. All wanted to backpack in some foreign country on their summer breaks or find a way to get a spouse, get a job, get out of this fortress that was their home.

She had followed along, assumed that she was supposed to feel disappointed in her hometown, was supposed to want to leave as fast as possible, but that was what everyone else felt. It wasn’t really about her. It was all about them and what they felt.

It took a lot of her years and a little bit of therapy to understand the difference between her own feelings and those of everyone else. Perhaps she had enmeshed with the world because of her needy parents who had pushed their own anxieties and fears upon her while minimizing her own. Any pain she mentioned was overridden by their own hurts, both physical and psychological. They would tell stories of how it had been worse for them, making her pain small in comparison. And then they would tell her how they’d overcome it – always with a pill. Sometimes it was an aspirin, and sometimes a Xanax. Always legal, but never useful. It was a stroke of luck that pills never helped her or she would have become an addict like them. Every pill they offered her had a double effect, so much so that she started halving them on the sly. Then she just stopped taking them all together.

Which she really needed was love. Empathy would have healed her more than the “medicine” they offered. Meaningful connection, listening, anything other than what she had been given would have helped. It was a violence to her soul for them to say through their actions that her pain was meaningless, and to not teach her ways to heal that didn’t involve pills. But then again, you have to know better to do better. They were all dead now, or just dead to her. They would never learn from her hard-fought lessons.

So now she listened to her inner voice, the voice of her true Parent, the One who had created her and sustained her and brought her to this moment. Once she had started listening for that voice things had gotten a lot simpler.

Not necessarily better, mind you. Her parents hadn’t understood why she had quit college just a month into her sophomore year. Her mother had told her to ride it out, but her father – he understood. He too had been in that same situation decades earlier. Yet he had not been treated fairly or kindly then. In that moment, he knew he had a choice to treat his child now the way he wished he had been treated then.

Her brother had been the most unreasonable, telling her she caused shame to the family name. Meanwhile he was on marriage number three and had been discharged early from the military due to insubordination. But he, like their mother, had never been to college, so they didn’t know how alien it was, how foreign, how impossibly not human and artificial. It wasn’t for sensitive people, those who felt everything, all the time.

So now, all these years later, she was living in a tiny room with just a few possessions and finally she was content. She didn’t need anything, and when well-meaning folks tried to give her more books or craft supplies or ideas, she politely but firmly refused and directed them to donate it to a local charity or take care of it themselves. She didn’t need their ideas for her stories. She had plenty of her own.

But the rain still needed to come. You see, she had chosen this home because of the water. She loved the sound of it. She loved to dance in the rain. It healed her. But the townspeople didn’t understand an adult frolicking in a rainstorm, so she did it in private. This house with its little alleyway provided just that.

Road Trip!

I was thinking about why I like to go on road trips – and particularly why I like to get road trip food.

When I was younger – say between the ages of five to ten, my parents would take us on trips to our grandparents. They lived about three hours south of us. Sometimes we would drive all the way to them, and sometimes we would go halfway and they would meet us, with one child or the other going back with the grandparents for a week, then to be traded out for the other child the next week. Every summer we got to spend a whole week, by ourselves, with our grandparents. Sometimes the whole family would visit, but the best trips were when I’d get my grandparents all to myself.

Visits there were magical. There would be a present under my pillow every morning. We’d sleep with the windows open (no central air there!) and listen to the mournful sounds of the trains in the distance. I could wander wherever I wanted in that new country that was their neighborhood, and I could do anything I wanted. I got whatever I asked for and more. Going there was a child’s fantasy.

While I enjoyed being there, the part that I seem to have kept with me the most is the road trip itself, and getting the road trip food. Why? It is still a fun thing even today.

I think part of it was because going on road trips was the longest my family would spend together. Going on those trips meant that nobody could storm away to their private oasis – the kitchen, their own bedroom, or lost inside their headphones, listening to music (this applied to my brother and my father). We weren’t close by any stretch, but being in the car for hours meant we had to at least try to get along. Closeness isn’t an automatic – it has to be worked on. You can’t work on it if you are all doing your own thing.

Going to the convenience store meant that this was a road trip – an adventure out of town. Going to the store meant that there was no doubt about it, something good was going to happen. This was not a usual trip. I think part of what I loved was that, unlike any other time, I was allowed to get whatever I wanted. This made going to that store much like being at my grandparent’s house – my opinion mattered for once.

I usually bought Willy Wonka candy – Everlasting Gobstoppers, Bottlecaps. Sometimes I’d get Nerds. I’d usually very colorful high-sugar items, and not chips or sodas. These days the default favorite snack for road trips is a Yoo-Hoo drink and Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. Sometimes I’ll add something in from the “chocolate food group” – maybe a Heath bar, in part for texture. This is what I would get at the beginning of the trip. Usually later on I’ll get some fruit drink (with no HFCS if possible) and some green tea – and sometimes I’ll mix them together.

Stuck

I had a boyfriend who was 20 when was 17. His birthday was coming up and he wanted to celebrate it with his parents at his house and he wanted me to come. However, this involved a trip across the country in a plane. We flew from Chattanooga to Seattle, and then drove to some little town about two hours away. I was stuck at his house, in his town, with his parents. I had no way out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became really obvious very soon that I was in trouble.

Having never made any moves on me before then, he attempted to have sex with me that very first night. I resisted and eventually managed to survive the week still a virgin. I broke up with him immediately upon returning home and didn’t speak with him for many years afterwards. He was deeply confused as to what had gone wrong. Even after I explained it to him he didn’t really understand.

I suspected something was wrong from the very beginning of the stay with his parents, when I was greeted by his parents at their house and his father was wearing only an undershirt and tight shorts. I was clued in to more when I learned that my boyfriend’s “rebel” earring wasn’t rebellious at all – his dad had one, and his brother had one. I also figured out that something was wrong when his parents matter-of-factly put my luggage and his luggage in the same room.

The alarm bells kept going off – there was a lot of smoke, but I didn’t have an escape plan. Worse, I’d been taught to ignore these alarm bells by the very people who should have taught me better.

What were the alarm bells? My parents would have never greeted a guest wearing their underwear. They would never even be seen in front of anyone, even family, like that unless they were sick. They certainly wouldn’t have put a non-married couple in the same room together, and much less if one person was a teenager.

For his parents to treat me like that was a warning that I was not in a “normal” house – and I certainly wasn’t safe. He proceeded to try to “pick my locks” as the Pink Floyd song goes every night that week, and I was terrified.

How could I leave? I had no car. I had no spare money. He had the tickets – he’d bought them.

Perhaps I could have called home and gotten my parents to wire me money for a new plane ticket – to leave right away. Perhaps I could have gotten a taxi and just left.

I didn’t. I felt trapped, and I had no frame of reference for this kind of behavior. I had no way of knowing how to act.

But in a way I did. My brother abused me in many ways throughout my childhood, and my parents did nothing. He beat me and stole from me and when I told them they didn’t make it better. They didn’t punish him at all. He eventually became a full-blown narcissistic psychopath, and they didn’t nip this in the bud. He learned early on that he could get away with manipulating people any way he wanted. He learned early on that he could treat people like things and get away with it. Since my parents didn’t defend me, I learned to be passive. This was how I was supposed to be treated, apparently.

My trips to the dentist as a child also taught me passivity. He didn’t use anesthesia because he thought the needle would scare me. I learned that pain was to be endured, especially pain at the hands of an authority figure. My parents were paying for it, so this must be normal. Suck it up.

While I’m angry at myself for not standing up and defending myself, I also have to forgive myself. I didn’t know better. I wasn’t taught well. I learned to accept bad behavior quietly until I could find a way to remove myself safely. I’m angry at them for not teaching me how to take care of myself at all. I’m angry at them for their ineptness. But I also need to remember that they, like all parents, are amateurs.

I went to a therapist once who thought I should just hang out in the “angry” place and not forgive or excuse bad behavior, but it isn’t that simple. Emotions aren’t just one or another, but a range of them. I can be angry and forgive at the same time. I can understand and empathize, but also be sad at people’s bad choices.

While I think that boyfriend and my family “should” have known better, I’m putting my value system on them. I’m forgetting that they don’t have to do things my way. I’m forgetting that they have their own ways of doing things, and if I feel that they are wrong – for me – then I must get away from them. They don’t have to stop doing what they are doing – they just have to stop doing them to me. Their actions are their own, and the consequences of their actions are their own.

This all reminds me of how nobody told me how to use the brakes on a bike when they taught me to ride. I got very badly hurt, and it was totally avoidable.

Bus driver.

One time during the drum circle I was given the task of playing the bass drum. The bass drum holds the rhythm. The bass drum is the backbone of the whole thing. It sets the time and the tone. It has to be a consistent steady beat. It is what everybody else relies on.

Midway through something really amazing happened and a lot of people were in the center and they were singing and drumming together. It was really beautiful and I wanted to look at it, but I realized if I did then I would lose track of where I was.

I realized then that I was the bus driver. They were all enjoying the scenery. My responsibility was to driving the bus and keeping us all on track.

There was another person who was keeping the rhythm with me. Every now and then I’d lose track of where I was and I look over at him. The problem was that often he was holding his drum up so I couldn’t see his mallet hit. I couldn’t use his rhythm to find my own.

At that point I had to find the rhythm within the song that was already going on and just jump back in. The group had based itself on me but then I was basing myself on it. They didn’t really need me to keep it going but I felt the responsibility.

At another point, the facilitator came over and started to talk with me during the song. I got really frustrated and told her that I couldn’t talk to her and keep the rhythm going at the same time. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I didn’t have to worry so much. I got the group started, but by then there was no way that they were relying on me. They couldn’t hear me at that point. They were doing it all very well on their own.

Which then leads to the next thought – why do I feel such a responsibility to keep things going? Why do I think that I’m in charge and have to control it? It is good to notice this and meditate on it. Some of it is rooted in my dysfunctional home life, then and now. I feel like I have to be the responsible one. I feel like if I don’t take care of things, they will all fall apart. Bills won’t get paid. There won’t be food in the house. No money left for retirement. Lifetime goals won’t be achieved.

Slowly, I’m learning to let go and trust that God is really the one driving the bus. I have my own duties that I’m called to do, but I’m not in charge. I don’t want to slack off and assume that there will be another day to do what I’m called to do – but I also don’t need to fret so much that I don’t enjoy today.

Hidden in plain sight

I think it is interesting how there are some posts that I won’t share on my Facebook feed, but I’ll still write them and post them. There are some people and situations that I want to write about that I feel won’t be received well by my friends or my family, so I don’t share them there. But I do share them with total strangers all over the world.

Perhaps it is a sign to me that I should talk to those people privately about what I see. Sometimes family or friends are doing something that I think is dangerous or stupid or counterproductive. Sometimes I can see that the direction they are going will result in making their lives even more difficult. But instead of telling them, I vent about it here.

But then again, I’ve noticed that people are unwilling or unable to heed advice when they didn’t seek it.

For a while I had a filter, where I would share posts with certain people but not others. I could block out a group. It turned out that group was either family or friends of family. Family tends to get upset when I talk about family. My brother had a real issue with it – something about family honor and pride and name. But if he was so darned interested in family honor and pride and name, he should have acted better.

I was just reporting the facts. Is it embarrassing to be called out for your repeated violations of your own honor code? His lies and machinations finally got to me. It was either my sanity and health or his “honor”.

Then there is my married family. There is quite a bit of unsettled business there, and it is ugly to watch people act like teenagers when they are in their 70s. If lessons aren’t learned when you are young, you will continue to stay at that emotional age.

I got called out for pointing out hypocrisy and lies and maladaptive behavior in my family – birth and married. I got challenged by members, saying that I should just put up and shut up and make peace. It isn’t my place to make peace with someone who has abused me. I am not in the wrong for standing up for myself.

If someone breaks into my house and robs me, I am not the person who should apologize and make things right.

Being mentally harmed by a family member, even after I have pointed out the harm and asked him to stop, is the same as being robbed. My mental peace had been stolen. But for another family member to write me and say I should make peace for the sake of the family is even more insulting, and further harms me. It says that I am the antagonist.

I was attacked for what I wrote about the church too – by members of the parish I went to, and by strangers here who thought I was being divisive and harming the Church. I’m not. I’m showing how we are damaging it. I want it to be stronger, but it can’t be until we remove the weak parts. Like all the parts that Jesus not only didn’t tell us to do, but also all the parts that Jesus told us especially not to do.

I will not be silent anymore. I was silent for many years. But now I’ve found my voice, and I will speak. The more people who try to silence me actually strengthens me, because I see it as a sign I’m on the right path. Just like in aikido, I use my opponents’ energy in my favor.

In-laws and outlaws

You know the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted.

In-laws are like an arranged marriage. You didn’t pick them – they were picked for you. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. It is great when it does, but it is horrible when it doesn’t.

You can’t drop them like you can drop a new friend.

With a new friend, one you are trying out, things might not work out the way you both hoped. You can just stop calling and making dates with each other.

Family is different. You are stuck with them. All the major holidays, all the big celebrations, you are expected to spend with your family. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Weddings. Funerals.

The most important days of your life, and you are stuck with people you didn’t pick.

This makes no sense.

The only thing that will make bad in-laws go away is divorce. Either you leave, or they do.

Or, better yet – re-invent the idea of holidays. Don’t make it mandatory to spend time with people you don’t like. Create new traditions. Invent your own ideas.

Being stuck with people you didn’t pick doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps this is why people hate holidays so much. They are expected to spend time with people they think, by society’s rules, that they have to get along with.

Why fake it anymore?

Family honor

My brother used to push the idea of family honor on me. He seemed to think that it was my responsibility to keep up the family name and family pride. And yet he was the one who changed his last name and who got two women pregnant without being married to them. He is the one who got divorced four times and who got himself a quarter of million dollars in debt.

So I’m not really sure why he thinks it is my responsibility to keep up with family honor and pride. Perhaps it is my responsibility because he realized that he had failed at it. Trying to make his problems my problems isn’t acceptable.

I have felt like I have failed the family for many years but I’ve gotten over it. He really did a number on me. Because he was older than me, I trusted him. He imprinted me. I finally realized that their madness isn’t my madness.

If you work for a company, everybody should work together to make a good product. But if you work really hard and no one else does, then you will lose your sense of loyalty towards the company. You feel like it doesn’t matter what you do because no one else is pitching in nearly as hard as you are.

The same is true with my family. I feel like they aren’t doing anything for me so why should I do anything for them? In fact they seem to think that it is my responsibility to care about everybody else’s feelings, when they don’t bother with mine. That is the very definition of codependency.

In “Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss talks about how our first loyalty is to our tribe – our family, our culture, our country. Whatever we are born into and is impressed upon us. Problems occur when we disagree with it and realize that its goals and values are not the same as ours.

She talks about our family of origin as being Divinely chosen. So this means we should accept it.

That isn’t so easy.

This happened with Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane – 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39, RSV) He was about to be crucified, and he knew it. He was about to suffer a very painful and humiliating death, one that he didn’t deserve. He knew that he was going to be resurrected, but getting to that point was going to be ugly.

He didn’t want what was going to happen to him. He was asking God to let it not happen.

I was angry at God for letting things happen to me. I was angry at God for the abuse and neglect. I was angry at God for it all – not having a better family then and not having a better family now. I didn’t pick these people.

I felt pretty ugly for thinking these thoughts. But if even Jesus can think stuff like this, then I’m in pretty good company. And Jesus says, not my will, but yours, God. It isn’t what I want, but what You want.

I’m trying.

Myss says that problems with this area tend to manifest in the lower back and knees, and that is where my pains are. And from my prayers before I read this, I knew that I needed to let God be in control. It is good to get confirmation, but still hard to do.

There has to be a reason what has happened and is happening to me is going on. God made it happen and is making it happen. It is a way to open up, to learn, to grow. It is a test, a trial. Somehow I doubt that the world will be redeemed through my sufferings, but I might be.

Taking care of your parents when the relationship is bad

There is nothing about being an adult child that means you want to take care of your parents. There is nothing about the situation that says you even know how to.

You didn’t enter into this relationship voluntarily. Nobody asked you if you wanted to be the child of these people, and nobody asked you if you wanted to take care of them as they got older.

Just because they raised you doesn’t mean you are obliged.

What if they did a poor job of raising you? What if they were abusive? What are your obligations and responsibilities then?

Sure, there is social pressure and Christian guilt to deal with. Society expects you to drop everything and take care of these people. Forget the fact that you barely have enough time money or energy to take care of yourself.

Getting married is a legal commitment. You swear before your friends and family and a witness that you will take care of each other, no matter what happens. You make no such commitment to your parents. It is all passive. You are born into this family. You have no choice, and you haven’t promised anybody anything.

But yet you are expected to drive them around when they can’t anymore, to cook for them, to spend the night at their house when they are afraid…the list goes on and on.

Taking care of your parents is like taking care of children, but in reverse. As they grow older, they grow more needy and less able to care for themselves. As they grow older, they grow less independent and more dependent.

The really big problem is that unlike children, they remember being independent, and they don’t know how to receive help. They certainly don’t want to get help from their children, regardless of their age. They feel that something is wrong with this situation, and that they are losing control and power. That only makes the situation more difficult.

Another problem is that nobody trains you, the adult child, how to take over responsibility. Nobody tells you that now you are the parent and they are the child. So it is hard for you and for your parents.

If there is a history of abuse or neglect it is even harder.

People who had a great relationship with their parents cannot understand this.

Gift

I’m trying to see every experience as a gift, as something special. I’m trying to trust that God is in charge of everything and that everything is going as planned.

It isn’t easy.

I feel trapped in someone else’s madness right now. Some dumb decisions have been made by others and it is affecting me. It is only going to get worse. I want somebody to take over, take charge. I want somebody to rise to the occasion and be an adult. I’m not seeing it happen yet.

And then I remember how much I love the story of Jonah, praising God in the belly of the whale. While in the middle of the problem, Jonah praises God.

And I remember Jesus saying in Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (RSV)

I’ve come to understand this to be about everything – situations, feelings, ourselves – not just people. We are to act in a loving manner all the time.

And I remember Job saying that if he only loves God when he gives us good things, then he doesn’t really love God. His wife has just told him to curse God for all the afflictions that have happened to him.

Job 2:10
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (RSV)

OK, so what do I do about all these feelings? How do I handle them? How do I act in a loving way towards my anxiety right now?

I was talking to a friend about all of this and she told me about this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” (Being Peace)

Sometimes this feels like AA. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

If I believe that God is a loving God, and that God is in charge, I have to trust that everything that happens is part of God’s plan, and that it will all work out for the good.

The problem is trusting that.

I feel like I did when I was in a river rafting trip with a boyfriend many years ago. He was a guide, and we’d taken a raft with some friends down the Ocoee River in the off season. He knew of a spot where we could “surf” – we could ride the river, sort of stuck in this one area for a bit. Some of the water started to come into the raft. I started to get terrified and went to leap out of the boat. My boyfriend knew that would be a terrible idea – I’d get stuck under the raft in that area. Unbeknownst to him, it really would have been a terrible idea – I wasn’t a great swimmer either. All I knew was that something bad was happening and I wanted to get away. He held my shoulders down so I couldn’t leave the boat. He explained it all when we were away from that situation. He didn’t have time to explain it then.

I want to get away from this situation.
God is holding down my shoulders.
It will all make sense later.
Breathe, trust, and give thanks.

Time travel dream

I had a dream that I travelled back in time to visit my Mom. We were together in the living room in our old house in Chattanooga. She was sitting on the couch by the windows, where later we would put the hospital bed. She died in the same place she had sat all those years.

When I traveled there in my dream, I told her that I was really 45, that essentially, I was possessing my own body. I asked her how old I was at the time, because everything always looked the same there. She told me that I was 12.

I told her that she died when I was young, but I didn’t tell her when. I told her how it affected me. I told her that she might want to stop smoking and start eating well.

We had a steady diet of junk when I was growing up – no fresh vegetables, a lot of fried food. If we ate vegetables at all they came out of a can or the freezer. A lot of food was brown. The walls of the house were stained yellow with all the tobacco smoke. It was a very unhealthy place to grow up. I had no control over my environment, and the people who should have looked out for me were killing me day by day.

For some reason I felt like I could warn her about the train wreck she was making of our lives by smoking and eating poorly. Her bad choices were my bad choices by default. I was her child and had no control over what I ate and the air I breathed when I was there. For some reason I thought I could change her ways by coming back as an adult to tell her what would happen if she didn’t change.

When I woke up, I pondered on that dream and I thought of this Bible passage. Jesus told this story about a rich man and a poor man. The Lazarus in this story isn’t the same one he raised from the dead – that was the brother of Martha and Mary.

Luke 16:19-31
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores,21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom.24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” (RSV)

So I realized that it didn’t matter. Even if I had been able to go back to tell her to change her ways, it wouldn’t have done any good. She knew that smoking was bad for her but she still did it. She knew that she should eat better but she didn’t do it. She had made her choices and she stuck to them, regardless of the warning signs and the evidence.

How many people are like this? They’d rather stick with what they know to be bad rather than make the change to what they know to be good.

Change is hard. It takes a lot of energy to break free of a bad habit. But it is worth it. And the more you push towards being healthy, the more energy you have to make other changes.