toxic people

Are there toxic people?

No, I do not believe so….

I think there are toxic interactions.

Toxic behavior. And it takes two to tango, really.

Do I have to stay away from someone who behaves badly? Do they set me off? Well, that’s about me, isn’t it? I need to go look in the mirror and see what is bothering me. What does this remind me of? Are they getting under my skin? So what part of my skin needs better boundaries?

I realized that my father drank too much when I was in college. I read about it and went home, ready to intervene. My mother and my sister refused, much to my surprise. And slowly I realized that my mother was enabling the drinking.

I set boundaries with my father. I said that he could not come to my house drunk and he could not drink at my house. I refused to sleep in my parents’ house because he was falling asleep and there were cigarette burns in the floor and an 8 inch diameter one between the couch cushions. I told my mother I was having nightmares about fires. She joked that she would be mad if he burned a hole in the waterbed. I told my father I was afraid to sleep upstairs and moved to my grandmother’s, two doors away. I was lucky that I had that option.

My father stopped drinking a decade later. I took my young son to visit, and found that my father had started again. I asked my mother, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She replied, “I told you I would leave if he drank, but I am not going to leave.” I said, “We are not staying with you.” and we moved to my mother-in-law’s house.

As a family doctor, I try to help each person. My clinic and I do have boundaries. If they no show for three visits within one year, we ask them to change to another doctor. People call for referrals often. I can’t do a referral without documenting a diagnosis and doing an examination, so they need a visit. “But you’ve seen me for hip pain!” “Yes, and that was a year ago. Time to reevaluate, right?” And all doctors here are swamped: they want to save their over busy time for people who truly need them. The orthopedist does not want to see that hip unless I agree that they need to: if physical therapy and discussion can fix it, one less person that they don’t get to operate on.

I recently had calls for an emergency referral. I left a message with both the patient and the specialist. I had not seen the person for five months. I have no idea what is happening. If it’s an emergency, they need to contact the insurance, not me, because I have not seen the person: no diagnosis. And insurance should cover if it is an emergency. If it is not an emergency, well…

There is behavior that I prefer not to be around. There is behavior I will tolerate in clinic but not my personal life, since I get paid in clinic. There is behavior I won’t tolerate in clinic. But think of the great ones that are still spoken of: the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas, Jesus. They had boundaries to where any person was allowed to approach them and was received and was sometimes changed by that reception. When I say “I can’t be around him or her,” how do I need to change? Ok, not the crazy person shooting into crowds, no tolerance. But day to day, the things that get under our skin, it’s our skin that is fallible.

I do not want to label anyone toxic. I hope to make a small difference in the world through my clinic. And add to the joy in the world.

For the Daily Prompt: saintly. I am not there. 

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Would you harbor me?

Unconditional 2

I think the hardest thing in the world is to love unconditionally. And we can’t love unconditionally unless we love ourselves in that too. Including our faults, our mistakes, our dark corners, our anger and grief, pettiness, unkindness, stupidity, jealousy, greed lust… if we only love our “good” side then we will attack others when they show the same weakness and faults that we know, deep inside, that we are capable of or have acted on. If we cannot love someone who is a sinner, we cannot love anyone, because we are all guilty. Love people anyhow and wholly and yourself too.

I went through a period after my mother died, where I felt I’d entirely failed. My marriage was disintegrating, and I was looking at myself very carefully. How had I gotten here? What mistakes had I made? I felt unlovable and stupid.

I found a letter from my mother written to herself when my father asked me to clean out her clothes. It was two or three years after she died. Here is the letter, with a few things left out for the privacy of the living:

____________________

Sept 18, Friday
1987
Seattle

I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here in Seattle. With the mountains that lift my heart. And clear air and only good memories. What is there to go home to? Struggling with X and his alcohol. I don’t want to try to do something about it. I don’t think it will work if I do. I think will only go on as it is and trying to get help will only lead to fight. I don’t think I have the strength, the courage or the wisdom to help myself or him.

What else am I going to? A house that needs a great deal of work that I only moderately like. A climate I loath. A landscape I find boring. I’m tired of living in a crowded suburb. And that house needs so much work.

People. What people do I go home to? Nearly all have problems. Y, wounded bird, so foolishly enamored of Z or thinks he is. And I have little sympathy or patience with it. And his propensity to failure which I’m tired of also.

A who I dearly love but her household is such chaos with those ill-behaved children and one crisis after another.

B who I like very much but really have so little in common with. I fear all that spiritual stuff may eventually bore me. Maybe not.

C. Another wounded bird, really. And not dependable.

D, barely around, anymore.

Mother, older and frailer. Who needs my care and patience.

E. There is one person to go home to. Thank God she’s there. Not wounded anymore. But so busy and it isn’t fair or wise to dump my troubles on her.

Who else? Why don’t I know any successful (in the best sense) sane people. People who are intellectuals, interested in ideas. F is. But not a fully successful human being and not when G is with him. Ugh. Besides he lives far away and he and X don’t like each other.

I don’t really want to have that show at H’s Church. I don’t like H very well. Oh dear.

I maybe have a job which if I get will be very hard work and if I don’t will be a great disappointment.

Winter’s coming and things cost more and we don’t have quite enough to live on. So that means digging into my inheritance.

I am sick of D.C. I am sick of being a struggling, unsuccessful artist. I am sick of worrying about X, about his moods, his acting the fool when half drunk and acting cruel and crazy when fully drunk. I’m sick of being afraid, of his depression, of his refusal to talk to me about anything of importance.

Of doing dishing. Of all the mess in our house. The mess on my desk, the mud room, the kitchen, the study, the basement. The dirty paint. The back yard. Oh God! How can I change things? Well there are a lot of bad things.

Oh, & I’m sick of being anxious, 10 lbs overweight, biting my nails, having bad teeth/gums. Life get tedjous, don’t it?

Any good stuff?

____________________________

For me, this letter was the key to finding myself lovable. My mother wrote to herself because she felt that she could not share these feelings with anyone. Terrible feelings. And I thought about it for a long time: I thought: my mother was charming, loved and an entertainer. But a child knows the parents’ hidden feelings. So I knew about my mother’s darkness and the letter confirmed it. And I thought, my mother didn’t need to hide that because I knew about it and I loved her anyhow. I love her more knowing that she was human too.

And if she is lovable whole, so am I. So are you. We all are. And we all make mistakes and are guilty of anger (sometimes appropriate but sometimes not!) jealousy, greed, lust, sloth and pride. Love people anyway and wholly and yourself too.

 

I have a view of Puget Sound if I stand in the road in front of my house. I took this with a zoom lens on solstice morning at sunrise.

Beloved

B for Beloved. Rumi and Hafiz, the Sufi poets, write about the Beloved.

The Beloved is God and God is the Beloved.

I like thinking of God as the Beloved. That makes sense to me. God should be Beloved, most Beloved of all.

But sometimes I feel abandoned and lost and stressed and grumpy and it feels as if I am longing hopelessly for a connection with the Beloved. Rumi says in his poems that it is the longing itself that is the connection to the Beloved. Then my inner devil gets annoyed and sarcastic and says, “That’s stupid. That’s a Catch-22. So why is the Beloved Beloved if suffering longing is the way to reach Her or Him?” My inner angel gets involved and is all serene and untroubled and says, “Of course longing is a doorway to the Beloved.” Then they both get out flaming swords and proceed to fight. They can’t kill each other though they try. And I sigh and say to the Beloved, “They don’t behave.” Then the angel and the devil both turn on me and say that I should love each one of them best. “No.” I say. “I love the Beloved best, but you are both part of the Beloved so if everything is loved, then you are both loved best.” Then the angel and devil point to each other and say how the other one is just horribly wrong….. they just go on.

Weekly Angel/Devil Fight: Love everyone

This is my weekly (biweekly, snarls my devil) blog about the arguments between the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other.

Do I really see an angel and a devil? Well, no. But we all use archetypes and we all have all of the archetypes within us. So when I have a dilemma or something comes up, I call the angel and the devil to the internal conference table of my mind and ask for their advice. They are going to give it to me whether I ask or not, so it’s more effective to be polite!

Ok, sometimes it isn’t a conference table. Sometimes it’s a hell scenario with bubbling lava or the fire forest from A Princess Bride… or it could be a field with daisies and a blue sky….

Today I am thinking about what we are supposed to do: Love everyone.

How good are we at that? Not very! Or are we?

My angel: You can love everyone. (The angel is kind and completely confident.)

My devil: Yeah, til they knife you in the back. Right. Go ahead, love them and they’ll treat you like dirt!

My angel: You can love them anyway.

My devil: Paula Pell said, “Be nice to all assholes because it disables them!”

My angel: Yes. You should be nice to those people too. (She doesn’t approve of swearing.)

Devil: sulking.

In my job, I get to love everyone. That is, as a doctor I want to be able to treat everyone and anyone who walks in my office. They can be talking about aliens or refuse to do what I suggest or they can say, “I hate doctors especially YOU.” and I am still supposed and do try to help them. Sometimes it doesn’t work very well. Sometimes we don’t connect or they are going to do the opposite of whatever I say or they return to using heroin. But I still get to try.

In my personal life, I would like to be the same. I am not there yet.

Devil: yeah, and don’t want to be….

Angel: keep trying….

But I can bring something from my job to my personal life. I don’t have to love what people DO and they can be MEAN and I don’t have to LIKE IT. But that is separate from the person themselves: I can still love the person even if they seem to be acting like an idiot and my devil wants to strangle them…..

Devil: oooo, strangle, I like it

Angel: separate the person from the action. Love them anyway.

Keep on trying…..

My weekly demon

I am in blogging 101.Today is the last day and the assignment: to create a recurring feature. A weekly or monthly or repeating feature. I thought, no, no, I don’t want to do that….

Then I read this blogpost: http://findingmyinnerzen.com/me-mantras/

I like the list. I sent the author a link to my poem “Say yes“. I made this comment:

“I would add one more thing to my list: keep my devils close. Remember the old cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other? I listen to my devil and I acknowledge what she says. She is riotously and evilly funny, with a running commentary on everything. She will also suggest totally evil over the top inappropriate responses to any time I feel hurt, sad, put upon, cut off by another car, you name it. By listening, I don’t project her onto other people and I don’t do what she says….. but sometimes it really adds perspective when someone says something thoughtless or mean and she goes into Samurai mode, shouting in my ear, “Get the sword! Get the sword! Off with their head!” I go from feeling surprised and hurt to internal laughter at how mean and inappropriate my inner demons are…… It is hard to stay angry and react to others when you are sitting there telling your demon that chopping someone’s head off is not socially acceptable and is unreasonable and is nasty and so forth…..”

Ah. There it is, the idea for my weekly post. I will write a weekly post about some internal inappropriate over reaction from my inner devil. And maybe from the angel too. We all have both. Sometimes the angel and the devil get to arguing and they are just over the top and the whole thing is silly. And the thing is, they cheer me up. The devil suggests doing terrible things but it’s usually a reaction to feeling hurt or sad. The angel tries to protect everyone else from that awful devil. And sometimes they just put an arm around each other and watch the beautiful sunrise and shut up for a bit….

The angel says, “Say thank you to everyone, it’s been a wonderful course!”

Thank you, everyone! Teachers, fellow bloggers, angels, devils, random strangers who stumbled on my blog…..

And my devil whispers, “Not weekly. Biweekly. No way weekly….”