love poem to the monsters under my bed

I am trying to wrap my mind around an aspect of Adverse Childhood Experience Scores. Ace scores.

Raised in war or chaos or an addiction household or a crazy household, kids do their best to survive and thrive. I acknowledge that first. “You survived your terrible and terrifying childhood. You are amazing. You have crisis wiring in your brain. You had to wire that way in order to survive.”

And what does that mean? High alert, high adrenaline, high cortisol, reactive. One veteran says that the military loved him being able to go from zero to 60 instantly.

“Yes, and how is that serving you now?” I ask. “Do you want to change it?”

“No.” he says.

“Why not?” I say.

“Because I know I can protect myself.”

He can protect himself, as I can too. But being on the alert for a crisis, being good in a crisis, being able to fire up like a volcano, is that what I want and is that what he wants? If not, how do we change it?

I think of it as being able to see monsters. Other people’s monsters. My crisis childhood wiring is to pay attention to the non-verbal communication: what people do not what people say. The body language, the tone of voice, what the person is not saying in words, when someone is being polite but the body language is a shut down, a rejection, a dismissal, posturing, aggressive, they don’t like me no matter what the words are, belittling. But if I or my high ACE score patients respond to the body language and emotional feeling, we have named the monster. And the person is being “polite” and will not admit to the monstrous feelings. Those feelings are unconscious or at least the person does not want to admit if they are at all conscious.

In clinic I have learned to dance with the monstrous feelings. I don’t always succeed, but I keep leveling up. It’s a matter of delicacy, inviting the person to admit the monstrous. Some do, some don’t, some don’t the first time or second or third, but the fourth time the monsters are brought out. And they aren’t monstrous feelings after all. They are normal. All I do then is listen and say that the feeling sounds normal for what is happening. It’s like letting off a steam valve.

So how do I and my high ACE score folks learn to do this in social settings as well? When someone is talking to me with a monstrous feeling, meanly, I challenge it. Because I am not afraid of that monstrous feeling. But I have then broken a social contract and the person will like me even less then they already did. And maybe that monstrous feeling is not really about me at all. It’s about their own current life events and the feelings that they try not to feel, are ashamed of, are afraid of. It’s not polite of me to challenge that feeling in a social setting, I am not this person’s doctor or therapist and they didn’t ask me. It’s hard because I feel so sorry for the monstrous feeling and for the person feeling it. I am moving to compassion and love for that feeling rather than taking it as directed at me, taking it personally.

That is my intention. We will see how well it goes.

A natuopath told me to have the intention to release old grief. It’s not old grief though. It’s ongoing grief. Grief for all of the monstrous feelings that swirl around daily and the monsters that are not loved. Most people try to ignore them. I don’t. I love them, because someone has to and because they are so lonely and sad. They are crying. Don’t you hear them? That’s what love is, when you can love your own monstrous feelings and other people’s too.

And our own are the hardest.

ACE study: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html

I took the photograph in the Ape Caves, the lava tube at Mount St. Helen’s.

feeling, farm, friends

My theme is happy things: feeling, farm and friend.

Feelings: I find our culture a bit bipolar about feelings. Love and friendship and joy are celebrated and other feelings are labelled “negative”. Grief, fear, anger, basic  grumpiness. I see posts about staying away from “toxic” people and away from people that are “downers”. But we all experience all of these feelings. Feelings are as important as thoughts. Feelings are quicker that thought, hormonal and electrical information in brain and body: we pull the finger out of the candle lightning fast, we jump out of the way of the swerving car, we feel the cascade of fear if someone is following us at night. The feeling is not always correct — we may feel threat from someone who is not threatening us.

In high school my daughter said that most of the arguments she noticed were someone saying something not well thought out or offhand as they left. It is misinterpreted, stewed over, discussed with other people and then  the person who felt that it was “at” or “about” them will react. The first person is shocked and doesn’t even remember or understand the trigger. Misunderstandings all the way.  We have to step back from feelings and have the courage to be vulnerable and ask, “What did you mean when you said that?” We all get grown up and over that after high school… well, I try.

Farm: I got my first local CSA box on Wednesday, lovely vegetables straight from the farm and tulips! I get an email each week and often with recipes.  I love my CSA box. I eat more vegetables too, because I don’t like to throw them out.

Friends: My  friends give me  such joy! I have an email this morning from friends in Berlin, Germany! I have not seen them for more that a decade but they are coming to visit this summer! What absolute joy!

And may your day be joyous too!

F

Another photograph from Hawaii, my friend Patrick and one of the lovely green turtles. For scale….  

On death and feelings

When my mother was dying of cancer, she did not want us to cry.

So we didn’t. We had her at home in hospice for nearly six weeks and we did not cry. Almost.

My sister called me. “I started crying today, at the kitchen table.” My mother was in another room in the hospital bed. “Everyone left. No one stayed with me. Everyone left.”

I didn’t cry but when people called to say how were things, I couldn’t speak. I sat there with the phone, silent. Because what I wanted to say was my truth and I knew very well that that was not what they were calling to hear. So I did not speak.

After my mother died, time passed. I felt…. many things, but the strongest one was “I wish my mother had let me cry.” We did what she wanted. But I wanted to cry.

My sister got cancer and fought it ferociously. She refused hospice until the last week. I flew down three times in the last two months.

Six days before she died, her friend and I were helping her. “I’m sad!” said my sister.

“Don’t be sad.” said the friend.

“It’s ok to be sad.” I said. “What are you sad about?”

My sister started crying: “I won’t be at my daughter’s high school graduation! I won’t see her get ready for prom! I don’t want to leave her!”

“You won’t leave her.” I said. “You will be there. Not in this form.” I meant it absolutely.

“I want to stay!” she said.

“I know.” I said. “I am so sorry.”

With my sister, I did not do what she wanted. I thought of my mother and that I wished she had let me cry. With my sister, I tried to listen to what she wanted and listen to what I wanted. I tried to be honest with her. She even got mad!

But… I watched her go in the cancer bubble. Where fewer and fewer people were being honest. They were afraid. They did what she wanted. They wanted her to be happy. And she tried so hard….

When I had arrived for the last visit with my sister, she was sitting with my cousin. I hugged her. She was not speaking much. I asked if she would like me to sing something and she nodded. I started singing “I gave my love a cherry”, a sweet lullaby. My sister shook her head, angry and fierce. I studied her. “How about Samuel Hall?” I said. My sister smiled and nodded. I started singing “My name is Samuel Hall.” It is about a man who is going to the gallows for killing someone and he is entirely unrepentant and angry. My cousin looked at me, startled. “I haven’t thought of that song in years,” he said. We both sang it to my sister. “To the gallows I must go, with my friends all down below, damn your eyes, damn your eyes.” That was the right song, angry, resisting, raging. “Hope to see you all in hell, hope to hell you sizzle well, damn your eyes, damn your eyes.”

I flew back to work three days before my sister died. I am told that she was scared when she died. “I said, don’t be scared.” said a friend.

Why not? I thought. Why can’t the dying be scared, be anxious, be angry? Why are we afraid to let them? I would have said, Why are you scared? And I would have said, I am scared too. And sad. And angry.

I told my counselor once that my husband was on the couch, angry, and I had to leave the room.

“Why?” she said.

“I am afraid.” I said.

“Why?” she said.

“I am afraid he’s angry at me.” I said.

“So what?” she said.

I thought, so what? “I want to fix him. I want him to not be angry.” Even if it isn’t at me.

“Why can’t you stay in the room?” she said.

I practiced. I stayed in the room. He was angry, grumpy, acting out. It’s not my anger. I don’t have to fix it. It may be just or unjust. Does it really matter? It is his anger not mine. I can stay present.

A friend said that his friend was dying leaving small children. “He was so angry that almost all his friends stopped visiting.”

A man and his sister are not speaking four years after their father died because they disagreed so strongly about how his lung cancer should be treated.

An elderly woman in the hospital agrees to go home for care with her son when he is present and with her daughter when she is present. When neither is present she will not make a decision.

A woman says to me that she is angry that hospice didn’t tell her which drug to give at the end to keep her friend from being anxious.

I hope that we learn to stay present for the dying and for the living. For all of the “negative” emotions. I see most of my hospice patients want LESS medicine rather than more. As their kidneys fail, the medicines last longer. They do not want to be asleep. They may cry. They may be angry. They may be unreasonable. Why should they be reasonable or nice or peaceful?

We want most to be loved entirely. Even when we are sad or whiney or angry or anxious. Who wants to be left alone when they are afraid? I hope we all learn to stay present.

And when we were alone, in that last three days, my sister said “I’m bad!” I said, “You are not bad. You’ve done some really bad things.” She said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “I love you anyway.” And she lit up like a buddhist monk, like an angel. And we both cried and I am so glad I was there.

Y is for yearn

Y for yearn, in 7 sins and friends. What do you yearn for? Do you ever feel yearning and if so, are you ok with that feeling?

Rumi’s and Hafiz’s poems give me permission to feel and to long. They says that all longing and yearning is praise and prayer for reunion with the Beloved.

Oh Beloved,
take me.
Liberate my soul.
Fill me with your love and
release me from the two worlds.
If I set my heart on anything but you
let fire burn me from inside.

Oh Beloved,
take away what I want.
Take away what I do.
Take away what I need.
Take away everything
that takes me from you.

Rumi (the rest here)

I Have Learned So Much

I
Have
Learned
So much from God
That I can no longer
Call
Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even a pure
Soul.

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed
Me

Of every concept and image
my mind has ever known.

Hafiz

From: ‘The Gift’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsk, here.

There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Him to fill you up,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
Love
comes to you of its own accord,
and the yearning for it
cannot be learned in any school.

– Rumi (From here)

I took the photograph in town….

J is for joy

J is for joy.

Do you feel joy sometimes? Are you joyous? Joyful?

From Webster 1913: The passion or emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good; pleasurable feelings or emotions caused by success, good fortune, and the like, or by a rational prospect of possessing what we love or desire; gladness; exhilaration of spirits; delight.

From dictionary.com: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

I took the photograph two weekends ago. My daughter was racing, category 2 mountain bike race, three laps, four miles each. I was walking the course backwards with a friend. We had to be alert and step off the path every time a rider was coming. There were around 100 riders in category 2, all ages, men and women. We stopped to take photographs and cheer for everyone and especially our team!

A rider on the first lap had an asthma attack from all the pollen, and we walked him back out. I walked the bike while he concentrated on breathing. We stopped again to take pictures and then he could ride out. I walked on, listening for bikes, and there were trillium along the path….

I don’t think I can feel joy unless I also admit grief and all of the other feelings. It’s like weather, emotions come and go and may or may not feel like they make sense. If we refuse a feeling, it just seems to get stronger and rather panicky and keep bothering us…. until we treat it like the guest in Rumi’s poem.

Grief comes, and can be sweeping our mind clean for a new joy.

F for fine

F is for fine.

There is more than one fine. Dictionary.com lists 18 definitions for the adjective fine.
1. of superior or best quality; of high or highest grade:
fine wine.
2. choice, excellent, or admirable:
a fine painting.
3. consisting of minute particles:
fine sand; a fine purée.
4. very thin or slender:
fine thread.

There is the social fine. “How are you?” someone asks. I am terrible at replying with a breezy “Fine!” Often I am feeling something other than fine. When they ask, I stop and check how I am feeling. Sometimes I try to answer “Fine!” when I know that they are asking with a social politeness and they have no interest in a precise answer. But on March 29, I answered “Grumpy.” When the person looked surprised, I said, “My sister died four years ago today.”

5. keen or sharp, as a tool:
Is the knife fine enough to carve well?
6. delicate in texture; filmy:
fine cotton fabric.
7. delicately fashioned:
fine tracery.
8. highly skilled or accomplished:
a fine musician.

Yesterday morning after I wrote E for Envy, I DID feel fine. I was satisfied with my writing, I am on vacation and the day before I had bought a used outboard for the sailboat. The old outboard has broken down over and over and I am tired of it. I was reading other interesting blogs and enjoying them, writing from all over the world. How wonderful!

9.trained to the maximum degree, as an athlete.
10.characterized by or affecting refinement or elegance:
a fine lady.
11.polished or refined:
fine manners.
12.affectedly ornate or elegant:
A style so fine repels the average reader.

In the afternoon my daughter and I took the boat out. New (used) motor, started on one pull once I remembered to turn the kill switch away from kill, and we edged out of our slip and marina. My daughter is on the sailing team now, so I took the picture while she captained. Such a sunny and blue sky day, so fine!

F

13. delicate or subtle:
a fine distinction.
14. bright and clear:
a fine day; fine skin.
15. healthy; well:
In spite of his recent illness, he looks fine.
16. showy or smart; elegant in appearance:
a bird of fine plumage.

I have a friend who answers “How are you?” a bit differently. His reply is “Flawless!” That is an interesting feeling and interesting answer….

17. good-looking or handsome:
a fine young man.
18. (of a precious metal or its alloy) free from impurities or containing a large amount of pure metal:
fine gold; Sterling silver is 92.5 percent fine.

So the next time someone asks how you are and you say “Fine!”, which fine do you mean? There are so many choices!

B is for bored

B is for bored? All of the emotions that I could pick that start with B, and I pick bored?

But I am going to talk about bored in the context of chronic pain: and suddenly it is not boring at all.

Welcome to 7 Sins and friends, a spectrum, a kaleidoscope, an ABC of emotions.

B

If you hear the same sound over and over, like a faucet dripping, can you tune it out? I can. I can tune out practically any noise and I have fallen asleep under bright light in a Casino room full of ringing and blinging and alarming machines.

You may not have quite that level of ignoring something, but you can certainly tune things out. I have been reading Jon Kabat Zinn’s books on Mindfulness Meditation and I have used his mindfulness CD. I was having trouble sleeping after my father died, and I would use the CD. However, I used it in the reverse of how it is meant.

I used the body scan. Dr. Zinn talks in a slow calm tone and has the listener move from body part to body part, just feeling what is there. Not tightening or releasing muscles, but just starting with the left toes. At the start he says, “This is to fall more awake, not to fall asleep.” And I fell asleep every time.

But what does this have to do with pain? If you have tried meditation and focusing on your breath, your mind wanders. It gets bored. It starts think about the grocery list, or that person who yelled at you or ….. anything but the breath. You keep returning your mind to the breath. One day I had a hurt knee and was trying to go to sleep and thought…. hmmm. So I focused all my attention on the knee pain. Really tried to get inside my knee. Felt the pain fully and entirely….. and soon I was thinking about my grocery list. I pulled my mind back to my knee. My mind was sulky: yes, it hurts some, so what? Can’t we do something else? I am bored!

We are taught that pain is bad and I see many people in clinic who are afraid because of back pain. They are afraid to move because pain means something is wrong. Only most of the time it means that they have injured back muscles. The back muscles cramp up to protect themselves. The muscles must be soothed and stretched and healed and to do that we have to both pay attention to the pain and move without hurting the muscles worse. Sounds a bit boring,  right? Bored is more important than we think….

I took the photograph at the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula Washington, in 2004. We were not bored.