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.

all things

I went to a memorial last night, for a singer.

This photograph is from 2015, a memorial sing for my father, who sang in three or more choruses here from 1996 until 2013. Actually he was raised singing and with music. My sister and I were raised singing, too.

My father and the singer we were remembering performed folk songs locally.

We sang last night. I chose a round.

all things shall perish from under the sky
music alone shall live
music alone shall live
music alone shall live
never to die

Here is a version sung in three languages.

With each new loss we remember the old ones: I miss my mother, my father, my sister. The round comforts me: all things shall perish, yet music alone shall live, never to die.



Stages of Grief: anger

I am thinking of the songs that comfort me in grief.

And thinking about the stages of grief. Five, right? Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Grief and Acceptance. My sister said, “They left out Revenge and Acting Out. ” She died of cancer in 2012 at age 49. Six days after her birthday and the day after mine.

Anger songs for grief. But denial is first, right? Not necessarily. These are not stages you move through in a certain order. This is more like a spiral, where you go from one to the next and back to the start, from day to day or even hour to hour.

I’ve already written about My Name is Samuel Hall. That is an angry song, unrepentant, that my sister wanted the last time that I visited her. I knew that she was furious about dying and leaving her husband and daughter. And me and her friends.

My mother sang:

“Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms. Big fat slimy ones, little tiny wiggly ones, see them wiggle and squirm. Bite their heads off, suck their guts out, throw the skins away. I don’t see how anyone can live on three meals of worms a day… without dessert….”

She also taught us this:

“I don’t want to play in your back yard
I don’t like you any more
You’ll be sorry when you see me
Sliding down my cellar door”

My parents had songs for every mood I can imagine. There were moods they would not speak about but they sang them.

My favorite angry groups are The Devil Makes Three, Hank Williams III, The Offspring, and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Sweet Honey in the Rock? Yes. They sing about death a lot. This song is not about death: it’s about a “bad” woman, wanted dead or alive. But listen to the song: they are singing about a real event and a woman who fought back against a rape. On the thirty year album of Sweet Honey in the Rock, the group says that their first “hit” was this song, played by news stations. “It was a hint that we were not going to be top 40.” The song is Joanne Little.

So here are three songs by the others:

The Offspring: Why don’t you get a job?

The Devil Makes Three: All Hail

Hank Williams III: My Drinking Problem

And how do families show anger? They fight. They fight with each other. They fight about how someone should die, what should be done about mom, whether dad can live alone any more, about the right way to grieve. They fight about small things or big things and they even sue each other. Before you wade into the fray, step back. Remember, families grieving are always a little bit insane, very stressed and it’s all grief.

Hank Williams III: Country heroes

Blessings on the people I know in hospice right now and on their families and loved ones. Third one today. Sending love.