Tag Archive: attachment


Clean Slate


It’s been “make a change” week in my life.  I’ve had several changes I’ve wanted to make in my life for quite some time now.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m feeling pressed for time on some of them, as though if I don’t get them implemented now, they’ll never get done.  Such as a decent exercise habit.  I know that it will just get harder and harder to establish the older I get.

In that spirit, I signed up for the Sea Change program run by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame.  There’s a new module each month of a habit to slowly change over the month, the idea being to very gradually introduce a change into your life so that it’s more easily integrated and accepted.  People usually try to do changes too quickly or in chunks that are too big, so they fail (I wouldn’t know anything about that).  This is supposed to mitigate a lot of that.  March’s module is meditation: I’m looking forward to that since meditation is something I’ve wanted to integrate into my life for a very long time indeed.

I also signed up for a 90-day weight loss challenge at my gym.  There’s a new thing to try out every Tuesday, as well as a chance to weigh in, so that adds a little bit of accountability and incentive to my goal of getting more exercise and losing some weight.  Altering my eating habits is also crucial to this being successful, so I’ll be doing February’s Sea Change module on healthy eating as well (I signed up halfway through the month so I decided to start at the beginning of March).  The changes are small enough that I think I can do meditation and healthy eating at the same time.

And of course, I’m also doing Spiritual Nomad.  I didn’t mean to do three things at once, but that’s just kind of how it turned out.  I’m good at following prescribed courses, though, so I don’t think it will be a problem.  These are all programs that I enjoy too, so that will help.

It also helps that I’m really wanting to make changes right now.  I’m pretty tired of some of the patterns of my life and would really like a clean slate to work from.  I have a lot of unnecessary negative thought patterns I need to shake loose from that are holding me back.  I’m hoping that a lot of them will fall by the wayside as I make my way through altering negative patterns into positive ones.

It’s going to be difficult in some ways, though.  If I want to meditate, I’m going to have to get up earlier, something that has been perennially very difficult for me.  I’m very attached to my waking time and sleeping patterns, and to a certain extent that’s very healthy for me since it’s important for bipolar people to have steady sleeping habits.

My biggest challenge will be in not trying to make too many changes at one time, which I’m already in danger of violating.  I tend to get all fired up about making changes in my life and then sputter out after a while.  However, some spark of what I was doing usually remains, and I’ve slowly built on desired changes over the years.  I do some yoga, not none, and I managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago.  I also exercise more today than I did a few years ago and I eat healthier.  Overall I’ve effected some pretty positive changes in my life over the last few years.  All I want to do is keep that going, and perhaps speed up the pace a bit.

So here’s to change!  And all the new and wonderful things it can bring.

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Ghost Feet


They say the fog moves in on little cat feet.  So do ghosts.  Mine do, anyway.  When I was a child, I had a cat who would jump onto the foot of my bed every night after I went to bed.  He’d nose open my bedroom door and *poomp* onto the bed he’d go.  So it went for a few years until he got sick and we had to put him to sleep due to a urinary blockage (something that is thankfully treatable these days).  I was in the third grade and absolutely heartbroken.  Sam was my best friend.  He died on the first day of school, which I always thought was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

In the days following his death, I swore up and down that I could still hear my door creak open at night and feel his feet hit the foot of my bed just like they used to.  Fortunately my mother was a fairly mystical creature and was open-minded to the notion that her daughter was being visited by the ghost of our dead cat, so she didn’t do anything to discourage the idea.

It hasn’t been since then, 1979, that my life has been such that I’ve been able to pay attention to such forces.  Not that I haven’t had pets die in that time period, but other energies have been in the way.  There was a Sam II, a lovely black-and-white critter who came with us from Michigan, and who was also my buddy.  He just up and disappeared in 1986, again breaking my heart.  There was no time or space to detect the subtle nuance of any spiritual return on his part, though: that was the year things began to go truly and horribly wrong at my house, and they would never be right again.  Then there as Bizarre, yet another beautiful creature who was all white with bi-colored eyes like David Bowie.  I gave her to friends when I went travelling, and she was regrettably hit by a car in my absence.  Since I was gone and she wasn’t really mine anymore, I didn’t get any visits from her that I noticed.

The next cat I got was Babalon, and if you’ve been reading in recent weeks, you should know her story by now, and of her kids.  I’ve missed their presence so.  The house is empty.  Babalon had a big personality despite being just a regular-sized cat, and YinYang had a personality twice the size of his massive body.  Samadhi is still here, but she was always overshadowed by the other two.  We love her of course, but she’s not her mother or brother, and I realize it’s not fair to compare her to the other two.  I can’t help it, though.  I miss them so much.

I’ve been “looking” for their presence in the house.  I remembered my experience with Sam, and I’ve desperately wanted something like that.  Well I think I have.  A couple of times the last week or so, I could have sworn I’ve heard Babalon’s faint yowling like she did before she died.  She’d just sit in an empty room and make these plaintive yowls like she wanted someone or something.  I’d always come to her and pet her and tell her everything was okay, and she’d lay back down.  And this morning, after I had awoken but before I had gotten up, just like with Sam, I felt the light footfall of two paws hitting the bed, just as Babalon would do in the morning when she had heard my alarm had gone off.

The only time I’ve felt YinYang’s presence was a couple of weeks ago when I was having a particularly hard sobbing fit of guilt and regret over having not recognized his illness sooner, and I had the distinct sensation of him by my feet walking around in a circle with the message of, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, I love you!”

I was glad for the message of reassurance, even if it might only be coming from my own subconscious, but it didn’t do anything to ease my missing him.  I suppose that’s one of those things that really is only healed by time.  I’ve learned in the last month and a half that grief comes in waves, like the ocean.  It washes over you until you think you might drown, and then it rolls back out so you can heave with breath on the shore.  They come slower and smaller over time, though.  I imagine at some point they’ll just be little waves lapping at my toes as I sit on the shore enjoying the shells of my memories.

The Four Noble Truths


The fundamental philosophy of Buddhism is The Four Noble Truths:

Life means suffering.
The origin of suffering is attachment.
The cessation of suffering is attainable.
There is a path to the cessation of suffering via the Eightfold Path.

What’s important to my essay here isn’t the Eightfold Path, but the notion of attachment.  I’ve become keenly aware of the concept in the last couple of weeks in the wake of the death of the cat.  I know there are probably people out there who are like, “Jesus Christ, it’s a cat. Get over it.”  I suppose those people have never had a deep and meaningful relationship with a pet.  And I admit that society’s “get over it” voice is trying to creep into my head, and I keep pushing it right back out.  That cat came into the world two feet away from me and left the world in my lap.  I think I’m entitled to some sadness.

And I’m perfectly aware that that sadness is the result of attachment.  If I were not attached to the cat, I would not be sad that he is gone.  I’m also perfectly aware that even the most devout Buddhist monk w0uld likely be at least a little diminished in demeanor if someone or something they were used to were suddenly gone.  Perfect detachment is for the Bodhisattva, not us mere mortals.  Nevertheless, to contemplate our attachment to things is a worthy endeavour.

Just exactly why was I attached to that cat so much?  I’ve never loved a cat in my entire life like I loved that cat, with the possible exception of my cat Sam who moved to Texas with me from Michigan.  Actually, I had two Sams growing up, and I adored them both.  Still, I had never had a cat as long as I had Yin-Yang, and I had certainly never had a cat since birth.  There was something special about being privileged enough to be a a part of his and his siblings’ birth, since his mother wouldn’t leave my side.  Watching him slowly open his eyes after a couple of weeks was just wonderful.

I learned a lot about cats that I didn’t know before by being a part of that process and by raising the kittens.  It made me feel like I was truly a part of their lives in a way that I had never felt with other cats.  Sure, with the others, we were a part of each others’ lives, but there’s an intimacy that goes along with birth and upraising that adds a completely different element to a relationship with a pet.

Then I had to pick who I was going to keep out of the five kittens.  Oh dear.  That was so hard.  In the end, I kept the biggest and the smallest.  When MamaCat was pregnant, I wished that she would have a big boy cat that I could cuddle with, and that’s exactly what I got.  I felt like he was the answer to a prayer.  His existence became inextricably intertwined with my own.

And that’s why it was so painful when he was gone.  It was like rending fabric apart.  We were truly attached.  And there really was great suffering when that attachment was separated.

I have no problem with the first two Noble Truths.  Life is suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Got it.  The next two Noble Truths, I struggle with greatly.  I can accept that there is a path that can ease suffering by easing attachment and that the Eightfold Path is the way to easing that suffering and attachment, but I have extreme difficulty understanding how it is that I can have meaningful relationships with people (and animals) without being attached to them.  If I’m not attached to them, then where is the meaning?  How can I incorporate the last two Noble Truths and still live a fulfilling life?

This is where my greatest philosophical crisis occurs with Buddhism, and I imagine I am not the only Buddhist who feels this way (in fact, if I knew more Buddhists, I would probably discover that this is the main stumbling block for all Buddhists).  Envisioning myself interacting with the world without attachment feels so distant, though I know that’s not what it’s supposed to feel like.  I know that the lack of attachment is directly related to the goal of Buddhism and meditation to “be here now”.  To truly appreciate each moment, each thing, each person for what it is right there and then without consideration for the past or future, for it is those temporal considerations that cause attachment.  If we have no notion of the future, then there’s no reason to be attached to anything.  And “be here now” is supposed to be a greater experience than anything we run across in daily life, so I shouldn’t feel that a lack of attachment should diminish my experience of life.

Still, my brain has a lot of trouble with the concept of banishing attachment.  It wants to stay attached to things for some reason.  I’m sure there’s a Buddhist concept and term for that desire and a way to deal with it, and I’m sure I’ll run across it at some point.  For now, though, I’ll have to deal on my own with my philosophical crisis regarding attachment.

And for reference, the Eightfold Path:

Right Understanding
Right Thought
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

40


So I hit the big four-oh recently.  40.  I know it’s just an arbitrary chronological marker, like 20 or 30, but you remember how seriously you took those particularly markers, don’t you?  Crossing 20 was like the loss of your youth.  Only one year away from legally drinking, your days of clandestine partying were just about over.  Crossing 30 was like the loss of the rest of your youth.  You could no longer be irresponsible and head out for the weekend on rock climbing or motorcycling adventures.  Or so your psyche told you, anyway.

40 is much the same way.  It’s telling me about all of the things that I’ve lost, about all of the things that I’m not “allowed” to do anymore, and all of the things that I “should” do now.  And I’m having an incredibly difficult time with all of those “shoulds” and “alloweds” and everything that goes along with it.  So what does being 40 years old really mean?

On the surface, it means just that: I have achieved 40 revolutions around the Sun, and no more.  In my case, that’s a fine accomplishment.  I should have been killed either by someone else’s hand or my own by now.  The chances of being killed by someone else dropped considerably long ago when I didn’t live with either of my parents anymore.  The chances of being killed by myself?  Not as low, I admit.  It’s times like those I’m glad I have such a loving husband, magickal daughter, spectacular friends, and a print of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” hanging over my desk.  If Vincent could look through the bars of his sanitarium window and create that, then I have no room for complaint.  So 40 revolutions around the Sun aren’t such a meager accomplishment for me, or for any of us, I’m guessing.

It also means coming face to face with some old baggage.  I’ve had this weird notion since my 20s that there was a “wall” of sorts at 40.  I could ‘see’ past my 20s and into my 30s and guess pretty well what I’d be doing, but I couldn’t see past 40.  I still can’t.  That’s terrifying and heartening at the same time.  What am I going to be doing?  Will I finally publish that book of mine?  Will I simply keep trudging through the domestic life of Mom?  A life that, I hate to admit, is not very satisfying.  Culture tells me I’m supposed to feel guilty about that, but I don’t.  A much smaller cultural template tells me that it’s just goddman fine to want to have a life of my own while I simultaneously walk the path of Mom.  Maybe it’s right, though at the moment I lack other voices to hear and hands to hold to help me along that path.  And I have a horrible fear of “doing the wrong thing”.  Don’t we all?

If I kept along the path of Mom and nothing else, what comes after that?  Nothing happy, I fear.  If I keep along the path of “Hey, I can do both!”, what comes after that?  Happiness?  Unhappiness?  Fulfillment?  A happy daughter?  An angry one?  That’s really the crux of all this.  I am raising a daughter, who is nearly 9.  She wants to listen to pop music, and she wants her clothes to be just right, and boys make her feel “all melty”.  I’m not sure if I’m ready for all that yet.  I know the time of separation is coming sometime soon.  The day when she will not run across the schoolyard with a belly-crunching hug and an “I love you” for me, because that will just not be cool.  Or maybe it will and that’s just my fear speaking.

Speaking?  My fear screams these days.  It shouts from the rafters and tries to convince me that it will all be the same as when I grew up, and I shout back at it that it’s wrong and has no idea what it’s talking about because it’s never seen the things that I hope for.  Hope’s in there too.  Lovely Hope.  Her voice is quieter, and I wish it were louder so that she could drown out all of the other voices that plague my mind.

That is what 40 means for me.  Many veils to pass through, many doors to walk through, none of which I am familiar with because I have previously walked through a very different set of veils and doors that led to horrible places with angry faces and treacherous lessons.  Now is when the last fetters of childhood are ripped asunder, and it’s going to smart.  People keep telling me that the 40s are better than the 30s.  I look at them with more than a bit of disbelief, but maybe they’re right, because I certainly don’t need any of the things that I hope to strip away or ignore.  It’s just not going to be any fun at all, not for a while anyway.

Monkey Mind


I’ve been spending time at the local Shambhala Meditation Center recently.  Shambhala is loosely defined as a path of peaceful warriorship, something that most Westerners have an extremely difficult time wrapping their heads around.  I know I do.  The whole point is to be strong on the path towards peaceful calm, which is what enables us to help others, and that’s what Buddhism is really all about.  Easing the suffering of others as well as ourselves.

At the heart of pretty much any Buddhist practice is sitting meditation.  You would think such a thing would be relatively easy, but oh my God it’s not.  It is so much more than just sitting quietly on a pillow and emptying your mind.  It’s the last part that I’m finding extremely difficult.  It’s almost like my brain is working against me, and it makes my goal of a calm mind so hard.  Apparently some schools of Buddhism call this “monkey mind“.  One’s brain doesn’t want to be calm for whatever stupid reason(s) and begins to leap about like a monkey.

I hate this.  I hate it so much.  It is SO difficult for me to sit there and not leap up and leave the room in frustration.  To give up.  So many things run through my brain.  Disagreements with family, even very old ones.  Old hurts with people who are long dead, or who choose not to talk to me anymore and won’t say why.  Confusion about current relationships, which seem to be in a constant state of flux for me right now because I am changing so much.  Humans don’t like change, and I feel I am the passive target of others’ anger occasionally because I have committed the transgression of changing.  It makes me feel lonely because I cannot enjoy those relationships as I once did.  It makes me confused because I don’t understand why this seems to be necessary.  Perhaps most importantly, all of these things make me feel afraid because I do not know what the future holds.

I know this fear would dissipate if I could stop caring about the future, which is part of the point of meditation.  To “be here now” and not have one foot in the past and one in the future.  But I have spent almost my entire adult life living in precisely that way, and part of me fears I am incapable of not living that way.  On the flip side of that coin, I fear the state of mind that I know comes with not being present.  I have missed so much of my life because I was not really present in the moment.  Sometimes that mindset was all but forced upon me, which means that I also have to add a healthy dash of forgiveness to the cauldron of feelings that I am stirring these days.  Not just for others, but also for myself.

That is also something that is extraordinarily difficult for me.  I can tell myself intellectually all day long that something was or is not my fault, but I never believe myself.  I don’t know why, either.  I don’t understand why there seems to be this part of me that insists upon constantly and misplacedly flogging myself.  Who taught me this lesson?  Was it me?  Someone else?  Who showed me that I was not worthy of the care and love that I am now ridiculously trying to give to everyone else other than the one person who needs it most?

Meditation is indeed showing me things.  Just not in the way that I thought it would.  I will just have to continue being patient with my monkey mind which currently seems like a field filled with spring-loaded demons that have been unleashed by the simple act of sitting down and being quiet.  The happiest and calmest people I know have strong sitting practices and also endured monkey mind, and I will simply have to trust that continuing my practice will eventually yield the same happiness and calm for me.  I suppose that’s why they call it practice.


I’ve been slowly, unconsciously, and in some cases, unwillingly removing various influences from my life lately.  Some little voice way in the back of my head is constantly asking me, “Does that serve your purposes?” and if it doesn’t, whatever it is goes out the window.  I think the first thing that went by the wayside was my subscription to my neighborhood e-list.  I decided I just really didn’t need to be involved in petty arguments about dogs, street repair, and other various goings on of the neighborhood and the City.  It’s not that I don’t care about some of those things, but there are much more efficient ways for me to be involved in such things that won’t result in crazy neighbors writing to me off-list over some perceived offense.  In short, I saved myself the offense of being involved in the soap opera, which is what it largely was.

Once that e-list went, it was easy to ditch any others, including the one for the larger neighborhood that encompasses my smaller one.  It was even more guilty of being mostly concerned with lost dogs and what the exact protocol is to handle bird feathers, etc.  I just.don’t.care about such things.  Not anymore anyway, and clearly there are people who are already well-prepared to take care of such things.

The shedding of unwanted influences also extended to people, more than one of which have either removed themselves from my life or been removed by me as I’ve continued on my journey of being more assertive about what I do and do not want in my life.  I don’t need judgment, first and foremost.  I don’t need angry criticism, nor do I need self-righteousness.  I’m in the middle of trying to STOP being those ways myself, and unfortunately that’s meant the deliberate and sometimes unwanted distancing of myself away from people who bring those influences into my life.  I need a shirt that says “doormat no more”, because that’s really what’s happening.  I don’t let people step on me anymore, and I suppose that’s probably really shocking to those who were doing it and are no longer allowed to do it.  I’ve tried to assert myself in such matters as kindly as possible, but if someone’s standing on me and the only way to gain freedom is to push them off, it’s going to make them angry.  There’s nothing I can do about that, and I’m having to be comfortable with that, as well.  Pushing people off me and making them angry was a very dangerous thing to do for many years, and I carried the habit into adulthood.  Now I’m trying to drop that habit, and I suppose I can’t be surprised when the odd person gets upset about it and tries to judge me for it.

My job in that particular journey has been not to focus on those who I’ve lost due to my changing, but to focus on those who have stayed, those who I have gained, and those who have applauded my efforts to be a better person, or who have even called me their hero for doing so.  That one hasn’t sunk in yet, but I hope that it does in time.  I have a lot of work to do on my self-worth, still, and the less I focus on the ones who don’t like me or judge me and the more I focus on those who remain and support me, the better.

I still have a great deal of trouble with going through life with the attitude of “be here now”, though.  I still have to be in the world, to drive in it, to buy groceries, to deal with other parents, to deal with school administrators, to deal with a whole host of people and behaviors who are definitely NOT practicing “be here now”, and it makes it extraordinarily difficult some days.  I live in a city with particularly bad driving manners, for some reason, and the other day those bad manners had me in tears for the short drive between my dojo and my home.  Ten minutes, that’s all that drive is, and I was driving and crying before I even pulled out of the dojo parking lot after witnessing three separate incidences of stupidity or outright meanness behind the wheel.  Granted, I was being sensitive that day and needed to eat, but it’s a good example of my needing to practice being where I am and remembering what’s important at any given moment in time.  None of those people really mattered, but I still let their selfishness and lack of concern bother me.  By the time I got home, I was in a deeply despairing mood in which I wondered what the point of anything was, if people couldn’t even drive from point A to point B without being murderously stupid to one another.

I even asked for guidance in what is probably a bad place: Facebook.  Many of my friends tried to point out what is true, that it’s important to do the right thing no matter what everyone else is doing, if for no other reason than to go to bed and wake up in the morning knowing that I did the right thing.  Then today I got a couple of pointers from the same place, one in the form of a very short video of Pema Chodron basically illuminating the idea that it’s better to wear slippers than to carpet the world and that it’s easy to do that by cultivating awareness in your own mind.  I don’t know how to do that yet and I would do just about anything to know how.  The other came in the form of a very smart friend’s blog called The Good Life in which he talked about how damned difficult it is for we Westerners to simultaneously live in the world that we are forced to live in while also trying to cultivate momentary awareness.

That rang so true for me, and I wondered if it is particularly difficult for parents.  After all, “be here now” means just that: not dwelling in the past nor thinking about the future, two things that seem nigh impossible for a parent.  After all, a good parent must always analyze past behavior to identify mistakes in order not to make them again in the future, which we are always thinking about so that we may properly prepare our children for it.  How does “be here now” fit in to that?  I do not know yet, and I imagine that it may very well be impossible to cultivate a pure state of presence and awareness, but I know that it probably IS possible to cultivate something else that has one foot right now and another foot everywhere else.  Or perhaps it really is possible to cultivate that kind of awareness and still exist in the modern world while raising a child.  I don’t know yet.  My level of knowledge as it pertains to Buddhism and its base concepts is still as rudimentary as a child learning to draw the alphabet with a crayon.  But I feel that there is something large that I am only beginning to be aware of, like a blind man holding his hands up to something very large and trying to figure out what it is.  I do hope that my eyes are opened soon, or that my mind perceives what my hands only detect part of.  The place where I am now I can only describe as limbo or purgatory, and I don’t like it here.

Anger


Anger and I are very, very old friends.  Anger came into my life when I was a baby.  I got to listen to anger through my father in what must have sounded like a monster as he drunkenly attacked my mother.  She told me I would stand up in my crib, holding the bars like a little jailee, screaming at the top of my lungs as my precious tiny ears were assaulted by the noises of her having the shit beaten out of her hard enough to send her to the hospital, more often than not.  My brother was introduced to anger at these times as well, though he was far too small to do much but lay there and cry, often in pain due to the problem he was born with: strangulated hernias.  Which is apparently a not uncommon problem for babies to deal with upon their introduction to life, but for him, it must have been especially grievous.

Anger became a fixture in my life again later, long after my father’s suicide, as the impact of that act slowly colored my mother’s behavior, as did the behavior, and lack thereof, of the man who married her following my father’s untimely death.  The man who I would be young enough to call “Dad” as I grew older and all memory of my father slipped from my young brain cells.  “Dad” was nothing more than a metal rectangle in the ground at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, MI.  After a while I didn’t understand why we would go to visit him.  Thankfully I remembered as an adult, and the last time I visited his spare grave was ten years ago.  It was the first time anyone had visited his grave since we left Michigan in 1981.  Something about that just seems wrong.

Anger would never leave my life.  In fact, anger gained an ever-increasing presence as time went on and it became apparently that Richard, the stepfather, was nothing more than an abusive little boy, causing my mother to become increasingly bitter and angry herself.  She resorted to understandable coping mechanisms: drugs, drinking, and sex through casual relationships outside the marriage.  Which is not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with open relationships, but more than any other personal relationship we humans decide to pursue, those extracurricular relationships are the ones that must be undertaken with utmost care and precision.

Again, I got to bear witness to the fruits of anger between my now-parents: the drunkenness, the beatings, the shouting, and more and more frequently, the blood.  Slowly and deeply, those same seeds were planted inside me.  They would not bear fruit for many, many years, mostly because it just wasn’t safe for me, and deep down I knew it.  Anger and violence amongst adults is not just a game of seeing who can hurt the other the most.  It’s a game of control and power, and I knew only subconsciously that I was not old enough nor powerful enough to be able to engage in this game safely, let alone win it.  I continued to wear my mantle of anger hidden far beneath the much more palatable mantle of “good student”, which got me good attention at school, and at home it served as a buffer that kept much of the violence away from me.

Then came adolescence, and I began to blossom into the full human being that I was rightfully entitled to be.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe to do so.  Not only was I prey to my stepfather, who only had lewd and horrible things on his wretched mind, I was also prey to my mother, who was hellbent on controlling my life in almost every way, shape, and form in an effort to keep me from repeating the perceived mistakes of her own youth.  Which weren’t her mistakes: they were her own mother’s.  I’ve always wondered if she realized she was doing the exact same things that she had so often said she never would.

Needless to say, bad things began to happen as I grew and stopped being an academic wallflower.  I was never beaten, but I was kept under a tight rein that was often suffocating in its ability to control a willful adolescent.  When things came to a head in 1988, rather than attempt to manage things in such a way that I could finish school and then go out into the world on my own, Mom felt I was a danger to myself and had me hospitalized for two months.  Really, I was a danger to her own mid-life crisis driven lifestyle, and I was a mirror that reflected back at her every sordid voice and behavior that she herself was spewing out into the Universe in the name of “having fun”.  She was the walking definition of irony.

Anger has followed me these long years since I was finally able to escape her direct influence, and I finally let out my own anger in 2001 when I let her know just how I felt about oh so many things.  Our relationship was never the same after that, but I was certainly a healthier person.  I was breaking free, finally!  It took me to the age of 29 to do it, but I was doing it.

I wish I could say anger slowly slid away from my life, but it didn’t.  It found a comfortable place to sit and hunkered down, reminding me of all of my parents’ transgressions and how badly I had been fucked over.  Anger was right, though I can’t say it was truly doing me any good.  Rather, I can say that anger was an outstanding protector.  Anger stood over me with a very sharp sword and would whack off the head of anyone who dared to transgress my borders without my permission ever again.  Anger made me feel safe.  I kept him around, though I was leery because I knew the power that he had.  For the moment, though, it was refreshing and empowering to have this newfound power to wield against anyone or anything that might try to put me down, take control of me, or do anything else to hurt me.

Slowly, though, anger himself took control of me, or tried to anyway.  I recognized what he was doing, and I knew that I had to rip out those claws no matter how tightly they were dug into my psyche or how much temporary good they had done me.  Anger became a very powerful tool to keep cleaned and sheathed in the corner, only to be pulled out when absolutely necessary.  He could not be a constant companion.

Fortunately, I had begun my path towards Buddhism and yoga, and it was relatively easy to put anger into a manageable corner that left me free to rebuild the rest of my life.  He reared his ugly head again, though, not long after Zoe was born.  In retrospect I realize that was the ever-present specter of bipolar illness rising up from time to time, in combination with a very real and justifiable anger that had finally achieved emotional awareness and really wanted to talk about all of the things over the course of my life that I was perfectly justified to be pissed off about.  I pushed him down each time and tried to move forward.  I had a child to raise, after all, and if I could help it, I did NOT want anger to be walking with her hand-in-hand as he had with me.

It was impossible, though, and I realized that my only recourse was to make sure that she wielded her sword with more skill than I had done thus far.  That all by itself made me angry.  I suddenly found my inner psyche pitted with volcanoes of anger that had always been there, yet had lain dormant, waiting for just this moment.  Some of them oozed their lava across my soul; others exploded without warning, generating tsunamis of emotion that wreaked havoc upon my inner shores wherever they landed.

It was incidents like this that finally drove me to the psychiatric emergency room.  Each time one of these volcanoes released its load, I could see the fear in the eyes of anyone around me.  More frightening, I could see the potential for them to take hold of my daughter.  I steadfastly refused to allow anger to wield the sword.  If anyone was going to be holding that sword, it would be me and my daughter.  Skillfully and patiently, we would both lay to rest that horrible specter that had caused so much damage for the last nearly 40 years in my family.  I refused to allow it to take hold in us the way it had in those who came before us.

And so here we are, students at the finest karate school in Texas, learning bit by bit how to be the master rather than the mastered.  I’m still angry, though.  Every time I think I’m done being pissed off, another volcano erupts for me to deal with, which makes me sad and angry all over again.  Perhaps I will not truly be done until having those volcanoes go off simply does not bother me.  Because that will mean they no longer control me: it is I who control them.  When that happens, nothing will ever be able to stop me.

Fear, Doubt, Letting Go


I’ve been keeping to myself lately, from a virtual blogging aspect anyway.  Almost a month ago, I became gripped by a deep doubt about almost everything.  In particular, my writings here as well as my semi-private journal.  It was akin to suddenly feeling like the Emperor in his new clothes, as though I had been engaged in a massive and very public overshare.

I only barely managed to keep myself from outright deleting a number of posts, thanks to the urging of friends.  I still made several of them private, though.  I still can’t say exactly why, though I imagine it’s the same mindset that grips anyone who creates as a major part of their life.  Like a painter who suddenly decides something looks terrible and paints over the canvas.

I’m willing to bet it’s related to my still-faltering self-confidence and self-esteem, both of which took a major nose dive around the same time I decided that everything I had written for the last two months was utter and complete crap. When combined with the sense of nakedness and subsequent embarrassment at my self-perceived overshare, it’s unsurprising that I was so suddenly taken with the desire to virtually set my writing on fire.

However, the horses, as they say, have long ago left the barn.  While I shouldn’t really care what other people think of me in the first place, I should be comforted rather than fearful of the fact that, with a single exception, not a single person has removed themselves from my life nor have they said anything disparaging about my writing.  In fact, I’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback and encouragement.  If a massive display of TMI was really something I had to worry about, I would have learned of it weeks ago.

Still, the feeling hasn’t gone away yet.  I wish I knew how to dispel these notions, because they’re keeping me from completing other major projects that have the potential to lift me out of the overall sense of uselessness I feel about my life.  Which is yet another attitude that should be filed under “patently absurd”, but I’ve yet to figure out how to truly convince myself of more positive things.

Part of the problem is having bipolar illness.  I’m still cycling, in the vernacular, and often whatever mental gains I make when I’m feeling up are completely undone while I’m feeling down, which is unfortunately the greater percentage of the two.  At least when I’m up, the most annoying things I have to deal with are insomnia and a greater than normal enthusiasm.  I’ll spare you the list of things I deal with when I’m down.

I’m trying hard to be patient, though I often feel that I’m failing at it.  It can take months or more than a year for someone to truly stabilize and achieve some sense of emotional equilibrium, and sometimes I just don’t feel that I’m up to the task.  At nearly 40 years of age, I feel a bit like Bilbo at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring: “….thin, like butter scraped over too much toast.”  A great part of me is like, “Really? *sigh* After everything else, do I really have to deal with this too?”

A great part of me is also very angry about the “everything else”, and it’s entitled.  Regrettably, there’s no one left to be angry at, and so in a very real sense I’m suffering the ill effects of a Buddhist parable – being angry at someone is like holding a hot coal with the intention of hurting them: you’re the one who gets burned.  Along with being patient, I’m also trying to cultivate “letting go”, even though it isn’t fair and I still bristle at some of the injustices in my life, mostly because I was never really given an opportunity to have my feelings be known.

I’ve never been someone who prayed, mostly because I didn’t feel I had anything to pray to, but that’s changing as I get a bit older.  Even if my prayers aren’t TO anyone or anything in particular, that doesn’t mean that sending out that energy and thought out into the Universe doesn’t do some good, even if it’s only inside me.  So my prayers of late have been that I might be better at letting go, better at acknowledging the good things that others see in me, and better at forgiveness.  I also pray for inner peace and an accepting, quiet mind.  Please, just a mind that will STFU every now and then.

the things that we’re concealing
will never let us grow
time will do its healing
you’ve got to let it go

Rush – Open Secrets on “Hold Your Fire”

Water


I’m learning something really damned annoying: I can’t drink anymore.  At all.  Not that it was a problem or anything like that for me, but I do enjoy a couple of margaritas or hard ciders every now and then.  Not to mention I have a patch of mint in my garden that produces 3″ mint leaves just perfect for making mojitos.  It was always something of a point of pride for me, coming from a family of alcoholics and being the only one who could drink and not lose my shit or become a raving lunatic (oh wait).  These last couple of months, while I was being cautious, I retained my happiness that I could still enjoy a couple of grownup beverages without any adverse effects due to my medication.

I’m sad to say that is no longer the case.  There are many things that will cause a rise in blood lithium levels, and booze is one of them for some folks.  Like me, apparently.  Really, the problem isn’t the booze.  It’s dehydration.  Every drug has an annoying Sisyphean side effect: lithium’s is dehydration.  Dehydration increases the concentration of the drug in the bloodstream, leading to fun things like hand tremors and muscle twitches.  I’m a karate student: I can’t have this.  Which means not only do I get to do battle with my own brain, I have to hyper-hydrate and avoid anything that dehydrates me, whenever possible.  Such as anything with caffeine or alcohol.  I’ve also learned recently that if I’m craving a drink, it’s because my brain’s gone manic.  Why I like to drink when I’m manic, I have no idea, but it’s a warning.

Now, the alcohol I can do without.  The caffeine, however, that’s going to suck to do without.  Plus, it feels like a kick in the shins after going through the trouble of quitting smoking a few months ago.  Is this your way of forcing me to be the perfectly healthy human being I’m supposed to be, Universe?  You could have just sent me a text, or an email.  No need for all this physical drama, really.

Then again, I can be incredibly clueless and resistant to change, and perhaps I really will look back on all of this after a few years and see the good that it’s done me.  I can envision the person I want to be and should be if I don’t want to suffer the same fate as my parents.  I have to be the sort of person I’ve always made fun of to a certain extent, the more-enlightened-than-thou types that my fair city is unfortunately saturated in.  Except if I want to tolerate myself, I have to leave out the self-righteousness and judgment that really has no place in that sort of lifestyle.

What does the healthy me look like?  She gets up early and drinks some water (not tea/coffee), takes her meds, and does some meditation and yoga.  Then she wakes up her daughter, and because she’s already been up for a while, she’s not instantly irritated by the normal stress of getting a child moving for the day.  Then she eats and takes her vitamins and such (which are just as important as the meds, really).  And drinks more water.  Repeatedly.  All day, every day.  And she’ll know if she hasn’t been when her fingers start twitching and her legs feel like they have to run or they’ll explode.  When she gets agitated, she has to sit her ass down and meditate.  Right then, if at all possible.  Or do more yoga.

That has to be my life now, as much as possible.  Yoga.  Meditation.  Exercise.  Meds.  Vitamins.  Water.  Water.  Water.  I have to take care of myself in a way that no one else ever really has, even when they were supposed to, so as stupid as it sounds, I really don’t know how.  Which is what makes this so hard.  There’s still a sullen teenager parked on her butt with her arms crossed in the corner of my mind saying, “Fuck you.  You want me to do what other people were supposed to do but were too fucked up to?  You want me to do their job?  Fuck you.”  And I know I just need to fucking get over it, but I have to at least acknowledge her presence and tell her, “You’re right.  It sucks and it’s not fair, but if you want to live, here’s what has to happen.”  And hope she’s not too busy feeling bitter to do the right thing.  And drink lots of water.


I got an email from the City library yesterday informing me that the due date on a stack of library books was approaching.  Instead of being disappointed that I was once again running out of time to read the books I had checked out, I hastily stacked them up, removed the bookmarks from the as-yet-unfinished titles, and banished them to the living room to be taken back to the library posthaste.  Why?  Most of them were titles on bipolar disorder or related topics, and quite frankly, I’ve grown sick to fucking death of reading about it.

Yes yes, high risk of suicide especially considering the family history.  Yes yes, have to stay on the meds.  Yes yes, high likelihood of having to alter those meds over the course of my life, perhaps more than once.  Yes yes, vulnerable to a whole host of other mental maladies, not to mention relationships that will never function the way everyone else’s do.  Yes yes, blah de blah de blah you can cram your bipolar illness straight up your ass, thanks very much.

Something tells me this is terribly normal for a newly diagnosed bipolar patient.  Or for anyone newly diagnosed with an illness that’s going to affect their daily lives, forever.  My mind is filled with a supercarrier of questions that may, in fact, not have any answer, which I hate.  I am the sort of person that will dig and dig and dig until I FIND an answer to whatever question I’m asking, and the longer it takes me to find an answer, the nuttier the question makes me. I know this is a personal problem, because indeed, some questions do not have answers.

some things can never be changed
some reasons will never come clear
it’s somehow so badly arranged
if we’re so much the same like I always hear

Rush, “The Larger Bowl“, from Snakes and Arrows

Yep, I know I just outed myself as a supergeek.  Got a problem with that?  This summer I see Rush for the 9th time, and I’m taking my kid with me.  Anyway.

This stuff makes me want to flip a massive middle finger in the face of the concept of acceptance and to tell the Buddha to take his acceptance and his compassion and his understanding and go fuck himself.

Are you serious? After the bullshit that I’ve had to put up with over my life, the drunk parents, the calls to the police, the broken glass, the splashed blood that *I* had to clean up, the oppression, the sexual abuse, the absolute pathology that tainted just about every.single.interaction that my family ever had with itself or anyone else, the having to be an adult from the time I was about five, the intrusion into parts of my life that DO.NOT.BELONG to anyone but ourselves, being the only person in my house regardless of age to be intelligent, and this is what I have to put up with?  Really?  Truly and really and seriously?  Where’s God, or Buddha, or Yahweh, or whoever?  Nope, bring Him here, front and center, because He gets my best right punch straight to the nose, and it’s going to HURT.

Great, it’s not enough that I have a plain old medical problem to deal with, I get to have a full-on existential and religious crisis to go with it.  And the first person who says “Life isn’t fair,” to me gets the same punch to the nose God gets.  No fucking shit, Sherlock, got any other gems of wisdom to share? (not really, I don’t hit people, of course)

I’ll get over it, I’m sure, though I couldn’t possibly say when.  It’s all a bitter pill to swallow (about as bitter as those trazodone tablets, I sure wish they’d coat those fuckers), and you know what?  I think I’m entitled to a bit of bitterness.  I know I shouldn’t stay here on my bitter pedestal for too long, because that won’t be good for me, but I think it ought to be just fine if I dwell here, however briefly.  People say that feeling sorry for yourself is a bad thing, but I disagree.  I think feeling bad for yourself is the emotional equivalent of crawling into a warm bed with a huge bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce and watching a completely vapid movie that makes you feel better.  Sure, if you do that every night for a month you’re going to get fat and miss out on a lot of life, but not if you do it a few times.  I know part of me is waiting, incorrectly, for some kind of stamp of approval, or official acknowledgement from wherever that You Madame, have had a Raw Deal!  And I’ll have to deal with that part of me quite slowly, because it’s right: it got a raw deal.  But there is no Department of Raw Deals to which one can apply for one’s Raw Deal Certification, and even if there was, what would it get me?  Discounts at Starbucks and Amy’s Ice Cream in perpetuity?  Free massages and chiropractic?  My own lane on the freeway?  No, of course it wouldn’t.

What I DO have, though, is a pretty large circle of friends who keep telling me how amazing I am despite the hindrances life has thrown at me.  My job is to keep hearing those voices, not tax them to say such things too often, because no one likes a suckup, move forward, and not get on my case when I have a “Raw Deal” day, as long as I’m not having them too often.

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