Rolling in the New Year 2018

I stood by the side of the ice covered road. It was 8:41 p.m. when I got out of my car. Wearing two sets of knit slacks, the bottom pair being beige, I rolled up the top pair’s pant legs so that something light colored could be picked up by car lights. Bundled up in my coat, scarf, and gloves with my messenger style bag slung across my body, the road lit by the light of the diffused almost full moon behind a cloud filled sky, taking my first step onto the ice in my trainers felt almost life threatening.

There were no headlights approaching and no sound of cars in the distance so I took the first step then seven more to the middle of the road. I could see a significant bump in my path because in the middle of the road where the double lines meet the road rises. I couldn’t step on top of this rise nor could I straddle it without feeling like I was going down. Being confident no cars were near, I went to the ground on purpose and rolled across to the grassy yard on the other side.

I walked several steps at a normal pace at the edge of this neighbor’s yard where I felt far more secure than walking the road. Then I met their driveway. It was steep, both side-to-side going uphill and steep going down to the road. I realized I couldn’t roll across it but would have to crawl on all fours to keep from being tossed into the road mid roll. It dawned on me that as I met each driveway on the long uphill hike home, I’d have to make a choice between rolling or crawling across to get to the grass on the other side.

Nine hours earlier:

Late in the morning, on New Year’s Eve, my plans for the day changed so I decided to take me out to a movie. I chose Pitch Perfect 3, starring the delightful and talented Anna Kendrick because 1) I was by myself and wanted a chick flick and 2) I’m a girl, former musician, and had seen the previous two: it was a biological necessity to have seen the complete trilogy of those awesome piped, razzle dazzle, funny women on their A Capella journey.

Because snow was in the forecast I shopped at Earth Fare before the movie. I’d brought a soft cooler with ice bricks to keep the meat and some cheese I’d buy refrigerated. Then I went to a 12:45 showing of my movie. It was a blast – I laughed so hard. Whenever I see a comedy without Joseph I long for him after. It somehow seems wasteful to have shared my laughter with strangers instead of him. But that audience and I had a good time.

Afterwards it wasn’t snowing yet so I went to Ingles to pick up some things Earth Fare didn’t have. Then I was snack hungry and decided to drop in at Taco Bell to have a little meal and read a little. There was a drizzle out there but not the light dusting of snow expected.

By 4:30 p.m. I was on the road headed home, having decided to take the short route – a thirty minute drive home down a winding, country road. I’d barely begun that route when I ran into stalled traffic with cars deciding to turn around and head back the way they came. I couldn’t see what the problem was but didn’t wait to find out. I had a driveway to my left and chose to take it to turn around. In the process I skidded a little. A twinge of fear and dread gurgled in my gut but I soldiered on. I’d take the longer route, a thirty-five minute drive home that would put me on the Interstate and all would be well.

In short order, on the four lane road I was on and several miles before getting to the Interstate, traffic was nearly at a standstill as every driver drove between five and ten miles an hour down roads becoming caked in a thin sheet of solid ice. That gurgle of fear and dread in my gut erupted into a near panic throughout my body. Seventeen years earlier, on Christmas Eve, taking my little dog, Ed, to the emergency vet, I skidded on ice and flew off the road, off the side of a hill, the car flipping in the air head over heels and a full loop side-over-side before landing on its wheels.

For years after I could not drive in snow or ice and almost couldn’t drive in hard rains. One time I was out when it began snowing and I had to drive home. By the time I was driving up our steep driveway my legs were shaking like mad. I finally understood the phrase, “Shaking in your shoes.” Joseph and I found a trauma release technique that he took me through that helped a lot. For years in the winter time, I would find empty back lots of strip malls and grocery stores in the rain, pretend the asphalt was covered in snow and ice, and practice the correct way to drive in the snow and ice to build up my confidence.  So yesterday on New Year’s Eve I had post-traumatic stress to deal with on the long, slow ride home.

For a while a truck in front of me would slip and slide on the ice, contributing to the rising panic inside me. At one point I looked to my left where in front of a pretty ranch style home on a manicured lawn a beige sedan with no one inside it rested on its hood, wheels in the air, like an apocalyptic sign.

As I saw the truck in front of me slide again a lightbulb turned on in my mind as I realized that, except for the turnaround in that driveway miles behind me, I hadn’t slid a bit on the main road. I smiled and said out loud, “I’m in a hybrid. My car is loaded down with batteries. That truck is top heavy. But my car, like me, is bottom-heavy. The batteries will help me get home safely!”

Whenever traffic stood still, I’d text Joseph or call him to keep him abreast of where I was and what the plan was. He was at home taking care of our pathways and drive so that both our Airbnb guest, who had no experience driving in snow and ice, and I could at least come home to a safe environment. The time it was taking me to make it to the Interstate and the falling temperature gauge in my car quickly undid the confidence building that I’ve-got-giant-batteries-helping-me gave me.

At one point he called me. “Sarah, I’ve looked online and they’re saying I-40 is a mess with accidents between Canton and Marion. I know its New Year’s Eve and we don’t want it this way but I think you should consider staying at one of those hotels near I-40 for the night.”

Canton was off to my left but I couldn’t wrap my mind around Marion’s location. “Where’s Marion? Isn’t it past Black Mountain?”

“Yes.”

This was bad news because the section of I-40 I wanted was between the two.

“Sarah. Whether you take the Interstate or get a room, you are in charge. Remember, you are in charge.”

“OK. I’ll see about the rooms.”

The only problem was that the entrance to the Interstate was going to be a gentle turn to the right whereas the hotels were downhill and on the left.  Traffic was crawling so I got my phone, pulled up hotels near me, and started calling. No vacancies.

As I approached the Interstate, everyone heading east was traveling at a steady pace. I decided the accidents had been caused by drivers unaware that the drizzle was turning to ice on the roads and that by now everyone was paying attention. I only had a few miles to travel down the Interstate. I took it.

Sure enough, every driver around me was going slow and careful. At one point I got my right wheels on that ridge they cut into the asphalt just outside the line – the thing that wakes sleeping drivers up. That was helpful though every time I did something like that I was scared to leave the path the cars in front of me had made on the roads. Part of the PTSD is the feeling inside that ice and snow can fling me off the road whether I’m in a car or on foot. Nineteen years ago, around the holidays, I slipped walking on ice, banging my head on the pavement and momentarily blacking out. The next winter I sprained my ankle walking on snow and ice.

I pretty much feel afraid for my life in any condition on snow and ice.

Once off the Interstate I had to travel about ten miles to get home. But between there and home, there is a tremendously steep mountain of four lane traffic. At the foot of that mountain is an Ingles. That was my destination. From there I could consider my next decision. From there, with red car lights inching up the mountain, some of them sliding, some of them stalling, it looked like the back of a twitching dragon’s tale that might shake them all into the air at any moment.

I parked in Ingles parking lot, stepped out of my car, and nearly slid under the door. The tension from the hour and a half drive that got me there nearly broke through. I got back in the car, drove to the side of the building and parked. I inched my way out of the car and next to the wall, then inched my way to their covered sidewalk to comfortably get inside. I headed to the bathroom first. I kept looking at the faces of people around me taking in how so many of them seemed calm and confident while I felt like falling apart. I don’t know why but after I used the bathroom I bought a toothbrush and toothpaste, lotion for my face, and this week’s People magazine with Hugh Jackman on the cover. Spending the night in my car in Ingle’s parking lot was an option, but they closed at 11. So where I thought I’d use the toothbrush and lotion, I don’t know! But the purchase made me feel better.

When I got back to the car I called Joseph to let him know I was going to try the mountain. I’d seen a truck filled with sand drive by and hoped that meant it had been dumping sand out the back. I pulled out onto the four lane highway with my car in the first gear lower than drive – that S2 gear. I took it out of hybrid mode, having it run on gasoline alone so I’d have more power. The first several yards it seemed I would make it up and over the mountain. But up ahead a car was stalled in the right line. The truck in front of me got in the left lane and then began going slower and slower until he lost control and began sliding.

With fear in my throat and no oncoming cars I gently turned to the left, using the middle and two lanes on the other side to turn around and head back to Ingles, my hands and arms now uncontrollably shaking. I had to make a left hand turn into Ingles but the road was flat there and so stopping and starting wasn’t really a problem. But once I got parked at Ingles, the flood gates opened and I cried my heart out.

I felt so punished by the situation that with my hands and arms still shaking, I had the presence of mind to wait until the overhead lights went off after turning off the ignition and then I just went for it. Rocking back and forth, crying my eyes out, I chanted, “This isn’t because I’ve been bad! I’m not being punished! This isn’t punishment!” I could feel a part of me looking at me with curiosity. This part said, “Ok. She needs to work this out of her nervous system and then she’ll calm down and figure out what’s next.” That observing part was right. That’s exactly what I did.

When I calmed down I called Joseph to tell him I might have to spend the night in the parking lot at Ingles. I had it all figured out. They would close at 11 so at 10:45 I’d go use the bathroom for the last time. Then I’d park with the driver’s side right up next to the grassy bank on the south side of the building so I could jump out and use the bathroom when necessary. I had a full tank of gas and fully charged batteries so I could keep myself warm throughout the night by turning the engine on and off as I liked. I had a magazine and books I could read by the parking lot lights and a kindle.  I told him this wasn’t my final decision though. I wanted to give going-home traffic time to thin out where I could try the mountain again with less stress. We hung up and I opened my kindle to the current thriller I’m in the middle of reading.

About half an hour later I noticed that traffic on the road, though sparse, had sped up. People were driving down the road faster. I also noticed that my windshield hadn’t frozen up even though I’d had the engine off for some time. I’d been comfortable for some time actually, even taking my coat off.

I texted Joseph:

“Science question: Since the drizzle has stopped might the warmth of the ground under the ice have been able to melt it a little?”

“Possibly.”

I called him.

“I’m going to head up the mountain at 7. Do you think I should put it in that S2 gear, the one just below Drive? I have five of those gears but do you think 2 is best?”

“Yes, absolutely, 2 is best. You’ve got to have enough momentum to make it up the mountain but not too much so that you skid or have to brake hard.”

“OK. I’m going to do it!”

At 7 p.m. I turned right out of Ingles and headed for the mountain. There wasn’t much traffic so I was able to keep a nice distance between me and the cars in front of me without having to slow down. A salt truck passed me in the left lane and that was comforting. But I was scared. I kept repeating, “I’m making it. I’m going up the mountain. “I’m making it. I’m going up the mountain.”

Near the crest it changed to, “I’m about to crest the mountain. I’m about to crest the mountain. I’m cresting the mountain! I’m cresting the mountain! I’m over the mountain!”

I still had seven miles to get home, some of that stretch were hair pin curves. Early on I wound up with a string of cars behind me. I think they wanted me to go faster as the line of cars drove too close to each other and the one directly behind me too close to me. Eventually they all turned off the main road as I continued, inching my way toward home.

Turning on to the main road into our neighborhood, I thought I had a strait shot home and I was going to take it. Even though after a flat stretch it was a solid and steep uphill climb to our driveway, I was going to try. But there was this Cadillac SUV up ahead on my side of the road sitting still with its blinkers on. And up ahead at the first steep part, cars were bunched up together not moving. I had a choice of farmland to my right and left that I could pull onto, park and walk home but, if I couldn’t drive all the way home, there was one sweet parking spot I wanted instead.

The Cadillac had numerous people getting in and out of it. The road block up ahead wasn’t moving. This last leg of my trip was taking so long! The tension inside my body was nearly unbearable. At one point in my journey, from deep down in my soul, I could feel the desire to bargain with God begin to rise. I found momentary relief when I laughed at it. It was comical to me because there was nothing to bargain with and nothing to bargain for or against. The situation was what it was. I wanted it to end. I had wanted the situation, the tension, fear, and near panic to end hours earlier than this and there was still more to go. Bargaining wasn’t going to do me any good and might just lead to straight out panic. So I chuckled and told me, “You’ve just got to keep being present. It’s exhausting but you can do it. Just keep being present.”

I decided to call Joseph.

“I was worried! It’s been 45 minutes since you said you were leaving Ingles. Are you all right?”

“It’s been 45 minutes? I knew I was going slow but, wow. There’s this Cadillac sitting in the road that I’d go around except there are these cars up ahead on the hill…”

I described where I was, what was going on, what my options were. The part of me that wanted it to be over really wanted to park in one of the fields I was idling in front of but Joseph felt that was too far for me to walk. Feeling frantic I made a decision.

“The cars in front of me are starting to move. I’m going to try to come home.”

At a great distance I followed the Cadillac up the road. There was a hill there I needed to crest and then it would be downhill to my cherished parking spot. Barely on the other side of that crest, the Cadillac stopped. The driver got out with a box in his hand. As he walked to the house he was stopped in front of I said to no one in particular, “What?! Seriously?! Really?! You’re making deliveries in this weather?! Aauugghh!”

I inched very closely to his car in order to get as much of my car on the crest where I could idle without sliding backwards.

He came back to his car, glanced my way, and headed up the route I needed to take to get home. I could not trust that he would not make another stop and it was uphill all the way. So I came to my ideal parking space: a fork in the road where off to the left there was a wide expanse of grass where I could safely park and leave my car. I gently drove the sloping downhill road, crossed to the other side, floated into the grass and parked my car.

I cried and cried and cried, releasing more tension. When I was done I called Joseph.

“I was going to try to come all the way home but I can’t. I’m not brave enough. I’ve parked in the grass at the fork in the road where I’ve got the car way off the road. I’m going to walk home from here. Should I lock the car?”

“It probably doesn’t matter. Just go ahead and lock it.”

“I can bring the groceries that are…”

“Absolutely not! Leave the groceries. Only take your purse, lock the car and use the flashlight on your phone. I’m going to walk to the end of the driveway with salt and start walking in your direction, salting a path as I come.”

“OK.”

I looked around the car and decided there was one thing I needed to do first. I opened the door, got out, popped a squat and emptied my bladder. I got back in the car and looked for a flashlight on my phone. It wasn’t there. I looked outside and remembered midnight walks in snow in Southwest Virginia in my thirties. Tonight I had cloud cover but the almost full moon’s light was diffused and lighting the night up well enough. I grabbed my kindle and stuffed it in my purse. I climbed out of my car, noticed the time was 8:41, locked the car, patted it and told the car I’d be back for her, then walked to the front of the car and faced the sheet of ice over the road in front of me and every driveway up ahead. I told me to keep breathing deeply and realized I actually felt much stronger.

As soon as I was walking on grass I began calling Joseph periodically to tell him of my progress. I told him I had enough light from the moon and that I felt stronger. I told him I thought it was good I wasn’t aware of exactly where I was in my hike home because this meant I’d just keep hiking till I got there with no sense of distance to psychologically slow me down. I also told him I wasn’t going to stay on the phone because I needed to concentrate and I didn’t want to trip and lose my grip on my phone.

This was a different kind of being persistently present but it was a nice change. Every now and then I’d trip a little over the uneven ground. I told myself, “No sprains, no breaks, no falling and hitting your head because an ambulance cannot make it here for you tonight!” At one point I did fall. I fell backwards, landing on my bottom without putting undue pressure on my knees. Not a big deal. At one point I realized walking on the uneven ground was good for my brain. So I began doing cognitive exercises as I hiked along:

“1+1 is 2. 2+2 is 4. 4+4 is 8. 8+8 is 16. 16 +16 is 32. 32+32 is 64. Oh, shit, that’s a wide and steep driveway!”

It was so wide and steep I didn’t want to cross it. It frightened me. It was too steep going downhill to roll across it. I’d have to take it on all fours and I could tell from the previous two driveways I’d crawled across that my knees were getting roughed up. I walked uphill a few paces to choose the narrowest part of the driveway, promised myself I’d take excellent care of my knees when I got home, and crawled across.

At another driveway I studied it for a while then deciding to roll across it, heaved my purse across the drive ahead of me. Rolling across this driveway, the steep descent to the road got the best of me. I grabbed my purse as my body skidded toward the road. I twisted and aimed for the ditch instead. I was able to catch the point where the ditch met the driveway with my foot and stopped my forward movement.  I gave up on adding cognitive exercises to my journey at that point.

Soon I thought I was at a house that has sheep in its front yard. I called Joseph to tell him where I was. He said, “Good. That’s good. I’m on my way and,” he chuckled, “bringing some help!” I didn’t know who was helping him, but it sounded good to me.

Turned out I wasn’t yet anywhere near the sheep’s yard. But I kept trudging along, navigating coming across mail boxes, traversing driveways, grateful for a long cable that keeps trespassers off one stretch of property. It was nice to hold onto that for a change.

I got to a place in the hike were the land quit going uphill for about thirty yards when I saw headlights. I moved farther away from the road, deeper into the yard, and kept moving forward. I realized those were a pair of flashlights when my phone rang. Joseph was on the line. I told him where I was and waved at the flashlight, which eventually caught my smiling face. I said, “I’m here! Do you see me? I’m in the yard, not near the road.”

A voice not Joseph’s said, “Yes! I see you! Just keep coming as you are and I’ll meet you at the road. This is Sam. Joseph and Phil are just behind me. How are you?”

“I’ve been better but it’s GREAT to see you!!”

“Here, take this hiking stick and my arm and we’re just going to carefully walk you back home. Are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m good.”

We began walking up the road when Sam stopped and said, “Wait a minute. Come here.” He pulled me into a big bear hug. It was so comforting! Then he put my hand through the crook of his arm and we headed up the road to meet Joseph and Phil.

We still had a long way to go. Sam and I set a good steady pace. We traded skidding on ice stories and talked about what was going to be missed the next day because of the ice.

He teased me saying, “Have you been asking yourself why you ever moved out to this mountain? To get stuck in the snow and have adventures?”

I answered, “And to be rescued by lovely neighbors!”

Eventually we locked hands and just took care of each other making our way up the road. Joseph and Phil had a nice conversation pulling up the rear behind us. It was a lovely New Year’s Eve parade as I got escorted home by three strong and handsome men!

As we reached our driveway Sam said, “Now, you have just walked a mile and a half uphill.”

“Really?!” I was incredulous but proud. That mile and a half uphill took an hour to walk. When I got home it was going on 9:45 p.m.

Once Joseph and I were safely inside our home, I felt such gratitude. We hugged and kissed each other. I filled in the blanks of my adventure – especially the hysterical parts. Back in 2000 on that Christmas Eve night when I got swept off the hillside, he was watching from the house having his own traumatic experience. He knows me and appreciated with me the opportunities I had to release the tension of not only a traumatic four hour journey home on ice but the trauma of revisiting the past as well.

They say you should let some time pass after a traumatic event before writing about it to give yourself some distance from it. I didn’t want to do that. I’ve spent most of day after (today), which is New Year’s day, writing this short story – not reliving it but remembering it and, in that way, creating some distance.

It was in the middle of writing this story that it occurred to me life handed me a hero’s journey yesterday evening and I took it. I’m proud of myself for facing my fears over a five hour period, allowing myself to lose it now and then, and finally getting home where, against all odds, I got a good night’s sleep.

As I write it is 9:48 p.m. on New Year’s Day. Happy New Year 2018!

Making Friends with Anxiety

In the middle of battling anxiety on a daily basis – morning, noon, and night – it occurs to me that this is an anniversary thing – the anniversary of us moving into our current home two years ago when we had such a hard wind-and-rain autumn in our porous log cabin that had a loose, squawking metal thing on the chimney outside our bedroom and a loose, banging roof tin on the porch of the cottage twenty yards from our bedroom; with black mold living and thriving unbeknownst to us in the center of our home, creating a felt sense for me that our house was haunted.

So, OK, yeah. I think the anxiety coming up for me these days could be anticipatory grief and worry that autumn in this house will have her way with me again. And it won’t be a pretty sight. What do I do about that? Well, I greet and welcome this nervous and apprehensive energy vibrating inside me and settle in for a good conversation.  It goes something like this.

Hello, Anticipatory Anxiety. I love you for protecting me. Let’s look at this thing of anticipating something bad happening this fall. So, it’s two years later. Let’s begin with the black mold. It was remediated. That’s what they call it when they tear out all the ruined wood and bathe the remaining walls and floors in a powerful anti-fungal product. The leak and poor craftsmanship that created the environment for the mold to thrive in was fixed. New plumbing, wood, and stone were put in place by an expert craftswoman and expert craftsmen. The beautiful bathroom is a daily reminder that all is well now. And last year the chimney sweep found what was wrong with the chimney, got rid of the loose, squawking metal thing, and put in a new wood stove and chimney that are reliable, safe, and quiet. And Ben, while painting the cottage to get it ready for our first Airbnb guests, climbed on the porch roof and nailed down the loose piece of tin. All of those things got fixed!

Oh, but then there was last autumn, right? The forest fires in the mountains between our mountains here and Lake Lure. Firefighters from several counties fighting the fires, those women and men were like soldiers, so courageous and self-sacrificing. We kept hearing how one of the biggest problems causing the fires to spread were the mountain laurel, which act like kindling with their brittle, wiry trunks and branches and waxy leaves. Not only are our woods full of mountain laurel, our log cabin, surrounded on two sides by rhododendrons, the mountain laurel’s fancy cousin, made me feel like we lived in a tinderbox. We had to travel during that time, making arrangements for our cats and dog in case the fires reached our neighborhood while we were away. But the fires never got closer than 12 miles away, put out by all those brave firefighters who saved countless homes and people from destruction.No teenagers lit fires this year. And we no longer have Rhododendrons growing right next to our home. Remember? First of all, a previous owner planted them too close to the house. They couldn’t grow properly. They’d become leggy and were not healthy or happy. They, along with our log cabin, were directly affected by the powder post beetle that invaded our home. One of the first things Terminix told us while explaining the process of tenting our house in order to gas it with a fumigant that would kill the powder post beetles that had feasted on our log cabin, depositing their larvae in the tiny caves they made, was that we’d likely lose the Rhododendrons to the gas. And we did. As a result, our home is better protected from forest fires than it was before. And our home is free of powder post beetles.

You know, even though the tenting drama occurred during the final days of summer, I’d say if anything bad was going to happen this autumn, it already has and is behind us now.

So, dear Anticipatory Anxiety, as the 2nd year anniversary of our entry into our present home (which is actually our third autumn here) approaches, I suggest we move forward with the notion that we’re fine. (I stop talking and writing at this point, tuning in even more closely to the anxiety.)The anxiety has calmed down very much as I’ve written this. “She” calmed down dramatically with the acknowledgment of how challenging our first autumn here was for me. Her argument was that I needed to be afraid – very afraid – because it’s autumn in these mountains! It looks as though all I did was apply logic to her argument. But that isn’t what I did.

I didn’t talk anxiety down with logic. Instead, I fully entered into my relationship with her, became present with her, and engaged her in conversation that allowed the anxiety to be seen, heard, and felt in regard to how bad it was for me to endure the deeply unsettling things associated with our home that happened to occur three autumns in a row. I was able to drop into a natural conversation with her because at this point Anxiety and I are well acquainted. The first time I addressed her in conversation I told her who I was, gave her my age, and some details about my adult life so that she could become acquainted with me as an adult. In other words, she needed to know I was no longer a child she needed to protect. She needed to know that I am a mature adult capable of taking excellent care of myself.

At this point the anxiety is calm. She’s still present. She’s watchful, observant. But there’s space between her and me now. I’m comfortable in my body. I am relaxed and calm and curious. Laying it out like this and having my curiosity about it aroused, I can see that the past three autumns here have been interesting, wild even! Wild like the forest just outside our door! Living in a log cabin in a forest is an adventure. Apparently, it is an adventure I’m up for because my husband and I have handled all the wildness very well.It wasn’t in a vacuum that I learned how to recognize anxiety, treat it like a viable part of me with which to have a relationship and conversations in order to allow it to heal. I’ve been in psychotherapy for a year with a gifted psychologist who is an expert in the field of Internal Family Systems. He and IFS are a perfect fit for me. That’s where I learned and am still learning how to interact with the ego parts that fight so hard and so blindly to protect me that they wind up hurting me instead of helping me. That’s the background for this conversation with anxiety over this autumn anniversary idea that something-bad-is-going-to-happen, allowing me to change my reality from being beat up by anxiety to being able to be calm, quiet, and effective in my life by participating in my own healing. Internal Family Systems is an awesome way to be present – to practice presence – for the sake of greater compassion, self-knowledge and healing.

Good stuff, that!  

 

 

I Dropped My Basket

“Well, that happened.” I got down on my hands and knees and picked up all the buttons, because that’s all there was to do. I’d picked up the tin of buttons off my desk to put them away where they belonged. As soon as I had the closed tin in my hand the thing leapt out of my hand, into the air, flipped over, and the lid flew open; buttons fell to the floor scampering in every direction, followed by the tin crashing on wood before it finally stopped moving. This happens a lot – things flying out of my hands. I don’t understand it. I don’t know if it’s part of osteoarthritis or if I’ve got some kind of energetic, kinetic, psychic gift. But when it’s a bowl of cereal that seems to leap from my grasp, turns upside down in mid-air, spilling all its contents before also reaching the ground, it’s irritating.

As, on hands and knees, I picked up the buttons I thought about how not that long ago such an accident could have resulted in me feeling and expressing rage. But this day I didn’t go into a rage. As such, while I worked to pick up every button, I realized I felt humble. Not humiliated, just humble – the task was a humble task. Comparing this experience to rages in the past, it occurred to me that when I rage I feel bigger than everything. Feeling bigger only lasts seconds, however, because the rage is followed by feelings of humiliation and shame for having lost control in a way that repels others. In fact, raging makes me feel as though I’ve lost my mind. I titled this essay “I Dropped My Basket” because it is an old southern way of saying I lost my marbles, I lost my mind, or in today’s parlance, I went bat shit crazy. All those terms are often used in humor, but my experience of raging – of dropping my basket or going bat shit crazy – doesn’t feel funny.

This different experience with the buttons – this being present to the humble task and how I felt humble felt kind of good. I didn’t feel shame. I had nothing to feel remorse about when it was over. And I rediscovered some pretty buttons I forgot I had.

It seems to me that being present to the current moment – whatever the moment – is an experience of openness and vulnerability – even if the moment is filled with happiness or joy instead of humbleness or sadness or even guilt and regret.

This morning I had an interesting moment in which to be present. Joseph was away for the day so, having the luxury of time, I extended my grooming ritual. Halfway through my shower, Daisy, my dog, settled herself on a mat outside the shower door. She didn’t look too happy so I realized it must be raining – even storming. I glanced up through the shower door to the window in the ceiling and caught sight of the downpour. Then I remembered I’d left every window in my (new) car rolled down after Daisy’s and my walk earlier in the morning. In the past the sudden realization that the inside of my car had gotten soaked would have filled me with feelings of embarrassment and guilt. My inner judge would’ve had a field day raking me over the coals. I might’ve even felt shaky racing to the car to fix the problem I’d caused. Not so this a.m.

 

Instead, I took a moment to decide what to do. I turned off the water and left the shower without drying off. I walked through the house and got my keys. Then, without a stich on, I walked out the front door and up the path through the pouring rain to my car. I never ran or jogged because I didn’t want to fall. Besides, if one is already soaking wet, what’s the point of running through the rain (unless running is pleasurable)?  I hadn’t bothered to take the time to put clothes on when I left the shower because our house and yard have enough privacy not to.

When I got to the car I reached in and turned it on but the windows wouldn’t roll up so I pressed on the brake with one hand and hit the switch a second time with my other hand whereupon I successfully rolled up the windows. Then I turned off the ignition, closed the driver’s door, and left whatever was wet inside for about an hour later when I’d take a towel to it. Having a little familiarity with plumbing problems, I know that stopping the flow of water is the first step and goes a long way to solving the problem of too much wet. I figured it could wait till I was dressed. Then I calmly walked back to the house and my shower.

 

It was when I made the choice to save toweling off the inside of the car for later and felt how calm I felt inside that I realized I was proud of this new and different and better response to a stressful, potentially self-shaming event. The smile on my face and the rain on my skin felt wonderful!  

It seems to me that when, as adults, we learn to release self-rejection, self-recrimination, self-neglect, and self-harm – states of mind and emotion that can lead to things like raging – we go a long way toward inviting more self-nurturance and love into our lives – which can lead to things like presence, happiness, and contentment. Love is the only safe place to hang out in life. It includes respect, unconditional positive regard, and compassion, as well as fully seeing and hearing our own selves as well as others. In that place, instead of dropping our baskets, we can bask in the glow of a calm and peaceful mind and heart.

 

The Work of Relationship is a Privilege

In healthy relationships partners view their lives together and the energy required to maintain these bonds as a privilege and challenge – not as an obligation or struggle. ~ Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

I forgot this. I forgot that being in a relationship – especially a romantic partnership, a marriage – is a privilege. That it comes with challenges that are opportunities for growth – not only growth for the relationship but that help me continue to grow up into the adult and whole person I want to be in the process of becoming!

Joseph and I fell in love nineteen years ago. I was thirty-eight, he was fifty-five, and we were both single-again, becoming friends through our participation in a self-growth school. As such we didn’t date our way into our relationship. Rather, in the winter of 1998 we turned around and realized our bodies and hearts had already fallen for each other and that the rest of us might want to get on board! In the years that followed our affection for one another and the chemistry we shared was profound for both of us and apparently on display. Though one person in our life often teased us, looking for the honeymoon to end, the way others noticed our bond was delightful. I felt as though our love was a gift that created a space for love, happiness, and contentment to sort of hum and thrum and thrive. It was as though, without teaching, preaching, or being intentional about it, the space we filled made some kind of difference for those within our sphere of influence. It certainly made a difference for us.

So how did I forget that our relationship is a privilege? How did I lose touch with us? In the last year, bewildering to me, feelings of obligation and struggle seemed to tug at the outer edges of our relationship. It showed up inside me in internal conversations that went something like this, “We sound like some old married couples I’ve seen – me harping on him and him placating me too much of the time. Maybe this is just what happens the longer you’re together and it’ll never get better.” Too many conversations between us felt effortful and I wondered, “Are we falling out of love? Are we falling out of liking each other? How can he maintain his love for me if we keep this my anger/his mollifying thing going?” I did not like this and I did not want to talk about it out loud with him. I didn’t want to admit it. As it turns out that wasn’t Joseph’s experience at all. He knew I was unhappy, doing his best to help, but he felt no sense of threat to our relationship. I appreciate that because, on one hand, it’s an example of the differences between men’s and women’s brains and how they perceive the world differently from one another. For instance, if we don’t judge me for over thinking it and we don’t judge him for being oblivious; our different ways of perceiving our shared life don’t have to become a disagreement to iron out. And, on the other hand, it’s easier to sort out tension if both people in a couple are not afraid the ship is sinking! 

I could make a list of all the things I think went into creating this me-harping-and him-placating thing but it would make this essay too long and tedious. More significant than those details is that it happened at the ages we are now. I believed that because of our ages this development was natural and expected, which was an invitation to let it continue. Aging squeezes the juice out of people unless they choose to be intentional about staying juicy. Juicy in all ways: sexually, mentally, physically, socially, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally – all that good stuff that came so easily when we were young and full of hormones that did the work of juiciness for us takes effort when those hormones dissipate. But it is worth the effort!

Getting a grip on griping and deciding I wasn’t having it, I wasn’t going to continue through the years being an easily angered person, gave me the oomph to get in touch with the part of me that still desires the juicy relationship I recently took for granted. I reread books about the differences in the way men’s and women’s brains operate and what that means on a practical level of living, loving, and working together. As a result I began being 100% present to Joseph again whenever he spoke to me. For instance, as the result of a move and lifestyle change a year and a half ago, I’ve had reason enough to often run lists, plans, desires, and needs in my mind while listening to him. It’s a way to multi-task but no way to connect with another person! Simply giving him my full attention does wonderful things for me and good things for him too. My eyes widen at the sound of his voice, my body feels more relaxed and open as I genuinely receive whatever he has to say, and I get to practice listening with no agenda and no interruptions. Listening in this present, receptive way is a lovely way to relax and bathe in my femininity as well as genuinely connect with him. It feeds my soul and nourishes my relationship with my fella. This way of listening serves his masculinity as well. Men tend to be streamlined thinkers. When women give them the kind of active listening women love to give each other, replete with lots of questions and interruptions, men tend to zone out because their brains are not wired that way. Keeping up with a woman’s active listening can be exhausting – especially when active listening leads to hijacking the conversation. When I save the active listening for my girlfriends and, with Joseph, listen receptively to him, I experience myself as a woman in a way that brings pleasure to both of us. It’s juicy!

For the record, I have stopped harping on him and he has stopped mollifying me. For me, we feel like our old selves again, in love and loving each other in a relationship that is a privilege and worth the energy expended when challenges arise. For him, he knows I’m happier and more content and that makes him happy. When I’m OK, he gets to be with me in ways that are more fun and satisfying for both of us. My goodness, the effort to get back to juicy is worth it! I very much recommend it.

Resources:

If you would like more information on the differences in the way men’s and women’s brains operate for the purpose of living, loving, and working better together, I highly recommend the work of Patricia Love, Ed.D., especially the book that she co-wrote with Steven Stosny, Ph.D., How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. You can find Pat Love online at http://www.patlove.com.

I also recommend the work of Alison Armstrong. She has been studying men for twenty-six years, sharing everything men have taught her about how they relate to themselves, each other, the world, their families, and the women in their lives. You can find Alison online at http://www.understandmen.com.

The quote from Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. with which I began this essay comes from his book Overdoing It. Bryan is a licensed psychotherapist and author of many nonfiction books and is also an award winning novelist. His psychological suspense novel, Limestone Gumption, is now out in paperback. You can find Bryan at http://www.bryanrobinsononline.com.

Budget as Story…as Relationship

Every January I pull together a budget based on the previous year’s earnings and expenses as well as projected changes in earnings and expenses for the current year. I hate it. Even though I’ve made it as simple as possible, I do not like writing the budget. Numbers make me nervous – always have since grade school where they were my weakest subject and would remain so through high school. (One of the many reasons I loved my college was because, back then, students chose between a language and math. We didn’t have to take both. Call me crazy but I signed up for Greek and said “bye-bye” to numbers in school!) Since I do the budget because it’s necessary, first of all I avoid it by practicing the art of procrastination with creative and productive projects that keep me out of my study. Then when I commit to it, I spend the time at my desk bubbling inside with impatience and insecurity while wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else. Going to the movies is never as enticing as it is while I sit here and get the work done. In fact, I have interrupted the task of writing up the 2017 budget with this very reflection. Several minutes ago I interrupted the task by buying an MP3 album at Amazon, which now keeps me company while I do the budget. Actually, the music is keeping me company in this very moment as I write this.

Why did I start writing this? Because it occurred to me that numbers can tell tales – stories – memoir, if you will, about how the previous year was spent as well as the hopes and expectations for the New Year. I thought if I looked at it this way, it would help. I actually feel a slight sense of relaxation around the budget. I’m going back to it. I’ll be back in a bit.

It helped! Going back to the budget I felt calm and relaxed. As a writer I was surprised by my impulse to look at the numbers as story and memoir because I knew I did not want to take the time to sort of tell the tale about each number in the budget. That wasn’t what I was going for at all. It was a clean cut idea that the numbers would speak for themselves. Together on the page of the budget, in relationship to one another, and in relationship to me they are a memoir of last year and a story about this year. And my mind relaxed around the task.

Within the context of looking at the numbers as story or memoir, they tell a boldly honest tale. Something memoirists talk about is that in memoir the writer practices selective memory. In writing memoir, selective memory isn’t less than the truth. Sometimes it points to bigger truths. It isn’t biography nor is it fiction. Mostly, selective memory means the writer shares what she needs to share and not everything needs to be shared. Dani Shapiro asks this about memoir, “What is the job of the memoirist?  Is it to tell all?  Or is it to carve a story out of memory?”

But a budget as memoir – the numbers are there representing exactly what was, anticipating what will likely be. It’s a bold truth indeed. And, for me, it is now complete. Rather than running away from the completed task or shaking it off, I’m basking in the glow of a tale well told. Till next year!  

(For the sake of this reflection, I added photographs of bells because they can be counted.)  🙂