Decisions, Decisions

You know the drill. 

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Some days it’s as simple as deciding which sweater to wear with the new skirt you bought last week. But when it comes to certain other decisions it’s a different ballgame altogether.   I’ve been chewing on one for over a week now and I’m still kind of swinging back and forth.  

Two weeks ago I decided to postpone my rotator cuff surgery set for the 14th of December.  For a number of  reasons the holidays can be a difficult for me and I came to the conclusion that adding another challenge for myself was not in my best interest.  I immediately felt that the boulder I’d been carrying for a couple of months had vanished.   Plus after dealing with Bill’s very successful knee replacement surgery in early November and his ensuing recovery, I was happy to give myself some time to rest and relax before my role as caretaker became one of being the patient. 

Discomfort over having to deal with a long recovery after my surgery was constantly on my mind.   My right arm would be in a sling for six weeks and I’d be unable to drive for three months. That meant that I’d be stuck inside for the colder months with little chance to get out on my own when I need it most. I remember too well the cabin fever I used to suffer through during the winters when I lived in Northern Vermont. I felt trapped and spent the cold months quite depressed. I don’t relish going through that again. 

Discussion with friends around the Thanksgiving dinner table last week was partly about the challenges of failing body parts as one ages. It was pointed out to me by one friend that a study out of Finland found that physical therapy can be as effective as rotator cuff surgery.  He continued that recovery from rotator cuff surgery can take six months to a year. 

Oy, I thought, what have I gotten myself into?  

Over the next few days I’d  decided to cancel my surgery altogether.  But just to be sure I decided to do some research of my own.  I read the piece the Finish study, saying that physical therapy was the way to go. I also read that most small rotator cuff tears are the ones that benefit most from PT.  But other than the three different surgery technics used, there was little other information that was of helpful. And I reminded myself that I shouldn’t believe everything I read on the internet. 

What to do?  

I had a pre-op appointment with my surgeon that I had not yet cancelled and decided to get the expert’s advice. That’s not to say I believe everything that doctors tell me either, but he had done Bill’s very successful shoulder replacement surgery several years ago.  Knowing that his work is good I decided to trust him to help me make the best decision for me.

He reminded me that I do not have a simple small rotator cuff tear.  When he had gone over the results of my MRI back in the early fall he showed me at least seven things that needed repair and told me that if I did nothing it would only get worse. That would mean a much more complicated surgery down the road. He also pointed out that if I only had a year to live, he would not recommend the surgery, but because I’m very healthy and the odds are that I could live at least ten more years, he’d recommend I go ahead.  

Knowing that there is no chrystal ball to help, I came home after the appointment confused and terribly dissapointed that my decision would be to go for the surgery. 

So once again I’m thumbing through the calendar trying to pick a few dates that would work for me.  Then I’ll call my Doc one more time and let him know what I’ve decided, knowing that I may keep wondering what the best thing for me is until I wake up from surgery.  

I hope everyone had a wonderful Turkey Day
and that the rest of the holidays
will be blessed with easy decisions!    

An Almighty Plan?

My front garden.

My front garden.

I have always had the notion that I’m being cared for by some invisible force. Those is AA and the other 12 step programs call it their Higher Power. I called it the same thing before I got comfortable with the word, God. But that’s another story and you’ll be filled in on that one when my book is finally published.

For me, God is not a wizened old man with a long, flowing beard, who sits on a thrown, cushioned with clouds. Actually, I have no idea what He, She, or It looks like. For all I know, God may be Booby, my first dog and special pet when I was very small. He was a dachshund and full of unconditional love. I have always noted that dog spelled backwards spells you know what … I know, bad joke, but sometimes, I do wonder.

IMG_1437All I know is that when I need something, God, often shows up and takes care of the problem. I do wonder about those times when He, She or It doesn’t show up. Maybe it’s because I’m NOT a churchgoer … But whatever, I’m very grateful for the help when it does come and always say thank you loudly, over and over again, in case that special caregiver of mine has hearing troubles like mine.

I do believe that my decision to take a social media sabbatical was one made out of necessity with somebody else’s help. I just didn’t know it at the time. Things were going swimmingly. I was having fun. I was ahead in revising my book. My editor, Annie, and I talk every two weeks, discussing three chapters or approximately 5,000 words of my manuscript. At the same time I’d send her the next three chapters for her to read and point out the places where I’m not being clear and need some help.

I was taking long walks every day, reading, and even seeing friends, that too often, I haven’t had the time to visit with. I made a list of the most important things in my life, and where and how I wanted to use my energy before I leave the planet.

No, I’m not suffering from a terminal illness, nor do I think I’m about to slip away. I’m very healthy. My departure will happen, but not yet. I do reckon though, that it’s important to take time now and then to remind ourselves of what the plan is.

Oh, but is there a plan or does it all just happen? I’ve never figured that out. Life runs at too fast a clip, dragging me along, until one day I have to stop and say, “Whoa there, give me some time to think, before I lose my attention span!”

Two weeks before Bill, was scheduled to open as one of the dad’s in the musical, The Fantastiks, one of his knees decided to rebel. His doc, said it was Gout and gave him special meds to make it go away. In the meantime, he had most of his dance steps in order and worked with the choreographer to make things less painful.

But the pain intensified on a daily basis and he had a hard time just walking from one room to another. I took over his cooking nights, his afternoon walks with the dogs, garbage emptying, and all the other IMG_1438stuff he does around the house. When he saw the doc again, he was told, “It’s not gout. You need to see an orthopedist.” The appointment was made for a date after the show was to open. And there was no getting around the excruciating pain. None of the over the counter anti-inflammatory meds did anything for the swelling or the pain.

Two days before opening night, Bill had to break the dramatist’s credo, “The show must go on,” and made the very tough decision to excuse himself from the cast. The director, took over Bill’s part and the show went on to great reviews. We went to see it opening night and it was fun. But Bill was devastated. Having been a actor, director, playwright, and teacher most of his life, he’d never had to drop out of anything before.

A week and a half later, Bill saw the orthopedist, had a cortisone shot, and was scheduled for an MRI the following week. He was still in pain and I was frustrated. Suddenly I didn’t have a lot of time to write, walk, or take naps. Between my own usual activities and Bill’s chores, I walked well over the 10,000 steps a day without taking my usual long walks. Bill’s sleep was disrupted by pain, mine by worry. Some of his symptoms were similar to those of our daughter’s chronic lyme disease symptoms. Was he suffering from the same thing or was it what the orthopedist said was arthritis? We were both extremely grumpy because life was not going as we’d planned it.

Bill had knee surgery a few weeks ago to repair a torn meniscus. At the same time the surgeon scraped away some of Bill’s arthritis and has warned that he is a candidate for a knee replacement if cortisone shots and a brace don’t keep the pain away. He’s still in recovery, works on a bike at the gym, and walks a little bit further every day without his cane.

I’m sure my decision to take a Lenten sabbatical was God’s plan to give me the time I’d need to be the head honcho here a home. The timing was just too perfect. Every day we both learned new lessons about patience, life changes, acceptance, and the small things that are of the most importance to us.

So far we’ve lived a charmed life. But we were reminded that we do not run the show and that whoever, or whatever it is who pulls the strings, has already figured out what we’ll need ahead of time.

Happy Spring!

Slow Cooking A Life

Ingredients

Ingredients

At age seventy-two, I’ve suddenly realized that having a happy life and living authentically, is like slow-cooking. It’s about allowing myself to gather the ingredients for a recipe and letting it simmer on the back of the stove on the lowest flame possible. When my mother taught me to make her heavenly, cure-all chicken soup, she said, “Put all the ingredients in the stock pot, bring it to a raging boil, then turn the heat down until it’s just smiling.” What she meant was that it needed to cook very slowly. There would be no bubbling; only a slight shimmer on the surface of the liquid, and then you let it sit like that all day, while you went about your business.

In 2008, I finally accepted the fact that I was struggling with PTSD. It made sense because of my history of being abused as a child, and spending most of my adult years suffering from depression and extreme anxiety. Not wanting to spend the rest of my life being unhappy, I decided to seek help and quit blaming my pain on everyone else around me. Taking full responsibility for who I am and what I put out into the world was/is my goal. After three years of therapy with a psychologist whose specialty was dealing with trauma, I was well on my way to becoming whole and finding ways to deal with life on my own terms. This is how I did it:

I imagined my life as huge layer cake with too many dense layers to count. The layers themselves never had distinctive flavors. They were simply made up of different parts of my life, including what I do on a daily basis; the getting up, going to work, and then to bed kind of things, that go on day after day, like paying the bills, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and putting up with the dog across the street that barks all night.

In between each layer I hid the nitty-gritty stuff; my raw emotions, unhappiness, anger, losses, my victimhood, shame, boredom, laziness, fear, depression, and lack of hope. But mixed in with all that bitterness were tiny bits of something rather pleasing that I couldn’t identify. It was like a distant voice telling me to wake up and smell the roses. On occasion it sang to me and presented me with visions of huge bouquets of freshly picked tulips and daffodils.

Tired of that same old, same old, wanting to hear more music, and be given magnificent bouquets of flowers, I set out to bake a new cake for myself. I wanted the layers to be lighter and flavorful. Almond, dark chocolate, honey, or vanilla were just a few possibilities. I imagined it’s butter cream frosting sprinkled with red and pink rose pedals, and dusted with finely shredded coconut. In between the layers I envisioned things like fresh strawberries, chocolate ganache, marzipan, pineapple, and a host of other delicacies that would make life sweeter and a happier place to be.

The first thing I did was sit down outside in the sun and allow myself to stare into space. I tried to envision where I could find some of the necessary ingredients for this new cake. Instead, I found my eyes closing as I listened to a light breeze whispering through the pines. A mockingbird called out, trying out its own version of meowing as it flitted through the yard, teasing Lilli, the cat. I dozed off and woke feeling deliciously peaceful.

After several days of returning to the same spot, hoping to discover the place where I could find those seemingly unattainable ingredients, I realized I had found the most important one. By allowing myself to relax, empty my mind, and feel the warmth of the sun all over my body, I felt calmer, and happier. Over time, I found I could repeat the experience, even stuck inside on cold, rainy, or snowy days. The burdens I’d been carrying grew lighter.

Instead of feeling constantly rushed by what I thought I needed to be doing, I took to saying, “NO,” when asked to do things that overwhelmed me. I refused to be rushed into making snap decisions, or driving like a maniac to get to the theatre, movies, or appointments on time. It was hard. Everyone around me was on speed. Used to taking care of everyone else’s wishes but my own, I often slipped backwards into old patterns, feeling further abused. I blamed my slip ups on everyone else, while kicking myself in the butt for being stupid. But with practice, it got better.

I instead of filling my journal with rants about life and a litany of mundane things I’d done each day, I began adding notes about things I was grateful for, including those wonderful “light bulb moments,” that suddenly began appearing on a regular basis. From there I started several blogs where I published poems I’d written, and longer pieces about the natural world.

When the idea of writing a book came to me, this current blog, was my starting point. I posted family stories here and as the idea of writing a memoir became real, it’s where I continuesharing my stories and exploring my journey as I continue to heal.

Through writing about one small part of my life in, Me, Myself, and Mom, I see my life and those within it through new eyes. It’s all been sitting in the stock pot on the back burner of the stove, taking its sweet old time. And after a very long bake, is the best cake I’ve ever baked. It too has taken time. There is no instant gratification doing it my way, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been before. And life is sweet enough that I’ve given up sugar and gluten as another way to stay healthy.

Is your life boiling away into thin air, or is it on the back burner, smiling as it slowly cooks?

The Work In Progress Blog Tour

Grackel visiting me last week on my writing retreat.

Grackle visiting me last week on my writing retreat.

Friend and fellow memoirist, Kathy Pooler,  has been one of my biggest supporters through the trials and tribulations of writing my memoir. She was one of my beta readers, and asked me to write a guest post for her blog as well. Everything she has said about my writing has inspired me to continue. Last week she tagged me for The Work In Progress Blog Tour, and once again I am honored and grateful for her unending encouragement.

Both Kathy and I have suffered from abuse and have used writing as a way to heal and grow beyond our victimhood into whole, authentic women, interested in passing on what we have learned to others who may need inspiration as they navigate through difficult times. Kathy’s book, Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published this past summer, tells her story of escaping domestic abuse inflicted by two former husbands and her climb back to wholeness and a rewarding new life.

My book, ME MYSELF AND MOM, A Journey Through Love, Hate And Healing, which I’m still working on, is the story of becoming my mother’s caretaker, during her last years of life. She was one of my abusers when I was a child and took up her old role again when I invited her into my home as her health began to fail. It’s been a tough story to tell, but the forgiveness that I have found for her and myself as I’ve written about our relationship has been life changing, allowing me to let go of the cloak of victimhood I’ve worn most of my life. Below is a brief synopsis:

As Mom’s health begins to fail, I invite her to move in with my husband and me. As I attempt to be her caretaker and make life easier for her, we struggle with our own grief and pain while trying to maintain our individual independence and privacy. Repressed memories of abuse from my childhood rise to the surface. My deep longing to bring us together crumbles as she nears death and becomes impossible to deal with. When she dies I am left with feelings of deep bitterness and a bag of her ashes. Five years and four different “Letting-Go” rituals later, I find forgiveness for her and myself, while picking up the broken pieces of my life. This story of my healing process, is for adult children left with emptiness from investing themselves in a loving yet hateful relationship with an aging parent and the challenge of renewal when their loved one is gone. It’s loaded with themes of love, guilt, condemnation, heroism, hatred, dedication, perseverance, loneliness, regrets, PTSD, substance abuse, and forgiveness.

Besides linking back to the person who tagged me for this blog tour, I’ve been asked to include the first sentences from the first three chapters of my book, and then to nominate other writers who are in the midst of new projects.

 

Chapter I:  Mourning Dove,   May 21, 2007

It’s a beautiful May morning. The grass is heavy with dew and the air is filled with an early morning concert sung by a choir of returning birds. They’ll soon build nests in neighboring shrubs and trees where they’ll raise their young, then head south again in the fall completing another yearly cycle. As I turn the corner into my driveway, a mourning dove feeding on the ground takes flight. There is a light bump as it collides with the hood of my car. With wings outspread, I watch it rise straight up, surrounded in a veil of white light. When it vanishes into thin air I know something has changed. It is a clear message that my mother has died.

 

Chapter II:  The Beginning of the End,   August, 2000

When friend and real estate broker, Pat, calls to ask if he can show us a house that’s been on the market for a year, I’m not terribly excited. “But, the price has been lowered dramatically and I know you’ll love the location.” He tells me the house is in a subdivision of eight homes, and fronts on the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir. I imagine the price will be way over what we’re willing to spend. But one can look … hope … and dream.

Chapter III:  Living In A Construction Zone,  July 2001

As sawdust piles up, and old walls are torn down, the scene in front of me is all too familiar.  I’m reminded of the feelings of impermanence that haunted my childhood as my family traveled like gypsies from one home to another.

 

I know that this is a ridiculously busy time of year, but I’m tagging the following  writer/bloggers as a way to inspire them to continue to work on their new projects. If Kathy hadn’t already been tagged, she would be on this list, as well. She is beginning work on a new memoir.

Saloma Furlong, is the author of two memoirs: Why I Left The Amish and Bonnet Strings, An Amish Woman’s Ties To Two Worlds. She is at work on another as she explores her relationship with her mother.

Valery Rind, is the author of the just released, Gold Diggers And Deadbeat Dads, a must read about how to keep from falling for family and friend’s finacial woes and schemes. I know she will be writing more on this subject.

July Lee Dunn,  is at work getting her book She’s Out Late, a mother-daughter memoir, published.

On Getting Lost and Found

IMG_0499I’ve always been afraid of getting lost.

I don’t mean just a little afraid. I mean the kind of afraid that sits in my gut and makes me want to run and hide. Sometimes it feels as though I can’t breathe. Thoughts race through my mind resulting in confusion. I don’t know what to do. Driving in a place I’ve never been before, I’ve sometimes had to work hard to keep my cool and keep going, rather than freezing in place.

My panic attacks can happen anywhere. They can arise in a crowd of people as I’m being pushed, shoved, and bumped along. I’ve had them walking through Times Square in New York. I once had one at a wedding where I didn’t know any of the other guests. Traveling to places like Greece and Portugal where I didn’t speak the language have also been times of panic for me.

These seemingly uncontrollable reactions seem to be about my fear of being abandoned, of looking stupid, and my having a low sense of self esteem. They’re about getting lost in life … fear of the unknown, of being alone and unable to take care of myself.

As a kid, I rarely felt capable of doing anything right. My parents were very critical. I never mowed the lawn properly, or got the dishes as clean as they wanted them to be. And I rarely got the perfect grades they wanted me to get in school. Getting a C on a test was like flunking in their eyes. I didn’t think much of myself either. I followed the rules, tried my best, but always felt like a loser. Sometimes I just plain gave up trying.

As a result, I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy searching for things I didn’t think I had … approval, love, and a purpose. Without them I was continuously lost, unsure of myself, and prone to painful moments of panic.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t know what approval, love, and purpose looked like. I was too busy watching my back, or preparing to run or fight back, to see that I was loved, that many people respected me, and that I was not broken.

A year or so after I was married, I was parked diagonally in front of a pharmacy where I had to pick up a prescription. While I was inside, the person who parked next to me opened his car door, slamming it into the side of my car, leaving a huge dent. After we exchanged insurance information and I was on my way home, I started to panic. I was convinced that Bill would be mad at me for putting a dent in our newly purchased car. I was expecting his reaction to be like my father’s would have been … blaming me for “letting” this happen by parking to close to the car next to me.

By the time I got home I was in tears. When Bill came out to help me carry packages in from the car, I tearfully started apologizing for the dent. He calmly asked me how it happened and when I told him, he held me in his arms and told me it wasn’t my fault. He asked, “How could you think that?”

After our son was born, I spent a few months battling postpartum depression. When I saw a therapist to get help, he realized I was suffering from something more than mixed up hormones. His big question to me was, “What are you so afraid of?” My response was, “I don’t know.”

But his question began to haunt me and I began the slow process of trying to find the answers to his query.

As I examined old memories and explored the road I had been traveling, I found the cloak of victimhood I began to wear as a child and tore it to shreds. I started taking responsibility for who I was and what I did. I began to see that my parents had done the best they could … that they had their own difficulties to overcome … that I didn’t have to live by their rules or limit myself to what they would approve of.

Fear still occasionally jumps out of the shadows, finding me vulnerable, and sometimes ready to run. But it’s more easily banished now. I know what love looks like, and that the only person’s approval I need is my own. I’m no longer afraid of getting lost. If I don’t know where I happen to be at any given time, I know that nothing terrible is going to happen, and that I’ll soon be back on track in the direction of where I want to go.