I am trying to sort out my experiences and thoughts to better understand how to move forward and not stay stuck in the past.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Motivation and Intention

Why are you really doing this?  What are you really trying to say? What are you hoping to accomplish?  These questions are like a sieve to me.  In my prospecting for mining the right words and actions, I first toss them on my intentions and motivations sieve, shake them, roll them around, examine them mentally, and when they shine with the meaning I truly intended, I carefully choose them and hope that my motivation will transfer the right meaning. I do that with everyone.  I started because when I did my internal readjusting, I noticed a few things about myself.  The first was that I spoke a code that I was assuming others could decipher. I assumed that they would understand that certain inflections and word orders would clearly state my intent in an otherwise opposite sounding statement.  I also discovered that I assumed people were mind readers and thought exactly the way I did.  (Why wouldn't they, right?)  The third thing I noticed about myself, and this was a little more ambiguous; I was hoping that I wouldn't have to show my negative emotions (frustration, anger, resentment) that my word choices would act as a bee's stinger would--stinging, injecting and making the receiver of my words have to figure out the cure or meaning, while I walked away relieved and somewhat less stressed.  Crazy thinking.  Selfish behavior.

I think what started my own inner house cleaning was experiencing those same techniques by other people.  Someone would say something to me, it could be well intentioned, motivated by guilt, or just a request that they were hesitant to ask, and it wouldn't make clear sense to me.  I started to ask myself, "Why did they just say that?"  "What did they really mean?"  It has taken awhile, but now it's pretty standard for me to sort through the words and realize the real meaning.  I started doing that with myself.  "Why was I saying this?"  "Did it matter that I made this comment?"  "What is my motivation for saying this, to help or hurt?"  In the beginning, when I was sorting out my own stones from gold emotions, I ended up saying less because I realized that I was directing some hurt on a person, making them responsible for 'working it out'.  I would be relieved for a little, but the hurt would creep back in and I would still have to deal with it.  Sifting through the rubble of emotions to find the golden intent, has helped me to understand myself better. I'm more clear about what I want and think. I talk less, and listen more. My words are more valuable, because I now choose their value more carefully. Words are powerful. They can give a richness and hope to life, or they can hold you back, like mud. There is a responsibility in choosing the right words and understanding why you're choosing them.

This Christmas was perfect. My son and daughter were here, along with my dad. It was happy, and fun and everyone was well. It was an answered prayer.  Yesterday, a package came from my ex for my daughter.  Christmas gifts. With the gifts was a card.  Here is what he wrote to her:  "Another year has come and gone. Another year that I wish we were closer. I was so looking forward to you coming to Pensacola.  At only 45 minutes away, you could have stayed with me.  Ah, well, I guess God has another plan for you." Sounds innocent and caring, right? (Bring out the sieve)  My daughter feels bad about withdrawing from school.  I'm thankful she did, but she feels guilty, as if she's failed.  She hasn't. My ex on the other hand, has never seen life from someone else's view. He views life as he feels it should be not as it really is. He can have a million 'do-overs', but will not allow the same freedom to others.  Reminding her of the past (she was going to do clinicals in Pensacola) and then the 'Ah, well...' statement, was so barbed with guilt, I could feel her inner remorse pricking her as I watched her read his card.  Of all the words he could have chosen, he chose those.  Not to help her, or show her how much he loves her, but to remind her that he's disappointed that she made the choice she did.  His motivation is guilt, his intention is to remind her of what he's going to miss out on, not what she has been going through.

Words can stir hope or crash dreams. What motivates someone to speak, what their intentions plan to convey, give the spoken words the ability to help someone live or they can add on another link that continues to bind them to their pasts.  We are accountable for the words we choose and the way they're used.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Becoming a Rose

I am never going to be the same as I was before my daughter's plunge down the rabbit hole of addiction. I'm never going to be totally at peace, totally worry free, experiences are not ever going to have the same total joy they used to have. Regardless of how wonderful an event is, I'm never going to be fully there because in the back of my mind, fear, worry, 'what if', and resentment hide, hunkered down behind some memory ready to pop up and yell, "What if she drinks, again? Remember...?"  I really hate that nothing will ever be the same as it was or could have been, had this addiction not seduced my daughter.  Life will be harder and I resent that.

That is what is on my mind every day. Not always in the front of my thinking, but floating around, a black butterfly amidst the beautifully colored ones.  My friend and I were talking about this on our way home, last Saturday, from Christmas shopping.  She picked me up, we went to breakfast at this cozy diner. I had a crepe banana walnut pancake with whipped cream--a perfect breakfast!  Then we shopped in this area of town that has various vendors tucked in along the street, outside of cute little shops and old, ethnic grocery stores. I love that place.  So many aromas, and sounds. It is so fun.  Anyway, on the way home, we started talking.  She is from a family who has had their share of tragedy involving addictions. She is a dear and trusted friend, and because of her experiences, so patient and wise.  Anyway, it was while we were talking that it hit me.  Before my daughter's addiction, I was like a bud on a flower.  My thinking was like that. Kind of tight.  But, because of the addiction, my thinking and attitude have blossomed into a rose.  All of the different petals representing the new understandings I have, about me, someone with addiction and applying that to other parts of my life. Though it still makes me angry, I am more understanding. Though I am living in the shadow of fear, my hope is gaining light, though I resent what has been delayed in life, I am able to see alternatives more clearly. The petals are still opening, but there are two that I think are the most important;  really understanding what it means to not be judgmental and loving more patiently.  I reflect on that, a lot.  So, through this process, as crushing and choking as it has been, there has also been healthy growth and maturing. Out of bad, comes good. In the darkness shines some light. Though there are thorns on the stem, a beautiful rose rises above.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Boundaries and Trust

My daughter and I watched the movie Crash last evening. Actually, I walked in on the last forty-five minutes of it.  She explained the characters and what was going on. It reminded me of the 'Lifeboat Scenario' where you're given a piece of paper with a list of seven people. They're in the middle of the ocean with one life boat. The quandary, only six people can fit into the boat. Who do you save?  Then they give short bios of the people. There's a stay at home mom with 5 children. A prostitute/drug addict who used to be a nurse and has an expert knowledge of cardiac care. It goes like that-severe traits of good and bad. In my experience when I was in school, the stay at home mom was usually the one who got tossed over board, basically because she had no visible 'skills.'  So, even the serial killer, who used to be a brain surgeon is saved over the mom.  It was very telling to see the thought process and reasons for eliminating an individual.  The movie last night was like that.  A car thief who frees Cambodian refugees; a policeman who murders a thief (the thief was changing his ways) because he reacted too quickly and then hides the murder.  Situations that gave fuzzy boundaries; is he good or bad?

I realized watching the movie that boundaries are vital for trust.  Offering such severe examples fuzzies the boundaries and if the boundaries aren't clear then neither is trust, and understanding, and a handful of other emotions necessary to establish good relationships. Without clear boundaries, you're left in a kind of limbo of 'what do I feel?'  In one of the scenes, Sandra Bullock's character tells a friend on the phone, "I'm mad all of the time and I don't know why."  I think a lot of people are like that in real life.  I think anger and confusion, desperation, comes from not having clear boundaries in a lot of areas of our lives.  As a society, I'm not sure how to change that, but as individuals setting up boundaries is necessary for mental clarity. I'm not for judging individuals. I do believe people can change, and in general are trying the best that they can.  I am for clear boundaries, though, as an emotional barrier to keep life clear. I think it can be scary not knowing how you should feel, or even worse, what should I feel?  Maybe the fuzzy boundaries are a reason addiction is more and more prevalent. Maybe, there are some people who are so frustrated and stressed by not knowing or understanding the boundaries, that 'checking out' and not dealing with it is better than sitting in that hazy, emotional limbo. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Communication Through Association

This is a real conversation that happened in class  (I have changed only the names).
We are still learning about ancient civilizations in social studies. I read them a story about Gilgamesh. We were reviewing the story.  Four of the students were sitting with me at the group table, and one student was refusing to participate in the group, so opted to stay at her seat.

Me: Okay, I would like us to review the story we read about Gilgamesh. Remember him?
All: (various forms of acknowledgement)
Me: Good. Well, remember in the beginning, the author told us something about Gilgamesh. A very important piece of information. The author wrote that Gilgamesh was  special.  Why was he special? What made him special?
Todd: I know!
Me: Okay.
Todd: He was a king.
Me: Yes, that's true, but there is something else that made him very unique.
Owen: He was mean.
Me: Yes, in the beginning, he was, but try to remember. Think about what made him so different from everyone else.
Todd: OH, I remember.
Me: Yes?
Todd: He was half and half. 
Me: You're close!  Half and half what?
Todd: My dad drinks half and half in his coffee.
Me: Okay, that's good, but what was Gilgamesh?
Jesse: (worried look on his face)  My dad's not going to get me anything for my birthday!
Me: Jess, you're going to be just fine on your birthday. You know how much your dad loves you.
Jesse: Yeah, but I think that box I found is empty and I don't think he's getting me anything for my birthday.
Me: Jess, I don't think you have anything to worry about. I think you know how much you and your dad love doing things together. I'm positive he's getting you something you'll love for your birthday (his dad called me to let me know he is getting him the gift he's been asking for).
Jesse:  Really?  Do you think so?
Me: Yes, I really think so. It's going to be okay.
Jesse: (relief settling over his face)
Me: Okay, back to Gilgamesh.  He was half what and half what?
Owen: I know. He was half man and half god.
Me: YES!  Good job!
Amy: I don't believe in gods. I just believe in cats, like the Warrior books.
(All of the boys start grumbling at this)
Jesse: What? She can't believe in cats! What's that mean? Cats? I hate cats!
Me: Jess, Amy can believe in what she chooses, and you can believe in what you choose.
Jesse: Well, I believe in God.
Me: Okay, good.
Amy: I believe in the Warrior clan gods.
Me: Okay, you can. But we were talking about Gilgamesh. 
Amy: Yes, but I don't really want to talk about that right now.
Me: Okay, then you're going to have to keep your comments to yourself, and just listen.
Jesse: Why does she say stuff like that?
Me: Because she's Amy, and thinks like Amy.  You think like Jesse. (big smile)
Owen: Ms. R....
Me: Yes?
Owen: I have a question.
Me: Okay.
Owen: How do you wake up Lady Gaga?
Me: (inward sigh) I don't know Owen, how?
Owen: Poker face (big smile).

I just laughed and moved on to the next question. 

That's how things go in class a lot of the time.  The kids hear what is being said, but it's as if certain thoughts are lined up, waiting to be called and any word that is close to what is on their minds, ushers that thought forward, and nothing can progress until that thought is taken care of.  Those thoughts are usually concerns or worries. Sometimes, they are just arbitrary thoughts, like lone bees that fly into the room when the windows are open.  They buzz around for awhile and then back out the open window.  Most of the time, however, the pressing worries and concerns take precedent, and need the most attention before their fragile brains can cope with anymore new information. This type of 'discussion' has helped me retrain my thinking. I've had to take those mental blinders off so that I can see all of the possibilities that might arise from one simple question.  Especially those possibilites that have nothing to do with the question but have everything to do with if and how that child is going to learn.

I carry that technique into my life outside of school.  I've notice in converasations with my daughter, especially when she is sad or influenced by alcohol, our conversations go like that.  I will ask her a question, and her answer diverts down a path that has been overgrown with such distorted thinking that the origional thought (event or memory) is nearly indistinguishable.  Cleaning off those memories or thoughts, I believe, is vital to getting to the root of her feelings. Finding the root to a feeling that is causing her sadness is helpful to understanding why she feels the way she does, and hopefully, help her to realize that thoughts are just that, thoughts; their power comes from the type of focus you put on them.  Once she can face those thoughts, and realize that she is in control, I think she will be able to  either place them away for safe keeping or discard them as 'lesson learned.'

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Life is the Special Occasion

My daughter and I went Christmas shopping on Saturday.  It was such a nice day. We took our time, we didn't have a set plan, just went to stores we liked.  Finished up with a late lunch, and then home.  In one of the stores (TJ Maxx) we went to, there was a small purse I caught her looking at. It was pale blue, with sparkles and a diamond bow for the clasp.  I asked her if she liked it.  She said that she really did.  I told her to get it.  Her response was, "When would I ever use it?"  "Well, negative Nance, when you go out. When you go to the store.  Anytime."  "Mom." Said in the tone that is harboring a feeling of  'my life isn't like that anymore, and doesn't look like it ever will be again'  hopelessness.  That kind of response always brings up a slight swirl of panic in me.  I'm always afraid of the unknown piece of anxiety that might taunt her into hopelessness, and then drinking. So, I pointed out something else, and then, when she wasn't looking, put the purse under a shirt in my cart.  Yes, it will be in her stocking. (These stockings for my kids. I am not a seamstress. One year, however, when the kids were small I decided to sew them each a stocking. I went to the fabric store, bought festive material, and sewed two stockings. They were so narrow, I could fit maybe two candy canes in them. So, I went and bought more material, and made two more stockings. That time, they ended up so big, that it would take me most of my time thinking of things to get to fill them with.  Now, that is pretty much what gets filled. It's a fun tradition).

My daughter's response to the purse, though, got me thinking of my mom.  In my parents' house there is a closet in one of the bedrooms. In that closet my mom stored 'the good sheets' for when company would come. A few 'good' nightgowns for trips she would take. Special towels, to go along with the sheets for when company came. Those items are still in the closet, almost in pristine condition.  My mom is gone.  What is also in her closet are some 'special' outfits, shoes, jewelery that she would only were a few times a year.  For 'special occasions.'   The good china is still in the dining room china cupboard, along with the stemware, that was rarely used.  I'm not sure what company she was waiting for.  When we would visit, we got the everyday sheets, and towels (soft and comfortable). We ate on everyday plates, and drank from the glasses I remembered as a child. Though I was content with that, as I look back, my mom should have been using the china and stemware everyday.  She should have put a new set of sheets on every week.  She should have worn her good jewelry to sit on the porch, because Life is the special occasion. 

Now that I'm on this journey of trying to understand addiction, I feel as though I try to sift through every thought that used to be common, to find something uncommon or unique to apply to why someone gets sucked into addiction.  Maybe it's because life as a special occasion has become such a far away concept.  We can get so caught up in routine, and day to day sameness, and the stress of being someone else's success, that the special, Divine quality of life gets lost and we're left with the perception that there is no meaning to life.  What's it all for?  If there is no meaning, then there is no reason for hope.  So, my conscious effort is to keep life as the special occasion I believe it was meant to be.  Not to allow myself to get caught up in dull routine or become blind to the glitter and shine that resides in each day and the people we love.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple Successes

I am a teacher. I teach children with emotional problems. I have done this for fourteen years.  So many of my friends and fellow teachers have said to me that they don't know how I do it.  I tell them, I love it.  Those children are an enigma to me.  One summer during college, I worked at a summer camp for children with emotional problems. It was my first experience with that population.  I volunteered to be one of the people to ride a van that went to pick up the kids from their homes in the morning, to take them to the camp, and I rode it back with them when camp was done for the day.  During those rides, I sat and listened to their conversations, or watched their responses to what they saw out of the window.  I smiled at their enthusiastic waves good-bye until the morning.  I learned so much from just watching and listening. During the day, I was paired up with a girl, who at the time, was not much younger than I was.  We talked a lot. She had been in several foster homes, and for a 15 year old she had seen more tragedy and sadness than should be allowed, yet she was hopeful and positive in her thoughts, but her behaviors and actions reflected her skittishness toward trusting people.  She relied on her survival skills when she felt threatened or scared, and would have to be calmly talked to, in order for her to relax, and see the situation for what it was and not what she perceived it to be (some shadow version of a nightmare experience of hers).  I was hooked on helping those types of children when I was talking to her one day, and listening to her chatter on about the music she liked and where she would like to travel to, when it dawned on me--she and I had similar interests and, though my experiences were not nearly as horrible as hers, we did have the same fears and hopes.  So, why was I able to cope and she couldn't?  On this emotional tight rope that we all walk on, why was I able to stay walking while she was tumbling down? 

That question still remains elusive to me, today.  How can someone face tragedy after tragedy, and still glide through life with hope and high spirits, while another person has a bad hair day and it causes them to crash and burn?  The allotment of each person's inner strength is like Mary Poppins' bag; some people can keep pulling out endurance, and positive outlooks almost endlessly, while others can only manage a dusty Kleenex. 

The students I teach have all been like that.  Most have come from homes where their emotions have been neglected. Physical abuse is common, but emotional and mental abuse is more common.  Parents don't always realize how tragically a sarcastic comment or criticism can effect a young, trusting mind.

So, the school day in my classroom is not like a typical classroom.  What I feel is a smooth day, is chaos to someone else.  That happened, today.  A friend of mine (another teacher) wanted to work on something, and came into my room to work at this table I have in the corner.  I had a class going on. We were reading about Hammurabi and his code.  It took us 15 minutes to get everyone to say the name correctly.  It took us the rest of the class to talk about the laws he made, especially the 'eye for an eye' law.  Was it fair? Why? Why not?  It is a struggle to keep them focused (they were a sixth grade class).  There was a lot of talking and regrouping.  At the end of the day, she came up to me, gave me the sign of the cross (lol...it's a public school) and told me the usual, "I don't know how you do it."  Her next question, though, kind of threw me a little.  She said, "I couldn't do that.  I...wouldn't...how do you feel, or do you feel, that you accomplished anything at the end of the day?"  I smiled and laughed a little.  She said some more, not meaning to be mean (which she never is).  I told her I understood what she meant, but I answered that, yes, I did feel accomplished at the end of the day. Here's why:  I'm a big academics person, but it took me a while to realize that academics mean nothing if your emotions don't make it meaningful.  If you're hungry, hurt, feel afraid or nervous, adding fractions won't seem to have much value.  But, water those emotions, and an interest in learning seems to blossom.  That those students were focused enough to finally say, 'Hammurabi' correctly was a big plus.  That they know he developed fair laws is an even bigger plus. That they trust me enough, and  were able to express themselves openly without fear of being ridiculed, or yelled at was the biggest plus. 

Sometimes success is a simple thing.  I appreciate simple successes. A name said correctly, trust where there was none, and another day of sobriety here at home.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Anchor

I read Annette's latest post. My interpretation of it was that some anger was present because of a feeling that she is the one  jumping through hoops, when she is not the person with an addiction.  It got me thinking, and I kinda feel the same way.  Racking my brain to see what I said or did wrong.  Did I bake enough cookies, go to enough school plays, comfort enough bad dreams?  We have become a society that has been forced to tolerate a lot, and made to feel guilty if we don't.  I have to tolerate individual differences, ideas, life choices.  Most of the time I'm okay with it.  Sometimes, I'm not.  Sometimes tolerating isn't the right choice and there aren't always clear boundaries as to what should and shouldn't be tolerated. For instance, I will not tolerate murder, or child abuse (or abuse of any kind for that matter), or cruelness, or bullying, there is a big long list of what I will not tolerate.  But society wants me to tolerate certain school curriculum that goes against my ethical code, or be okay when a jury clears a person for murder just because they had a savvy lawyer who made people feel guilty for not being accepting.  My point is, tolerating can break down normal if you're not careful, and there has to be a normal. 

Normal is necessary.  If we didn't base situations on being normal, we wouldn't be able to diagnose medical problems.  There has to be a normal blood pressure so that we know when it's too high or low.  There are normal growth patterns in children so that we know when there is a problem.  Normal is necessary.  However, when it comes to people and family behaviors, all of a sudden, that  normal gets so stretched and pulled out of shape, in defense of individual differences, that the normal behavior of parenting and knowing how to raise your own child, is distorted into controlling and selfishness; when it's the child who is still too emotionally immature and selfish to understand how to maneuver in life, so the parent, who has more experience and wisdom, is there to guide and discipline them (discipline as in teach not hit, I don't believe in hitting).  That's what parenting is!

I don't like that because I didn't know how to deal with addiction and its insidious nature that I'm considered the 'sick' one because I was enabling.  I don't understand how I got to be the one who needs all of the internal analyzing when I'm not the one in hot pursuit of ruining my life through addiction.

I think that addicts who point the judgment finger toward the people in their lives who are upset with the addiction are  a variation of enablers in their own addiction.  My daughter will say to me when we're arguing, "You don't understand! You don't have this addiction thing! You don't know how hard it it!"   True, I don't have an addiction.  But I have gone through hard times, and I have seen what addiction has done and I do know the difference between the destruction it is doing verses the much better life that could be had if you worked harder at not giving in to the addiction.  The very fact that I don't (and a lot of us enablers don't) have an addiction is the very reason we should be giving advice.  Often during our arguments, my daughter has said, "You just want to control me!"  One day it hit me, and I commented back, "Yeah, I do, because if I did control you, you wouldn't be doing what you're doing!  So, obviously I'm not controlling you because you're still giving in to your addiction!" 

Addiction makes everyone crazy.  It not only ensnares the mind of the addict, it sends out tentacles to the minds of the people involved with the addict.  I think a big, important step for the 'enabler' is to pull free of that tentacle, and know that you are the normal. You are the plumb line. Your experience, strength, vantage point of sobriety, and life wisdom is what makes you the stable normal.  So, rather than running here and there, trying to reestablish and rethink and reset yourself all of the time, I think the answer is return to who you are with all of your experience and wisdom and nurturing, stay steady, keep those boundaries and remain the anchor--the boat on the surface might be tossing and turning, but you stay secure and planted and fixed on what you know to be true.