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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Beautiful O'Day

Today's my birthday. St. Patrick's Day is a great day for a birthday.  Everyone's celebrating. I love it. I have never had a bad St. Patrick's Day.  Today was typically wonderful.  My son and daughter took me out for lunch. We usually do something more traditional, this year we went to a sushi restaurant.  This is the first time I've had Happy Birthday sung with a gong at the finish. It was great. 

I love the movie, The Bird Cage.  My daughter bought tickets for La Cage Aux Folles, the play the movie was taken from. It was at the Benedum Center, in Pittsburgh. That theater is beautiful. The production was great.  Very fun.  We just got back  (It's way past my usual bedtime). I sound like I'm ten saying that, I know, but it's true. We're having cake, now.  I hope everyone had a Happy St. Patrick's Day. 

The road truly rose up to meet us, today.  We are blessed.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Name Calling

I have this student, I'll call him Billy (not his real name).  He is eleven and is another child who has been through a very stressful time.  His mother was an alcoholic. Billy grew up having to become very observant (He can spot a pencil out of place on someone's desk). When he came into my class two years ago (I have the students from fourth to sixth grade), he was adamant that 'he didn't need these helper classes.'  He came over to me and very confidently explained that he had been placed in the wrong class.  I told him to give it a week to see how it goes. He thought for a minute and then agreed he'd try it for a week.  He never brought it up, again, so I guess he decided to stay. :) 

Anyway, he would come in and talk about his mother.  Sometimes he would just blurt things out in class like, "My mom said she was going to the store today, but I know she's going to buy alcohol.  I know that purse she uses to put the alcohol in and she had that on the table this morning."  Or he would come back to my desk, needing to talk and then tell me how he had watched her in the living room, and he knew she had put something in there, and he checked when she left, and found a bottle of alcohol in the coffee table drawer.  Though he didn't know it, I was relating to everything he was saying.  I understood his anxiety and dread.  I understood the panic he felt when he told about how his mom and he went to buy clothes, but he knew the liquor store was near by and that she was going to go in.  He came to school one day, and again blurted out, "My mom said she has the flu. Yeah, she has the flu, the booze flu!"  He was definitely upset by her addiction. He loved his mom, but he was so angry at her, too.  In the spring, his mother suddenly died one morning. She must have been drinking.  He told me later, through sobs and tears, that he went into the kitchen that morning, and his mother said to him, "What are you doing up so early you little sh**?  Go back to bed."  So, he did.  Those were the last words she spoke to him.  When he got up, again, she was dead.  This mother loved her child. She sent in notes to me and was interested in how Billy was doing and did what she could to help.  She did the best she could.  The addiction just did better. 

Lying is becoming an issue at school.  So, a few weeks ago, during first period, I talked with my students about being honorable.  We listed some honorable traits: trustworthy, kind, honest, selfless, giving, patient. I was very proud of them for knowing what these traits were.  During that conversation, and I can't remember how exactly it came up, one of the students commented on being a 'drunk' when you grow up; that it is not honorable.  Another student confirmed that belief, using the word 'drunk' to describe someone, an uncle, I think.  This term, 'drunk' was making me uncomfortable.  I glanced over at Billy, and he was just staring at his desk.  I was going to comment on the term 'drunk' when he blurts out, "You know, I really don't like when they say 'drunk'.  My mom drank and I just don't like that term!"  "You're right, Billy, it's not a nice term.  It's name calling, and that is not honorable."   "Yeah. And I don't know why my mom had to do that.  And she's dead."   "Billy, your mom loved you a lot."  "Then why did she drink?"  "Because she was sad and people handle being sad in different ways. She was doing the best that she could.  Does everyone see why name calling is so hurtful?  Should you call people names like that?"  In unison:  "NO."  "Good, then, no more name calling." 

Labels we use for people can be just more technical forms of name calling.  When working with students who have special needs, this becomes very clear.  To look at Billy, you would think he may perseverate on some things, but otherwise, he is a friendly, likable child.  He has Asperger's; he is on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.  He gets very upset if he hears the word autism. He needs reassurance that he is not labeled autistic. He wants to be normal, and a label like that would take him out of normal and plop him into abnormal territory.  I'm leaving that up to his dad. To me, drunk is just as hurtful as any other label.  Addict. Lazy. Loser. All of those tags that go along with addiction, cut into my heart every time I hear people flippantly blurt out a comment involving what they think about a situation of which they have little or no understanding.  I know, first hand, the beautiful lives that are crushed by addiction. Like calling a person retarded is wrong, so is calling a person with an alcohol addiction, a drunk and drug addiction a junkie.  They are people. They are brothers and sisters. Daughters and sons. Husbands and wives. How cruel to think that because someone is struggling, in a socially unacceptable way,  that it is okay to make a judgement or worse, make fun. As it turns out, sticks and stones will break your bones and names do end up hurting.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Locks and Keys

I know I've written this here before, but I'm going to probably mention it a lot when I write, because it is in my mind all of the time. God.  I believe in God and miracles.  I believe all of it. If God felt it necessary for me to move a mountain, a real, dirt and rock mountain, I would be able to move it. That's how powerful I know God can be. I also know He can be powerful in the other, quiet direction. I pray every morning. I pray in the car. I pray in the garden. I pray when I'm folding clothes. Not always long prayers, but thank yous and questions.  I am just talking with God all of the time. Having said that, sometimes I need a break.  I took a break, today.  I didn't go to church. I didn't pray in the morning. I just sat quietly on the couch and watched the clock, trying to make wasting time an excuse for missing church.  I know there's going to be smiling faces, encouragement, beautiful music, and an amazing lesson, but I stayed home. 

I needed a break because things aren't working out here.  I don't feel prayers are being answered fast enough.  I go through this cycle.  If God's not on our clock, then what's the point in praying?  If He already knows your heart, why pray?  I know the answers to these questions, but I still ask them.  Mostly, because I'm pouting and being frustrated with God.  I am playing that old, crackly song, "Why Me, God?  What Did I Do Wrong?"  in my head.  I know the lyrics by heart, and sometimes I add new ones.  I get tired of hearing the song, but I play it, anyway.  I get so frustrated.  I play this song, knowing that I have experienced God's hand pulling us out of tragedies, or preventing them all together.  I played the song today, because there have been no miracles in my daughter's thinking, yet. 

It was good here for a while, now it's not good.  We talked today, and I felt scared because she didn't want to talk and seemed so distant.  I think it is important for her to talk.  To get out of the past. I need to get out of the past, too.  I thought about that on the couch.  And then I thought, "How can I get out of the past, when the past won't let me leave?"  I think that's where she is stuck, too.  So, on the couch, in the quiet, pouting and sad, I thought about ways to get out of the past.  What holds me there?  Resentment; What could have been.  SadnessFatigue; It's hard moving forward at times. Anger; Why did this have to happen?  Jealousy; I see how friend's children are moving forward and I fall back to resentment.  Those are the locks on the door to my past.   There are days when I think I have the keys that fit, but though the key goes in, for some reason, they don't turn, so that I can open that door and finally leave.  I sat on the couch for about an hour, trying to figure out where to find the keys. I know God has them somewhere, hidden in a passage or waiting to be spoken by someone.  So, I try to pay attention when I read or when I listen to people.  I went back to talk to my daughter later in the afternoon.  She was still sad, but I stayed and we talked.  Things felt a little better. She is going to try, again.  That might be the start of a miracle, I think.

The weather was beautiful here, today.  Like Spring.  I opened all of the windows. The fresh air smelled wonderful.  I worked outside. I cleared my head.  I'm going to pray, again, in the morning.  I'm going get a good night's sleep so that I can move forward and keep an eye out for those keys.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Old Ways

I have a student in class who's behaviors reflect my feelings as I'm wandering through this part of my life with my daughter (He is the one I wrote about wanting a 'do-over').  I am always fascinated by how fragile we all really are.  This child is very smart and loving.  Regardless of how mad he gets at me (I am the boundary maker and it's hard to accept at any age) he always wants me to walk him to his bus.  He thrives on unbending routine. He is from a good home. His mother loves him very much.  He doesn't like surprises.  I think this is because he has an older sister at home who is very handicapped. His mom has told me on several occasions that she is taken to the hospital during the night, or is up all night.  Her disability causes a lot of disruption and inconsistencies.  My student, I'll call him Sam (not his real name) I believe has in his young mind, become so upset by change and needs consistency so much, that he spends his whole life now, making sure things are done his way.  If things are done his way, then he feels there will be no 'surprises'.  He can be in control, and feel safe and comfortable.  He has created an intricate maze of boundaries around himself. The only problem is that he can't always figure out how to get out of that maze.  He locks himself in and any change, then, causes severe anxiety and stress.  This is my opinion from observing and working with him, but I know I'm right. :)

Anyway, because of his needing to control, which also feeds into his need to have perfect grades, introducing a new concept to him must be attempted very gingerly.  You have to talk to him about it first, several days in advance.  "You know, Sam, you do very well at multiplication.  We're going to be learning division in a few weeks. I know you'll do just as well then, too."  Then show him some problems, just to get a visual. Then slowly introduce it in between the multiplication.  It's time consuming and a little like baiting a squirrel with a nut, but it works.   So, I have a student teacher in the room.  She had just finished fractions.  We are usually in small groups, but I told her to try teaching the whole class decimals.  Addition and subtraction of decimals went well.  Sam was doing fine.  Understanding the concepts.  Lining up the decimals for adding and subtracting fit into his tight comfort zone frame work.  Then came multiplication of decimals. He could multiply but thought that he only had to count the decimal point not the spaces to figure out the answer.  He couldn't handle this.   First, he just sat at his desk, like his brain was trying but just couldn't accept that amount of a new idea.  Then he clenched his teeth. His eyes got red, and he started balling up his fists.  I'm watching him, preparing for what comes next.  He gets up and comes over to me. Through clenched teeth, "This is not right.  I am not going to do this."  "What's not right, Sam?"   "You know. I am not going to do this."  "Multiplying the decimals?"  "Yes.  It is wrong. You are doing it wrong. I can not do it."   "Sam, you're very smart. You know how to multiply, all you have to do is count the spaces to place the decimal."  He talks like a robot when he's mad. He needs to make sure each word is perfect and explicit. This discussion continues for  40 minutes. He won't sit down. He follows me.  If I sit down, he stands behind me.  You can hear him taking in breaths through his teeth, breathing hard.  And I patiently continue to reassure him, that it will be okay, and he will be able to do this like he's done all of the other times.  His response, "I want to go back to the Old Ways."   (He means fractions because they were easy for him). 

When he said that, for two seconds I felt as though I were in an ancient Indian tribe. The Old Ways.  The Old Ways are easier.  They're familiar.  More comfortable.  Predictable.  These 'New Ways' are so scary.  I understand what he means.  I continued to reassure him that, yes, these may be the 'New Ways,' but as soon as he understands they'll be the comfortable Old Ways.  He just wiped his eyes (he was holding back tears) and looked at me.  The panic in those big, blue eyes said it all.  So, I didn't say anymore.  We stopped talking about it. He continued to hang out by me, but I either busied myself with another student or guided the conversation in more positive, neutral territory.  He's so funny.  By the end of the day, he was okay, pleasant and I was walking him to the bus.  We'll see what today brings. 

The Old Ways.  I want those, too.  Even with the frustrations they produced, I could handle that.  These New Ways of a life with addiction are hard and unpredictable and frustrating.  I haven't learned how to work the equation, yet.  I'm still counting the decimals instead of the spaces.  Events aren't always going to line up for me, anymore.  Not like they used to.  So, I need to understand these new problems and figure out the answers that work for them, not the old problems.  It will take time and patience.  I might clench my teeth and ball up my fists.  Tears might be ready to stream down my face, but I need to keep moving forward so that at some point, these New Ways become the Old Ways and I can finally work my way out of this maze.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Another Fence

I haven't been to an Al-Anon meeting in a while.  The people were nice, but there were some issues that came up that I had a hard time connecting with. The last was when the group leader said that they had received a notice from Al-Anon Central (I forget what she called the place/person) that groups were no longer to say 'God' as the Higher Power. They were to just say Higher Power.  This was a small group, and she looked around and said, "I'm not sure I agree with that. Does everyone in here believe in God?  Is God your Higher Power?"  We all nodded, so we silently agreed that God was going to stay on as the Higher Power.  The Higher Power as being 'anything' has always been an issue for me.  I had always assumed it meant God. My friend, the one who motivated me to go to Al-Anon, clarified to me that no, it can be anything.  "A tea cup?"  "Yep, it if that is what the person chooses."  I didn't like that.  If a tea cup can represent the Higher Power, and I'm pretty sure the consensus would be that tea cups have little power when it comes to spiritual assistance, then the person is doing recovery on their own.  Giving it over to a Higher Power implies, or at least it did with me, God: some being greater than you. God is all powerful.  A tea cup is not. I know God can work through anyone and anything, however, giving the glory to a tea cup rubs me the wrong way.  So, at the meetings, it was a mental obstacle for me, even though we agreed to stick with God, that this group was directed to take a fundamental belief, God, out of the wording was troublesome to me.

The other issue that started as a comment, but has grown into a blaring, neon sign, is the matter of trust.  Several of the people in the group I went to had husbands that were alcoholics.  They stayed with them, because basically, I guess the husbands were still able to work, and so, they needed the pay checks.  However, they are not so 'understanding' with their children.  Most said that they would be 'kicked out' if they drank.  One women kicked her son out to the house next door that she bought and owns.  So, is he really kicked out?  Though judgement is supposed to be put on hold, with some of the people at the meetings, their suggestions and comments to me about my daughter, felt quietly judgmental. "You need to kick her out." "No, I don't.  You didn't kick you husband out."  "But you're just prolonging her addiction."  "Really?  I thought you said that they'll drink no matter what, so according to that, I have no control one way or the other."  "You haven't let her hit bottom."  "A DUI, wrecked car, loss of friends, and a laundry list of about seven more tragedies, feels like some kind of bottom.  What was the bottom with your husband?"  Conversations like that happened, though they were not confrontational (reading this may seem as though they were, but I'm not confrontational by nature, so my responses are not threatening in real life...my thoughts might be, though).  Then the topic of trust came up.  "You can never trust an addict."  "Really?  Never?"   "No, they lie."   "Well, what if they are sober for a while, can you start to trust them, then?"  "Addicts will tell you anything to get their drug of choice. They lie."   "So, I can never trust my daughter, again?  But haven't we all lied at various times?  Is anyone really the weight on their driver's licences?"  "Yes, people lie, but addicts are different."  So, even with their husbands sober for 12, or 30 years, they don't really trust them.  Really?

That was all very distressing for me.  Trust is so important for me, and to think I can never trust my child, is well, crushing.  So, although the people were very kind and listened sincerely, there were some beliefs that clash with who I am.  Al-Anon is good for reminding me about the boundaries. I had them in my life in other places, just not with this new experience of addiction.  Al-Anon is great for helping you to not feel or be alone.  Discussion is good. Hearing other experiences and resolutions is good.  Some of those core issues, though, for me have caused me to set up a  new fence.  I'm not saying I'll never go back.  I'm on hiatus, though, and turning to books.  I'm going to read for awhile. I think you have to be strong to go to Al-Anon, and I'm not feeling very strong. Battling the situation at home, while pretending things are great when I'm in public,  takes a lot out of me.  I haven't given up on praying for miracles, though...for all of us.