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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Building Your Spirit

Tornadoes, school shootings, addictions, just writing these tragedies is depressing.  Even more depressing is knowing there is so much more out there that can cause such heartbreak and sadness to people. I do believe the majority of people in the world are good. I believe that they do not hate their neighbors, that they may struggle with doing the right thing, but most of the time they make that attempt.  I believe that human nature, even with all of the flaws that some people so quickly and willingly like to point out is kind and truth seeking.  Sometimes we make bad choices and it seems like we get stuck in a downward, rolling snowball, but in the deepest part of who we are, we are trying to stay in the light.

So why is life so hard?

I remember I was in the hospital with my mom, once. I think it was about two months before she died.  She had had a bad reaction to an asthma treatment and was recuperating.  I would drive over every night after work.  We talked, read magazines, I painted her toe nails.  My mother did not have an easy life.  At six years old she developed polio.  Playing outside on a Saturday, all normal and perfect.  Waking up on Sunday morning, after my grandmother called her for breakfast, and she couldn't get out of bed.  She just couldn't move.  Fortunately, after that first panic, the hospital stays and doctor visits, she was able to walk again, and only with a very slight limp.  Her right leg never fully caught up with her left leg.  Her father died when she was nineteen and being the oldest of four and the only girl, she quit nursing school to work as a secretary in the company my grandfather had worked.  After she married, she eventually went back to night school, when I was in sixth grade and after seven years graduated magna cum laude in library science.  She loved books.  Her dream was to buy a barn, fix it up to be a place where children could come and fall in love with reading.  She was going to have classes, fun activities, and readings.  Comfortable places to just plop down and read.  I really loved listening to her plan her dream.  Instead, she was offered a job as a school librarian and she accepted.  It was during that time that a lingering case of bronchitis turned into asthma.  As she got older, she developed a condition associated with polio.  It was like getting it all over again, though it didn't effect walking. It effected stamina.  She would have periods throughout her day or week that she would become extremely exhausted.  This never went away.

So, there we were in the hospital.  In her room.  I was sitting beside her on her bed, we were looking through a magazine talking about changing the colors in her living room, when she takes in a deep breath and sighs, "Why does it have to be such a struggle, Signe?"  "You mean life in general or choosing a paint color?"  "Life in general."   I think lying in a hospital bed causes your brain to wander into all kinds of thoughts, most I think are on the negative side.  Hospitals, to me anyway, rarely inspire healthy positive thoughts. 

Why are things so hard is a question I am struggling with almost daily.  Not that I'm not thankful for what I have, I am.  Having said that, "Why does it have to be so hard?"  I have a theory. What if all of what we muddle through with down here is like a micro example of God and His relationship to us.  A way for all of the 'whys' to be a little more clearly understood.  What if what the bible teaches--the lessons and rules that are written in the books, are not just stories and rules, but more like advice and instruction on how to grow and 'survive' to our fullest?  For example, the love a parent has for their child is like a micro example of the unlimited love God has for us.  Well, what if all of the hardships we experience are a way to build our spirit to survive in the life to come?  Like a baby growing in a mother's womb, before it is fully developed, it would not be able to survive on it's own physically, because all of that DNA and those cells have to develop into the correct organ and tissue so that once the baby is born, physically it will be able to handle breathing on it's own, eating, feeling, communicating.  It takes nine months to develop so that it can begin to survive in the physical world.  Well, what if, once we're born, we all have our lifetimes to experience  the good and bad, that are necessary to help our spirits develop into strong, healthy souls so that once we are through here, we will be developed enough to survive 'there'.  The teachings of love your enemy, forgive, tithe, patience, the list is endless, are all difficult to do, but when you practice those behaviors, you do feel different-stronger-on the inside.  Even if you're exhausted from the pain and sadness, there is a difference inside. 

Why a child dies or an innocent person is murdered makes no sense to me  (Lean not on your own understanding). A lot of the time I do lean on my own understanding. Life seems more dark when I do that.  I have experiences with people and events that cause such resentment in me (Forgive). If I don't forgive, I feel cloaked from God.  When I 'let it go' my heart feels lighter. 

I tried to explain this to my mom in the hospital room.  I suggested to her that all that she had gone through, all of the choices she made, though hard, had made her a strong person and my role-model. What an example she had been to those children she so enthusiastically opened new worlds to with her books.  She didn't drag along resentment and anger at her condition. She fought through it, continued to love God, and moved forward.  She was feeling tired in that hospital bed but after we talked, she laid the magazine on her lap, smiled and said that she'd never thought of it that way. I kissed her and we went back to picking colors.

Whether that is really how it all works I'm sure I'll never know, but looking at it that way helps me to find a good purpose to all of the tragedy that occurs that, if I allowed it, would surely consume and bury me.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Moment of Clarity

I stayed quiet last week while my daughter was embraced by her addiction.  I kept the door closed.  I worked on keeping distant in all parts of my life.  I mentally stayed back and just watched, though physically I was interacting, I wasn't really mentally invested.  Even at work, I was going through the motions trying not to think of the negative.  Trying to clear my mind so that I could, hopefully, be better able to see the good around me because when my daughter is drinking, nothing looks good.  I get bombarded with thoughts about finding her dead, seeing other people's children living their lives and resenting it--I am escorted by resentment and anger everywhere I go and I am sick of that feeling. 

One day at work, I needed to make some copies, so I went into the faculty workroom where the copy machine resides.  There was another teacher making copies when I went in.  I like her. She is direct, opinionated, and funny. I said, 'Hi.'  She said, 'Hi. I won't be long.'  "Don't worry, I'm not in a hurry."   We did the usually small talk about how fast the year went, how much there still is to do, and how the kids have already begun to act like it's summer break.  That got onto the topic of parents. Her eyes widened for a second as the emotions of her current issue with a student moved front and center in her mind.  She told me that she was having difficulty with a parent concerning their child's work.  Bottom line, the parent does everything for the child.  She organizes his homework, does his homework, does his projects, etc.  The parent emails this teacher daily.  Currently, she is emailing the teacher about the notes that are due with this research project that the class was assigned.  The parent is insisting that he has the notes and handed them in.  The teacher said that he hasn't and still needs to hand them in.  The parent is insisting that the child did.  The teacher says that he didn't.  The teacher confided in me that she knows where the student put the notes.  They are in a folder with the original paper work.  She knows this because she looked for the notes herself and found them.  She did not tell the parent that she knows where the notes are.  She told me that this student does very little work on his own.  That the mother is doing everything for him and she (the teacher) wanted him to put forth the effort to find the notes on his own and hand them in.  The teacher commented that the sad thing is the student is capable, just lazy, because the mother enables him so much.  She said, " He is so enabled that he is disabled. And he's not the only student in my class who's parents enable their children by doing everything for them."

I was hoping that the light bulb that just flashed on in my head didn't show in some exaggerated expression on my face. When I'm having conversations with people, and something reminds me of my experience with addiction, I'm always afraid some comment of mine or some facial expression is going to give away my secret life of a mother who's child is struggling with addiction.  But, her statement about enabling so much that we disable, was a mental marker for me. It was another clarifying moment for me to help see my own situation clearer and understand all it all a little better. 

She finished her copying and I started mine, but I was copying more than just a math paper.  I was trying to copy her mental clarity and determination in my own mind about not enabling to disable.  She was so right.  I teach students who have documented mental and physical disabilities.  A lot of those students have a more hidden disability--enabling parents.  That is the one disability that a lot of, special and regular education students are developing.  Parents want students to have all A's. They want their child's school experience to be pristine--void of all failure.  They believe the facade of perfection is enough to get them through life blemish free.  I've even heard of parents contacting the instructors when their children get to college to negotiate grades and make excuses.  They are encasing their children in little glass houses that are destined to fracture and break.

In my own self-reflection, I know that I was not an enabler when they were growing up.  I know because I remember that knot in my stomach as I watched them leave the house knowing that life was getting ready to 'test' them.  I defended them against situations they were too young to handle (mostly from a stray parent who felt they had to fight a second grader's battles for them).  But in general, after teaching them the right and wrong of something, I stood by and watched them maneuver themselves through their individual obstacles.  I was there as supporter and defender, but not doer.  My daughter was more self-motivated than my son.  He did need more prodding and checking, she had everything organized and finished on her own.  To be honest, I was in awe at her ability to plan her day and what needed to be done.  I know she is still that person.  I know all of that amazing person she used to show the world is still within her.

So, now I'm back to the beginning.  Trying not to enable. Instead, standing by her, giving her the right and wrong of something and praying that the person she really is, the motivated, confident, gentle, resilient person at her core begins to wake up and take hold, again.  It may be a tough climb up that rabbit hole, but I know she can do it, once she remembers that she can.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Giving Up

 I thought I was through with my arguing with God.  Silly me.  I thought I had reached a point in my beliefs (a more mature level) where I was ready to quit asking 'why?' and regardless of the storm that was brewing, I was finally ready to just hang on tighter to the boat, take some ginger if the waves got too rough, and tough it out without my usual complaining to God.  Crazy me.  I'm not done with any of it. 

My daughter was working toward three weeks without drinking. Hope was visiting, again, and I was preparing for her to move in permanently.  I was really enthusiastic about Hope's permanency when last week at church my daughter pointed out a class they were offering Wednesday night about finding your direction.  Last night was the class and I came home from work to the signs that Hope had left and Addiction had returned from his little break.  My daughter, who when sober is gentle, kind, thoughtful...turns into a quick tempered, sarcastic, liar. I hate it.  Anyway, my heart sank and I told her I wasn't feeling very well (it's the truth, during the day at school, I did start getting an upset stomach for no reason...or so I thought).  She still wanted to go.  I tried to talk her out of it without getting into a fight.  Finally, I told her I know that she had been drinking and I didn't want her to fall asleep while we were there or get into an argument about God with someone.  She said that she wouldn't.  So,  (I don't know if this was my inner voice or not because I'm noticing when I get that internally upset, I can't discern my inner voice from my own mind) against all my better judgement, we went. After all, this could be God finally answering my prayers.  On the way there, I went a different way to drop off a movie we had rented, and the road was closed.  So, I had to back track and go a different way.  How symbolic.  I took that way so we wouldn't be late.  We ended up being late.  So, I lost my mind in the car and told her, I was done.  If I didn't get some kind of sign that things would change, I was done.  I wouldn't return to church, because I'd know the miracles I'm praying for won't be sent.  That she was never going to change.  That I wasn't fighting this anymore.  If I didn't get some kind of sign, even if just a feeling, I was quitting.

We got there, checked in, and found a seat.  The theme was asking yourself seven questions to determine your path in life.  I didn't get past the first question: Your identity.  After we listened to an explanation and scripture, we were to write down our identities and descriptions.  I don't know what was wrong with my brain, but I just couldn't push myself to think.  My identities were: mother--I'm not sure what this means anymore; daughter--taking care of my dad; enabler--making things better (yes, I wrote that); friend--not there enough; teacher--trying to help.  That's who I am and it doesn't feel like I'm doing any of those jobs well enough.  Then the speaker read Psalms 139, where it talks about how God knew you in the womb and the number of your days.  And my mind snapped.  "These are the days You saw and numbered?"  "This is what was planned?"  My reaction to stress is to want to take a nap and it was all I could do to not lie down on the bench and close my eyes.  Those words were like the last pebble tossed on this mound of rocks I'm hauling around and I just couldn't push any good thoughts out of my brain.  I turned my head and glared at Hope who had followed us in, she smiled meekly then got up and left.   I looked at my daughter and saw her sitting, teetering on closing her eyes. I looked at the paper to see what she had written for her 'identieies' and all she had done was copy what the speaker had written as examples so I whispered, "Do you want to go?"  She looked at me and nodded, and we quietly got up and left. I threw the papers they gave us in the trash and have decided I probably won't be back.  I was so...I don't even know the emotion it felt so dead, that on the way home, I told my daughter that I give up, she's never going to change, I'll even buy her a bottle....and I did.  I bought her alcohol.  (I guess I am doing my enabling identity better than I thought). 

But I do give up.  I don't remember feeling that angry and numb before.  Like my ears just couldn't hear those words anymore: hope, love, rejoice.  I can't even say that I'm angry, just numb, I guess.  I don't know what happens next.  It's been out of my hands this whole time.  It's been out of everyone's hands if these days are the ones that were numbered.  How do I accept that, though, without being bitter and resentful--two emotions that I am constantly keeping at bay?  I don't know. I don't have any answers this morning.  I don't have any feeling this morning.  I don't have any idea of what to do, next.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Learning and Applying

This experience with addiction has opened up a door to a whole new wing for me in this mansion of choices and life experiences I am exploring.  This was a wing of the mansion that held a lot of my nightmares.  The hallway where this door was located was dark, dusty and full of creepy crawlies.  I would have never turned the corner and walked down here if I had had a choice.  It wasn't in my plans.  As I said, it was in my nightmares, not my dreams. 

I am the type of person, who, even though I may grumble and complain, at first (okay, and maybe a little during and after) I still try to make the best of a situation.  After the initial moaning and groaning, I stop, look around and begin the 'clean up' to try and make the place as livable as possible.  If it is a neglected yard, I start to plant.  A neglected house, I start to paint.  A neglected life, I start to plan.

This journey with addiction was not what I planned for my daughter.  But it happened and as the dust is settling and I'm understanding and more familiar with it, I am starting to make the best of the situation, and with addiction, for me that is learning and applying what I can. 

Enabling is one of the concepts that I have learned.  It has both helped and infuriated me. It has helped me by clearing my mind.  When actions and situations were so confusing and blurred, the concept of enabling helped me to define the boundaries.  It helped me to step back so that I could see the whole picture more clearly.  It allowed me to breath easier and calm down.  It hurt me because it caused me to struggle with how I define loving someone ( 1 Cor. 13.  That is my definition of love).  It put a wedge (temporarily) in those beautifully written words.  It made me rigid in my thinking and my actions.  At times, it made me doubt my inner voice (which I hate doing). 

So, I made a decision to put boundaries around enabling (Sometimes it feels as though my brain is in the center of a very complicated yet soothing labyrinth).  Kind of like color coding. I am aware of an opportunity to enable and I can then weigh it--is this enabling that will help or is this enabling that will hurt?  And then I make the decision.  I have applied that concept to all of my interactions, especially with the children (and their families) at work. 

Many of the children I teach are from bad homes, not all, but more than there should be.  Some have parents who are active in their addictions.  Some have abusive parents.  A lot are living with grandparents because parents are either in jail or no longer with them.  It is hard trying to make fractions meaningful to someone who's only hot meal comes at 11:40 at school.  Anyway, recently we had a book fair at the library.  All of the kids go.  Parents send in money and they get to buy books, book markers that glitter, posters, and colorful pencils.  In my room, there are often many sad faces because the parents don't send in money.  So, my delima, do I give them money (I have done it in the past) or is this enabling the parents to keep their money for themselves and not take responsibility for their children?  Am I enabling the parents to continue in their bad choices and 'freeing' them for the moment from their responsibility of being a parent?  Would they even realize that?  At this point, do I even care what the parents will think?  Not so much.  So, I decide to give five dollars to the children who didn't have money, so that they can buy a book.  My money.  Not much, I know, but still, am I enabling?  The answer is, yes.  But this is the enabling that will help, I decide.  It will help the child.  I give them the money secretly.  I call them to my desk and quietly say, here, you can buy a book but it is between you and me (meaning don't tell the other kids...I always tell them to never keep secrets from their parents).  So, we have our 'secret' as they joyfully look for a book.  They do come in the next day, lean in to me and whisper that they told their parents and they will send in money. I smile and whisper back, "Thank you", but it never happens.  I don't care.  They have their books.

So, that is a way I have tried to make the best of this situation with addiction.  I am applying what I've learned to my personal as well as my public life.