Month: December 2020

Hopes for the New Year 2021

I am filled with hope for the coming year.  Last year at this time who knew how unusual 2020 would become?  It seems hope may blossom in the face of challenges.  I am practical to a fault at times, and am guilty of placing the lack of control hope offers beneath the power of taking action.  But what happens when action is limited by circumstances beyond control?  I think that’s called 2020!  Maybe hope can be used not as a substitute for action, but as a tool to direction action.  Hmmmm….

I have created two alphabetical listings – one for sensations I experienced in 2020 that I would like to leave behind, and one for hopes for 2021 – a tall order, but isn’t that what hope is about? 

2021 – hope for:                                               2020 – leave behind:                                             

Alignment                                                                  Alienation

Belief                                                                           Blame

Communication                                                         Combat

Discussion                                                                    Division

Ease                                                                             Epidemic

Focus                                                                           Frustration

Gratitude                                                                      Gloom

Hope                                                                            Helplessness

In person                                                                      Isolation

Joy                                                                               Jadedness

Kindness                                                                      Kvetching

Love                                                                             Loss

Meet ups                                                                      Masks

Nurturing                                                                    Nightmares

Openness                                                                    Oppression

Peace                                                                           Pressure

Quest                                                                          Quarantine

Recovery                                                                      Ravage

Serenity                                                                        Stress

Trust                                                                            Terror

Unity                                                                            Unrest

Vaccine                                                                        Virus

Wellness                                                                      Worry

Xylophone (OK, find something better!)               Xenophobia

Yin                                                                               Yang

Zen                                                                              Zealots

**Happy New Year to all***

May all your hopes direct you to personal fulfillment!

My story will continue next week!!

2020 Holiday Thoughts

It seems the hardest things to give up this year as I head into the holidays, are the expectations.   The anticipated joy seems diminished by the sense of loss from missing family and friends, by the frustration of trying to find that perfect gift without actually seeing and touching it in person, and by downsizing a holiday meal to satisfy just one or two instead of gathering as a group to feast.  Why make cookies when we will be the only ones here to eat them?  Should I just forget the whole thing?

We finally decided to still get a real tree – but a bit smaller than usual.   The aroma stimulates memories of people and places and parties.  Adding each ornament brings back the special history it holds, as it always has, but with even greater meaning this year.  The tree lights brighten each day, and I’ve added a few new ones on the porch to illuminate the darkness that feels deeper than usual. 

 I sent out more holiday cards.   With less to fuss about, I had more time to write a quick note and address envelopes.   I love sending the latest Jib Jab to bring a few laughs, but the personal connection of a real card pulled my pen to the paper.

We’ve ditched a few of the ‘old favorite’ cookies and are experimenting with some different recipes.  I have felt too rushed in the past to focus on the intricacies of decorating cut out shapes.  This year I am eager to join in the search for the perfect royal frosting recipe. Small glass bottles of colored sprinkles and sugars are lined up like children, calling ‘Pick me! Pick me!’

The sense of the season is heightened as Christmas music enchants our home more frequently than in past years.  And I will still watch the movie ‘Elf’ on Christmas day – laughing at his ridiculous antics even though I already know what’s coming – while remembering the groans of good-hearted tolerance  as I subjected the rest of the family to my earnest holiday entertainment.

Gift exchanges will be moving to a virtual Secret Santa mode.   We have electronically selected a name and sent a gift to just one person, to be opened during a group Zoom meeting Christmas Eve.  At first it felt strange not to buy for everyone as usual (‘oh, he would like this’, or ‘I know she wanted that…’) but simplifying by buying just one gift (note – there are no young children in this group yet which would change things a bit!) released hours of time to be used in other pursuits.  

The hustle and bustle energy sparked by expectations of Christmases past, took time – along with a growing shift in acceptance – to quiet and find new direction.   I knew everything would be OK one day when I found myself relaxing and reading while sipping eggnog!  I do not feel any less loved with fewer gifts aimed my way, or any less loving because my own target for gifting is smaller.    Instead I feel calmer overall, and more aware of the simpler pleasures I can choose to embrace and celebrate.  Maybe it is the choice, rather than the urgent need to meet expectations, that is the greatest gift this year.

May you find peace and joy within your unique holiday celebrations.

Lost in the Woods – Part 3

My time at the camp was different now.  Instead of running away, I was exploring where I stood.  Anger often rose to the surface and swirled in a whirlpool of confusion, sometimes releasing into a gentle wave and other times diving back into the depths.  I spent time in my kayak, exploring the river outside my door, looking for answers that sometimes appeared with the repetitive motion of my paddle.  I felt the pull of the current beneath me, felt connected to the river, to something bigger than myself.  My car stood mute, like me, with only the need for work or food strong enough to pull us into motion.  But this silence and solitude were by choice.  Surprisingly, safety was not a concern.  The only threat was of being alone, but I was alone, with no judgments coming from anywhere but my own head.  My journal became my best friend.  My words absorbed into its fibers, then reflected back at me, sometimes bringing new light and meaning.

Ron and I began to talk more often.  I stopped weighing my words when we talked and simply stated what was on my mind.   There was nothing to lose since we were already apart.  Ron also gradually became more expressive of his thoughts.  Some of them hurt.  Instead of denying my own participation in the downward flow of our relationship, blaming it all on him, I started to examine my responses in my journal.  Anger took the lead.  I was the victim!   I was the one who had given up so much to keep our lives together, whose pain and stress were pumping blood pressure beyond control.  He was the one who walked out each night, who drank to oblivion, who didn’t carry his share of the load, who put us in debt.   Eventually the anger eased towards questions.  Why couldn’t he stop?  Why did he recklessly endanger the family he wanted so badly?  Why had I stayed?   Why did I willingly take on so much responsibility?  Where did the belief that my love could fix everything come from?  Why did it never work?  What would I do now?   The answers would take time to evolve.   But I knew the knowledge I needed had been accumulating for a few years now.  I had worked through intense fear as I jumped from trees in Project Adventure, and increased my trust in others as well as in myself.  Hiking had taken me into the woods that had haunted me my whole life, and I had found peacefulness waiting there.   Yoga teacher training had helped me gain acceptance of my body and hidden emotions, and introduced me to my true voice through chanting.  Kayaking had launched me into the wonders of the water, and paddling had become my meditation in motion.  Walking the Labyrinth had awakened an inner voice and opened a connection to a universal voice of wisdom. And journaling had revealed a major tool for self-exploration and discovery.  A tool I needed to put to use.

 I wrote about the family I had been born into.   Surrounding my resentment, anger, and fear I found perseverance, protection, love, and fear of another sort – my parents’ fear for my safety and well being.  I wrote about pain from past relationships.  Surrounding my resentment, anger and fear I found my own need to feel worthy of love by fixing someone else’s pain, and my need to feel loved at any the cost.  I also caught glimpses of a face that vacillated between my mother’s and my own – the face of a desperate need for love?   I wrote about my relationship with Ron.  Surrounding resentment, anger and fear I found – once again – the need to feel worthy of love by fixing someone else’s pain.  But something else accompanied the fixing this time, and it smelled of control.  I also began to recognize my use of anger to control – the practice I had condemned in my father.  But here too was perseverance, protection, and love in the complicated mix.  Very old wounds bled onto the paper, but, as my mother had taught me, bleeding can cleanse the wound and fresh air can aid the healing.  Growing understanding cleared space for that air.  And the ointment of growing forgiveness – towards my parents, towards Ron, and towards myself, started to calm infectious fears.

To be continued…..

Lost in the Woods – Part 2

I called home the following day, worried that Ron would find an end to his misery by way of the alcohol.  He answered, said he was OK, that he had to think about things.  The surprise of his sober voice was a relief – sort of.  He could sober up now that I was gone?  There were things I needed to think about too. 

We didn’t talk for over two weeks – other than brief calls to schedule times I could pick up some of my things when he wouldn’t be home.  Our daughter returned from school on a break.  She stayed with her father, but came to make me dinner one night.  Her embrace released tears I thought had been drained.  I told her I didn’t think her father and I could ever be together again.  She said she knew, had understood the struggle for a long time, had heard more than I imagined through the years.  “What do you mean?” I asked.  Her simple reply: “You didn’t think I could hear you fighting?” sliced through my own fog like a laser.   The pain had not been neatly contained behind closed doors.  It had seeped into her corner of the house, through the entire house.   My own denial and illusions had provided the veil on reality I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Another bear lumbered out of the shadows.    

Several days of sick leave buffered reentering the real world.  It was time to return to work, ready or not.  Fortunately, students could be seen at their preschool program.  There was no need to go into an office and face casual chit chat or sideway glances at my swollen face.  I made it to the preschool’s parking lot but then froze in my seat.  I feared the tears that now lived on the brink of my eyelids would start flowing during the treatment sessions and upset the children. 

My gaze lifted toward the sky and I spoke to an entity I had never fully acknowledged or asked for favors,  “I give up.  I don’t know what to do.  If you’re there I could use some help.”  I took a long breath, grabbed my therapy bag, and opened the door.  The children brought an unexpected smile to my face.  It was hard to believe there was room for the uncomplicated joy of a child’s eager face in the same heart that held such compound sadness.  Thankfully, tears did not drip into their innocence. 

Returning to my car I sat in the driver’s seat and closed the door.  Within moments a cloak of knowing settled over me, as real as if it were woven from wool.  I was his wife.  It was my duty, my promise, my desire, to help him in any way I could – even if we could not be together.   A long slow breath left my body, taking with it the heaviness that had invaded every corner of my being.  Anger and disappointment receded like an outgoing tide and a fresh wash of hope slid back in its place.   A different kind of hope – not for us, but for him, and for me.  I drove home, not yet knowing how to begin, but knowing I had received the guidance I had requested. 

After a few weeks Ron and I met for dinner to discuss what to do next.  Ron looked good.  A finger of fret poked at a sore spot.  He could be OK on his own, didn’t need me to survive.  We talked about the reunion.  He described the pain that had pervaded the event, always there, even under the laughter.  Many of the men were broken, some more vividly than others.  He had not been alone.  The memories and stories they shared in hope of relief had instead brought them back to life.   He met with the two daughters of his Sergeant.  The Sergeant he had seen only moments before he and the men with him were killed.   The Sergeant that had sent him back to their defensive position to guard against attack, and in doing so had saved his life.  He needed to tell his daughters that he was the last person to see their father alive, and that he was alive today only because of the orders their father had given.   And, that deep inside he believed their father had known he was saving him.  That conversation, and the tears and memories it evoked, were as difficult for Ron as any battle in the war.  He worked hard to drown them the only way he knew how.  He hit bottom. 

I told Ron I could no longer live with the drinking, and expected the same old promises to stop.  But instead he quietly responded:  “I don‘t know, I don’t know if I can stop.”  Finally.  The truth.  No promises to wrap my hope around.  The truth cut much deeper than the lies.  Lies planted like seedlings in the soil of desperation, but deprived of sun and water.   Now the ground was left fallow.  I hit bottom.

To be continued….

Lost in the Woods – Part 1

Escalating protests against the conflict in Vietnam entered our living room each evening on the nightly news in the mid 1960’s.  Young people, only a few years older than me, carried signs, shouted profanities and burned draft cards.  I was old enough to feel the outrage but too young to fully understand the hatred behind the hostility.  Fifteen years later I married a man that had unsuccessfully evaded the draft – despite multiple attempts – and been forced to participate in the most hotly protested war in history.  He had quietly returned to the U.S.  No one talked about serving in Vietnam.  There were protests – not parades; vile condemnation – not thanks for his service.  Another wife waited for his return, greeted with the demons and addictions that accompanied him home.  He was sleeping on a friends couch, waiting for time to elapse for an uncontested divorce, when we met.  He rarely spoke of his experiences in the army, but nighttime thrashing and shouts in his sleep were enough to paint a picture.  He eventually took a cocktail of medications to reduce anxiety and help him sleep.  He also added his own elixir to the mix. 

Ron and I had been married for 25 years.  An amazing length of time considering wagers had been placed on how long our marriage would last at the reception.  Also an amazing length of time considering the roller coaster ride of his alcohol abuse we had shared.  My one foot seemed permanently out the door, ready to bolt.  When things headed down hill, my other foot joined it, but our two children kept me from closing the door behind me.  When I really asked myself why I stayed, the bottom line was actually not the children.  It was the fact that despite the pain indirectly inflicted on others due to his need to dull his own suffering, he didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  I had grown up with meanness and was familiar with that other kind of pain.   

Thirty years after that quiet return home Ron received an email containing an invitation to a reunion for the company he had served with.  He was hesitant to attend, but also drawn to reunite with the men he had known so briefly, yet whose lives had depended on each other.  He was gone for a few days.  We talked twice, briefly.  His subdued voice told me how tough it was, but he was reluctant to say more.   He remained quiet and aloof on his return home.  Questions were answered with a shrug, if at all.  He left the house in the daylight and returned in the darkness of early morning.  He missed work, slept all day and then got up and left again.  No amount of talking, reasoning or threatening could cut through the fog that surrounded him.  I couldn’t sleep, cried on and on, begged, yelled, and finally had no choice but to admit that I could not help him through this. 

The whispering, sometime rumbling, fears that accompanied me into any uncharted territory were deeply rooted in habit.   My ax of inborn stubbornness could fell them temporarily, but they always grew back.  Now, a new one sprouted in the shadows – fear that no hope remained for my marriage.  In the past, hope had tugged my feet forward and my heart past hurt.    But left with the choice of sinking into the quicksand with the man I had tried to rescue for 25 years, or fleeing the swamp, I reluctantly chose to leave.  The door closed tightly behind both of my feet.

I moved into our small camp on the Mohawk River, my escape when stress at home became more than I could bear.  This time it was not a temporary visit.  I closed all the windows and curtains, didn’t want the neighbors privy to my pathetic state.  Sobs rose as I collapsed onto the bed.  Years, maybe a whole lifetime, of heartbreak tore from my chest.  I forced my mouth to stay open, didn’t care about the drooling mess that accompanied sounds I usually denied release, sounds that had only vibrated in my heart and my soul.  The urge to run for a drink or food to help swallow them down, back to the safety of silence, threatened to overwhelm me.  But I wanted to be free of the heaviness that had held me down for so long.  I wanted to dump the beliefs I had willingly accepted: that my worth was dependent on my ability to ‘fix’ someone else’s pain, and that love needed to be earned.  Hours passed, and finally, even the ability to whimper succumbed to sleep.

 Sometime before dawn I woke.  Stiff aching muscles resisted as I sat up.  Dry lips and swollen eyes stared back at me in the small mirror above the bathroom sink.  Who is that?  Oh, it’s me, alone, broken.  I held a warm cloth to my face, felt the crust of agony soften just a little, made some tea and stepped out onto the small wobbly deck.  The indigo sky sparkled with starlight.  The long open lawn sloped down to the blackness of the river.  The trees on the far shore stood faintly outlined in the predawn glow.  The realization that I would move into this day, and those that followed, alone, crept in with the light.  The stars began to fade, along with the image of what I had come to know as my life.  I watched the sun rise, hoping hope would rise with it.  It didn’t.  How could a new day dawn, the same as it had millions of times before, when my days would never dawn the same again?  I felt lost in my own river of thoughts, struggling to stay afloat, waiting to sink.  I had never learned to swim, had been a forest dweller with no nearby body of water.  Maybe that was where I was supposed to head now, back to the woods, into the shadows, with no path to guide me.  I sensed the menace that hid in those woods, waiting for me, easy prey.  The bears that had stalked me in my dreams were alive, and hungry.

To be continued…