Wine (a poem)

Wine

Glorious anesthetic
Balm for my soul
Sweet numbness, begin.

Uncomfortable in my skin
Memories flood
My head swims

Wine

Drink up, ye glass that’s full
and next be the bottle
I shall finish it all

Memories abade
Darkness descends
Tomorrow, I can start again

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The Gift of Monday

I’m so glad I have had Mondays off for the past few months. I usually schedule my therapy sessions on Mondays and after I’m done with my session, I’m usually useless and exhausted for the rest of the day. I keep reminding myself that self care is important, emotional stress is just as valid (even though no one else can see it) as physical stress and resting when your body tells you to is OK. Today, I took a nap before lunch and I’ve done little after lunch and that’s perfectly fine. The world will continue to turn and tomorrow is another day to be productive.

I wrote a post several months ago about my experience with sexual assault. It was a difficult post to write and I was still in the “I am probably to blame” mode when I wrote it. I knew eventually I’d need to talk with someone professionally about my experiences. Today, I finally brought this up in therapy. It had been something kicking around in the back of my head for a while and the topic worked it’s way into today’s conversation and it was a relief. I convinced myself that this experience didn’t effect me but I know it has and it’s time to sort it out.

I was told that we would broach the topic of sexual assault at a pace that I am comfortable with, probably much slower in fact, and I am still the one calling the shots. This made me feel really safe, which is always important when you’re about to become very vulnerable. There is no timeline or month marker for “success” in the process either which takes much of the pressure off. I was also told there is no statute of limitations on sexual abuse and rape cases and they could still be prosecuted if I chose to go that route. That fact told me that this is indeed important and needn’t be swept under the rug. It was a crime in several ways and I was not to blame.

I was not to blame. Period. End of. That was today’s major take away.

Much of today’s session was also about de-personalizing. For example: “The situation was bad, but I am not a bad person because it happened”. I’d say that many of the things I struggle with internally have to do with an ingrained idea that “I am bad” because of XYZ. I am being taught to separate my emotions/feelings about myself from a situation and see past events with a different perspective. Even though I’m not completely solid in this way of thinking, it has been very helpful so far. I feel much stronger as a result of the things I am learning. I also found myself being more outgoing as a result of this new perspective and internal strength. Not too bad for a socially anxious, card carrying introvert, eh?

You never know, until you know.

I wonder how much we’d have in common with our “enemies” if we’d only take the time to know them? I bet we would realize that we’re alike more than we think.

Growing up, my sister and I were not pals. Not even close. We were actually very much the opposite of pals. I’ve joked that, back then, she probably would have drowned me in the bath if given half the chance. We were two kids born into a certain structure of circumstances, dealing with a limited toolbox. We both still marvel at the fact that we’ve turned out alright, all things considered.

I was visiting my sister this past week. We went out for breakfast and the conversation turned to home life and upbringing. She said something which got me thinking. As we talked about various home life situations, she said, “I think ever child is given the parents they need”. I disagreed with her because I’ve seen the damage some parents who have done due to a lack of nurturing. How could anyone say such a thing is “good”?! So she explained further. She said every child learns what they need to learn and are shaped into the people they need to become due to their experiences, good or bad. My mind went to children in abusive homes and those who have been in foster care. I also thought of the children who were born into, and mistreated by the Tuam mother-baby home in Ireland. My mind tends to go to the extreme when proposed an idea like this.

From a psychology perspective, I’d still have to disagree with my sister. Nature (who we are inside/personality traits) and nurture (how we were raised) both play an equal role in shaping a person, my mind. Had I been born into a different set of circumstances, I might not have the same internal challenges to overcome. Had the children of abuse been born into different circumstances, they would have turned out much differently. Had the children born in (and survived) the mother-baby home not been treated like they were shameful or inherently flawed due to the circumstances of their conception, they would have been very different people inside.

For being at odds with each other for most of our life, my sister and I have only recently discovered we felt the same in many of the situations we both faced. Thinking back makes me sad because we weren’t on each other’s side growing up. I’m envious of siblings who have always gotten on well. My sister and I didn’t talk about our experiences (in the moment) when we were growing up but we’re talking about them now. Better late than never. It’s true when it’s said that tragedy brings people closer together, not that I’d ever wish that on anyone. A dramatic life event makes us re-access what is important. After the sudden death of my brother in law, I definitely thought about what was important in my life. Since the passing of my mother last year, sorting through the pain of my past has become very important.

I do family history research and I came across a beautiful video: Momondo-The DNA Journey  This video shows that we are definitely more alike than we think. It’s amazing what one can learn from another if we only take the time to try.

 

Frogs, Cars, Logs and Crocodiles.

There is a new channel on YouTube named SHARUF! and it’s great fun. There are posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and it’s kid friendly. The two faces of the show are Rufus Bluestuff (the blue monster) and a lovely fella named John Sharpson.  The other man on the show, who you never see is Ray Cuddihy. We don’t see Ray because he’s the talented puppeteer behind (underneath?) puppets Rufus & Sylvester Cobb. Needless to say, I’m a fan of this channel and it makes me happy when I know there will be a new episode to watch. It’s definitely something I look forward to throughout the week. Wednesdays are especially fun because it’s retro game day. John and his guest play a retro game while Rufus throws out cheeky comments about their playing abilities.

Seeing anything retro will usually spark some nice memories. After watching this past Wednesday’s episode of SHARUF!, I started thinking about when we visited my aunt and uncle in North Carolina. The new toy in the house was an Atari gaming system and it was a big hit. One game that was played most often was Frogger. This was back in about 1980 and my cousins were the only kids I knew with a gaming console. We never had anything like this and none of my friends did either. Actually, it wasn’t until my own kids were in grade school did we ever have a game console. (The Nintendo GameCube no less!)

I remember how my aunt and my mom would play Frogger for what seemed like hours. I was maybe about 5 years old at the time and whenever I had a go at this game, my frog would die before I reached the river. I can still hear the *squish* sound the game would make because I heard it often. My mom and my aunt were much better at Frogger and they’d make it to the river. I can’t remember what was past the river but as they went up in levels, the game moved faster and faster. There would be crocodiles which popped up in the river and tried to eat the frogs off of the logs! My mom and aunt would scream and shout as they tried desperately to save the poor frog. There was lots and lots of laughter back then and I miss those times. I think back on those memories and remember them fondly.

 

 

 

Killing the A.N.T.s

So…what are A.N.T.s anyway?

A.N.T.s stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. We’ve all have had them and they seemingly appear out of nowhere. I struggle with automatic negative thoughts often despite classing myself as a positive person. How can someone claim to be positive but still fight negative thoughts? Simple. Negative thoughts are insidious and they are often born from fears we don’t even realize we have. When I first started working at my current job, my initial fear was,”I hope they like me and don’t think I’m stupid”. Whenever I meet someone new my mind automatically says, “I hope they don’t think I’m boring or weird!”. These are examples of A.N.T.s which need to die. I don’t want a “Negative Nancy” living in my head!

Recognizing the A.N.T.s has been a big focus of my therapy sessions. One big trigger of negative thoughts has been this blog. At my last session, I told my therapist about my blog. I explained that I write about my insights, things that distress me and my personal experiences. I told him that my blog isn’t widely read and wouldn’t be unless people find my content relate-able in some way.

Deep down, one of my biggest fears with my writing is that I’ll come off sounding whingy, tedious, boring or unintelligent. I was called stupid a lot as a kid. I was also often told, when I felt sad, to stop “feeling sorry” for myself. Those experiences have stuck with me and they have effected how I have tried to present myself. I also mentioned to my therapist that I don’t share my blog posts where my extended family will see them. I said feared my uncles might be angry at the things I’ve written about religion or the relationship with my mom. I fear they’ll attack me for my opinions. The most central root fear, which I didn’t realize I had is: If I voice my opinion, my family won’t love me anymore. I’ll be judged, shunned and rejected. That fear has kept me silent and seemingly agreeable for a long time.

How a person reacts to anything you say or do speaks volumes about that person and it’s not a reflection on you. I had to re-remind myself of this truth this evening. I sent a care package to some lovely folks in Ireland and they made an unboxing video showing what I sent. Tonight I read the comments under the video and I knew I shouldn’t have. I found a few negative comments about what I sent and it got to me. I knew there’d be a few of those comments even before I sent the package but actually seeing them struck a nerve. Those comments made me feel like I was stupid and it made me want to disappear from view(my usual reaction to any criticism). I deleted my comment to the video because of what I read. I had to slap myself for that too and I added a toned down reply. I had to remind myself that these stranger’s comments do not reflect on me. I’m not stupid. I put thought into that gift and it truly was appreciated by the recipients! People will always have an opinion and we can’t please everyone, nor should you try. I essentially talked myself out from under the metaphorical duvet (is that even a thing?) and back into the light.

I’m counting this as a personal victory because fighting those negative opinions of myself and stopping the spiral is a challenge. In therapy, I’m working to become the vision I have of my future self. She is a strong, confident, sassy, loving,  soft-hearted woman who holds her head high and owns who she is, without apology. I hope to meet her soon.

Afterlife questions

There is a podcast I’ve found called Personality Bingo. It’s out of Ireland and the concept is pretty cool. 60 minutes, 60 bingo balls & 60 questions. The interviewer, Tom Moran, has his guest choose 6 numbers before the interview starts. If they roll all six numbers before the hour is up, the guest gets to ask Tom a question which he will answer as honestly as he can. It’s a great idea for a podcast and I’ve really enjoyed listening because the questions are all over the board in content. If you’re so inclined, give Personality Bingo a listen.

Some of the questions in Personality Bingo have come up more than once which is nice because it gives an opportunity to hear different perspectives. The question which made me think today was when Tom asked his guest her thoughts on an afterlife.

I grew up in a very religious family. My grandpa was a minister and a professor at a Christian college. Both my mom and dad’s family were church goers and they all had a very specific way of thinking and doing things. Their ideas about religion, God and church were taught to me at an early age. I remember being quite young, maybe around 5 or 6 years old, when I first asked about heaven. I was told that when people die, they got to go to heaven and hang out with God. Getting into heaven was the end goal of everything we were taught as a child. It was the primary motivator and governor of life’s choices. If we’re good and we obeyed, we were a shoe-in to heaven. If we deviated from what we were taught, there was a chance you’d end up in hell. These notions became problematic when I got into my teenage years and started to really question things. However, as a child, that fear of going to hell was a tool which was wielded skillfully to keep us in line.

As a 5-6 year old kid, my brain started to churn with all sorts of questions about heaven. I was not completely sold on the idea of heaven I was fed. I remember thinking that all the dancing and singing people were said to do in heaven must get a bit boring. When did people sleep? Where there bathrooms? Did people get married? Is praising God all there was to do? It sounded like there were no jobs or worries and I couldn’t help but think, “Is that it?!”. Surely there had to be more to it. Heaven sounded too good to be true and I also questioned the size of the place. Heaven must be massive but ridiculously crowed if all the people who ever live were up there, hanging out. Were there houses or did everyone just float around on clouds in their white robes? Is there food in heaven? Did they have hamburgers? Seriously, the place lost some credibility when I was told people didn’t need to eat in heaven. When I tried to find out more, I was met with this: “Heaven is too wonderful and our human minds cannot fully understand it. When we put our human logic into the equation makes us have questions. We need to just trust and believe it is as we’ve been told.” The old “because I said so” response did not satisfy my curiosity. I stopped asking my questions but I secretly doubted if what I was told about heaven was true.

I remember in church, the validity of Buddhist reincarnation was also quickly dismissed. There was a Christian music artist who wrote a song which poked fun at Buddhism’s version of reincarnation. Since reincarnation didn’t agree with anything we’d been taught in church, this idea were thrown out. I remember thinking about the Buddhist idea of reincarnation and wondering how it worked. I loved animals and I often play acted like I was a host of different animals. I had a vivid imagination as a kid and the idea of becoming a tiger or a puma or some other large cat seemed pretty cool. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I decided coming back as an animal wouldn’t be all that great. I couldn’t talk to people and I’d just hang out in a jungle or maybe a zoo. It sounded like a lonely life. If I couldn’t talk to the other animals, what was the point? As I reached adulthood, I entertained a different perspective on reincarnation. I remember watching a documentary called “Ghost Inside My Child”. It was about children who could remember details of a past life. The stories were so compelling and it made me more curious about what the afterlife looks like. The idea of the soul coming back as a new life in a different body started to make more sense that anything I was taught as a child.

I imagine when someone dies, the soul has to get used to the idea that their body has just died. I would expect there’s a period where acceptance of the current situation and grieving their old body must take place. What if the person died suddenly? How shocking would it be if all of a sudden, your body is gone?! There could be unfinished business for the soul in such a scenario. What if the person was ill but was not ready to leave their body when they died? What if they were angry about their life being cut short? In my mind, a time of adjustment for the newly body-less soul seems reasonable. I liken it to a gap year. I feel the soul must have to take time off and finish whatever needs resolving before it jumps back into the game of life as a new person. My thoughts might simply be my way of grasping to understand one of man’s most perplexing questions. Whether or not anyone agrees with me is irreverent. In times of uncertainly, our mind works overtime in comforting us and easing our pain.

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, my mom died in 2016. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and when first diagnosed, was only given a year. She was in a state of disbelief for the first six months after her diagnosis and she tried everything she could to avoid traditional chemo and radiation. When she could still express herself, she talked about regrets she had and things she wished she’d done. I don’t know if she ever made peace with the idea that she was going to die. She was very used to being in control of things and this illness stripped her of that power. After her death, the idea of her sitting in that heaven of my childhood mind felt comforting. Imagining her up there laughing with my grandpa and possibly even Gene Wilder (one of her favorite actors who died later in 2016) was a nice picture. June 5th 2017 will be the one year mark of her passing. I’d like to think of her getting another chance at life and maybe doing those things she wished she’d done when she was young. To me, the idea of having another go at life, in a new body with new experiences to learn from feels more comforting that believing we’re all done with our time on earth once the lights have gone out.