What If the Cats Are As Okay as They’re Going to Get?

What if this is as okay as it gets? And it’s okay?

What if one cat being underweight and one cat being overweight, one cat crying for me but never sitting in my lap, and one cat never crying but always sitting in my lap isn’t because I am an inadequate, unlovable cat owner, but is as okay as these cats with this owner are going to get? And it’s okay?

I do love cats and crayonsWhat if every person I see or meet or work with is not my responsibility to save or improve or happy up?

What if every person I see or meet or work with does not have to acknowledge me for me to know I exist?

What if I don’t have to check in with my perception – or with my perception of my mother’s or father’s perceptions – in every single situation and with every single person I see or meet? What if they don’t have to be evaluated or analyzed or measured or assessed or even considered at all?

What if I don’t have to try to find a way to write about every single moment of my life?

What if I have no job to do in my lifetime, but just have a lifetime?

What if I’ve been some help to some people some of the time over the years, but what I’m fundamentally good at is coloring? Within the lines? And not best at coloring or the most prolific colorer, but just pretty good with a crayon?

What if what I have most wanted (I always thought I most wanted enlightenment but I think under it I was always seeking freedom from harm) isn’t possible to have?

What if what I most don’t want to happen inevitably will happen?

What if having had my 13 year-old bright white teeth straightened by over 365 days of my precious little life in braces doesn’t protect my teeth from darkening and crumbling when they’re done? What if my teeth and eyes and mind have shorter lives than my body? They’ve done what they can and can do no more? What if someday I smile like a toddler, earbuds playing the soundtrack from Frozen, and gum my veggie burgers? What if that’s not a shame, but okay?

What if having many loves, rather than one forever love, is okay?

What if I wanted less, not because I had successfully scolded myself into it, but because I had started from within to sense my wanting and discovered a big box of crayons, a Barbie coloring book, and a pot of tea with milk?

What if when pocketbooks are stolen, or pit bulls throw themselves against my storm door, or people tell me I am bad and wrong, I do what needs to be done and no more than that? What if I feel what needs to be felt and no more, and think what needs to be thought and no more? That I give each happening its due, but no more?

What if the things that happen to me don’t fill me like marrow does bones but are “places” on my skin that just are what they are?

What if, starting at 55, I never again create another new thing, start a new enterprise, take on a new project? What if 55 years of effortful, creative productivity is enough?

(There are the tears.)

What if I felt like I had made my fair and just contribution to the okayness of things, that my existence was justified, and that now, in my daily living, for the most part, I would neither add to, nor take away from, okayness?

If this is as okay as it gets – and it’s okay – I would not have to live in alarm all the time, expecting the unexpected, because it’s now expected and I can calmly accept this, give it its due and handle it when it comes.

I wouldn’t feel like I lack all value when people heading out to their cars from the grocery store don’t make eye contact with me.

I wouldn’t have to push myself to be more creative, go deeper, think harder, do better, do more, or force myself to press on even when I am tired. I could rest.

I could take the Barbie coloring book off my Amazon wish list and go ahead and order it. I’ve already got the crayons.

What I Want to Think During Conflict

“Conflict!” Hedy Schleifer said happily, rubbing her hands together. “A chance for self-knowledge and to get closer to my partner!”

I attended a Hedy and Yumi workshop years ago but still remember the joy and hope and anticipation in her eyes.

Conflict is hard for me because no matter what the person is specifically saying to me, when I sense anger, I have trouble hearing the content of their sentences over the sentences that begin automatically to speak themselves in my mind. The theme of them is that I deserve poor treatment. These sentences are so hard on me.

What I hear during conflict

[Larger image of What I Hear During Conflict]

My head knows that those automatic sentences aren’t true, or are true very rarely. But my heart believes they are true always and deeply, without question.

What I have to do is become aware that I am thinking automatically and counter or replace those bitter sentences with strong sentences that I know are true. The theme of these strong sentences is that I deserve fair and respectful treatment from strangers and acquaintances,  and good and kind treatment from people close to me.

What I want to think during conflict

[Larger image of What I Want to Think During Conflict]

I am getting better at becoming aware of thinking bitter thoughts and I am becoming better at identifying and supporting myself with my strong thoughts.

“Do you want to be right or do you want to be close?”

I heard that sentence at a different workshop, also years ago. Some people engage in conflict with me to get their one-up needs met by attempting to put me one-down and in the wrong. Some people engage in conflict with me to overcome a frustrating distance between us. I am getting better at discerning – or even asking directly about – the other person’s motivation when initiating conflict.

In the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, paranoid schizophrenia takes John Nash and his loved ones through hell. He learns to manage the disorder, however, and in the final scene he is shown walking. The three “individuals” who plague him through hallucinations are walking with him. He acknowledges them but does not interact with them. They all co-travel, but he does not allow their presence or, previously, their words, to have power over him.

In order to grow closer to self and possibly others during conflict, I have wondered if Hedy’s approach – “I welcome conflict as a way to grow closer to self and others” – and John Nash’s approach – “I’ve got thoughts already there that have to be managed” – might need to co-travel.

Pre-Drinking and Post-Drinking Thinking

My feelings and thoughts can get intense. I have come to understand that I primarily used drinking to manage the peaky, spiky, distressed inner state that my intense feeling and thinking can create.

Anne's dadTo stop drinking, I have had to manage my drinking problem directly, but I’ve also had to try to understand what is going on within me – the feelings and thoughts that trouble me so. I’ve had to become intensely aware of what I was thinking and doing that wasn’t working, then to discover new ways of thinking that might work. Then I’ve had to train intensely to make the new workable ways kick in over the old ways.

Ultimately, I think I am trying to learn to treat myself with mercy and kindness rather than with criticism and contempt.

. . . . .

Photo is of my father getting ready to fix his 55 year-old daughter white bread toast in the exact same toaster he used when she was a small child. To his daughter who has struggled and seems to be emerging like a phoenix chick from ashes, he has shown mercy and kindness.

. . . . .

I’ve created a table to show my new thinking vs. my old thinking, i.e. my pre-drinking/drinking thinking with my post-drinking thinking. (That’s a lot of thinking. Made me laugh. There’s the post title, then!).

Pre-Drinking vs. Post-Drinking Thinking

In practice, I try to start at the top of the list and work my way through to the bottom in a linear progression, but I tend to cycle in and around. It’s hard to take time to pause, to think systematically, and to then respond when conversations, discussions, conflicts or situations seem to provoke or require an immediate reaction.

I’ve probably sought most of my life to respond rather than react, to learn to pause and become aware of what I am feeling and thinking, to see what options align with my values, then to speak or act. A friend describes this as trying “to make my outsides match my insides.” A drinking problem put an end to an intellectual exercise and began a dire attempt to not just think, but do.

Here’s the Pre-Drinking Thinking vs. Post-Drinking Thinking table as a .pdf.

I Feel Happy

I don’t remember much about the days before I drove myself to a support group meeting but I do remember vowing I was determined to be happy before I turned 55.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I chunk my abstinence from alcohol and my continuing recovery from moderate alcohol use disorder, according to the DSM-5, by date and time:

  • December 28, 2012: Beginning of the absolutely most torturous days and weeks and months I had ever lived in 53 years on the planet
  • December 30, 2012: Two days abstinent on my 54th birthday
  • First weeks: hell
  • First 30 days: a thousand nights of hell
  • First 13 months: hell
  • December 28, 2013: one year abstinent in hell
  • December 30, 2013: turned 55 in hell
  • Months 13-16: a different kind of hell
  • Month 16: free myself from the hell of silence; still resident of different kind of hell
  • Month 17: July 4th weekend, 2014, a woman friend from my old life visited and reminded me of who I might still be
  • Month 18: still not happy
  • Month 19 1/2 – August 14, 2014: Shaken by death of Robin Williams. Knew it was time to say my story was about more than the substance.
  • Month 19 1/2 – August 15, 2014: Swam down deep and got to the essence of my sorrow. Drew chalk art on my sidewalk after. Wrote what I found first here. Wrote what I found next here.
  • Month 19 3/4 – Asked my friends to help my lonely little self and they did
  • Month 20 1/2 – Wrote today’s post the day after coloring with crayons for the first time in a long, long time
  • Month 21: to be celebrated on September 28, 2014
  • December 28, 2014: Expect to be abstinent two years in neither heaven nor hell, but in reality
  • December 30, 2014: Expect to turn 56 happy (off by a year – not so bad)

I can see only one more dark piece to write. Then I think I will have cornered it sufficiently to pare out the brown spots from this bruised peach of a life – or at least enough of them – to live deep, suck out sweetness and spit out poison, and be sturdily present for the paradoxical seed-and-pit at the essence of the rest of my lovely little life.

That’s My Choice? The Double Binds of Recovery from Addiction

Down, down, down I swim, with arms as strong as I’ve been able to make them, pushing aside dark, body-sized lobes of tissue to reach my deepest understanding of the fundamental truth of how life works, and when I stretch my fingertips for the blackest essence, this is what I touch: She is going to be mad.

. . . . .

How tragically, miserably prosaic. I had expected to hear Cat Stevens singing, “Love is all.”

. . . . .

When living captive to rage, one is required to engage, so one tans the rind of one’s awareness to leather to shield against the natural instincts to fight, flee or freeze. Or to attack. Or to feel. Or to think.

One defends.

One lives acutely, electrically observant, intimately learning the captor’s facial expressions, body posture, arm and leg movements, choice of clothing, all for clues of how bad what’s to come – and it will inevitably come – will be. But wait. The captor’s being nice. Maybe it’s over? Maybe the captor does love one after all?

One learns the captor’s body and being better than one learns one’s own.

One becomes the most careful of researchers, changing one tiny variable in one’s self at a time, wishing and longing that maybe, maybe one has discovered the word or deed that will cause the tides to shift, the rage to ebb and the love to flow. One thinks (yearns) to have that power. One shapes one’s attention and bearing and speech and movement and attire, not through an inner discovery of one’s own gifts and values, but in relation to the captor. Day after day, one forms one’s self from data gathered from without, not from within.

Rage is sometimes on, sometimes off, sometimes overt, sometimes covert. One never knows if one will glimpse the Bowie knife first or feel the stiletto upon exit. Ultimately any sentence, any act, will be wrong. One will be knifed.

The double bind, the position of having no safe option, of having no self without the other, the captor, divides one in two. Even when given a choice, one can’t bear staying and one can’t bear leaving.

. . . . .

One is put in a double bind when one hears sentences or experiences actions that are conflicting and one negates the other. Anything one does in response is wrong. A classic double bind is “Do as I say, not as I do.” More subtle examples: “I love you unconditionally” and “You’d be pretty if you didn’t have such a big nose.” Or, as a small child, one is called to sit in a smoker’s lap, one is embraced, and the smoker says, “Ever seen a match burn twice?” and the smoker moves the hot match tip towards the child’s arm.

Dogs will avoid the parts of an experimental floor that deliver shocks. When the whole floor is electrified, the dogs struggle frantically. When they realize every response is hopeless, they just lie down.

Living with a person who offers up double binds breaks the heart. It can also break the mind.

. . . . .

A functional adult’s psychological job is to take new experiences and fit them into the self’s inner grid. Using inner awareness and outer observation, the person notes what’s happening or, if it happens too fast, examines it later, and either integrates and assimilates it into the inner grid or feels and thinks his or her way through transforming it – alone or with help – into something that does fit.

The trouble with living with double binds is that one learns one is trapped and therefore helpless and powerless to transform very much. One maneuvers and suffers and endures. If the self survives, it seethes with hidden rage.

In If 2007 Could Be Different, I wrote I had some challenging “new experiences.” In response to those new experiences most people would have been able to say, “Too bad,” slide them into the self’s grid cells on the outer edges of awareness, and move on. I could not. I won’t go into detail, but my heart and mind have taken hits from double binds for a long time. As an adult, if I feel trapped, I alternately thrash, rage, and drop to the floor sobbing helplessly, repeat.

I think I began drinking because I had no more capacity for double binds. I could not take one more in.

  • I so wanted to have a child that when I was a teenager I bought little baby clothes decorated with tiny, orange ducks and put them in my hope chest. I am unable to conceive a child.
  • My classroom is a sacred, holy place. I experienced violence in my classroom.
  • My hometown is a sanctuary. A mass murder occurred in my hometown.
  • I believe awareness is the way to bring in enlightenment and healing. Every time I turn my awareness to what happened, I feel I am trying to bring in sharp stars with knife edges.
  • I drink too much. I cannot stop drinking.
  • I cannot bear what is happening to my mind from drinking. I cannot bear my feelings and thoughts when I am not drinking.
  • If I drink, I feel terrible. If I abstain, I feel terrible.
  • You’re only as sick as your secrets. Keep this secret.
  • I write to free myself from silence. I will be imprisoned by stigma if I write to break this silence.

I have been abstinent from alcohol for 20 months. That’s 600 days of choosing to live with the thrashing helplessness of double binds.