I Need Not Flee.

I love to watch geeky TV shows. I’ve written about superheroes, but now I’m going to take my geekery a step further. BUT there is a purpose for it, so hang in there…

I watch the show Westworld on HBO. Westworld is a theme park of sorts. Its set in the Wild West and there are tons of characters with whom park goers interact. There is just one catch – the characters are androids. Androids so sophisticated that you cannot tell them apart from humans. Androids programmed to think and feel. In fact, those feelings are so realistic that they include pain.

During one poignant scene, one of the androids signs up to have part of his brain extracted so that he can interface with the main server. Appalled, the human says, “We don’t have ANY anesthesia.” The android responds….

The pain is just a program.

These words had my brain turning immediately, because as humans our perception of pain can vary greatly. Some people have pain tolerance that is higher than others, while some people literally can’t experience physical pain.

I surmise that emotional pain is much the same way. Some people are more tolerant of it than others. I’ve written before that I think I might be one of those people who is more bothered by emotional pain. Yet, I have learned to cope with it in greater ways since my stay in the hospital and subsequent therapy.

You see, through therapy, I was able to view my thoughts and resulting pain from a new perspective. For weeks, I would say something negative about myself or discuss suicidal thoughts and my therapist would respond, “But that’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe it.”

It annoyed me.

I was annoyed, because while it was just a thought – my body and my heart had a response to that thought. It was weeks before I finally widened the gap between my thoughts and my emotional response. You see, once I was able to slow my emotional response to the thoughts, then I could choose to acknowledge the thought and then believe or disbelieve it. Slowly, very slowly, I was re-programmed.

Re-programmed Pain

I’ll never forget how it felt to disbelieve a suicidal thought. Everything within me relaxed. My spirit exhaled. I had been afraid of myself, my thoughts, for so long that I did not know what it was to experience something besides self-hatred.

Self-love was a very far way off. I’m still working towards that one. Each day, I re-program pain or, rather, my response to it. You see, now that the gap between thought and feeling exists, I am able to experience pain from a new perspective.

Pain is just a program.

Pain is a program that our body and spirit run when we need to learn something, remember something or yearn for something. It is there to tell us that things are important.

“Take note!” Pain says.

It is the fleeing, avoiding, suppressing of pain that causes it to be insurmountable, because there is a truth about pain that few accept.

Pain never goes away.

Think about it. Do you remember the first time you lost someone? Or maybe the first time someone made fun of you? In one instant, you can bring all of that back to your mind and experience it again. And this is only looking at pain from a past perspective. In the present and the future, pain exists too.

I cannot run from it, because it will come in one form or another again. If there is a constant in the universe, then it is that people experience pain.

While this is sad and grieve-some,  I can accept it. Once accepted, I can begin a reprogramming of my response to pain. Since I can never get away from pain, then I must deal with it, process it, learn to experience it.

Yes, pain is a program I cannot outrun, but it is also re-programmable. I can experience pain, learn from it and watch it pass.

For as constant as pain can be, it does pass. There is a reprieve. I need not flee.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

The Shape of Emptiness

When was the first time you felt empty? When did you notice a void in your life? I think these attributes – emptiness, meaninglessness, void – they can be feelings too. I remember the first time I felt meaningless. I had gotten in trouble for something and was sent to my room. I felt so badly that I took a belt down in my closet and tried to hit myself with it. I want to say that this memory was about the age of eight, but I fear it may have been even younger.

Emptiness came later. I was in at least eighth grade. I sat desperately reading  my Bible, devotional journals. I was looking to God to fill a hole in my heart. I wish my faith, my devotion had filled that hole, but there was a problem with that pursuit.

The hole wasn’t God-shaped.

There is a saying I’ve heard at some point in my life (not sure when or where). It goes, “Everyone has a God-shaped hole inside of them.” Perhaps that is why I devoted so much time and energy to pursuing him early on.

I thought God would fix me.

Now, in my head, I hear an angelic chorus singing, “God didn’t fix you, because you didn’t need fixing.” Okay, not an actual chorus, but it is what I imagine a good Christian would say or think while reading this story. I really wish that they would be right – that I don’t need fixing. I really do.

Some Things Remain Broken

If there is anything that I have learned from adulthood, then it is that some things can’t be repaired. I have seen it with our son’s autism, my mental health and our finances. I imagine a lot of people would simply say that I’ve lost hope. I don’t think that is true, because, believe me, I really dream of waking up to my son’s words and songs. I dream of a year in which depression does not affect me 330 days out of 365. I dream of a world in which we have a home to live in with a mortgage we are able to pay.

Oh yes, I hope.

Yet, I would be stupid not to prepare for a future in which my son needs full-time care. Facts are facts. If he hasn’t spoken by the age of nine, then things aren’t looking good for independent living. My depression? They say that the first time you have a season of depression that you should remain on medication for at least a year. The second bout of depression should be met with 3-5 years of medication. The third time? You should remain on medication for life. They also classify your depression as MAJOR and a legit DISORDER. I qualify for lifetime medication. I.E. This is thing is MAJOR and DISORDERED.

Some things remain broken. My friend has a dead plant in the landscaping at her new house. Initially, she thought to pull the ugly sucker out and replace it with something pretty. Then, she texted me a picture of it and said, “I’m keeping it”. You see, for her (and me) the dead plant reminds us that ugly and beautiful coexist, pain and joy coexist. Perhaps broken and whole can coexist too.

Sitting with Emptiness

In my life, I’m learning to sit with emptiness. You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to fill it for years and years. I’ve tried relationships, careers and jobs, schooling, children, religion, success, popularity, leadership, etc. The truth is that I’ve been trying to fill the empty space with a square puzzle piece.

I’m guessing my emptiness is upwards of a dodecahedron. That’s the largest 3D shape I can recall.

**Excuse me, I just looked up the spelling for dodecahedron and discovered it is actually a polyhedron. Are polyhedrons different than 3D shapes? What is a polyhedron? More than one face, my search tells me. Well, I’ve concluded that most, if not all, 3D shapes are polyhedrons. Geometry has never been my strong suit. Is this geometry? God, I hope so. End digression.**

You can’t fill your emptiness until you understand it, know its dimensions. In order to know those things, you can’t be trying to solve for ‘X’ or running back and forth with objects to randomly fill the space. You have to stop. Be present.

Experience emptiness.

And all I have to say about experiencing emptiness is this….

Damn it! Pain is coming, confusion is coming. This is going to hurt like hell!

Panic aside…

Pain is a teacher. Confusion isn’t a crucifix. And Hell was made for rebels.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. I wrote this post while listening to “Hold On” by Sarah McLachlan.

 

Oh, How I Run from Myself!

It is Monday afternoon and, truthfully, most Mondays I am eager for the day. I’m ready to get back into my to-do list, accomplish things. See here, where I disclose being a total productivity fiend. Monday is the one day that always seems to be productive for me. Maybe it’s because I’m fresh, unjaded by the previous week’s letdowns.

This Monday, however, is very different. Today, I didn’t want to pick up this laptop with a  cracked screen. I knew what was waiting for me. I say it often, that writing is like bleeding for me. Sometimes its extremely cathartic, like how people say acupuncture is great. I’ll never know about acupuncture though, because…needles.

There it is – needles, perceived pain.

I can’t get past the idea of needles, many of them in my face. A good friend of mine once told me that the needles are so very small that you don’t even notice they are being placed. Maybe she doesn’t notice. I, however, would be writhing in the anticipation of the pain and no needle would ever graze me.

Because that is what I do. I run from the pain.

This morning, I wanted to run from the pain. I didn’t want to sit here and bleed, cathartic or not. I wonder how thirty-three years of my life have passed and I am still afraid of that benevolent teacher known as pain.

Why do I not befriend her? Call to her and say, “Come, I will hear you out.” How long will it take for me to set the welcome mat out permanently.

I do not know.

I do, however, know that I will keep trying. Today, I will sit down at these keys and not run from myself. I will listen and honor the voice within.

She is saying….

I feel dead inside. Not like the autumn leaves returning to the ground, but like the decomposition of a slaughtered animal. Left too long in the sun, unburied and festering, I feel dead inside. How does a soul emerge from such noxious smells and grotesque twists of flesh? In nature, the decomposition is slow and lengthy, the byproducts nourishing.

Maybe that is what I need to expect from this sadness and angst that I feel – a slow and lengthy process that nourishes the world around me.

I wonder who is nourishing me, though. Ah, that is right, dead things don’t eat. They don’t need sustenance. They simply rot away, no one giving a thought to their sacrifice in the life cycle. Who will remember them?

I chuckle to myself, remembering my dear gardening friend, Lori. She loved her compost like it was a living thing and not quite the opposite. She marveled at the worms flocking to the pile of the dead and rotten. Their slimy, writhing bodies inching so slowly, purposefully in the direction of the deceased, the unwanted. I never knew anyone could love worms until I met Lori. I never knew compost could be an interest and passion.

Perhaps all that is dead inside of me, simply needs a farmer or gardener to see its worth. Perhaps I can be my own farmer, tending myself through a slow and lengthy process. I am reminded of how Lori explained all of the different ways to compost, the different tools. Maybe, if I don’t run from the dead things inside me, I can find the right process to enrich the earth.

That is, after all, what I most desire from my pain and the death I feel – that it live on in the things which grow.

Candidly,

Ash

Debase Thyself Not!

Recently, I was in a meeting and was very publicly called out for one of my faults. As the words were shared, I felt myself folding inward. My posture slouched. I wrapped my sweater tighter around myself, as though it could shield me from the humiliation. I began ducking my head and looking out from the corner of my eye like a shy little child.

I felt small.

I stewed pretty hard on this humiliation for a good 48 hours. I pressed pause and replay, rewound and fast forwarded, zoomed in and scanned out, assessing the crowd. Then, a small inner voice said, “You don’t have to relive this over and over again.” And so I shelved that ugly VHS replaying in my head.

I sat still with the feeling only – humiliation.

I will be honest. She and I haven’t been best friends. In fact, if I were to describe humiliation, then she would not be a friend at all. She would be that overly friendly stranger at the grocery store. You know, the one who kind of creeps you out and that you awkwardly pretend not hearing. Maybe, humiliation could even be personified as the obnoxious DISH representative at the mall or Walmart – the one who knows you don’t want to talk, but still asks how much you are paying for internet/cable service. (**Side note: My husband cracks me up when these people ask that question. He says, “That’s none of your business.” Poor, unsuspecting DISH rep. I feel for you. I really do. Just not enough to stop and listen.) My point is that humiliation is one of those feelings that everyone wants to ignore, push away. Yet, it is still a valuable teacher.

As I sat with the unique, searing pain of embarrassment, I had to draw on some reserves, because I felt very overwhelmed. I tried to imagine what a therapist or wise friend would ask about my experience. The first questions were somewhat inane. Are you humiliated often? Are there certain people who humiliate you often? That sort of thing. Along the way, one really good question came up.

Have you communicated that it is okay for people to speak of you this way?

Pause. Long pause. Longer pause.

Not directly, but perhaps unconsciously.

You see, I am an expert at negative self-talk. I can wield it with the precision of an Olympic fencer. Here is what I mean…

I use my negative self-talk to let people know its okay to be real. They don’t have to pretend and no one is perfect. I also use it as deflection from scrutiny. For instance, someone who is annoyed with me might call out my faults and I instantly acquiesce, agreeing with them and perhaps adding to it. The other person is so dumbstruck that they sort of don’t know what else to say. It’s also an effective tool in becoming a pseudo-comedian. There are few people who do not relate to a good, humiliating story.

Yet, in all of this vocal, negative self talk there is a misnomer to my soul. Perhaps, but I’m not necessarily sure of this, I am inadvertently giving permission to others that they may speak of me in that way too. Now, I don’t really like to be humiliated by others. It hurts deeply and this begs a question. Why don’t I feel hurt when I talk negatively about myself to others?

I am numb.

Self-deprecation has been a shield from others at times, but it has also been a sword too. If I stab myself with a sword, then I prevent you from doing it first. The problem is…

I still stabbed myself. I am still bleeding. Maybe I don’t have the momentum and force that another person would, but I’m still bleeding. I still injured myself.

So this is something I’m going to be working on. I’m still not opposed to sharing my faults. Authenticity is still my cornerstone. I won’t use it as a tool though. I won’t manipulate it to gain friends, prevent hurt or shield myself.

Yet again, an uncomfortable feeling shows me the way forward. Humiliation, perhaps the most brutal of teachers, is indeed my friend.

Wow, I’m honestly a little freaked out about this prospect!

Candidly,

ASh

 

 

 

 

 

The Magnifying Glass

There are times in life when the ache is surreal. The mind can’t possibly fathom how life could be this way – one thing after another, no stopping or pausing for the heart. Sometimes, these moments seem amplified, because of the grief or the fear that is being carried.

When I became a parent, I never imagined that at nine-years-old my son would not talk or communicate his needs. When I dreamed of the future, there was no non-verbal child riding next to me. Then, slowly, I realized that his words, sentences, phrases, writing or even singing would never happen (though I still hold out desperate hope). Suddenly, every ache, every pain was held under a magnifying glass called autism.

It Happens to Everyone

Like many normal families, we always timed our Chick-fil-a dinner slightly before or after the dinner rush. It was worth it to have the playground to ourselves or just a few others. We had three small ones at that time, all under four-years-old. Having the playground to ourselves was of prime importance and worth every hangry child by which we were accompanied.

We sat in our booth next to the glass windows overlooking the playroom, waiting for our food. He shrieked and cried with the best of wailing. “Please, Lord, let the food come soon!” I prayed, knowing it was the only thing that could make him happy.

Except it didn’t.

He grew louder and more angry by the second, until he started knocking his head against the glass window. I rushed from across the table, blocking his head from hitting the fragile frame, but not before the glass panes bounced and resounded from the force. Everyone was looking at us. The “control-your-child” stares induced my shame.

Like my father and probably his father before him, my husband took him to the car. Once he was calm, he brought our son back into the restaurant, at which point the screaming and crying began again. This time though, he thrust his wrist into his mouth and bit down. The shrieks were louder now, his flailing body in pain. When I finally pulled his arm away it was bleeding profusely in the shape of his own teeth.

We exited the restaurant then.

As we sat in the car, I turned to my husband and said, “I think there is something going on with our son.” Putting the car in reverse and looking over his shoulder, he said, “Yes, I think so.”

Magnify [mag-nuh-fahy] v. to increase the apparent size; attribute too much importance; exaggerate

A simple trip with hangry children, every parent has been there. Everyone has been stared at for one reason or another. The shame and the pain are familiar. Yet, the real sadness of that story isn’t in the familiar tale. The real sadness comes from a lens held up to the scene. This particular magnifying lens helps me to scrutinize the scene like a detective – amplifying the evidence.

This is just one lens.

We all have lenses. Some of mine include depression, anxiety, grief, loneliness. A day off appears to be a colossal waste of time and existence under the lens of depression. A day off plays out as laziness under the lens of anxiety . A day off becomes a day of mourning under the lens of grief . A day off under the lens of loneliness? Solitary confinement.

In life, I want to be careful to step back from my lenses every now and then. At times, I need to be a bystander of my pain, reflecting on it without the distortion of magnification. Only then can I see the pain for what it is. In this way, a demon becomes a teacher, forever becomes a day, and tomorrow a ray of hope.

Let the Pain Move through You

I didn’t know adulthood would be this way.  I didn’t know there would be so much pain, so much less for which to live. Sure, there ARE so many beauties to behold, so many paths to walk, so many dreams to dream. Yet, there are just so many bills and crying children and lots of holding the space for people, for myself.

It’s a challenge – the holding of space. When I dreamed of homeschooling, I followed a lovely mother who had so much knowledge about “teach-moming”. She talked about holding the space like it was a sacred thing. Her idea appealed to me so much that I bought every printable, curriculum, book thingy she could possibly create.

The idea of “holding the space” was that sometimes the small people simply need people to be quiet. They need adults to be calm. They need others to pause. The instinct, when the shrill screaming of a small one rents the atmosphere, is to rush to them and say words, to instruct. I am instantly in their face and fixing/breaking things. I mean to fix things, but most of the time I break things instead. I break small spirits. I crush opportunities for growth and decimate plains of open feeling.

I found this principle, combined with assertiveness and observation, to be the most altering of any parenting technique. When I stopped and held the space, the small people could do all that they needed to do and so could I. The pause, the observance, the stillness allowed them to calm themselves. Sometimes they didn’t, but the holding of space also allowed me to calm myself. I always responded better when I was calm and still do today.

I found the idea of holding space to be similar to holding the note at the end of a song. In choir or band, we would look to the conductor and just hold the note, waiting for her to signal the stop. Similarly, in parenting a climax or crescendo might erupt from the small people and I would be the conductor to whom they were looking. If I cut the note short, then everyone was less satisfied. If I let it resonate, echo and dissipate, then the satisfaction of an ending could occur.

Pain is like a small child too. It needs me to hold the space – to pause, observe, resonate and diminish. It needs the process, the movement, the freedom to be the place where time and meaning great each other. The problem is that I didn’t have enough people holding the space for me while I was growing up. The eruption of pain was a geyser of uncontrollable proportions.

IMG_5388

Like a geyser with hot steaming water shooting into the air, my pain shot into the atmosphere spreading its deluge of scalding energy. It makes me imagine the person who discovered geysers. Frantically, they must have sought cover, desperately trying to reshape a world where water poured endlessly from the ground. Water from the ground – mind boggling.

This is the way I viewed pain my whole life, because the space was so rarely held for me. I needed someone to pause and watch, noticing the diminishing of the onslaught of scalding water from the ground. To show me that the geyser would come and go. Pausing to watch the magnificent spectacle was all that I needed. Watching it rise higher and higher, then temper to a small spray easing itself into a trickle that I could touch without being harmed.

This is the process of pain.

I need only let it move through me. Maybe through deep breaths or tears, perhaps pounding pillows or squeezing them tight, stepping into the heat or the cold and closing my eyes, walking the path in a nearby park, standing or dancing in the rain, listening to the music or holding the pregnant pause – these are things pain needs from me. These are the things I need from myself

“Surrender to the grief, despair, fear, loneliness, or whatever form the suffering takes. Witness it without labeling it mentally. Allow it to be there. Embrace it. Then see how the miracle of surrender transmutes deep suffering into deep peace.” Eckhart Tolle

 

Revisiting Neck Lumps

After a round of antibiotics, the lumps in my daughter’s neck were still their humongous size. I waited and waited, just hoping they would disappear. Then she woke up cranky as hell and complaining that she was too tired for anything.

Helicopter parent descending.

We found ourselves at the urgent care this time, because my daytime vehicle is down for the count so an evening doctor visit was in order. The really kind doctor lady with great makeup and blond hair said that she really didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about. She then offered to run a CBC to rule anything out, speaking in code so the child would not panic. To my horror, I said, “Yeah, I think if we are here, then we should just rule anything out.”

The really kind doctor lady nodded and said she would let me break the news to the small one. Thanks, really kind doctor lady. Thanks…

I then told my daughter that she would be stuck with needles. She responded with the appropriate level of screaming and crying, “Why, God?!?! Why?!?!”

I said that we just needed to be sure that everything was okay. In my mind, I felt insanely guilty. The truth was that the CBC was for mommy, to alleviate all worry and concern.

What kind of horrible, terrible, no good, very bad mothering is this?

I mean, what kind of parent subjects their child to needles simply to relieve niggling anxiety? God, that is f***ed up.

The whole thing is over now. On the way home she wisely said, “I’m just going to remember the frosted lemonade and not the blood drewing.”

Yes, forget the blood drewing. Please.

In recounting the story to her older sister, she said it was “no bid deal” and “not that bad”. Older sister, God love her, had the appropriate amount of awe and respect, offering her a piece of candy out of deference. She was proclaimed a superhero and donned her band aid like it was a cape and mask, smiling with pride.

I still feel guilty, but mostly I feel relieved. Relieved, because the blood work came back normal, but also because the child is clearly not scarred for life by the experience. Will she still need therapy later on in life? Absolutely. Will this incident be the worst thing she recounts to her therapist? Probably not.

And then, the familiar anxiety besets me again.

“Hello, old frenemy.” I say to her. “What do you have for me today?”

“Someday, your precious daughter will need therapy or, at the very least, a monumentally awesome friend. Someday, bad things will happen to her. In fact, maybe they already have. Maybe those bad things are you. Maybe they are your family….”

I let the anxiety drone on for awhile, but then I remind it of something.

“Maybe pain isn’t the enemy. Maybe it’s a teacher, a mentor, a guide, a shepherd.”

Maybe, the best word in existence.