Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief

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Middle Ground… Well, Almost

As I continue to think about what I blogged about last week – i.e. how much do I invest? – I read an interesting article by Marilyn Washburn, who was writing about the work she does with people who are in grief. “The more ‘involved’ I became, the more deeply I loved the people I served, the more I came to know them and advocate for them, the more deeply I mourned their deaths, the healthier I became, emotionally and certainly spiritually.” (italics mine.)

I was trying to explain something similar to a client this week. We were discussing what possible good purpose there might be in looking back at your history/childhood. I was trying (feebly) to describe how as humans we have a spectrum of emotions. Some have a very narrow margin, others have a large rainbow. But the key is, you can’t develop one end without developing the other. In other words, you can only experience as much joy as you are willing to experience sadness or pain as well. However you choose to expand or constrict your emotions on either end is going to change the opposite side.

Boundaries is one of my least favorite concepts. I understand the necessity of them, but for some reason with my personality and belief system, my boundaries are often a bit blurry. That works well for some people, not so well for others. The same author said later in her article, “…I became convinced that the boundaries meant to insulate me from pain and hurt only obstructed my care for others as well as my being healed by others’ care.” Boy, can I completely identify with that.

So I want to shout, “To hell with it all! I’m just going to love and care deeply and bear the pain it brings!” But like I said last week, I’m not sure that is quite the answer. I will never change the core of my being. It is possible though, to tweak things. And maybe even tweak them significantly. I won’t ignore the tough stuff, and I will never be a loner. But I am slowly seeing that I am handling things a bit differently. I’m learning not to accommodate everyone else and their issues to my own detriment as much. I probably go overboard sometimes as I’m learning something “new,” but I hope the people in my life grant me a little grace as we go through some growing pains. Quite honestly, at the risk of sounding like a big jerk, I think I’ve earned that. I’ve spent most of my life giving a thousand percent. I should be allowed to blunder like everyone else does without it being catastrophic to the relationship (whatever type of relationship it is).

Kind of describing finding a middle ground, being more moderate. But I also know deep down, who am I kidding? I will never be truly in the middle. I will always err on the side of loving and caring a bit too much, trying a bit too hard. But that is the way my heart beats. I will keep tweaking (so look out!) and strive for balance, but I don’t want to lose what makes me me.

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The Extra Mile- Is It Worth It?

Henri Nouwen said the following:

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant… Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

This has always been my philosophy. I may not have been able to articulate it as such, but I think it is the way I have usually lived and conducted my life. Several years ago when I was introduced to the Eneagram and discovered I was personality type number four, I was given another layer of understanding. Fours will take agony over nothing because it makes you feel alive and not invisible. I had more words to articulate my personality and philosophy.

The last couple of years though, I find myself questioning whether or not I want to continue to make decisions based on the “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” theory. I’m not talking only about romantic relationships, but the way I have approached every aspect of my life. Give with all my heart because that is who I am. That is how I am wired.

Truth is, I love living my life that way. I’m actually proud of it. I got the extra proverbial mile. Okay, let’s face it, I go thousands of extra miles, as a mom, step-mom, therapist, family member, friend. When I was very young, I remember my mom saying that I give so much of myself, which is fine until I expect others to give back the same. When they don’t I get crushed. She understood me from the very beginning. And it’s the line in Henri Nouwen’s quote about being rejected, abandoned, or left by death that gets to me. I love giving passionately. That is, until it hurts. Then I question the whole way I conduct my life.

In my practice, I have often gone beyond the normal expectations. I will do a home visit if someone has lost their license, has a bad back, or suffered a particularly difficult trauma. I have given several free sessions for different circumstances. I have attended weddings, funerals and other meaningful events when requested to do so. I don’t charge for those extra phone calls between sessions or for letters to be written. And I do it because I want to. I do it because it is how my heart beats. Then I do something- less than perfect, or not what is anticipated, or whatever it may be, and the client gets angry or upset, and drops out of therapy. It may or may not be accompanied by a torrent of harsh words. I know professionally that this happens. But regardless of any intellectual knowledge I have, it still knocks the wind out of me. Years of going out of my way and doing all the extras are forgotten because one ounce of upset negates several tons of love and compassion.

Or perhaps it is my family. As a step-mom, I vowed on my wedding day to seek to love my non-biological children as much as any biological children I had. I know there is a difference, but my goal was to minimize that difference as much as was in my power to do so. And anyone that knows me, knows I have kept that vow. Of course I’ve made mistakes and I’m far from perfect. But I have been there. I have sacrificed and interrupted my life innumerable times. I have given on some occasions, far more than any biological family members have given them. I have opened up my home dozens and dozens of times to my husband’s FORMER wife and her family over and over again in order to make things comfortable for the kids. And I don’t mind… that is, until I get hurt or attacked or whatever. Then I wonder if I should make different choices.

I could go on and on but you get the point. I am challenged all the time by my professional peers, counselors that care about me, friends that love me- that perhaps I need to not always go that extra mile. Disappointment and hurt are part of the human condition and are inevitable. But is it possible that it might hurt a little less if I haven’t gone so far beyond the call of duty when it happens?

I don’t have any answers. I just keep wondering and thinking and wondering and thinking about it. But part of me also wonders if it is a futile exercise. The bottom line is, I don’t know if I am capable of living any other way. Sure, we can tweak things a bit, but overall? I’m not sure I know how to relate to the world in any other way but the intense way in which I do. I can provide evidence of ways that I have been a bit more self-protective and held back a bit so as to learn from the lessons I have encountered in my life. But overall? I will probably always love deeply like Henri Nouwen says.

I have met a few people who have chosen NOT to allow themselves to love deeply. They will not risk it. They just won’t. I adore them, but know I will be kept at a certain distance. It makes me sad, but then I have to admit, they seem happier than I am on a consistent basis. They are more alone, but they also don’t experience the aggravation and hurt as often. If I am totally honest, part of me is even envious of them. I wish I could distance myself and protect myself more.

Again, I’ve made some progress. I’m slowly, slowly learning how to be slightly more judicious in how I put myself out there. But the bottom line is, you never know when you invest how it is going to end. Just like with being an advocate, you don’t know when you will be successful so you just have to keep trying. And I will keep trying to take better care of myself, but in the big picture, I will probably keep loving deeply and keep praying for that fruit to show itself. Sometimes I just need a different perspective to see the fruit that is there, but sometimes there just isn’t any there to see. Somehow, I will seek to love deeply, but maybe more smartly too.

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Good and Bad Drunks

You know how people are nice and friendly drunks, or they are mean drunks? Personally, I am an uber-friendly person, and when I have too much drink I get even friendlier. I tell everyone how much I love them, hug them, kiss their cheeks, etc.. On rarer occasions, I’m a sad drunk. That was what happened last time I had too much to drink. I told everybody my sad story. But I’ve never, ever been a mean drunk that I know of. If you remember something I don’t, please send me a private email to remind me…lol 🙂

Anyhow, I’ve discovered lately that there is more than one way to express mania, too. When people are manic, they can go for days without sleep and go on shopping sprees. One person I know of tried to abduct a child in a store while in a manic episode. Obviously, that wasn’t so good. I have a friend who probably has bi-polar disorder. I didn’t put it together for a long time, but once I finally did (after he mentioned he might be actually) it was so obvious to me that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t figured it out.

I had lunch with him today. I told him I thought he was being manic and he nodded his head. But I told him he’s a fun manic. How do I know?  Because he wants to go out to eat. Then he orders enough food for four people. Then he eats only half a portion, or sometimes none at all. Then we take all the food home in a box and it ends up feeding my family.

He asked me if we were going dutch this time, and I told him no. I told him I’d give him ten bucks but I wasn’t splitting the bill. Because I know better now. When he got in the car, I showed him my coupon book. He said no way, he wanted to go to the Outback Steakhouse because they have lunch specials. We got there and he tells me he is going to order for both of us, so I just sit back and watch.

No lunch specials for us. First, he orders a crock of french onion soup for each of us. Then he tells the waitress to just bring the other food and a couple of plates. Of course, you have to order steak when you are at a steakhouse. I expected that. Then he ordered shrimp. Then he threw in a lobster tail. Mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese for sides. Then he decides to add a quesadilla platter in for fun.

It was so much food it was ridiculous. We ate the lobster and shrimp and pretty much all of the rest of it came home with me and fed Colin for dinner. And it cost 70 bucks for lunch. Well, it cost him 60 with my 10 buck contribution. I suggested next time he pick out a coupon place.  We laughed about it. Being manic isn’t truly funny, but at least if you are going to be manic, he’s a nice one. And I’m stuffed.

Other “manics” aren’t always so nice. I’ve recently spent time with someone who, when manic, gets messages from God that she is asked to deliver to those around her. Might be cool except they are usually about why she thinks you are broken and screwed up. She rips you to shreds and then tells you it’s just tough love and she wouldn’t be hurting you if it weren’t for your own good and that she loves you immensely.

That isn’t so nice. And it requires a lot of mental gymnastics. You intellectually understand that a mental illness is at work so you should try not to take it personally. But the “messages” couldn’t be any more personal and go straight for your jugular. Makes it VERY hard to stick around.

So I’m getting an education about lots of things, through more than one venue in my life. I try not to have too much to drink, but if I do, I’m still going to try to be the friendly and nice type. And if I ever come down with a mental illness, I will also try my hardest to not hurt those around me. Not sure how much control you actually have, but I can hope.

Now I’m going to take a nap because I’m stuffed from lunch!

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Successful Failure

Recently, I went to two different professionals for assistance in dealing with the after math of my daughter’s situation. Specifically, I want to know how to handle it when you have given something your all. I mean, you have really gone beyond the call of duty, done more than most people could have possibly done. But… you were still ineffective. In spite of all your knowledge, your fierce heart, and your relentless pursuit, you still weren’t able to make things happen the way they should have happened. Even though I know I was up against a system larger than life and broken to the core, I still felt like a failure. How do you accept defeat?

The first person I talked to was my first spiritual director. Her “stance” was to assume (without knowing many details) that because of my intensity, I probably offended people and overwhelmed them. She said my kids may have asked for my help, but they were probably not prepared for the tsunami that they received. Yes, she actually compared me to a tsunami. Now when I hear that word, I don’t think of anything good. I think of brutal destruction, devastation and death. Holy shit. Could that be my problem? I left with an even heavier heart than I came in with.

Thank goodness I had my session the next day with good ‘ol Scott, my therapist of 15 years. Some may same it’s time to make a change. I vehemently disagree. He not only knows me, but he knows my husband and my children. And he has seen me interact with them dozens of times, even under great distress. I trust his opinion, which is very informed and well-rounded.

Scott said that in no uncertain terms, has he ever experienced me like a tsunami. Even when the other party deserved that kind of response. I show remarkable restraint and patience and seek solutions whenever possible. I’m intense all right, but it’s internal mostly. I am incredibly hard on myself and feel deeply and passionately, which makes me try that 120% when others give up long before that.

Then he gave me something to wrap my head around. He said when he thinks of all that has happened in Georgia with my daughter and her “treatment team” (I use that term loosely), he is reminded of the movie Apollo 13. He said that mission was a failure. No one landed on the moon. Objectives not met. But the fact that everyone came back home alive, was nothing short of a miracle. It was the tenacity and intelligence and passion of a group that never gave up that brought them all home. THAT IS A SUCCESSFUL FAILURE. While the ultimate goal was not reached, those men should be proud as hell of their success.

I’ve thought about that a thousand times since my session and it has helped tremendously. While my daughter is now (in my opinion) mis-diagnosed, on the wrong medicine, cycling through mood swings and symptoms, and yet another medical professional has informed her that her mother is a pain in the butt… and every professional “helping” her has refused to talk with me in spite of her signed release, I can’t consider myself an utter failure. Yes, I was hoping to change the course of her treatment and thus change the quality of her life and my grandchildren’s. That objective was an utter failure.

But damn it, I gave it my best shot. And my best shot is pretty remarkable by most people’s standards. And maybe someone else will be helped by my blogs. And most importantly, my grandson is seeing a counselor at his school. She emails me every week and lets me know how he is. She delivers messages between us and he is now in a self-esteem group which he desperately needs.

SO THERE. I am a successful failure. And I’m slowly becoming ok with that, maybe even proud.

P.S. I politely resigned from spiritual direction. I think I will stick with my beloved Scott.


Southern Summer

Last week, my daughter and grandkids, drove up from Georgia with her best friend, Melinda and three of her kids. The kids were on fall break as they started school the first week in August. Now you know how much I love having a full house and seeing my grandkids. But this was the first time I have also had the pleasure of southern hospitality in my own house.

The last day they were here, my friend Summer came over to see everyone. I was introducing her to Melinda and her daughters and it hit me that they had very similar personalities. They both are unpaid good Samaritans and help people around them tremendously. For example, right before helping my daughter through her hospitalization, Melinda helped a woman escape from a man who had put acid on her pillowcase. If you follow my blog, you know how much Summer has helped me and my family through thick and thin. That is how Melinda came to be dubbed “Southern Summer” and I was sorry I had already changed her name to Melinda in my writing. Melinda would have loved the name Autumn, and that would have fit perfectly with Summer. But alas, Melinda it is.

Her daughter Misty is just shy of her 18th birthday and is more capable and mature than most of the adult women I know. No exaggeration. Her daughter Miranda is 13. I was shocked. I kept telling everyone she was 16 because I thought she was. She is the same age as my Frankie. That just didn’t seem possible. Now I know what they say about boys being way behind girls developmentally, but holy cow. It was really hard to comprehend they were the same age.

Her youngest Natalie, is eight and the same age as my grandson Parker. She would come to the door of the room where I was trying to clean up the tornado-like mess and say, “Sorry Miss Darcy. Can I help you clean up?” And then I would faint. Where did these children actually come from?

I have to admit, I am terribly flattered by all the “yes, ma’am'” responses I got. I know it’s just the way they talk, but I loved it. They also hugged and kissed me several times a day and asked me when I could move to Georgia.

And then there was the cooking. Sausage biscuits and gravy for breakfast. I can’t even begin to tell you what that was like. Melinda laughed at my “Yankee milk” because it was 2%. Nothing but whole milk for them. She laughed when she found the sausage had been put in the freezer. They eat so much sausage in the south, that they never freeze it. She didn’t even know it could be frozen.

Fried green tomatoes and southern fried chicken for dinner. Mashed potatoes with the craziest yummy gravy I’ve ever had. Mmmmm…  I don’t even want to know how much weight I gained while they were here.

There was karaoke night. Miss Melinda used to be a singer by profession. When she took the stage at my little hole in the wall dive bar, the little group of people there went crazy. She was outstanding. And there was that cute southern accent with her, “Ya’all are so kind” statements and that was it. She was our Georgia Peach. And everyone in the place bought her drinks and shots all night long.


She is more my age than my daughter’s age, and I believe we have bonded on our own rites. We initially bonded over the love and concern for my daughter, but now I know we are also kindred spirits. She is of the caliber of my dear Summer. She is my Southern Summer now and her daughters have a very, very deep hook in my heart.

My Emily is very lucky to have her for a best friend. And I am very lucky to have met her, as well as her southern belles. I miss them terribly already!