Monday, December 20, 2010

Making My Own Noise

    You know the old philosophical question, "If a tree falls down in a forest and there is nobody to hear it, will it still make a sound?" I have been thinking about a form of that question as it pertains to my life and divorce.
    One of things I miss about my marriage is having a witness for my life. It was comforting in some way to to have someone who is there to share what I have done, where I have been.
     I know I have to be careful not to romanticize this too much, because the last few years I'm not sure how much of my life my ex-husband actually paid attention to;  and if I'm to be very honest, how much I want remembered as I'm sure some events were not some of my proudest moments.
    But there is something  to be said about sharing your life with that one special person. Sometimes that in itself is  the catapult for starting a relationship and  sometimes it becomes the the glue for keeping it together. This is wonderful and great when its healthy. But sometimes I think people start relationships with the wrong person to fill that emptiness in their lives, to have a witness because need validation. Sometimes, too, people continue with relationships that otherwise aren't worth continuing  because of how much they have shared in the past and a continued need to have somebody by their side as they slug it out in the present and future.  How many marriages and friendships  continue because of a shared history or for the need to  someone there to share the present and future even if it comes without support or encouragement?
    Is this "need" to have an "other" by your side something hard-wired into human beings, or something we learned along the way? Is this the basic human need for companionship or something we are told makes our life valuable? Is a life more valuable if it's not shared with others? Does it make a noise on its own?
    I say yes, it does. Sort of. It depends on your definition of sharing. We share our lives in a variety of ways, we share our wisdom, we share our journey. When we humans do that,  it does make life -- ours and others -- more  valuable than keeping everything locked up tight.
    Where it gets itchy is when we start to think our lives are less worthy because there isn't someone there every step of the way as a witness. In other words, we are led to believe our lives haven't made a noise if we do not have a life companion,  If we are not part of a couple. To have someone, other than yourself say, yes that happened to you, this happened. To believe that the magical number two changes us from invisible to valuable without the realization we just added one more of the same number.
     Without a doubt, having someone to stand witness to your life can make the journey sweeter and richer. I've experienced that and it is to be celebrated. Today,  I have a son whom I share my a lot of my life with right now, and yes, that enhances my life. But I am acutely aware that there is an expiration date on sharing my life with my son. While I hope we remain close as he grows older, he will go out into the world and it would be unhealthy and inappropriate to expect him to share my everyday life as he does now when he's little.
    So I don't have that life companion that married couples have. Does that mean my life doesn't make a sound? That is somehow is innately less valuable? Value is just the power you place on something or someone. What's important for me to realize that my life, made of precious and mundane moments, is only as valuable I make it. No one else can cherish my life more than I. And no one take take the power away from its value either without my permission.
    That is my goal and challenge for the new year. To share my life with others, to be sure. But more importantly, to hear my own noise and feel it is enough that I, and I alone, hear it and bear witness to it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bad Days and Dollar Stores

Everybody has bad days. It is inevitable. The alarm clock doesn't go off and coffee grinds get into your morning cup and its off to the races.
    I have been having a particularly difficult year and when I have a bad day, its a doozy.  I get the feeling lately that I'm God's plaything. I have been exasperated to the point of exhaustion. Yes, I will admit I get angry at God and throw up my hands, "Why?!  Don't I already have enough?"
    I hate that saying: Whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger. If you need proof that that's a bunch a hogwash, spend some time with a stroke patient.
     If that adage is true than I have played my cards wrong. Instead of being a capable, independent and strong woman I should have become a mincing delicate flower fainting from the "vapors", so God wouldn't seek me out to heap the challenges on me I am somehow designed to handle.
    This past week my son was sick. His father is falling off the wagon more regularly lately so was less than no help, in fact, he was a nuisance.  I nursed my son, cleaned up vomit, wiped his nose and and he got better. And, of course, then I got sick.        
     Meanwhile, the week ran into the weekend and yard work was beckoning. The leaves are piled in the yards and needed taken care of before it snows. This was a six-hour job I wasn't up to, so  I used precious funds and paid someone to do it for me. The yard looked great when he was done. 20 lawn bags filled to the top.I felt better about spending the money as I was feeling very achy.  I had a hot drink and went to bed.
     In morning, I awoke with my throat on fire, my head stuffed with cotton and then looked outside and saw that some miscreants had dumped half the bags out on the lawn and porch. Why? 
    After cleaning that up, I found out my ex is teetering on getting himself evicted from his parents house for his continued drinking. If that were to happen, there goes my son's relationship with his father, another crises he would have to handle.
     And yes, I hear those of you out there saying he's better off without his drunken father, but I'll tell you this: My son and his father love each other. My son is very aware of his father's illness. His father is deeply flawed, but who he hurts most is himself.  Is my son better off not having a relationship at all? I truly don't think so. When we got divorced, that was son's biggest fear that he wouldn't see his daddy anymore. Yes, Alcoholism is rough stuff and its not something that tops my wish list for what I want in my nine-year-old's life,  but I can't withhold reality from him and I can't withhold his dad. My son is adores his dad when sober, and avoids him when he's not. He knows how to use a phone and his grandparents are there to fill in any gaps of neglect that can happen if his dad falls off the wagon.
    I also found out that if my ex is allowed to stay at his parents house, they will be leaving on vacation half-way between my son's next scheduled weekend with his dad.  The weekend I had a Christmas party to go to. A  rare, adults-only affair that I have been looking forward to with unusual glee.
    Uncle already! I have enough. I've proven enough that I'm strong. God, if You are trying to teach me something, I promise you I can learn without all these negative distractions.
    Last night I got down on my knees and begged God to send me something good. Today in mail I received a $20 gift card for a dollar store. I had to laugh. That's about how the balance of good/bad is going in my life. Bad Stuff: Drunken ex, hooligans, sickness, cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night, poverty, uncertainty, despair. Good Stuff: A dollar store spree. Yes, God is funning me, but it's  better than a kick in the ass.  I'll take it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nosy or Noble? What's your business and what's not....

There's a show on television  I'm fascinated with. It's called, "What would you do?"  The premise features actors displaying morally questionable behavior in public. The public's response, or lack of, is filmed. The goal is for someone to step in and when that happens it is celebrated. When it doesn't it's explored.
    Yes, it verges on the cheesy reality t.v. side, but I think its hold on me is  because lately I've been thinking about our judgment on what is considered something worthy of moral outcry and what is not. When is it okay to cry "foul" and when is it better to say, "mind your own business?"
    In the Serenity Prayer that serves as the conscience of such groups as Al Anon, it says, "Grant me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can."
    Usually this serves as a reminder that you can't change others, nor should you try. That you can only change yourself, your own behavior and attitudes. Which I totally understand (and fail to successfully incorporate into my life way too often).     But there is a lot of gray space there. If someone is being hurt and your intervention or voice isn't going to change that someone getting hurt, does that mean its wise to be silent?
    It all comes down to what you expect to change.  For example, if a drunken man is at a bar with a young child, your voice and actions can change the man driving that child anywhere, but there is very little chance it going to change whether or not the man gets drunk again.
    If a person is being bullied because of his race, religion or sexual persuasion, you are probably not going to change the bully's attitude and prejudice by speaking up, but you can change the acceptance of the bullying.
    Too often we don't speak up because we think it won't change anything. It does change things, but you have to change your expectations of what will change. Forget trying to change the person. Change the environment in which that person operates. 
    I have written before about the bully's universal defect of not minding his or her business and that is correct. It is not anybody's business how people look, talk, or who they love or what they believe as long as it doesn't directly negatively affect your life -- and "directly" is the key word here because it doesn't count if someone's lifestyle negatively affects you internally--that's your business, not theirs.
    I'm talking about actual interruptions into your life. For example, if someone doesn't agree with your politics fine, that may make you uncomfortable, but it doesn't directly affect your life. That's their business. Someone protests your politics on a public street, yes, internally uncomfortable, but still its your problem and their business. That is not to say you shouldn't express your beliefs and disagreement, appropriately, if you choose.  If  that someone makes threatening calls to you or prevents you from going to work, school, church, that affects your life. They are no longer minding their own business. They are minding yours. They are bullying you.
    Speaking out against cruelty or potentially harmful situations is not butting into someone else's business. It is our business. It's your business, and mine.
    We stand by all too often and shake our heads at the state of our town, our country, our world. History has shown us that when this happens, the most amazing atrocities can happen.
    Speak up and speak out.  Your voice may be lonely, but not for long.


Monday, October 25, 2010

My lost tribe

     A recurrent theme with me since my divorce is this feeling of losing my tribe. I'm not sure why this feeling is so pronounced now because my circumstances didn't dictate some of the fallout that normally happens in a breakup. I didn't lose mutual friends. Yes, I have lost touch with some family members from my ex's side, but I'm still friendly with those I love and even socialize with them on occasion.
    I think it's the feeling of fitting in somewhere unconditionally. I have a wonderful family of my own, but we don't live very close together so visits, etc., are manipulated and planned. My ex-husband's family was large and near enough that gatherings were often and big and taken for granted. I'm glad my son still gets to experience that, because I miss it very much.
      I didn't like everybody who attended these family events and I'm sure there were members who found me a pain in the ass. There were times when I actually resented going there so often, because of various reasons from boredom of the doing the same thing to finding it unpleasant due to the family dynamics of the moment.
    But that's what belonging to a tribe is all about: Acceptance.  Even when I was ready to throttle someone, I never felt out of place or unwelcome. Neither did the person I wanted to throttle.  There was a grudging acceptance, that no matter how unpleasant or undeserving a person in the tribe was, they still were welcome for dinner.  I felt  comfortable, never had to put on airs and I didn't realize at the time how wonderful it is to have a place to go and be yourself and know you were welcomed for any holiday or weekend.
    I know a lot of what I'm feeling comes with the territory. It's the transition of everything being new and having to find my new soft place to fall. But, now, more than ever, its what I need, and I just don't have the resources right now to make it happen for myself.  It is onerous to me to call and invite and arrange. I can only let down my guard with my closet friends. Even the simplest event is painful for me to organize right now and any rejection is brutal and just underscores the "lost tribe" feeling.
    I don't mind spending time alone. I enjoy it-- and sometimes prefer it in fact. That I am such a private person and am choosy about who I let in close, makes this even more difficult. But I do like to feel like I belong, as I'm sure everyone does.  I like to feel like I contribute something to a group, that my presence is wanted and needed.
    I understand why people who have been rejected from their families because of their sexual orientation or other silly familial un-met expectation, form such cohesive social groups. I understand why Al Anon is so important to many of its members. It has become important to me, though it doesn't work for me socially. 
     So how does one go about making a new groove for oneself? How do you get other people out of their grooves/ruts to allow you to fit in with them?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I'm really feeling it

     "It" being the divorce. The enormity of it all.
     The human body is wonderful in how it protects you. When I first separated, I only felt relief. I basked in the ability to rest easily and go about my workaday life without the constant unwelcome interruptions  that had become my marriage.
    Then I didn't really feel much for awhile. I was kind of numb. I did all the right things. I exercised and socialized and called friends and spent lots of time with my son. But I had a hard time being present in the moment. My mind was elsewhere and where that elsewhere was, I don't know.
    So I'm at the six month mark of my divorce. And I feel it. The sadness. The overwhelming sense of loss. I want to take a magic wand and wish it all away. I want to take us back to when we were happy together. Could it have gone differently? Could I have changed the course if I tried? I know from Al Anon when it comes to alcoholism you can't cause it, cure it or control it. Still I wonder. I didn't recognize it for a long time and I didn't handle things very well. If I had been attending Al Anon long ago, maybe....but then why would I have been attending Al Anon before I knew my husband was an alcoholic?
    This man was the love of my life. He still is. Or rather, the memory of who he was, is. In many ways, it feels like a death. People tell me I'll be happy again. I know I will, in some ways, but I can't even fathom being happy with another man again. Romance was a big part of my life and very important to me and now it feels like I have to sever that part off myself.
    Every major adult event in my life was shared with this man, from graduating college to giving birth. How do I reconcile my wonderful memories with the present? Will I someday be able to enjoy the memory of a terrific lover and friend without the bitterness of what happened afterward?
    I know that whatever I'm feeling right now is what I should be feeling at this point and time.  It just seems that everything, from getting through the day to remembering a past Christmas is just so damned hard right now. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Bully Paradox

     I have just read the heartbreaking story about the Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after two fellow students secretly taped his sexual activity.  Recently a teenage girl killed herself after months of taunting from her classmates in school and on the internet. What they have in common, besides unbelievable despair, was a bully.
    These tender young human beings were bullied for being who they are. Bullied because they were different or misunderstood. They were feared because of these differences. Differences that caused the bully no harm, but frightened them nonetheless.
     I was recently  the victim -- or should I say survivor -- of a bully. I certainly didn't have an experience as heinous or insidious as these unfortunate young people had, but it did get me thinking a lot about the phenomenon.
    Bullies have been around since schoolyards were invented, and they all have two things in common: They all misuse some sort of power for evil and they seem incapable of minding their own business.
    Usually the power is something pretty mundane that they didn't need to work very hard at, like physical strength or unearned money or access to technology. 
    I'm not talking about the kind of power that comes from maximizing your  God-given gifts.  The well-educated CEO of a successful business who has the respect and loyalty of his or her's employees is powerful.  But that person uses that power for positive effect. That person is a leader, not a bully.  Leaders do not take advantage of weakness, but rather encourage and bring out the power within others.
    Bullies use their power --- however cheap --  to hurt others, to get them to do things or make them feel things, so they, the bullies feel even more powerful. They target people weaker than themselves in some area. The power may be physical,  as in the stereotypical dim-witted, thick-necked high school senior who hazes the 90-pound freshman the first day of school. Or the power may be, like in my case, economical.
     Cyber bullying is something new a lot of young people are suffering through. Technology can give even the dullest and dimmest power. In this day and age, where everyone has access to the internet or cell phones or web cams, the  misuse of technology can do great harm. Images and messages can instantly be telegraphed to thousands. There is no editorial oversight, no organizational ethics to govern the misuse and little consequence. We've all heard countless stories of high school cliques  who target some unpopular classmate with poison emails or texts.
     In the case of the Tyler Clementi,  he was secretly recorded  in a private moment and then these sleazy bullies spread that moment over the internet.  The misuse of technology to humiliate, ostracize and slander people is the tool of choice for  children (and adults) who would be otherwise powerless.
    So bullying is about the misuse of power. But it's also about boundaries. There would an elimination of ALL bullying -- 100 percent --  if people just minded their own business. It was certainly not minding their own business when Tyler Clementi's classmates planted a secret web cam to record him. It was none of their business who he slept with. It was  not their business to care who he slept with. It was none of their damn business period.
    So what causes these awful people to stick their noses where they don't belong? Small lives and brains. It's that simple. Why else would another person's habits, beliefs, concerns, looks, etc. frighten and challenge them so?
     Which gets to the crux of the bully paradox. They terrorize others because they can't handle their own fear.
    As far as the root cause for the misuse of power. Well, you don't have to have a psychology degree to know it stems from low self-esteem. Some people  can't feel important unless someone else is diminished. They can't feel they are a winner unless there is a clear loser.
    My heart goes out to these kids and young people who were so viciously attacked. They must have felt so alone to end their own lives. It pains me to think that they may have, on some level, felt the bullies were right about them  in some way. If they only knew how many people are on their side and how wrong these bullies are. I was fortunate to realize in my own small experience that while this person may have economic power over me -- for now-- they have no power to make me feel badly about myself.
      I am sure, had these young people survived this horrendous attack on their personal boundaries, they would have grown into  exemplary fellow travelers.  Because there is a remarkable thing that sometimes happens to intelligent, sensitive people  if they are pushed around as a child or even as an adult: They learn deep compassion and empathy. The kindest, most life-affirming  people sometimes spring from the darkest backgrounds. The Holocaust survivor who gives inspirational speeches. The disabled child  who grows up to mentor and give hope to other disabled children.  Mr. Fred Rogers, arguably the gentlest man of the past 50 years, was bullied unmercifully as a child.
     The bully is sick. His sickness flourishes because his or her mental capacity is limited. They cannot see beyond what is shown them. If they are pushed, they push somebody else. The suffering is wasted. They learned nothing.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keeping score

     The fact that life is not fair is pretty apparent to anybody who played dodge ball in grade school or noticed that the prom queen was not only gorgeous but could execute a perfect back flip. 
    So life is not fair. That is not to say that we shouldn't strive for fairness in our dealings with mankind. I don't think the inherent unfairness of man's experience on planet Earth is a green light to tread ruthlessly upon our fellow travelers. 
    Fairness is one thing. Score keeping, well that's a whole different animal. To make sure the small kid at your son's birthday party gets a share of the pinata candy is one thing. What I'm talking about is score keeping.
     We all do this. I do this. Some of it is social etiquette (you reciprocate a dinner invitation, for example)  some of it is decency (writing a thank you note for a gift or nice gesture), but it can get out of hand when used to keep a running tally of what is owed to whom when it comes to people you care about it. Whether it's keeping score of favors or phone calls or insults, this is treading in dangerous waters.
    I'll bet the vast majority of family feuds and broken friendships can be boiled down to this one insidious character defect. Yes, it is defect as is anything you believe, hold onto or do,  that doesn't make you feel peaceful. And score keeping is sure to mess with your serenity. ..."I'm not watching her kid again, she never watches mine"..."why doesn't he host the holidays once in awhile"..."why do I always have to travel to her house"....We can rationalize away a lot of bad behaviors on our part or keep a lot of good stuff from entering our lives, just but letting that score keeping tape run in our heads.
    Now I'm not saying you have to force relationships that aren't enjoyable to you any longer or be a doormat and say yes to every unpleasant task asked of you.  But what about the hurtful word tossed your way you feel must be answered in like fashion? Or the invitation turned down because you've been feeling neglected?
    The thing about score keeping is it takes a lot of energy to keep track of that score. And your score may be different than others which results in fights over who, indeed, is the truly injured party. Sometimes if your perception is that the score is wildly out of your favor, there is nothing another can do to even it up for you. A lot of fun and love is sacrificed for nurturing resentments and blame.
    How different our lives would be if we  approached each moment with people with fresh eyes.
    What if we just let the scoreboard go black and just played the game with joy,  peace  and love as our only motivations?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Worry Causes Illness

This worries me.
     I am a slow learner, I guess. After a  misspent youth full of cigarettes, late nights and fuzzy mornings,  I started to take my health seriously and at the ripe age of 46 I am in better health than ever, (though not better shape).  While far from   fanatic, I exercise, eat my veggies, take my vitamins, get enough sleep and take it easy on the fast food and wine (most of the time).
    My downfall is stress. I even stress about what stress can do to my health.
    I truly hate being sick. I am  borderline obsessive about getting a flu shot at the first possible opportunity, I pop echinacea and garlic and herbs and vitamin C at the first sign of a cold and keep to  a vigilant vitamin regimen to prevent everything from PMS to anemia. But until recently, while I don't take my health for granted, I didn't worry too much about getting really sick.
    That's changed.  I lie in bed worrying about getting sick. I worry about what would happen if I would get really sick. What if I died? I picture what my son's life would be like. Control freak I am, it drives me crazy to think that not only would I not be able to watch him grow,  but I wouldn't be the one in charge of running interference with teacher, making him wear a sweater and eat his vegetables.
     I know he would end up living with his dad and that scares me. His father loves him to distraction, but here's a question for the ages: Is love truly enough?  On good days his father struggles with the demands of adulthood. He may (sometimes) get our son to brush his teeth and do his homework, but he is more of a playmate. On bad days, he can't take care of himself let alone a child.
    Now I know worry is a useless exercise. And  I understand enough about cognitive therapy to know that dark thoughts feed on themselves and have to be fought and replaced with positive, more realistic ones. Like,  I am healthy right now. I could remind myself that I recently had a check up and my numbers and tests came out A-Ok. I could also point out to myself  that statistically  it is less likely that I will pre-decease my chain smoking, perpetually malnourished ex-husband on his alcoholic merry-go-round of recovery and relapse.
    Still worry sits on my shoulder and whispers thoughts that convince me every freckle is a melanoma and every heart ache the beginning of angina.  Vigilance is required to not allow that train of thought to run away with my serenity.
   We all have to be reminded to be gentle on ourselves. I realize that a lot of this worry comes with being responsible for someone else.   Because when it comes down to it, I'm the Mother. The buck stops here. I'm "it".  Is that an awesome, mind-blowing, overwhelming realization? Yes. Yes it is. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This is my journey

This blog is a tool to help navigate my journey through the  challenges of divorce, co-dependency, single motherhood and near-poverty during the '10s.

    The past few years have marked the age of crises, both epic and personal in scope. It seems everywhere you turn there it is that word, "crisis."  We are in a worldwide economic crisis, the environment is in crisis, there are political crises galore. I am in  crisis.
    "Eat snakes"  is a term I stumbled upon serendipitously one day researching something else.
     It comes from an obscure play by post-Shakespearean playwright John Fletcher. It means renewal. It is thought that the phrase was derived  from a snake shedding its skin. There is also speculation that some thought eating such a creature would result in new-found youth. Whatever. Leave it to me to name a blog about renewal and change based on an obsolete idiom.
     I like the phrase because it's a directive and most of my life doesn't have such clear instructions. Not that I will eat snakes, I mean, there is a limit.
    So let me introduce myself and why I'm writing this blog. I am a women in mid-life dealing with the upheaval of divorce, recovering from codependency to an alcoholic and trying to raise my son in a decent and loving home.
    I have significant  challenges.  I was with the same man for 25 years which means pretty much my entire adult life. We were married for 12 years.  This relationship was a very good one in all areas for a very long time. Then it wasn't. In any area.
    My ex is an alcoholic. He doesn't fit the typical profile of a drunk. He didn't come from alcoholic parents. He drank quite moderately or not at all for most of his life. He didn't have a life-long struggle with the stuff: His new addiction was the cornerstone of a raging, epic mid-life crisis.  I am recently divorced.
    I am raising an elementary school-age son who is intelligent, friendly, sunny  and quick-tempered.  I am the sole financial support for my son. I am a journalist underpaid to the point of near-poverty.  I live in metro Detroit where the recession is on steroids. I owe exactly twice as much on my mortgage as the market price for my home. My car is 10 years old. You get the picture.
    I have blessings. My son's smile melts my heart and his intelligence fills it with pride.  My ex adores our son and spends as much time as he can with him.  Ninety-nine times out of 100 he gets it together for our son. When he's not well, (i.e. high) he's not abusive. He lives with his folks  whom I trust and adore, and provide a safety net when he's not well.   I have managed to keep my home in a neighborhood where foreclosures are the norm. I have a job I enjoy despite the pay, and am able to pay my bills. I am healthy as is my son. I have family and friends. 
    This is my journey. As my friend Stacy says, I'm putting new groves into my brain. Making those grooves hurt, but are necessary for my survival in the new world I have found myself in. I hope along the way, you visit and maybe we can learn something together.