My defense mechanisms of choice have always been denial and fantasy. If an important situation or person is not to my liking, I can usually spin it or them into line with my fantasy version. I have avoided a lot of misery through the years this way! The collage above captures this pretty well. There, for all to see is my magical child-like self banking on a miracle! (I don’t plan these things.)
In my last blog installment I shared that I am teetering on the edge of a “fiscal cliff” of my own– seeing the pension that was funding my dreams suddenly and mysteriously evaporating before my eyes.
It is only at night now that I sink into bag lady fear. For the most part, I am practicing what I preach and living in the moment. And I still have hope that this has all been a dreadful mistake, or that there is some way to negotiate a better outcome. I also know that law is its own sort of madness, with rules and precedents that aren’t always based on what I think is fair or just. But sometimes life surprises me.
Yesterday this beautiful poem by Marlene Mish arrived by email:
Hope teeters upon the wings
Of your broken heart,
Balancing loneliness and despair.
Hope sits in the hollow stillness
Next to the raw places within you
And lights a small candle.
Hope believes that next time
The story will come out different
And gives you courage to stand
And take a step.
Hope is all there is
When all there was is
Hope teeters upon the edges
Of your wary spirit
That has lost it way too many times
And grabs your collar before
The tears engulf you
And shouts, “You made it through !”
Hope is a distant voice whispering a lullaby
When all others
Scream, “Give up!”
Hope is the last word of God
You hear before you close your eyes,
The only proof that you are not alone.
“You are beautiful, my child.
Why have you forgotten again?”
Hope is the one gift that survived Eden,
The only language of love,
The last promise that won’t be broken,
And yet it teeters
On the edges of things
While you look for answers
Marlene Mish, August 24, 2003
Marlene shared a little bit about the inspiration for this poem:
Today is a good day.
Today I can see clearly that life is a series of ups and downs and that no matter how hopeless things can get, no matter how broken I may feel, I know that the sun will rise at dawn and I have a choice whether to greet it. But that wasn’t always so.
There have been times when I felt defeated by life, defeated by my own choices, defeated by the demons what swirl around in my soul, waiting to take root.
I wrote this poem in 2003 on such a day when sorrow had overtaken me, when defeat was all around me, when I had lost my way. I share it only because it is so hard to remember who we are on such days and I need to remind myself every once in a while that most isolation is self-imposed even though I have always sought out someone to blame.
I have made some progress on this journey, and so I can share a private part of it with others without losing.”
One reader expressed confidence that I would get through this pension thing with grace, and I think of that often. Now that is something to work toward . . . to take on all of life with grace (after a kicking and screaming tantrum, of course.)
I am nothing if not resilient. And though I hate to admit it, I am already teasing out silver-linings.
I spend a lot of time worrying about things that never happen, so when a real calamity strikes; it is unexpected and feels like a surprise attack.
My walkabout threatening calamity struck just before Christmas (and a day before the predicted end of the world.)
First I came down with the flu. Following that, I received a call about my pension. In a bullying way I was informed that the company had made an “administrative error” 10 years ago and I really wasn’t entitled to what I had been receiving — and I, in fact, owed them thousands of dollars. This was news to me!
Someone reminded me that compared to drastic health news; this was nothing — which is true.
But this pension was funding my dream!
I also panicked as I saw security in my old age slipping away.
And it was at this point that I hoped the world really would end the next day.
I hate it when someone suggests that I re-frame terrible things as “opportunities” or calls me “courageous” in these situations. I started to tell myself these things too . . . and then I shut myself up pretty quick.
When calamities happen to me, I just want them to go away. This is childish I know, but I would really rather be the lucky girl who doesn’t get the chance to BE “courageous”, or the one who doesn’t GET “opportunities” over and over again.
Heaven help me … I want to be Paris Hilton!
Calamities like this knock me off my high horse and bring me down to earth pretty fast where I have to face all the dirty, grimy, frightening . . . and real things in life.
I am sharing this because I want to be a real person in this blog, including all the good, bad and ugly parts of the journey. There are many beautiful spiritual aspects to taking a walkabout . . . until there aren’t. And if I am staying in integrity, I need to incorporate the calamities into my story.
After the phone call, I spent two sleepless nights and two full days in my pajamas — sick, panicky, sniveling and mourning the loss of my dream. Visions of sugar plums turned into visions of bag ladies in my head. Some dissociated part of me watched as I cycled through shock, grief, fear, anger and then back around again.
In a lucid moment I also contacted a good lawyer.
On day three I took a shower, got dressed and went for a walk. I felt clear-eyed, grounded, and determined. I decided that, at all costs, I had to hang on to my dream. So I will.
I doubt I will ever validate this thing as an “opportunity”, but I will admit to arriving at a new plateau in awareness of the inner demons that were pouring out of me. This thing was a surprise attack, re-traumatizing me in my most vulnerable spot.
As a pre-schooler I experienced my first life changing surprise attack. I was molested and terrorized by a relative when my mother was out of the house. This was not a good start to life. I compare it to the sound of a gong. There is the strike of mallet to metal (the abuse) and then the impact radiating out like sound waves for the rest of one’s life. There is no turning back the clock to innocence or safety. Hopefully you heal, but meanwhile there is this subterranean force of trauma impacting your relationships, your health, and your happiness.
With this recent calamity that’s where I went – the place where terrible things can happen to me — where I will be hurt, abandoned, left alone, not heard, not seen; I will die. These are the places from my childhood of loss and abuse.
I let this wound “speak” for awhile and now I have to put distance between it and I. I am ready to move on and tackle this most injustice pension matter as an adult.
I am only one person (and her lawyer) against a large multinational corporation with retirement fund coffers in the billions.
As I have done my whole life, I will do what I can to bring about justice in an unjust world – both for the outer world and for the inner world of my wounded child.
“There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion”
― C.G. Jung
Daybreak, Thanksgiving morning 2012 . . .
I stand for a moment at my window taking in dawn’s red sky, the streetlamp still glowing below. I can’t remember if this is a delight or a warning?
And then it comes to me . . . ah oh . . . it’s a warning.
I refused to accept it. I had planned a nice meaningful Thanksgiving of solitude – candles, mindfulness and gratitude. If ever I was to take a spiritual by-pass from the real world – this was it!
The night before, however, I had been haunted by dreams of Thanksgivings past. As I took in the sunrise warning, I knew that my internal alarm clock — now chiming Thanksgiving o’clock — wasn’t going to let me sleep through family drama quite so easily.
My dreams weren’t even about my close family. I dreamed of my former in-law family – a group of people I was well and truly done with – or so I thought.
It still bothered me that I was never accepted or valued by my ex-husband’s family.
My ex and I were a case of “opposites attract”. He was an outgoing extrovert from a large, Midwestern, Irish-Catholic family — and a frat boy to boot. I was a quiet introvert from the West-coast and my family had mostly disintegrated. I was bookish, intellectual, and had a small circle of close friends– and to boot also, I worked for Planned Parenthood. Partying, beer and football figured large in my ex’s life. For me it was social causes, soulful conversation and reading.
My ex was drawn to my intelligence and depth. I was impressed with his confidence and ease with people.
You can see where this is going.
Holiday visits with his family were rough. I worked hard to ingratiate myself, but I just couldn’t gain a foothold. His family wasn’t unkind, but they kept their distance. Gatherings took place in the small familial home, which would become crammed with the six grown children, their spouses and kids, cigarette smoke, alcohol, and noise. I would escape to bed early. They didn’t understand. I began to suspect that something was wrong with me, and my ex was more than happy to believe that also.
Now 10 years post divorce these people, who had been in my life for over 20 years, no longer talk to me.
So they come to me in my dreams.
A friend suggested I imagine the difficult people in my life surrounded by angels and held safely and lovingly high up in the sky — well away from me.
So this Thanksgiving, instead of putting my in-law family in an imaginary hand-basket to hell — I gave the angel version a shot.
This healing must have been ripe for the picking, because I started to feel myself emerge a bit from the foggy, pain filled maze I had wandered for so long. My perception moved from dream state to 3D. Both my internal and external vision became sharper and clearer. My surroundings and and body sense solidified. Even colors were brighter and more saturated.
Everything seemed simpler and made sense.
No one was to blame, including myself, and I felt compassion for the orphan I was — for my hopeless quest to complete myself with an extrovert and a family who could not live up to my idealized wishes.
That day I began to separate myself out from an enmeshment with these people who I saw now as ordinary people — maybe not “my people” — but people who I had made placeholders for my pain.
Damning them would damn me.
Putting the demonized version of them in the care of angels also held my demonized parts safe, and I was better able to find may way out of the fog and confusion.
I saw also that this was self-compassion.
About this time a quote showed up on my Facebook wall:
“If we don’t embrace our confusion, we remain trapped between worlds—on the one hand, old ways of being ready to die; on the other, new ways of being eager to be born. By holding the space for all the possibilities at once, clarity emerges on its own terms. The bridge from one side to the other is confusion. We must learn how to cross it on the way home.” Jeff Brown
So this holiday season I give thanks for red skies, for parts ready to die and be reborn, and for that blessed confusing bridge and its crossing. I also celebrate my increasing ability to live in my own skin, angels holding the space for my pain, the fog’s lifting, and my own two feet — now planted firmly on the planet earth.