Friday, November 10, 2017

It's OK To Laugh - Especially at Yourself or Death (and Sex) Part Two

By age 90, my grandmother, not infrequently, was asked, "What's the secret to living a long life."  I remember her saying, "You've got to have a sense of humor and faith in God."

Myself, I'm a big believer in listening to old people.  Not because oldness makes people necessarily wise, but they have a potentially better shot at being wise.  (But that makes me think of a young client I once worked with - when I asked her something like, "Is it one of your hopes to gain wisdom?"  She replied, "Not really.")

I don't tend to analyze humor, but I often have to answer the question, "Isn't your job depressing?"  And I am then forced to think about why my job isn't depressing and why I think my clients don't find meeting with me depressing, and I think it's because I try to have a sense of humor.

My friend and colleague, Heather Raznick and I gave a presentation a few years back on using humor and play as therapeutic interventions in sex therapy and grief therapy.  We had the best time looking for video clips to illustrate how humor gets to something true in both of these areas where people often feel so heavy and serious.  Here's my favorite video clip about grief from an old episode of Roseanne (thanks to my friend, Ellen, for directing me to this).

There is a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world, and it's the whole shebang - personal, political, sociological, psychological, scientific.  It's oppression, disease, abuse, death, violence, fear, war.

I know many people who are 'fighting the good fight' to try to leave the world kinder, safer, and more free than when they got here.  I also know many people who are fighting the good fight just in their own lives- trying to suss through deteriorating relationships, dealing with a child with special needs, coping with a medical diagnosis, grieving the death of the person they love most.  In all of this, I notice that some people keep a sense of humor and some people don't.  Maybe some people never had it to begin with.  Some people can laugh, but they can't laugh at themselves.

Several weeks ago, Saturday Night Live satirized this impulse in a HILARIOUS (to me) 'advertisement' for Levi's Woke Jeans. Levi's Woke

The longer I live, the more I am suspecting that a key to a happier life is the ability to genuinely laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously.  I don't mean being self-deprecating.  I mean cultivating a way to hold in your brain two opposing things at the same time:  You are important, you are meaningful, you are beloved AND you are one thread in the fabric of a vast universe.

Basically, you and I are totally awesome and totally absurd at the same time.  I think that's why the Roseanne clip is so funny - the absurdity of Jackie yelling into the phone "Dad's dead!"  It's so jarring and true and the fact that she couldn't make herself understood!

Absurdity is it!  Have you ever explained to your child 'where babies come from?'  Then you know exactly what I mean - that's why sex is so often funny.  The fact that babies are made from a penis going in a vagina is totally weird.  And when kids learn this fact, they get it immediately.  The thing they don't understand fully and maybe we adults don't often let ourselves get it either, is that it's totally miraculous too - it feels good and you can MAKE A HUMAN LIFE.  Holy shit!  That's so amazing and weird.  And to my point...just like us. 

I remember one of my hospice patients, Hattie.  An African-American lady in her 80s with a strong faith and sense of humor.  Her biggest complaint about dealing with her late stage cancer, was her constipation, which caused her pain.  She said she was not afraid to die and I believed her (I didn't believe many people when they said that...and not many people said it.)

When I would meet with her, she would sit on her bedside commode, totally unashamed.  She'd try to poop and she'd hand me a can of Glade air freshener and we would talk.  When she farted she would giggle and order me to "Spray.  Spray."  We laughed together.  It was absurd and necessary and tender and true to be together in such an intimate way.

I know another lady who doesn't take herself too seriously, but who is seriously awesome.  She is in her mid 70s and has completed two pilgrimages in the past two years - hundreds of miles trekking through Europe.  She told me the story of a years ago road trip with her daughter to Indiana.  They are from Missouri and they spoke in Southern accents the whole way.  Switching between a Georgia drawl and a Tennessee twang.  When she told me this story, we laughed so hard!  This is exactly something I would do with my kids too.

I have a part of me that is sorta Buddhist.  My sorta Buddhist part knows that a lot of our seriousness is ego.  In my experience our egos lead us to many un-truths where we get stuck - our ego tells us things like: 1) I am the one that has to do x, y, or z; 2) This person's actions are about me; 3) I am the problem; 4) I know the way things are supposed to be.  Try talking in a Southern accent or British.  I think you might find it helps put your ego in perspective.

Ok, folks.  It's Friday.  We've witnessed another week of news - the aftermath of another mass shooting, an election, more revelations about famous men abusing women and men with less power.  We've worried about our kids, our parents, our marriages.  We've had tough conversations.  We've been disappointed.  We've been pleased.  People have done surprising and kind things in our lives.  We have given hugs and celebrated birthdays.  This is life.  It is big and it is little.  We are important and we are silly.  May we do serious work and hold it all with a little lighter touch.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

You've Probably Been Wondering When I Would Write About Sex...

I wonder what it would be like if sex and power weren't all mixed up together.

In the wake of #metoo and Harvey Weinstein, and also - my life - I've been thinking about the relationship, as it exists, between these two things, and I've been wondering what it would be like if we would or could unmix them.

Before you go on...if you listen to This American Life on NPR, you will hear Ira Glass, the host, sometimes say something like this, "This podcast will acknowledge that human beings have sex, so if you are listening with children, you may want to know that beforehand."  Now this is my warning for my readers (who could include some of my clients, not to mention my parents, and their friends - oh boy!):  "This blogpost will acknowledge that I have had sex, so if you are a sensitive reader who would rather not know that, stop reading now and put all of this out of your mind."

All right here we go.  Sex.  Power.  Sex. Mystery.  Death.  Can I bring it all together?  Read on:

1)  From time immemorial, bodies have been bought and sold as commodities.  This happens blatantly in prostitution and slavery, this happens in pornography, this happens, basically, in Hollywood, and it happens in our personal lives.  It happens in blatant ways, and more subtle.

2)  What leads human beings to look at other human beings as commodities to be bought and sold?  Objectification.  Which means "Degrading someone to the status of mere object."  Human beings have the capacity to take away the humanity of any one they see as less than.  This happens on the individual level, but it also happens at the level of group and society.  For example, a spoon is an object that is very useful to me.  I own a spoon. I like having a spoon to eat my soup.  If I get frustrated for whatever reason, I can throw my spoon against the wall and not really feel too bad.  I can easily get another spoon if that one breaks.  It would be too bad that I got angry, but whatever.  If I see women as a tool and women are useful to me, I feel the same way if I throw a woman against the wall or rape her or grab her in the crotch or whatever.  It's like, 'oh, well.  Get another.'  And not to mention that I would not imagine that the object/woman would have feelings about being thrown/grabbed/raped.

Overall, when we think of people as objects and treat them as objects -  whether for sex, for love, for money, for power, for labor - we dehumanize other people and if there is such a thing as evil, I think that's it.

Now, here's where things start to get confusing:  Though I don't believe bodies should be a commodity, in some ways, sex can be a commodity in ways that are realistic to our human experience.  Kind of like, we are not all 'making love' all the time, sometimes we are engaging in a recreational activity, sometimes we meeting a physiological desire, sometimes it's all a little animalistic.  Sometimes, there can be a supply and demand quality to it, that may or may not be unethical.

For example, what if Jane and Bert are married and Jane knows Bert might be more likely to vacuum the house if they played ping pong first.  She might play some ping pong to increase the chances that he vacuums.

Or, what if two people both like to play ping pong.  And Joe says to Sally - 'hey, if you play ping pong with me, I think I can introduce you to some people who can help you advance in your career.'

There are a couple elephants in the room when it comes to sex as a commodity:

Power.  In the scenarios above one has a clear power dynamic and one, maybe, has a more subtle power dynamic.  Joe has access to some things that are good for people in general, not just Sally.  Mostly career/financial improvement.  Sally has access to something he wants, too.  There are some Sally's in the world who might think - 'hey...he uses me for ping pong.  I use him for access to power/money/success.  Cool.  Good trade.'  There are more Sally's in the world who are like, 'shit.  I don't want to play ping pong with him, but I'm afraid to say no.  What if I he talks bad about me?  What if he uses his influence to make it so I can't get a job?' 

If and only if Sally sees ping pong as a commodity in the SAME WAY Joe does, I guess it's no harm no foul??  Only Sally can say for sure.

Here is an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review on this whole Weinstein deal, but also about how power seems to diminish the human capacity for empathy. Sex, Power, and the Systems that Enable Men Like Harvey Weinstein

But in the scenario of Jane and Bert...well, who has power?  We don't know unless we are in that marriage.  There may be power dynamics at work, but I also think there is an issue of...

Consent.  In the scenarios above Jane is manipulating Bert - it would be a better relationship if Jane would own her shit - 'hey, if I play ping pong, will you vacuum?'   Bert could say, 'I'll just vacuum.  Ping pong should be about fun and not bartering.'  Or, he could say, 'Great idea.  Isn't it fun that we figured out a win/win?'

A friend and colleague of mine, Heather Raznick, is a sex and relationship therapist in St. Louis and she says that any kind of sex between consenting adults is fine as long as it's SAFE, SANE, and CONSENSUAL.

But all of the above really takes away something from the conversation that I think we all feel at the gut level, but it's hard to put into words.  Most of us find sexual abuse, assault, harassment, egregious on a deeper level than some other crimes, like theft, or perhaps even plain, old physical assault.

There are powerful, vulnerable aspects of all that goes along with sex.  In fact, I kind of think it's one of the few things that normal people do that seem like magic.  The other one is death. 

From working around death and dying for a number of years, I've come to believe, and more so FEEL than believe, that there is something bigger and more powerful than biology going on when we are dying.  Inexplicable, strange things happen and I was and am often filled with a sense of awe.  A sense of how I don't know anything, but I feel connected to bigger things and I wish I knew more about them.  I wish I knew the mystery more fully.

I think the same happens - sometimes - during sex.  To me, whether we want it to be or not, whether we consciously think about it or not, when we have sex, we are in some way working with a mysterious force, more powerful than we are. 

A friend's aunt recently died in hospice care at Evelyn's House, the new hospice house that BJC built. (My alma mater...just a little plug).  She said that the aunt and all the family felt enveloped in love and care during the aunt's final days and hours.  It is easy to see how vulnerable a person's body is when it's dying.  It's easy to understand how much love and care a person's body might need at such a vulnerable time.

I think I'd like to make the case that this is one part of why we recoil and are so heart-broken to hear about so many women we know and so many we don't whose bodies have not been cared for and loved.  And when we think about our own experiences of being mistreated, abused, and disrespected, how we know this is an abuse of not only our bodies, but our spirits. 

Maybe sex and power really are inextricably interwoven in our human experience, but not because of the reasons that seem apparent on the outside - like socialized patterns of desire or arousal.   Maybe sex and power are connected because something about sex, sometimes, reaches for something mysterious.  Poets have written about this for centuries - an orgasm, in old poetry was called, 'the little death.'

Well, before I get to far from earth, here's what I know for sure.   Human bodies are precious.  Think of your child when he was a baby or toddler, think about the joy you have in watching him grow.  Think about wheeling your grandmother to dinner and shimmying her wheelchair up to the Thanksgiving table.  These bodies are amazing.  Love and take care of yours.  Love and take care of other people's bodies, too.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Listening to Your Gut Instinct Takes Guts...and Listening

A few of my patients in hospice were frank about dying.  Mary was one of them - about 70 years old, but a young 70 - a vibrant, well-dressed, sassy woman.  She was one of the few patients I worked with who opted into hospice care while she was still very able, but knowing that the aggressive, no-longer treatable cancer that she had would incapacitate her soon and her family and she would need the extra care and information.  She also came into hospice care with a feeding tube, a kind of unusual occurance at that time - in some cases, a feeding tube would be considered a life prolonging measure, but not in Mary's case.

Something about her character to show you more...I remember the second time I met with her, we sat in two big chairs in her first floor bedroom, chatting.  Her husband entered, and behind him followed a woman, a few years younger than Mary, who was clearly unknown to her.  The woman boldly stepped out behind the husband and strode over, hand outreached to greet Mary.  "Hello," she said.  "You don't know me, but I live down the street.  I heard about your cancer and I would like to pray over you, if that's okay with you."  Like Jim from the TV show, The Office, Mary looked over at me with a flummoxed, but simultaneously deadpan expression.  "Sure," she said.  "That'd be great."  Mary was not a traditionally religious person, but she was open to life and people.  After the lady left, Mary turned to me and said nonchalantly, "Well, that was kind of weird.  But nice."

Another day I visited, she beckoned me over to sit next to her in bed, patting the spot right beside her.  She was tired that day.  "How am I going to die?" she asked.

This is the moment when I turn to the camera like Jim from The Office, and what I am thinking is, "How the hell did I end up here?"  And when I say, Here, I mean in this crazy life doing this crazy job.  It's the sort of question few people asked me, but when they did, I had learned enough to be vague.  Not because it would hurt their feelings, or be frightening, but because in the face of death, a social worker really knows very little and is often surprised.  I'd say most nurses and doctors would even say the same thing.

"Well,"  I said, "All I can tell you is what I've seen in other people.  It doesn't mean it will be like this for you."

And I very frankly told her what I'd seen.  One thing I said, and I still find it astounding and true as I write it, "It seems like you wouldn't ever be able to let go of life, but people seem, at some point, to let go."

"How will I know when to let go?" Mary asked.

"I don't know."

"I think I will just know,"  Mary nodded as she said it.  "I will just have a gut instinct and I will know."

"Will you tell me when you know?"  I asked.

"I will.  I will tell you when I know."

In my private practice and also in my life, I encourage people to listen to their gut instinct, their intuition.  Most people know what I mean and have had the experience when their intuition has helped guide them in the right direction or when they didn't listen to their intuition and the results were not good.  More spiritual people, might name this sense, God.  I can go with any of these names because the aspect of the universe I mean is this deep knowing and wanting what is for our good and our health, the joy of us, the greater love in our life, the things that are beautiful in us.  Personally, I think our intuition guides us toward that as I believe in a loving God/Higher Power/Mystery that also guides us toward that.

So how do we listen to that more?  How do we know what it's saying?

Here's what it's not going to sound or look like, no matter how much we want it to:
Our gut instinct or even God, does not often give us direct message in the visage of Frankie Avalon telling us to go back to high school.  Even though, I don't know about you, but I LONG for my deep, universal messages to come to me in musical form.  And also very obviously.  Like, "DROP OUT OF BEAUTY SCHOOL."  Both obvious and musical messages would make my life more fun and also easier.

But mostly, I think we hear, what is called in theology, "the still, small voice."  And this is what we can practice listening to.  And take the heat off of ourselves...try listening when the stakes are small. Really small. One thing that my intuition with a small 'i' has been saying the past couple of years:  listen to classical music.  I know nothing about classical music, I don't play an instrument, I really couldn't know less.  But something just tells me to listen to it.  All I can say is that I feel calm and peaceful when I do.  Maybe that's enough.  Maybe all my intuition is trying to tell me is that I need peaceful sounds to go in my ears and that this is good for me.  Stakes are pretty low, but results feel right.

To me, that's how you begin gathering some evidence that there is some knowing in you that may be trusted.

Here's another way I sometimes wish my gut instinct or message from God would show up:

And truthfully, there have been a couple times in my life when more or less this is what happened.  No, not psychic Whoopi Goldberg, but either me or someone else has given me mental blaring sirens and 'get the hell out of here.' 

But mostly, even when the stakes are high, my inner wisdom is MINE, and I can't rely on a psychic, a therapist, a parent, or significant other to tell me what to do, when to do it, and why.

Some of the high stakes/grown up things we all deal with:  Should I take this new job?  Should I go to this doctor/take this treatment?  Should I stay in the relationship?  Should I enter the conflict?  Should I reach out to the person who hurt me?  Should I share my opinion?  Should I pursue the adoption?   Am I living the life I want to live?  What else is there in this life for me and how do I find it?

One of the last times I visited Mary, she said, "Well, I'm ready to let go.  And I was right,  I just knew."

"How did you know?"

"I knew when I couldn't make it to the bathroom and deal with it all myself.  I've stopped my tube feedings.  I don't want to live like that.  I don't want to live like that for very long."

What Mary had, that we all want and need, in order to listen to our still, small voice when the stakes are high and the chips are down, is that she knew and accepted herself.  She knew herself and what it meant to her to live a life with dignity and enjoyment.  It doesn't mean that has to be my line or your line, but it was her line.  And she knew it, and so she knew when to let go.

And maybe that is what I mean when I say to my clients or myself or my friend or my child, "Listen to your gut instinct"  - take the time to know who you REALLY are.  Knowing who you really are will clear your ears to hear, your eyes to see, and your mind to think.  Many times, our gut instinct does not clear the whole path all the way down the line and forever - we don't drop beauty school, go back to high school, graduate, attend Harvard and live happily ever after.  Our still, small voice leads us to the next place that is good for us, that place which is for our health and well-being for that moment of our life. 

The next moment will come.  There is rarely only one right thing to do next.  Just keep listening. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Intro to the Intro of My Book About Grief

There is a book about grief  that I have been wanting to write for about five to ten years.  When I think, "Katy, you should get started on that book about grief,"  my second thought is often, "Why would someone want to read a book about grief?  That's not very fun."  (And also, aren't there very many books about grief and loss and mourning, anyway?)  And my third thought is, "But, I think it would be a really good book."

From my possibly warped way of thinking, Life, basically, is grief.  One loss after another.  We lose and let go of time itself, all the time.  From the time we are babies, to the time we are old and someone else has to help us to the toilet , we let go of what came before.  We let go of sucking our thumb, we let go of reading Dr. Seuss (at least as a primary source of fiction), we stopped taking naps, we moved houses, we changed schools, we lost friends, we lost grandparents, and pets, and opportunities.  We lost our ability and desire to stay up late and party, we lost the freedom of not having kids, we lost parents, our health, jobs, marriages, ideas, faith.  Sometimes the primary change was good (like having kids), but there was still loss of something that accompanied it.  And every time we lost or lose something or someone, we mourn or we celebrate or we change.  And sometimes all three at the same time.

So, if we know we can't stop time and we can't make things NOT change, and we know that some of that change will be painful - like down on the floor howling like an animal painful, where is the good in reading about it?

The last time I really thought I was going to start writing this book, I was in the midst of what I thought was a reconciliation with my ex-husband.  I thought, "I've been through loss and I have a reason for hope.  My writing and stories, perhaps, bring hope."  Then, the reconciliation of my marriage failed.  I lost that again and for good and I had to mourn different things, including parts of myself.

So, where is the hope?  Is that the raison d'etre for writing about grief?  To offer hope?

What I have are a lot of true stories about grief, loss, dying, illness, mourning, healing, kindness, laughter, and courage.  Some of them are my stories, but many of them are my witness of other peoples' lives.

Here is one:

One of my hospice patients, a ninety-nine year old man lived with his wife in a condo in West St. Louis County and they had been married 75 years.  Isn't that incredible to be married 75 years?  Because of  macular degeneration, he had been blind for some time.  When I met him, he was also bedbound and being cared for by hired caregivers, so that he and his wife could stay in their home together.  He literally could not shift position in the hospital bed under his own power or see the world about him, but he had a sharp mind still.

When I arrived for my first visit (and subsequent visits as well) , he took my hands in his, clasped them, as I stood by his bedside.  "How are you?" he asked.  I demurred somehow - "Oh, I'm fine, but how are YOU?"  "No, no," he insisted.  "I want to know, how are you?"

He really wanted to know.

The charity of that moment, the bigness of it, still strikes me.  What a gift for me to have his attention and curiosity in a moment when many people would be overcome by fear and grief.  Perhaps, inside he fought fear and grief, but rather than letting that rule him, he came from a place of courtesy and generosity.  Or perhaps, he had lived ninety nine years and was beyond fearing his imminent death, so it felt natural to offer kindness to someone else.

I like that story, because it is a picture of the beauty of someone else's person.  Their soul.  Their humanity.  This man did something beautiful by asking a seemingly simple question - "How are you?" and being present, really present, for the answer.

Maybe I want to write a book to offer hope.  Maybe I want to write a book to tell stories.  Maybe I want to write a book about grief to share some beautiful things.

So maybe the book I want to write, is only on the surface about grief and loss.  The same way the man's words, on the surface, seemed so simple, "How are you?"

Underneath that surface is me.

I've thought a lot about death in general, and probably my own death, more than most people, but no more or less than most people I know who have worked in hospice and are similarly warped.  One question we ask ourselves is what it will be like on our own deathbed.

If I'm lucky enough to live a long life and get to a deathbed, what and why might I look back over my life and think, 'that was a good one.  I loved it!'

I think for most people, a good life is about about their connections to other people and living a life that in many ways is of their choosing, not forced on them by others' expectations.  And for me specifically, it's going to be about not being afraid to live adventurously, not being afraid to be vulnerable and take healthy risks.

When I write and share my writing, I feel connected with people (specific people who let me know how my words impacted them and humanity in general), I feel honest and truthful and free, and I feel vulnerable and good all at the same time.

So I've asked two questions in this blog:  1) why write about grief?  Easy answer.  It turns out, because I like to and it feels good!  2) why read about grief?  Because, if you're willing to go along with me on my armchair philosophy, life is grief.  (But, also other things.)

I remember hearing an interview with Bruce Springsteen that the song Thunder Road, one of his earliest hits, he viewed as an invitation to the listener to come along with him on a journey.  I loved that - the idea of being on a journey with Bruce, and also my experience of really enjoying that journey as a listener (with a few exceptions).

As the intro to the intro on my book about grief, I think that's what I'm saying too.

You're invited.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

For All The Single Ladies. And Men. And Future Helicopter Pilots

We are a family that takes a lot of summer road trips, so it's a nice bookend to this one to have taken a road trip Labor Day weekend.  No, not to relax by the lake in a sleepy Midwestern town.  Not even to relax by the lake in a cheesy tourist town, but to shuttle my son to yet another adventure.  This time, to finish up his open water diving and become scuba certified.  Which entails, for his sister and me, a number of hours sitting at the edge of the quarry playing gin rummy.  And making sure she stays out of the sun because she has become obsessed with Twilight (I know I am a terrible mother and I let her read these awful books and see the movies too), and now she wants pale skin to be closer to her true love, Edward.  But that's another blog.  Or maybe not...we'll see how this one turns out.

Anyway - road trip.  Well, we make the best of it - it's down to a science.  Three songs for one kid (Taylor Swift and Adele are usual favorites with the daughter) and three songs for the son (maybe a little Africa by Toto, maybe some 90s grunge rock or Journey).  Also, A LOT of talking.

Below is a transcript of an actual conversation on this road trip.

(General talk about "what do you want to be when you grow up.")

Daughter:  I've changed from cardiothoracic surgeon to general surgery

Son:  You watch too much Grey's Anatomy

Daughter:  Well, what do you want to be?

Son:  Either a Green Beret, a helicoptor pilot in the army, or a jet fighter pilot

Daughter (incredulous):  Why does everything you want to do risk your death?  Mom!  How can you support this?

Me:  Well, it's not easy for me to support it.  But if this is what makes him feel that his life is fulfilling and interesting, then I have to.

Daughter:  How did this even start?!?

Me:  I remember exactly when it started...when your brother read Hatchet at the end of 3rd grade.  (Side note - Hatchet is a great book!  Also, this is when I had more control over what my kids read.)

Daughter:  I wish he'd never read that!  I wish I could go back in time and make it so he never read it.

Son:  Then you may as well have castrated me.

The END.  (Though I wish I would have thought to say to my daughter, 'that's how I feel about you reading Twilight.)

I shared this story with my best friend of 30 years and she laughed and said, "How dramatic."  And it's true that living with two young teen/ pre-teens is kind of dramatic.

But what it got me thinking deeply about are ways that my son and I are alike.  About what it means to live the life you want, what it means to live freely.  Is it an essential part of all of us to want personal freedom and is that on a continuum depending on how you're wired?  And what are good and not so good reasons to curtail our personal freedom.

I remember seeing a piece of folk art that I loved when my son was a toddler.  These were the days of ear infections and waking up multiple times in the night for bad dreams or to comfort him with his ears.  The piece of art was a Day of the Dead sculpture - a man and a woman skeleton, dressed in colorful, traditional Mexican clothing embracing, kissing - she was dipped back as if dancing.  The whole scene was depicted in a jail cell and the caption said "el amor es una prision."  Love is a prison.  And I remember thinking, "yep."

Being in relationship with other people, whether familial or romantic or professional or friendship does come with some responsibilities for and toward those other people.  But what are the bound of that and who defines it?

I know my son loves me and he loves his sister.  Does that require him to give up his dreams of honor, adventure, glory so that we will feel safer or our minds will be at ease?  What if I put that pressure on him?  Would that be love?

And that's what this post is really about - the beginning of an exploration on the connection between love and freedom.

This translates for me pointedly right now as I began to dip my toe into the water of dating after divorce.  Being 'single' is a state of being 'free' in some sense - a felt measure of being different as an adult in our society (though I am reading that just under half of adults are unmarried).  As a single person, I am coming face to face with how I relate to a certain kind of freedom.  Growing up female, there are many overt and covert messages that being connected in a romantic relationship or marriage makes you safer in the world and a more legitimate person.  (I knew I could bring it back to Twilight!).  But aside from the social notions, in my work, I have often heard widows say that they felt 'untethered' in a negative, free floating, scary way after the death of their husbands.  I myself felt that way at times at the end of my marriage.

Yet, in my singledom, I am also reacquainting myself with another part of me, a part I hadn't truly felt since I was a kid.

A funny thing about me is that I spent a couple years of elementary school going to the library at recess rather than going out to play.  It was never a big deal to anyone, including me, my friends and teachers.  It wasn't about being socially rejected or rejecting others,  it was just my preference.  I didn't like the stuff the kids played and I didn't like feeling obligated to certain friends/groups, so I just took myself out of the situation and some great memories are the books I read, like The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and no joke - Born Free by Joy Addams.

And as I continue to think about it, I am interested in other choices I've made in my life that reflect a preference for independence...I am self-employed, I participate in individual sports like running, rather than team sports.  I am a writer, which means that something I do for fun is sit a number of hours and think about how to use words to tell stories or write poems.

When I was married, I rarely considered whether I had a need for independence or what freedom meant to me.  I think that was partially my particular marriage, partially the way I was brought up, and partially the time of life I was in - with young kids, freedom can seem laughable.

But I am in a stage of life where I have more choices.  I look at my kids and I am in awe of all the choices before them.  What language do you want to take?  What sport do you want to focus on?  Where do you want to go to college? What do you want to be when you grow up?  Do you want to get married?  Do you want to have kids?  What songs do you like to listen to on road trips?

I want them to be free to make the choices that are theirs, not socially prescribed or overly-pressured by norms.

When you find yourself divorced at mid-life, one of the things many people say to you is, "Don't worry, you'll find someone again."  Or, "You're still so young, you won't be alone forever."  It feels kind of scary - like the story of the world for you is that you will only live a fulfilled life if you are attached in this way.   But this is also the world's way of loving you like an overprotective mom -  "I love you so much, I don't want you to be alone."  "I love you so much I don't want you to go into the military."  Basically, the same thing.

Yet, in the beginning, it wasn't only pressure from others.  Some of my friends can attest to my own moments when I first knew my marriage was ending - those untethered moments when I asked, "Do you think I'll ever be loved?  Do you think I'll ever love someone else again?"  As time goes on, "Will I ever find love?" doesn't seem like the right question.

To me, though I'm looking at it through the lens of being single in a married world, I think the questions are deep and important for all people - in what ways do I live the life I want?  If I am living for someone else or by others' expectations, why am I doing that?  Do I want to keep doing it?  What choices might I make so that my life feels like it belongs to me?  What choices will feel more true to myself?

I am delighted for my kids for the smorgasbord of choices ahead, and my deepest hope is that life has given them the freedom to explore and learn who they are and honor who they are by choices that reflect that.  And change when and if they need or want to change.  We don't have to be the same way always.

That is the life I am building for myself too.  And anymore, I don't take on the role of my own overprotective mother.  I am having adventures, like my son.  I am appreciating my choices.  I am trying my best to be loving to myself and also to others.  I am being true to me.  I turn 45 in a couple days.  And you know what? It doesn't feel scary, it feels good.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How to Have An Enemy: May The Force Be With You and A Preppy Mom

I wish everyone could know my mom.  She has certain things she says and certain stories she tells and she always tells them in the same way.  She is very theatrical, 100% sincere, and believes wholly that our purpose on this earth is to love one another, help any one in need, and leave the world a better place.

From the time I was a kid and was aware of the political climate of the 1960s (and I was very aware of that political climate - we listened to Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio, possibly daily) - I asked my mom if she had been a hippy.

"Well,"  she'd say,  "I never looked like a hippy on the outside.  I never dressed like a hippy.  But, I FELT like a hippy on the inside.  You know, you don't have to dress in a way that brings attention to yourself to believe those things.  I protest in my own way."

What she meant by this, is that overall, we lived in a pretty conservative community, and I would say that in the 1980s my mom dressed quite 'preppy'.  But anyone who knows my mom, knows she is not politically conservative.  She speaks up and believes she can work for change from the 'inside' the establishment.   In the late 1980s, there was even a rumor about her that she wanted to distribute condoms at the high school.  Scandalous!

It seems to me we are in the midst of a sea change in the world, perhaps not unlike how things might have felt in the 1960s.  We have North Korea.  Our president speaks, writes, hires and fires without thorough information or long term understanding and deep respect for consequences .  We have neo-Nazi's openly hating.  We have an opiod/heroin epidemic and our friends and neighbors are dying.   We have violence in the streets and distrust of our police force.  We are so attached to our phones that a recent study showed that newborn babies are connecting to their mothers' foreheads instead of their eyes.


There are many people today who are afraid evil is winning in this world.  I've been alive for almost 45 years, and it certainly feels to me that, in the tenor of the air, there are powerful forces at work.  Speaking of the forces, here's the open to 1977's Star Wars: Star Wars Opening Crawl

The movie begins...'It is a period of Civil War.'  After 40 years, I find myself appreciating the themes and characters that makes Star Wars timeless.  For instance, perhaps it's not a coincidence that Confederate monuments and what they mean are the source of renewed conflict.

In every facet of life - whether it's fighting cancer or fighting racism - under threat, human nature is to fight and defend.

So many of us were taught that you fight, but not resolve conflict.  Why fight unless you intend to 'win?'  You fight to decimate.  You fight to humiliate.  You fight to, metaphorically, kill.  I even see it within groups of people that overall agree with one another.   We get on social media to vent or discuss a topic and it turns into nitpicking, backbiting and name-calling when someone is not liberal enough or liberal in the 'right ways.'  I am sure this happens on the conservative side too, but I just happen to generally run in more liberal circles.   A friend recently screenshot-ed a facebook post to me in which another person stated that if you are not publicly, on facebook, speaking out against the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, this person says they have no use for your friendship.

I've been noticing we have some noisy warriors out there.  We have a lot of talkative and opinionated rebel fighters.

My daughter and a friend were talking from the backseat of my car about a third friend who they feared was talking behind peoples' backs and becoming manipulative.  "How can we stop this?" they wondered.  The little girl in my car suggested that they 'catch' the third girl talking behind someone's back so they could 'prove a point.'

I said, "Listen, girls - when you don't like someone's behavior.  When you begin to feel that you have an enemy, you always run the risk of becoming like them.  You complain about this person manipulating, but you're thinking about entrapping her to prove a point.  Now, who's manipulative?"

To take this to the extreme - whether it's politically or personally, at church or at work, if you believe you have an enemy, if you have a person you despise, in what ways are you becoming like them?

In this political climate - at least for liberals - I wonder if some are becoming judgmental and intolerant and even hateful at times  - the very qualities they criticize.  And they're doing this to people who are of good will even 'on their side.'  It's like every X-wing pilot thinks everyone in the resistance should be an X-wing pilot (that is so nerdy, that I even wrote that sentence.)

Princess Leia did not look like a rebel fighter.  Han Solo was not jedi.  R2D2 was not Chewbacca.  Everyone does not have to look, talk, and sound the same, to be working toward making the world a better place.

My mom will never, ever look like a hippy.  But she will always fight injustice in her own ways.

And, is she the one supplying your kids' high school with condoms?!  The truth is out there.

Monday, July 31, 2017

My Name is Katy, and I am Codependent in our Political System

When I was listening to the news coverage of Donald Trump's speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree last week, I reached my wit's end.  I don't know why this was the moment.  People might guess that it's because, from my privileged white woman position, I didn't feel the need to speak up until it 'hit home.'  The Boy Scouts.  But, really there are many reasons I haven't been public about an administration, and let's face it, a government -including both Democrats and Republicans, who, frankly exhaust me.

Here is why I am speaking up now.  I am a recovering co-dependent.  And as a therapist and as a spiritual person, I believe that all the world - all of the universe - is inter-connected. I believe what makes us healthy or unhealthy in small systems like families and large systems like governments are inter-related.  I believe each of us possess gifts and qualities that, in excess or when misused, can turn negative and damaging to ourselves and others.

I'm going to share some of the qualities I see in myself and the patterns in my own life I  work to change or moderate.  And maybe this will spark some thoughts in you.

If you are not familiar with codependency, here's a little primer.  Being codependent might also be called being an enabler.  If you are an enabler in an addicted relationship, you protect the addicted person from the consequences of their behavior and you are frequently in denial.   Here's a decent resource if you're interested in some basics...

I've found that co-dependents come in a few flavors (I have a nerdy part of me that really wants to research this right now, but I'm just going to speak from my own experience).  There are martyr-ish co-dependents who take on all the work in a family and feel taken advantage of, but keep taking on more work.  There are bossy co-dependents, who are going to TELL YOU JUST HOW TO RUN YOUR LIFE AND EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING.  Then, they get mad when no one takes their advice, including people who are addicted.  And finally, there are the 'hippi/Buddhist' co-dependents'...the 'live and let live' people.  They might think something like, "Listen, man, people make their own choices."  I hope you heard that in your head like Janice from the Muppets.  But a constant diet of non-intervention leads to no boundaries and other disasters.

In excess, I tend to fall in the last category.   How can this be?  I'll tell you the things I've learned about myself that I think contribute:

A.  I am rather happy by nature.  I have written about that before.  Of course, I have down days and even down weeks.  I have a dark sense of humor and I am pretty realistic about the state of the world, but even in negative circumstances, I can find gratitude and joy.  Those things are still in the mix for me, even when the going is rough.  Not necessarily bad, but maybe too easy to blow past problems that need addressing.

B.  I am optimistic by nature.  This can be both big picture and small picture.  In the big picture, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "The arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice."  That is my gut instinct too.  In the small picture, it's harder to describe - maybe it's just a belief that most people are generally good, so things are bound to be at least okay on any given day.  If you are a cynic, please feel free to roll your eyes.  I can't see you.  Again, there's a fine line between optimism and denial.

C.  I value peace and dislike confrontation.  This is probably the biggest one that leads to denial and enabling.   So many times in my life, when someone has pushed or ignored my boundaries, I've thought, "It's not really worth it to say something."  Or, "It's not really a big deal."  Or "I can handle it."  Or, (the optimistic part kicks in...) "Things will probably get better."

Why?  Because (and I'm not saying this is right, good, or helpful), I've valued short term peace over long term peace.  I didn't have the long view in mind...which is that ultimately, when you allow someone to push or break your boundaries again and again, you actually don't have peace.  You have submission.

So it is not for Donald Trump to change that I say what I say.  And it's not for our government, lobbyists,  media or anybody else that I write this.  I write this for me:  Donald Trump's government does not represent my values or the values of this country - Liberty, Equality, and Justice.  This is not okay with me.  This is wrong.  The way our most vulnerable citizens are being treated  - immigrants, transgender people, children, people who are sick, people who are poor - robs them of their Liberty, Equality and Justice.  This is wrong.  Our entire system is disabled and dysfunctional (not just one party or one person) in ways that are wrong.  Lobbyists?  Term limits?  I know the people we have elected can do better than they are doing.  There are answers out there, but people are probably going to have to make sacrifices.

Listen - I know very well that I just wrote this and I put several hours of my life into it and not much is going to look different tomorrow.  But part of me living my life fully is not doing the things that feel comfortable, the things I tend to do - to make peace.  To fall into my 'defensive optimism.'  I want things in this world to get better for everybody - especially the vulnerable.  And maybe my little voice in the wilderness helps make one or two people braver.  Who knows where that might lead?

I'll leave you with two more parts of me - the deep and the silly.

From the Upanishads (Hindu sacred text)
As is the human body
so is the cosmic body.
As is the human mind,
so is the cosmic mind.
As is the microcosm,
so is the macrocosm.
As is the atom,
so is the universe.