Monthly Archives: August 2015

School Days

The new school year has begun.

My schedule will be similar to last year’s: my daughter, now in tenth grade, will have two classes on the high school campus and I will be teaching the other four at home. It worked very well for her last year, and I hope this year will go well for her too.

For me, it can be a rollercoaster of doubt: when should I push her to work during a bad headache day and when should I encourage her to relax? What do I do when I feel we are not accomplishing enough in the home subjects? How do I squelch my defensiveness and stress when dealing with the district, as she continues to fall through the cracks at times?

I’ve written before about how it feels to be a parent who is identified as a dually diagnosed person. In a society where mothers are already blamed for many things, I often feel that I have a target painted on my chest: anything imperfect in her life, her performance or her well-being means I have done something wrong. At best, it means that I’m on the right track but just not working hard enough.

As I write this, I’m in the library while she’s in class. These gaps in my day, absent during summer, will be a welcome opportunity to write more. It’s important that I do this; I need to remember who I am and what my duty is.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the school stuff and forget that my deepest duty is to remain present in my life, and therefore in hers. Everything else follows from this. Keeping my recovery strong–and keeping my creativity exercised so the dark stuff doesn’t build up and seep out in a destructive way.

Instead of running from stress, resentment and fear, I need to seek their opposites in an active way. Fighting them only exhausts me more; I have learned this by now. Fighting them and trying to force myself to be “good” will back me into a corner eventually, from which the addict I am will lash out with sick behavior.

Instead of fighting, I need to seek the opposites of whatever resentment, fear, or stress I feel. Doing whatever I must do to give myself exposure to faith, acceptance, and love makes the difference between seeing my daily life as a sentence of exhausting stress and deprivation and seeing it as–well, life.

Acceptance also means trying to stay clear about what’s within my power and what is not. My daughter is fifteen now, and in the past year alone her consciousness is expanding in a way that awes me. She is beginning to go where I cannot follow, as children do when they grow up. I can’t forget this.

As usual, I need balance. A balance that lets me do what she needs, in a spirit of love and willing service, but keep in close touch with my own inner world. My inner world of darkness, and light, and words that form my true home. During the summer my creativity fell to the siren call of what-does-it-matter; everything I wanted to write seemed trite to me. I can’t tell you how many poem scraps and essays in the making I have sitting around.

If I’m going to make this school year a good one, I (weirdly enough) need regular access to a version of myself very different from the good school mom. I need the writer who, laughing with abandon, slashes open her skin and lets a poem bleed out. Who paints designs on her face with the blood and dances around the fire as the debris of not-good-enough burns.

I will remember: I am myself. I am a woman, a mother, a poet, an addict, a human. I am a consciousness, existing because I exist. I am enough, my daughter is enough, and anyone who thinks we’re not is cordially invited to go fuck themselves.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

And all I can do is keep on telling you
I want you, I need you
But-there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you
Now don’t be sad
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad.
                                        —-Meat Loaf

When I heard this song many years ago, I thought the singer was a real asshole. I thought he was saying what he said to keep his girlfriend on a string while permanently lowering her self-esteem. I didn’t know what a kindness truth could be.

Now I respect the guy, because he didn’t lie–not even to himself–to keep the woman around. He didn’t try to convince himself that he might learn to love her if she changed, or that he hadn’t given the relationship a fair chance.

How many people in our lives have really been that honest with us? And what if we believed it when they were; really heard it and acted accordingly?

People use the metaphor of a “dry well” when talking about how we go on seeking love or approval in places where we have repeatedly failed to find it. For many of us, the first examples came from our childhood–and we find ourselves adults who are still trying, consciously or unconsciously, to win. Win love, approval, or even just closure where it is never, ever going to be found.

Then we re-enact this pattern in relationships, and keep digging in one spot instead of moving to more promising locations. Our determination is fed by countless movies and books in which someone “wins” another person’s love or commitment through heroic efforts.

It’s a human condition–I’m not really writing about addicts or those dealing with mental illness right now, except in the sense that such issues might make us a tad more needy and vulnerable.

Part of surrendering to reality is seeing and believing in the existence of those dry wells in our lives. We let go of the hope and obsessive pursuit, and are free to spend our efforts on other things. But damn, it hurts. We feel lonely, sad, or angry, and we go around with the brick-living-in-our-chest feeling that goes with a grief process.

The wounds of my childhood, like those we all bear, are not going to be healed by anyone but me.
My loved ones are not going to change and magically begin to meet all of my needs.
The world is never going to make me feel accepted and loved; it’s up to me to create that love in myself and actively seek it in others.
Nothing out there is going to fix me, release me from my demons, or save me from aging and the human inevitability of death.

If I expect these things from people, relationships or anything in my life, I deprive myself of the chance to appreciate what I can get from them. I miss the moments of joy or the opportunity to be of service. I’ll miss the “two out of three” others might have to offer me.

You’ll never find your gold on a sandy beach
You’ll never drill for oil on a city street
I know you’re looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks
But there ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom
Of a Cracker Jack box…

Damn right there isn’t. I’ve looked long enough.

Privileged

What does it mean, to be in pain while aware of others in terrible pain?

What does it mean, to be suffering while aware of being privileged?

I am a white woman, and white privilege has been on my mind lately. I’m writing this during the times of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I’ve been drawn out of my introspection more than usual by it.

Because of who I am, I’m thinking a lot about how my white privilege impacts my experience of living with mental illness and addiction.

Other things being equal, I get better care as a white person. It’s undeniable. I’m viewed with less suspicion; I’m more likely to get attention in an ER. Doctors are more likely to listen to me and be responsive to my requests. I’m more likely, in general, to be believed.

The differences between the care I receive and the care a Black person in my place receives can be a matter of life and death.

So–white privilege. No matter how much I am suffering, I remain privileged.

The truth is, I used to be one of those people who cringed when requested to “check my privilege.” I thought acknowledging my white privilege meant I had to feel guilty all of the time. I thought it meant that I had to feel especially guilty when I was in pain or not functioning well. I thought it meant I was supposed to DO something, something I had no idea how to do, or dismiss myself as unworthy to live in an enlightened society.

I’m grateful that it feels different for me now; that I can make an effort to be conscious of my privilege without feeling as defensive or guilt-ridden as I used to feel.

To get to this place, I had to learn something:

It is possible to be privileged in one way and be without privilege in others.

I’m allowed to struggle with mental illness. I’m allowed to be aware of the ways I experience sexism. I’m allowed to be angry when my daughter’s disability is not treated with respect.  I’m even allowed to think growing up poor really sucked.

Being aware of my white privilege doesn’t mean I have given up the right to take joy in my life or care for my injuries. It doesn’t mean I squash my pain with lectures. It just means I walk around with my eyes and consciousness more open.

So it’s a little easier, now, for me to turn my mind to my brothers and sisters who are impacted by racism in their quest to get help. Who aren’t listened to. Who are tossed in jail when they may really need to be in a hospital instead. Who are more likely to be unable to afford their meds, even if they do manage to get a prescription. Who are more likely to be written off as lazy, assumed to be on drugs, or accused of trying to work the system in some way.

It’s a little easier for me to get in touch with my desire to help, and think about how I might be able to do that in some tiny way. The thoughts don’t get very far when I feel as ill as I do lately, but I’m trying.

Last week I wrote to someone who’s been writing really eloquently about what’s going on with racism and police violence. I told him his writing had been helping and educating me, and I shared something of mine with him. It was a small act, but it was a step forward for me.