Tag Archives: Personal

Moving

After feeling very stuck for a while, I’ve made a decision.

I have two web pages, Not This Song and Not My Last Words. Lately, whenever I want to write, I am getting paralyzed because I can’t choose which site draws my focus more.

Life and art are blending. I can’t write about the conditions I live with without writing about how they affect my writing or how my writing affects them.

So here’s the deal…this page is migrating. Soon, Not My Last Words will be my only site. Over the next month or two, I will cross-post what I see as the most important works from here so that they will continue to be available in the Not My Last Words archives.

I request any loyal followers to follow notmylastwords.com and let the journey continue!

Why You Are Beautiful

Have you ever looked into a mirror and seen yourself as beautiful? Beautiful in a way that makes any real or perceived imperfections fade into the construct that they are?

I’d been invited to dinner with friends from out of town, followed by a reading at a bookstore. Dinner went well; I enjoyed the conversation very much and felt present. The voice running in my head, the one telling me I don’t belong in this group of talented people, was pretty silent. I dressed casually and didn’t use makeup. Okay, that part’s not lack of vanity; I just suck at putting on makeup.

After the dinner, we went to the San Francisco bookstore where the reading was being held. It was a reading by a mix of authors from the BDSM community, and a couple of my friends were going to be reading pieces there. I hadn’t been to an event like this in quite a while, and I felt both the pleasant and the bittersweet types of nostalgia.

Listening to the erotic fiction and nonfiction being read, I surreptitiously watched the small audience as I tend to do. People at a reading of erotic literature have a tendency to try to keep a neutral face. Perhaps they want to conceal reactions that feel too personal to share, or perhaps there’s an etiquette about concealing reactions that may distract other listeners.

However, not all can be concealed. The secret is to watch the eyes. In a still face, the eyes shine with fire when the listener is being affected. I can gauge the level of engagement this way, and I love it. Watching the people around me, I reveled in their beauty and their diversity. An enchanting mix of ages, genders and physical traits, they seemed to be broadcasting stories of their own.

My own thoughts about the pieces ranged freely, as well. I was reminded of how deep and psychically rich sexuality can be. How sex is only the beginning. The pieces evoked connection, shadow, love and deepest authenticity. My own feelings about all of these whirled inside me; not only the common longing and regret but an intense and living desire that pulsed with an unapologetic feeling of I want.

Between two of the pieces, I had to take a restroom break. Washing my hands, I glanced up at the mirror above the sink–and drew in my breath, shocked. The face in the mirror pierced me with its beauty.

Yes, the secret is in the eyes all right. Those eyes blazed into me, burning with the same fire I saw on other faces. They shone with mystery, and time, and a wholeness of complex thought. For a moment, I saw the woman in the mirror as a separate person. I saw her as if I were another guest, watching her from across the room and catching the first glimpse of those blazing eyes, and I thought: I want that woman.

I wonder about her story; I want to know what she’s thinking. I want to see what she looks like when she smiles, or growls with anger, or screams with lust or pain.

The other-ness of the moment faded quickly, but a ghost of it lingered. For the rest of the reading, I watched people with fascination–but with the awareness that I was one of them. A carrier of the story; a bearer of the hidden fire.

So you see, you are beautiful. You may not have had an experience like this yet, or you may have had many, but a gut-wrenchingly beautiful version of you exists behind the mirror and waits to come and be seen.

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.

Gonna Make This Place Your Home

There’s a line in a pop song by Phillip Phillips: “Just know you’re not alone, ‘cause I’m gonna make this place your home.” It came out nearly two years ago, and it never fails to make me uncomfortable. Why? Because its release coincided with the time, shortly after selling our home, that I found out about the hidden debt that meant we had no chance of getting a loan for a new place, possibly ever. The song seemed to mock me.

I always tell myself I’m lucky to have anywhere to live. I tell myself I’m extremely lucky to have had the privilege of home ownership for a while, even if I never have it again. It’s true. But I get scared and anxious when I’m uncertain about where I’m going to live. A year ago, after this news, my family went through a hard process trying to find a place to rent; we were rejected from many due to the abysmal credit rating that had come as such a shock. We were really lucky to get this place, and I’m pretty sure we only got it because of some minor quirks it has.

Last night, we were informed that the owner of this house is pretty sure he wants to put it on the market in the spring.

Naturally, I took the news with all of the serenity and maturity one would expect from someone working a program of recovery…and if you believe that, I have some lovely metaphorical swampland to sell you. I’m scared. I’m having trouble drawing a full breath. I sneaked downstairs and ate slices of bread at 5 a.m. to try to ease the pain in my chest (and damn it, I’d had nearly a week free of that kind of fucking around.)

It’s not going to be pretty when the time comes–we’re good tenants; we have the income to pay our rent and a history of doing so on time, but people really care about credit ratings these days. But I can’t afford to freak out about this! I have a daughter to teach, a school system to answer to–and, as always, two-plus potentially disastrous conditions to treat and manage.

Go to any meeting in the recovery community and you’ll hear people going through much harsher situations. I know, oh, I really do know. This morning alone, I talked to someone who was counting his blessings about the fact that a few months drug free has gained him a bed away from the streets for the first time in years. I want to operate with perspective, and gratitude, and faith. So many people tell of things falling into place for them when they trust and ask–it’s foolish of me to assume the worst.

My fears are fed by that little girl who never trusted the homes she had, I know. There’s a part of me that never thinks of my home as my home until I have to leave it; sees it as temporary. And, in a spiritual sense, all homes are, but my view wasn’t spiritual. I’d like it to become more so. I’d like to see all of the places I live as my quarters for the time being–like the accommodations given to a traveling officer–not out of distrust but out of Zen-like nonattachment.

But I’m not there yet–I hurt with the longing for security. She hurts. That singer’s voice mocks me with the male nurturing she missed; Daddy’s voice promising comfort and safety. (Daddy issues? Me? There’s a shock.)

There is a truth–a hard one, but a precious one–that can help me if I let it. The truth that I don’t have a home like that, and I never will. There is no way for me to undo that wound, and there’s no way for me to attain an external sense of security strong enough to make me free of it.

My true home is here.

It’s anywhere I write, or speak, or dream. I’m creating it, word by word and thought by thought; it moves where I move. Nobody but me can evict me from it.

Snap, Crackle, Don’t Pop

I have a lot to learn about dealing with anger. I have a lot to learn about dealing with hypomania. When it comes to the combination of the two, it’s as if I won the Lottery of Batshit Craziness.

Why I’m angry and frustrated today is unimportant/not my story. What’s important is that I am. That something’s running around inside me, jumping, scratching, burning the insides of my blood vessels. That my stomach is clenched up in a knot of frustration, mixed with the fear that always accompanies anger for me. That whenever I begin to calm myself and find a little serenity, a stray thought or cue will bring me back to rehashing a conversation, composing speeches in my head and fighting the urge to go back to a thoroughly unconstructive interaction.

The energy of healthful anger is so powerful if it’s used properly, but that’s a big if. Most of us either learned to shun all anger as dangerous or to take on an angry persona for self-protection. I was the first kind–for me, the overwhelming fear and anxiety trigged by anger bring the desire to push my feelings down, turn them off, bury them under a rock, anything to keep from having to tolerate what’s going on inside my skin. For decades, that’s exactly what I did. A simple sequence, repeated so many times it no longer involved any decisions:

–Feel anger or another strong emotion
–Imagine expressing it/confronting the source
–Get terrified and anxious
–Try to live with the anxiety I now have
–Crack and do something self-destructive
–Beat myself up/suffer other consequences
–Voila! Anger has been replaced with shame and self-loathing.
–Most psychic energy is gone; what’s left is deflected into repairing the damage.

Anyone else identify? Anyone else have it so ingrained that the first couple of steps get skipped and they aren’t aware of anger on a conscious level at all? I used to be like that, and in recent years (thanks a bunch, therapy!) that’s changed. I’m more in touch with an inner fire, and it burns–especially in a situation, like this one, where I’ve already done all I can and need to move on. Where it really wouldn’t be constructive to dig deeper, and the only conflict I have a chance of winning is the one in my own head.

Anyway, I’ve been in a state of high frustration for a couple of days, and I haven’t been acting out. This means my anxiety is through the roof, and it’s one of very few times I’ve felt this way while already hypomanic. I really do want to climb out of my skin–and the addict in me is all for that. It wants an off switch for these feelings, and it wants one NOW. It wants the lethargy overeating creates, or the everything’s-okay feeling of drugs. It wants the normal sequence, the one that leads to the return of the status quo.

It tries to tell me that this feeling is unbearable, and that it will last forever. I try to tell it that it’s full of shit. I AM bearing it, and it won’t last forever. Do I like it? No. Am I unhappy? Yes. These are very different things from being unable to bear something. That’s the tough love I am trying to give myself today.

I’ve stalked around the house muttering to myself. I’ve sat with a pile of National Geographics, ripping out pages for later cutting of pictures. I’ve twitched my way through TV programs, card games and various other attempts at distraction. I’ve hyperventilated from time to time, or babbled to someone on the phone. And the world hasn’t come to an end. I breathe in, breathe out, repeat. It’s a lot like the kind of coping I describe in A Trip to Town. I’m getting better at sharing with my family, although it’s hard. I’m getting better at letting myself be twitchy in front of witnesses if that’s what I have to do to keep from being self-destructive.

The amount of energy that flows through my brain scares me, and I don’t know–have never known–how to use it properly. Becoming more actively creative is a help, but I must not be doing enough–the energy crackles around me, like an electrified aura; I can almost see it and feel it. Anger heightens it all, until I half expect my hair to be standing on end. I use various grounding techniques, but they are all temporary in their effect.

Here’s the part where I come up with a metaphor or a sweet thing to say to my readers; well, I don’t have much today. When I’m not crackling, I am drained. This is just a check-in/slice of life, and maybe a little scrap of hope: I’ve made it through two days (one eternity) of this, and poured out some of it into a poem, and done other things to try cleansing my personal universe of what’s sticking to it. I never would have been able to do that a few years ago. Things change. Things can change.

Guilting the Lily

When is it okay to be happy?
When is it allowed to put aside every regret, every unpaid bill, and every worry about a loved one and enjoy a moment?
When is it all right to have a good day even when my partner, child, mother, or another close to me is miserable?

Call it codependency, call it oversensitivity, call it enmeshment or any other psychological term–by any name, it’s operating for me and I need to be aware of it. I’m acting on a core belief that it is not okay for me to be feeling good in the presence of a loved one who is not.

The level of depression I’m dealing with lately makes it quite vital that I find moments of pleasure and joy where I can. I’ve often written about the importance of this for all of us, and the importance of being willing to think and act outside of the box to do so. But as soon as I become aware that a family member has a headache, or is dealing with hyperanxiety, or had a rotten commute, I stop practicing what I preach.

I feel guilty if I want to play music while I do the dishes. I feel guilty when I take time to sit down and write. I feel guilty when I savor the relatively new sensation of climbing stairs with ease, and then remember that someone I love can’t do that so well.

Intellectually, I know that taking good care of myself will let me be more effective in helping others. Intellectually, I know that joining someone in the emotional pit won’t help them get out. I know it’s better to visit on the edge, offering them support and company if they want it, but still experiencing the air and sun. But my deeper complexes are responding to very old programming, and when these situations happen I feel the energy just drain out of me. It happens so fast I don’t have a chance to question it; the energy has gone and I am stuck with trying to get it back.

On some level, I seem to believe that the best way to show that I care about someone is to refrain from displaying any state that is in contrast–to refrain from being energetic if someone is tired, or from being happy if someone feels down. Do I think they would feel insulted, or feel that I don’t care? Do I think I need permission from a committee to feel good?

My spouse and I have some worries right now; the kind that aren’t quickly resolvable and are a constant presence. I realize that I’ve been operating on this idea that if, at any time, I act happy or joyful, it means I am not taking our situation seriously. That I’m being childish and irresponsible. It pushes many of my emotional buttons about having a disability and about being unable to contribute to our finances for several years.

These kind of thought paths are more dangerous for me than I might assume at first. When I get this feeling of guilt/energy drain, it triggers a kind of cascade: every worry I have kind of falls on my head. What about this? What about that? You haven’t thought about this problem in several days. How could you be so self-centered? Oh, God, remember this problem? You are so screwed.

There’s a set of techniques called cognitive-behavioral therapy that specialize in naming and questioning the inaccurate beliefs we operate on. They’re not a cure-all, but they are useful for some things. My main issue with them has usually been that they take discipline and consistent work to have their best effect. (One basic source to learn more is the book Feeling Good by David Burns.)

What I have done today in writing this is name some core beliefs. There are several techniques I might use to start questioning these, and I need to have the humility to try some of them. One of my favorites is called the downward-arrow technique, or the “What Would That Mean”? It works with if-then statements, like this:

If I act happy around my family when they’re not, they’ll think I don’t care enough.
What would that mean?
They will think I’m a bad mother/wife/whatever.
What would that mean?
That would mean I’m a bad mother/wife/whatever. (aha! I’ve identified a part of me that assumes that a judgment like this made by them must be true.)
Anyway, suppose I am a “bad” mother/wife/whatever. What would that mean? That I’m a bad person.
What would that mean?
Umm…well, that I’m bad. That I shouldn’t be the way I am. That I deserve bad things, not good things.

And it could go on and on. It always ends up at a very fundamental place of feeling unworthy, or catastrophic thinking. “If I don’t get an A on the test” ends up at “Life is not worth living.” Then we can look at that deep belief and ask where it came from and how it’s influencing us.

This kind of thought questioning doesn’t fix us. If it did, I’d be good to go by now. But, as I said, it can be useful for me to do when I see myself responding this way. I need to question the voice that tell me to censor, drain or stifle myself. Especially when I’m already depressed. A black hole gets bigger when it consumes nearby material–why throw anything its way when I don’t have to?

The questions about whether I, or any of us, deserve joy while coexisting with others in this world who suffer are bigger than today’s topic. The questions strike at our deepest feelings of despair and shame, and I know I am not the only one who wrestles with them. But right now, I think it’s best to table the question of worthiness and continue my campaign for survival.

Why it’s “Not This Song”

Today is the one-year anniversary of Not This Song‘s creation. The day I made my first post, I had many thoughts and hopes about what this site would be, and many have been achieved. Though there’s far to go in terms of taking these essays to a larger audience–something I both desire and fear–my hopes, and more, have come to life.

Most wonderful among these is that the site still exists and I’m still writing regularly. If you’ve ever known what it’s like to begin and abandon many projects, you know that starting anything for which you have hopes is always accompanied by a faint metallic taste of possible regret; a fear that this new thing will join your pile of might-have-beens. I had that feeling when I began, and the fact that, one post at a time, my writing has continued fills me with joy.

Receiving comments on things I wrote has also filled me with pleasure and gratitude. To hear that my words struck a chord in someone’s heart; made them feel less alone, or made them feel understood…well, that’s what it’s about for me. To learn that my facility with words, one of the gifts I have that my episodes can’t keep me from using, sometimes helps others lets me be more at peace with myself and my limitations. I thank you all for taking my words into your consciousness, even for a moment, and giving me that precious gift.

Anyway, in honor of the site’s birthday, I am going to tell you the story of the name I chose for the site. Why Not This Song? Why not something more obviously descriptive of the site’s material? The short answer is that the name pleased me, resonated with me because of its associations, and the call of it was too strong to ignore. Here is the tale of these associations:

It’s no secret that I have experienced times of deep despair, and had thoughts of ending my life. These took many forms, and could be exacerbated by drugs or by symptoms of my bipolar disorder. It was important to me that I try hard to live, and I got creative about postponing suicide. Not talking myself out of it, if times were really bad–just coming up with a reason to put it off; convince the self-destructive part of me that tomorrow would do just as well. Or next week.

I’ve put off suicide because The Return of the King was coming out in theaters soon. I’ve put off suicide waiting for George R. R. Martin’s latest book. I’ve put it off for an old friend coming to town, for a loved one’s birthday, or because I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s holidays. The reason wasn’t important, as long as I could find or create a reason. The time it bought would get me through long enough to stabilize a bit and be ready to go on.

One day, I encountered what is, to me, the most powerful example of this technique I have ever met. It was in a semi-documentary film called Touching the Void, based on the true story of a climber who fell into an ice crevasse and was (understandably) left for dead by his companions. With multiple injuries including a shattered leg, and battling hypothermia, he makes his way through a tunnel and out onto the mountain, trying to reach the base camp before the party leaves and takes his only hope of survival with them.

He fights through indescribable pain, becoming delirious, and he knows that he’s taken too long. They are almost certainly gone. He picks one goal at a time, a rock or a patch of dark ground, and drags himself to it to choose the next. But this only keeps him going for so long. It’s time to rest, to lay down his head and let death take him. He no longer fears it; it’s got to be better than this.

Now comes the unlikely occurrence that ends up saving his life. As he crawls, delirious, over the ground, a song begins to play in his head as songs sometimes do. It plays louder–it blares, the same chorus over and over; it’s a song he never liked. Over and over, it plays–and, years later, when he’s being interviewed about his ordeal, what do you think he says about how he kept going?

He doesn’t say that his belief in a God sustained him. He doesn’t talk about hope or faith. He doesn’t talk about his loved ones, or quote inspirational literature. He says:

“I didn’t want to die with that song in my head.”

That was it. The perfect metaphor for the reasons I waited and still wait. No lofty speeches, just a simple fact that spoke to me and stuck around in my head. Years later, when I wondered what I would title a book if I ever wrote one, this phrase is what I decided on.

There are so many “songs,” literal or figurative, we can sing or hear in the course of our lives. Even when I am not sure if I can go on living, I am in touch with a part of me that cares how I die. It matters to me what song is going to be the last song playing in my head. Matters enough that I might be willing to hang on long enough for the song to change. To say:

Not right now.
Not this way.
Not This Song.
Not today.