Before the nightmare begins…

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img_1511I dreamed about President Obama last night.We were standing side by side and I had my arm around his skinny little waist. I looked up at him (He’s way taller than I.) and I said, “I love you, Obama.” I suppose it was too up close and personal for him to respond, “I love you back.”

He did, however, give me that famous sparkling smile.

I learned recently that I actually know a person or two who are going to PEOTUS Trump’s inauguration (or as I sometimes say in-nausea-ration). I suppose any inauguration is historic and worth attending. This one is especially so because it’s the first we’ve elected a fascist.

I’m 73 years old and have voted in every election since I came of age. This is the first time I’ve feared that a presidential term would be the beginning of a very long four-year nightmare. I pray that I’m wrong.

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If you can’t stop my pain, you may as well just shoot me!

pills_variety_crop380wI try to be a pragmatic user of medications. I think we have them for a reason and the reason was all mine when I found myself in rehabilitation and unable to perform the most mundane tasks because of intense pain. Having said that, let me add that I thought I possessed a healthy but wary attitude toward all drugs, especially narcotics. I realize now that my perception of pain-killing opioids was informed by my family of origin which was rife with alcoholism and other drug addictions. My father died of complications from his years of drinking excessively. My brother died of an alcohol and drug overdose. Obviously my viewpoint was skewed.

Over the years of my adulthood I have learned to enjoy an occasional glass of wine, and I once took a Vicodin at the emergency room when I had what we believe was a gall bladder event. Triage sent me home with four tablets and told me perhaps I should take only a half since the whole tablet knocked me silly. I ended up throwing out 3 1/2 of them. That experience didn’t do a thing to quell my fear of drugs. In fact, quite the opposite.  Imagine going from that kind of trepidation about taking pain killers to begging for them back in October after my accident. That’s some serious pain.

I don’t remember exactly how long I lay in that hospital bed without any real help for my pain. I know that the therapists came to my room twice a day and laboriously tried to get me to a sitting position but the pain was agonizing and I couldn’t do it. I told them I needed to see a doctor so they sent one to see me. She said she understood I wanted/needed something for pain. I explained that I had to have something if I were going to be able to get up and get well. She left an order. I don’t know what it was but it helped about as much as an aspirin. Even one of my caregivers told me that was not what I needed; that it was not going to help my kind of pain. More time wasted while my muscles continued to atrophy.

Then I got a stroke of good luck. A staff member stopped by one day and asked me how I was doing. I told her I wasn’t making progress because of the pain. She informed me that there was a doctor on staff (I think fairly new there.) who knew all about pain management. She said, “You need to see him. He’s very good.”

I tried not to get my hopes too high but I asked my daytime nurse (CNA) to ask him to see me the next day. In fact I pleaded, “Don’t let him leave tomorrow until he’s seen me.” She promised she wouldn’t. (I have this mental image of her with a lasso around him, dragging him back down the hall. 🙂 )

I don’t think she had to rope him but by golly he showed up and my rehabilitation took a one-eighty turn and I was on my way back. My relief was palpable.

I’ve thought a great deal about what Dr. H (H is for hero.) does that makes him an effective and outstanding doctor. I’ve recently been back at the facility for additional therapy and I saw him in the gym talking to a patient. She was in a wheelchair. He got down in a squat to look her in the face and talk to her. That’s when it all came flooding back to me. That’s what he does. And much more.

He came into my room, introduced himself, looked me in the eyes and we talked. He listened. What I said mattered. He showed no sign of being in a hurry. I was the only patient he had in that moment. This wasn’t one of those 3-5 minute visits. We talked until we said what we needed to communicate to each other. I understood him. He understood me. He made me a partner in my care. That matters a great deal to me. I monitored my medication about as carefully as he did. And guess what? I’m not addicted. That had been a big concern for me.

Dr. H is very young for one so perfectly attuned to his patients needs and concerns. I believe that medical personnel can be taught a great deal about compassion and patient care. But I don’t believe this doctor had to be taught that aspect of caring. He cares about people. He has a good heart. And it shines as he goes about his work. He’s very good indeed, and I’m enormously grateful.

The addiction maze.

800px-Longleat_mazeSometimes my own best interest includes the best interests of others.  But how do I know the best interest of another person?

Eyes wide open?  Or not?

Al-Anon’s CCC.  I didn’t Cause it.  I can’t Cure it.  I can’t Control it.

Can I help at all?  Can I live with myself if I don’t try?  Can I try to help and still take care of myself?  Can I accept the results of my effort?

I am aware that I’m rambling here.  Please bear with me.  This is how I make sense of things, and sometimes make profound decisions.  It’s a type of brainstorming, I suppose.  I think that’s usually a group activity but I am all I have right now.

F.E.A.R:  Face Everything And Respond.  I read this acronym recently on a blog called Almost Spring.  The post cited here is not about addiction, but divorce.  In my experience, both produce a great deal of fear.  The acronym grabbed my attention because I believe that fear may be the greatest motivator humans have at their disposal whether it’s divorce or addiction or clowns or the dark or…you get the picture.  Fear has often caused me to look the other way.  Or deny the obvious.  Or convince myself there’s nothing I can do that will make a difference.  Fear can pump the adrenalin and give one the strength to escape danger, perceived or otherwise, as it did eight-year-old me when my older brother told me someone was following us one night as we were walking home after dark.  It seems to me that adrenalin-producing fear is preferable to fear-induced lethargy.  As the acronym above suggests, face it and then decide how to respond.  Turning away and denying are responses, but are there better ones–for me?  now?  today?

Helping?  Or enabling?  According to most 12-step groups we are helping if we do something for someone that they are not capable of doing for themselves, and we are enabling if we do something for someone that they could, and should, be doing for themselves.  Sounds simple, straightforward enough.  But who am I to determine what another person can or cannot do for him/herself?

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway.  You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

She did what she could…Mark 14:8

Toffee’s swan song?

photo(31)As I stood stirring my bubbly caramel-colored mixture this afternoon, I think I had an epiphany.

I have made English toffee during the Christmas holidays for more years than I can remember.  Why?  That’s the question I asked as I did my mindless stirring.

Years ago I found a toffee recipe in a holiday magazine.  It looked good in the picture. The recipe was easy.  I decided to give it a go.  Delicious.  Yummy.  Much better than the packaged kind we’d had in the past.  The whole family begged for more.  The biggest fan of all was my then husband D.  Every year after that first one, he started asking around Thanksgiving when the toffee assembly line would start up again.

It dawned on me as I prepared the beloved sweet treat today that I was, on some level, still cooking it up for my ex.  That’s the thought that came to mind.  Could that possibly be the case?  I don’t like to admit it but I think it might be so.  Then I thought of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Stay with me now as I try to explain.

If you’ve been reading my blog since last Christmas or before, you are aware that the holiday season is particularly hard for me.  D always made a huge deal of Christmas.  (Too big I realize now.)  And suddenly he was gone.  So what did I do?  I went in the kitchen and I made that damn toffee as if he were still here.  Granted, I’m making it now for family and friends.  And it’s a nice thing to do for them.  I get lots of compliments from all who partake.  What I’m really doing, though, is trying to make Christmas like it used to be.  My version of insanity.

I have finished my confectionery habit for this year.  I have enough to give each daughter’s family a good supply for the holidays.  My quandary now is:  Do I give up making up toffee?  Or shall I continue to supply the family’s sweet tooth — with a new attitude?  Or shall I take a break for a year or so and see what happens?  I don’t know the answer but I’m glad I’ve recognized that I’ve been sabotaging my serenity during the holiday season.  Recognizing the problem is the first step toward solving it.

Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton from “The Best Little Whore House in Texas”

Cleaning windows, and other strange triggers.

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a fan of house cleaning.  Once in a while, though, I have to do a few basics.  Vacuum up cat hair.  (Tell me again why I love Lulu.)  Wash the toothpaste spatters from the bathroom mirror.  Clean an occasional window when it becomes so foggy I can hardly see out.

It was that last job that recently brought a tear to my eye.  It made me think of Jeanette, my dear friend, and the woman who kept my house spotless for several years.  There I stood trying to get the damn streaks out, wishing I were reading a book, lifting weights, going for a walk, standing on my head — anything but cleaning windows.

Not only do I miss J’s cleaning skills, but I miss her.  She was my friend from the time we first met, but I learned what her friendship really meant to me when D moved out.  She held my hands and hugged me and cried with me.  She loved me the very best that she could through the toughest time of my life.  I never had a better friend.  We still talk on the phone from time to time.  She stays constantly on the go, raising a young granddaughter all by herself.  She’s older than I am.  I don’t know how she does it.  But she does, without complaint.

And so I went from feeling pitiful for having to clean windows (How silly is that?), and missing Jeanette (not so silly), to singing my favorite window-cleaning song along with Van Morrison, both of us at high volume.  Sadness evaporates like Windex on a window pane when Van’s in the room.

This afternoon my grandson came over to help me with some chores around the house.  He’s very handy.  He repaired a light switch in the bathroom.  Now I don’t have to worry about the light suddenly coming on at three in the morning.  He programmed my thermostat so it would stop clicking on at odd times and making the downstairs too hot.  I probably could have done that one myself if the print in the instruction booklet wasn’t so small.  Once he had finished a few other minor odd jobs, he came in from the garage and inquired, “Grandma, are you ready for your tree?”

Until that moment I had been undecided.  I wrestle with the tree issue every year.  So far I haven’t figured out whether it’s sadder with or without it.  Spontaneously, I gave him my answer, “Yep, let’s bring it in.”  And so we did.

As he was putting the tree together, I reminded Grandson that he has helped me reconstruct the tree every year I’ve had it except the year I bought it.  That year I did it all by myself just to prove I could.  The memory brings back a flood of emotions that I tried hard not to show in Grandson’s presence.

It was my second Christmas alone, my first in this house.  I knew I couldn’t handle a real tree by myself.  We had always had the real thing in the past so buying a “fake” was a difficult decision.  But I knew it was the only practical thing to do so I headed off to Peppermint Forest in search of the perfect not-so-perfect Christmas tree.

I walked around the “forest” many times as I struggled to justify the prices on the tags of the best quality, prettiest trees.  I finally bit the bullet and chose my favorite, rationalizing that over a period of several years the price would become roughly the equivalent of having bought a real tree each of those years.  I stood in line, paid for the tree, and waited for the giant elves to load it into my car.

I got home with my precious purchase only to realize I might not be able to get it out of the car by myself.  I was able to pull the box to the garage floor, open it, and carry each piece/tier of the tree into the house.  As soon as I started to put the tiers together I realized the tree was too big for my room.  What was I to do?  What could I do?  I did what any not so sane person would do.  I sat on the floor and cried.  I’m talking BOO HOO crying.

Then I got tough again.  And I started putting those heavy, prickly branches back in that damn shrinking box.  By then I was crying angrily.  Angry at the world, and most especially at my ex.  This entire fiasco was his fault.

I know that fear often causes a surge of adrenaline, giving a spurt of strength that a person doesn’t normally have.  I did not know until that day that anger and frustration can have the same effect.  Now I know.  I put that box, tree and all, back in my car by myself, and drove back to the “tree farm”, despite the fact that they had a no-return policy.

I locked the tree in the car, took my receipt inside, waited in line again.  I had practiced my spiel as I drove.  In my calmest, steadiest voice I explained that I couldn’t use the tree and wanted to trade for one slightly smaller.  When the clerk hesitated, my voice stayed calm but my teary eyes betrayed me as I said, “I have never done this Christmas tree thing by myself.  I misjudged the size.  I’m asking if you would be so kind as to make an exception for me.”  By that time I had an audience which included three clerks, one a manager.  The manager stepped up to the plate and told me (and the rest of the gang), “Yes, ma’am, we will.”

I suppose I still feel the trauma of that experience each year when we bring out the holly and the ivy, and yes, the magnificent tree.  I’ve laughed and cried as I’ve written this piece.  I’m grateful for both, I think.  At least I’m no longer numb.  Feeling deeply is a good thing, isn’t it?

Looking back, but leaning forward.

I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me cry.             ~ Cat Stevens

I cry a little every day.  I have done so for almost six years now.  Maybe it’s cleansing, but I’m getting rather tired of it.

I grew up being the dependable, strong child in the family.  That sounds like a good thing, but it wasn’t necessarily.  I was the middle of five children and what I was really doing was trying to keep the peace.  Discord terrified me because my dad was a violent alcoholic, and at times violent while sober.  I tried to soothe my younger sisters and I begged my older angry brother not to make waves at the dinner table.  Then, when my brother didn’t take my advice and Daddy dragged him from the table beating him with a belt, buckle and all, I would plead with my dad to stop.  I learned to plead from a distance else my dad would give me a whack on his back swing.  Dinner was fun at my house.

I’m not sure why that last paragraph popped in on this post.  I think it’s the fact that I was scolded for crying when I was a child.  For example, I would be crying when my father finally let go of my brother and he (Dad) would scream, “Stop your damn crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”  So I learned not to cry.  Maybe I’m just catching up now.  All those unshed tears from my youth are finally allowed to flow.  And so they do.

Does this mean that my ex-husband did me a favor by leaving?  He saw how desperately I needed to cry so he decided to help me out?  Gave me a reason to cry?  Gave me many reasons to cry?  My tongue is firmly in my cheek now and I’m not crying.  I’m laughing.  It feels good to laugh.  It reminds me that I still have a sense of humor, and I can laugh at myself and my situation.  This would make great slapstick.  Maybe I’ll write a play.  I’ll call it “Now That You Broke My Heart, What’s Gonna Pump My Blood?”

I saw my ex on Saturday at Stella’s birthday party.  (She’s six.)  I recognize now, and have for some time, that he’s nothing like the D I once knew and loved.  Sometimes I may sound like I want him back, but I don’t.  It simply means I’m having a weak moment.  Or I’m feeling lonely.  Or maybe I’m remembering and longing for what was a long time ago.  We had a lot of good years together.  There’s much to remember fondly.  But wanting it back is fantasy.  It doesn’t exist now.

Happy tears.  Sad tears.  They’re all good.

Bitterblue by Cat Stevens at Royal Albert Hall (1970s)

Divorce — the collateral damage.

I’ve been divorced long enough now to be somewhat comfortable in my skin again.  I have friends and family and church and mobility and … everything I really need to be a happy, helpful member of the human race.

I don’t always accept what divorce has delivered to me on a not-so-silver platter, but I have found peace with most of it, most of the time.

I find it interesting that each time I become resigned to what is, a new form of loss washes over me.  Lately I have thought of the many acquaintances whom I no longer have contact with because I have no contact with my ex-husband.  I miss them.  Many of them were repeat overnight guests in our home and I had come to think of them as friends.  These were business associates who worked regularly with D.

Sometimes they would take D and me out to dinner, their way of paying for their lodging, I suppose.  Often we stayed in and I cooked dinner.  Some of them, I knew, seldom got home-cooked meals.  A few came to know me well enough to request a particular meal.  I always suspected they were encouraged by D when he knew they liked the same meals he did.  I was comfortable with that.

Perhaps, as cynical Maxine says in the cartoon above, these old acquaintances are better forgot.  I should sweep them up like so much shattered glass and toss them.  Forget them.  Fortunately (or not), I’m not that much of a cynic.  Well, a few of those characters were forgettable.  But some were not.

I’ve thought recently of my favorite of the lot, T the Swede.  Let me say first that he was pleasant to look at.  Now that I’ve settled that, I can tell you that it wasn’t his good looks that captured my attention.  I think D and I liked him equally.  He was kind and thoughtful.  He listened and became totally engaged in the conversation at hand.  He asked questions as if he really wanted to learn the answers.  Everyone who knew him seemed to feel the way we did about him.  He invited us to visit him and his family in Sweden.  They had a place on a lake.  I think the invitation was sincere.  I wish we had gone.

A while back, D sent me an email telling me that T had suffered a horrible skiing accident and his injuries now confine him to a wheelchair.  I keep thinking about T’s love for his wife and boys and of the tender care he bestowed upon them.  T and his wife L and their first son A spent a few days with us once when they were in the States.  We enjoyed having them.  Little A was still a baby and T was an expert parent.  As I reflect on those days long gone, I find myself hoping that T is now receiving that same unselfish love and care that he so effortlessly gave to others.

It was kind of D to update me as to T’s condition.  It tells me that he remembers how much I favored T over all the others.  He also sent me T’s email address.  I think it’s time I should send T a note.