Sunday, January 16, 2011

Authenticity and Menopause

A dearly beloved friend said to me last night, "I'm at war with myself!" as she described her conflicting feelings and responsibilities. Like so many of us, she has reached that critical point of her life when her own needs are coming to the surface and overriding her previous programing of protecting home and hearth at all costs. Especially the cost of the female self.

We live in the south, where ignoring one's own needs for the benefit of others is positively a path to sainthood. Women who put themselves first, according to scripture and society, are headed to hell. Yet Northrup argues that sublimation of needs creates a kind of "debt account" which fills with the issues we ignore. Then perimenopause comes along and the authentic self, the part of self that wanted a career, needs to nurture relationships outside the home, the part of self that holds need, want and desire rises like the phoenix. And instead of embracing this opportunity of growth, women are told they are selfish...

Makes me want to scream! The good dr says, "This is likely to turn into a period of great emotional turmoil, as each woman struggles to make a new life, one that can accommodate her emerging self." Of course, that lovely statement doesn't account for the divorce, career or identity changes. It's commonly acknowledged in the lesbian community its a time when many women come out of the closet. Northrup herself went through a divorce. Northrup continues: "Externally and internally, this period is a mirror image of adolescence, a time when our bodies and brains were also going through major hormonal shifts that gave us the energy to attempt to individuate from our families and become the person we were meant to be. At menopause we pick up where we left off in adolescence. It is now time to the finish the job."

As my friend spoke, I was reminded of my own determination to gain authenticity in my life. I love that word: authenticity. It roles off my tongue as a taste, a desire, a need. I began my own journey toward authenticity, as many do, as a need unnamed. I just knew I could not continue in the life I had. I didn't know then that I was perimenopausal, a time Dr Christine Northup describes in her book WOMEN'S BODIES, WOMEN'S WISDOM, as the "mother of all wake-up calls." Northup argues that our periods create a cyclical opportunity to  examine our lives and to be contact with ourselves instead of blocking out our needs altogether in order to please others, especially but not exclusively, husbands and children.

Northrup describes women's energies during her early years as being focused on caring for others. The  hormones that drive the menstrual cycle "foster her instincts for nurturing, her devotion to cohesion, and harmony within her world. But for two or three days each month, just before or during our periods, there is a hormonal interlude when the veil between our conscious and unconscious selves is thinner and the voice of our souls beckons to us, subtly reminding us of our own passions, our own needs, which cannot and should not always be subsumed to the needs of those we love." Given that I had periods every 20 days, and my periods often last ten days, I always felt I was at the mercy of my own body. I also wasn't feeling this 12 times a year but 18...and I can say that this conflicting war road my adult years straight into the hell of my own making. I tried to be married, I tried to raise children, I was angry, depressed, betrayed by my inability to fit the world my family and society demanded I occupy.

Blessedly, I hit the perimenopausal years early. I didn't know it at the time, but when I followed Cameron into South Carolina, I was well into perimenopause. By forty-five I was in full menopause. And yes, I absolutely believe that I think differently, view the world differently and judge the world differently as a result.  As Northrup says, "We go from an alternating current of inner wisdom to a direct current that remains on all the time after meneopause is complete. During perimenopause, our brains make the change from one way of being to the other." We are biologically driven, she says, to withdraw from the outside world for a time and revisit the past. It's the time when I reentered therapy. Instead of mothering others, I began mothering myself.

So I watch my friend, who is at war with herself, without judgement. She struggles with the ethics of her needs and desires, and I see the bigger picture of her becoming. She walks a sacred path on a sacred journey of becoming. I am privileged to share her journey, and recognize her pain as it reflects my own freshly healed wounds. Blessed be, Earth Child, as you find your way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Cure for Burnout

Two or three snow days can go a long way to cure burnout. I won't profess to be entirely healed, it'll take a job change to make that happen, but my weary spirits have taken great joy in this unexpected holiday.

Cameron and I have been blessed to not loose power, to have enough funds to buy a cord of wood, and to have a fireplace. She's finished reading one book to me and begun another. I've tromped in snow, taken a few pictures and reveled in the peace.

Tomorrow we'll finish digging out my car. I'll back it out and turn it to face the road for my journey to work on Thursday. But tonight I have a roaring fire and cheesecake. Life is good.

Seven Inches ... and Counting

Snow, that is. Come on! I'm a lesbian.

Cameron and I watched the weather channel most of the day yesterday, debating about work. She'd get convinced I couldn't make it and I'd make a case for why I had to. Scrooge waited too long to be able to close today. Remember, I'm a substance abuse counselor and we do methadone maintenance. Methadone has a half life, meaning half of what you took yesterday will be in your system today. And half of half of the day before and so forth. So our clients can miss a dose and be fine. Maybe two if they take care of themselves and don't overdo. Had we been closed both Monday and Tuesday, folks who didn't know would be in withdrawal.

I was excited, like a kid before Christmas, and couldn't sleep last night. About 2:30 this morning I got my wish with enough snow to call and leave a message on my manager's voice mail saying the roads at my house were impassable. Since I leave for work at 4 am, that 2:30 isn't long before I would have been headed out anyway.

I've been amused by Weather Channel's focus on Atlanta and Charlotte. They really missed an excellent opportunity. They should have been in Greenville, SC.

I actually began this entry yesterday, but the internet did not cooperate. Since then, Cameron has posted wonderful pictures. So I'm referring you there!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Reflections and Snow

I work one Saturday out of every 4 or 5. Everyone dreads those Saturdays, even though we're only there a couple of hours. This Saturday was particularly challenging because Cameron and I stayed up late last night. Cameron's Dad had told her that there was a new projector system at the Planetarium, and it sounded like fun because last night's show was to be about astronauts. Lack of money, work, school, practicum and such have seriously deprived us of a social life these last four years. It was only $5, so we went. It was awesome! I had forgotten, however, how steep the school bus steps can be. Wow. But once I survived the school bus shuttle, the experience was impressive. I never experienced that kind of show before. Cameron's tummy, due to her lack of inner ear bones, didn't do so well with the Mars roller coaster. Or maybe that was a good excuse for a milk shake on the way home.

So I slept in till 4 am because Saturdays at work are casual. With the potential for the worst winter storm in 20 years to roll through Sunday and Monday, all the clients were concerned about getting their medication and safety. Unfortunately, Scrooge had to make a judgement call yesterday, when we could contact clients who were't in the clinic, to warn them to pick up today. He decided he'd be open Monday and closed Tuesday. With the winter weather predictions rolling in, I called clients to warn them to be at the clinic when it opens Monday. However, the weather predictions suggest most of won't make to the clinic on Monday, no matter how early.

I brought Cameron a croissant and we had breakfast before she headed to school for the day. Her class will likewise have to make some decisions as they scheduled for Monday and Tuesday night. Jan term classes only last a month, so they don't have much opportunity to make time up.

When she left, I headed to the post office. A lovely woman bought a Celtic necklace off my Etsy site. Who ever heard of not opening the post office window until 10? But it did give the opportunity to visit with some lovely ladies who likewise were stuck waiting. One was from New York and described several storms with 5-10 feet of snow. Her best story was when her husband was determined to get out and make it the corner grocery. She asked him to bring back something sweet. He bought donuts, but the fight through the snow left them in crumbles. She laughed and said they were delicious eaten with a spoon.

Necklace mailed, I came home to take a nap. That is, until I heard the updated weather report. I promptly headed to the storage building to search for fire starter, logs, etc. Found the camp stove. Paranoia? Maybe. But four years ago we went without power for 9 days. The weather channel is warning of possible loss of power with the snow and freezing rain. We're usually one of the last to be restored because we so far from town. Maybe I can talk Cameron into buying some wood on the way home.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Next Step

When I stepped upon my Pagan Path in the early 90's, I had no idea where it would lead. My first glimpse of Paganism was actually in the 80's, when RaeLynn, a beautiful dyke I still think of fondly and much regret, had several powerful gifts. She called herself a witch, and at the time I didn't have the vocabulary to inquire about her training or former community. We were in grad school at Southern Illinois at Carbondale. I still had dreams of becoming an English professor. She was getting a terminal degree in Creative Writing (try finding a job that will support; sigh). One late evening we went to the local state park, hiking to the top of ridge. In a private nook I played lookout (with many glances over my shoulder as she was a beautiful woman), as she took her shirt off and blessed herself in the streaming moonlight. She was beautiful.

Several years later I found my way to the metaphysical bookstore that hosted my first circle (click here for the back story). I became Weaver, later Grace, and finally Grace DreamWeaver. My path to my third degree coincided with taking Pastoral Therapy as I began my journal as a student in Marriage and Family Therapy. Now I work as a substance abuse counselor, have graduated, am a Marriage and Family Therapy Intern (LMFT-I isn't as grand as it might be when you print 50+ case notes every month to be filed, in addition to assorted Dr orders, etc and sign it to takes more time! LOL). It takes two years and 1500 clinical hours to become a full fledged therapist, including 150 hours of supervision. Today will make 40 hours of that count and yesterday was my first day of supervision.

With the right supervisor, I love supervision. I had four different supervisors in the program and one who was not useful. I dodged the not useful one as an intern by switching my service to Safe Homes/Rape Crisis Coalition and offering service for supervision. The supervisor is in still in process herself of completing the requirements to be a full fledged supervisor. She's also a former professor; I don't know which one of us is more excited to have formed the professional relationship: )

While I am totally jazzed about where I will be volunteering my time, it has also hit me like a ton of bricks. The shift of plan to Safe Homes only happened over the last month, so I didn't really process what that would mean to my doing therapy. Yesterday, I got the wake up call. My supervisor and I role played an intake so I could see how she does it. Intakes vary by clinic, and while ask about sexual, physical and emotional abuse, it's a little different at Safe Homes. And it really impacted me -- all I could think was "Oh man! What was I thinking?!" I'm listening to a therapist preparing for court. I hear another on the phone doing an intake and talking about restraining orders. We talk about being mandated reporters and role play info that would require a report. Oh boy...

I went home thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?" The first a report I made on a client; a co-therapist called based on the information provided by a child. I lost my client, of course. The other time I reported was a neighbor/trailer park manager who was allowing drug dealers to take over the neighborhood and pimping her teen/adolescent daughters out for food and drugs. No matter how badly the call needs to be made, it's always hard.

Now, I won't be seeing the crisis clients at the shelter. I will be seeing clients who request therapy or are referred to therapy by DSS or SADAC. Most will be working through issues when they were kids or in a prior relationship. Nevertheless, the clients and their potential stories really hit me hard. I guess it got real. In a way, my reaction is kind of silly. Rarely do my clients at work not have these same histories. Abuse can lead to substance abuse to cope with the past. Nevertheless, Cameron and I spent some time last night processing this next step in my career and in my calling.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Iraqi government seen as setback for women

I have come to believe that a nation's future may be predicted by the involvement of their women in government. As I continue to follow the middle eastern news and the rebirth of the Iraqi nation, I am struck by the patriarchal nature of the new government, which to me suggests a militaristic nation that hold our economic futures in their hands every time we go to the to the gas pump.

Stoning in Iraq was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Although Iran's judiciary still regularly issues stoning sentences, they are often converted to other punishments. The last known stoning was carried out in 2007, although the government rarely confirms or comments on stonings. Nevertheless, since 2006 Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has faced the possibility of stoning. She was taken from prison late Saturday to meet with journalists in another bid by Iran to highlight her purported confession of helping her lover kill her husband. As her name plays across the Yahoo headlines today, I struggle discerning what is truth from propaganda in her case. My renewed alarm at her story brings the following news article even more concern. Taken from the Miami Harold:


When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki introduced what he called a national partnership government two weeks ago, he included allies and adversaries, Arabs and Kurds, Shiite Muslims and Sunnis. One group, however, was woefully underrepresented.
Only one woman was named to al-Maliki's 42-member cabinet, sparking an outcry in a country that once was a beacon for women's rights in the Arab world and adding to an ongoing struggle over the identity of the new Iraq.
Whether this fledgling nation becomes a liberal democracy or an Islamist-led patriarchy might well be judged by the place it affords its women. Nearly eight years after American-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, Iraq's record is decidedly mixed.
Al-Maliki's last cabinet included four women, and since 2005 the Iraqi constitution has set aside one-quarter of legislative seats for females. Of 325 lawmakers elected in March, 82 were women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Yet analysts said their political contributions so far have been limited, and activists and female lawmakers seized on their exclusion from the new cabinet as a sign of women's continued struggle to find a place in Iraqi public life.
"It's a mockery," said Hanaa Edwar, a founder of the Iraqi al-Amal Association, a leading women's rights group. "Especially when you take into consideration that this is a retreat from the previous cabinet ... it's really a slap in the face for all of us."
The lone woman in the cabinet, Bushra Hussein, was named a minister of state, a relatively low position without a portfolio or budget. Another female lawmaker, Vyan Dakheel, told McClatchy Newspapers that she was offered the post of minister of state for women's affairs but turned it down because that ministry was "just a show ... without real power to serve women"; it's now being filled temporarily by a man.
After al-Maliki announced his lineup, Alaa Talabani, a female lawmaker from the northern Kurdistan region, delivered a rousing condemnation of the selection process to a packed legislative chamber.
"The Iraqi women feel today, more than any other day, that democracy in Iraq has been slaughtered by discrimination, just as it was slaughtered by sectarianism before," Talabani said, her voice quaking with emotion.
Al-Maliki returned to the lectern somewhat red-faced and said, "I had hoped that this cabinet would have more women than the last." He demanded that party leaders propose female candidates for the handful of vacancies remaining in the cabinet.
The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, said of the one-sided list: "It surprised us."
Yet many believe that nominating women to cabinet posts - which control the all-powerful government ministries and their massive budgets - simply hadn't occurred to the male-dominated ranks of party leaders.
For decades, Iraq led the region in promoting women's rights, beginning in 1959 with the passage of an extremely progressive civil liberties law and the appointment of the first female minister in the Arab world. Even Saddam was a friend to women in the 1970s and 1980s, passing strong legislation against sexual harassment and bringing huge numbers of women into the workforce as part of a drive to industrialize Iraq.
Now, however, Iraqi women are finding their hard-won freedoms limited by a society increasingly governed by religious conservatives. Many Iraqis say that politicians at the local and provincial levels, whether they hail from Islamist parties or merely take cues from them, are putting pressure on women to circumscribe their public role.
In Wasit, a mostly Shiite Muslim province southeast of Baghdad, women hold nine of 28 seats on the provincial council. Earlier this year, one was in a car accident and had to be carried to safety by her bodyguards, an incident that could have been construed as indecent.
Afterward, the female council members asked to employ a male member of each of their families to serve as a "mahram," or chaperone, when they traveled on public business "to avoid embarrassment," said Zaineb Raheem Abeed, a council member.
"She was pulled, pushed, lifted and dragged by men who do not have any relation to her," Abeed said of the lawmaker in the accident. "This is very embarrassing and not acceptable in our society, as you know."
Last month in Baghdad, a headmaster of a boys-only high school told parents that the school was struggling to field teachers for Arabic, math and biology classes because of pressures from the Baghdad provincial council, which is dominated by members of al-Maliki's Shiite Islamist Dawa party. The headmaster, whose name is being withheld to spare him from recriminations, said that council officials were opposed to women being alone in classrooms with teenage boys.
"Some of our most successful teachers are women," the headmaster told a parent-teacher meeting. "If they have no objection teaching boys of this age group, I don't see why they should be discouraged."
A member of the Baghdad council, Mohammed al-Rubeiy, said that while such policies weren't explicit, "there are high-ranking people who are pushing in that direction."
"If Iraq were to move on the same trajectory that it's currently on ... then, yes, it is moving toward a situation in which freedoms will become more limited," Rubeiy said.
"But Iraqi society by its very nature has both people like Hanaa Edwar and Islamists. And it is my belief that Iraq will never be ruled completely by Islamists."
The tension between the two sides bubbled over last month in Kadhmiyah, a section of northern Baghdad, where local Islamist leaders erected a provocative display outside a major Shiite shrine. It shows four mannequins wearing the hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering for women, while behind four mannequins with uncovered heads are laced with burns, shackled in chains and have red strands lapping at their feet to simulate a fiery afterlife.
The message to women is clear: Dress modestly, or burn in hell.
"It's a reminder that there is a heavenly reward for those who are committed to the instructions of the Quran," the Muslim holy book, said Hazim al-Araji, the head of the social committee for the hard-line Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political organization, which helped sponsor the display. "And there is a punishment for those who don't."
Almost immediately, a rival campaign sponsored by secularists erected signs urging Iraqis not to impose the hijab, some carrying the message: "Baghdad Won't Become Kandahar," a reference to the capital of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"They want to fight and punish Islam with their ideas, which are far from the beliefs of Iraq and the Iraqis," Araji said. "What they are selling will never find a market here."
Edwar, whose organization opposed the hijab campaign, said that Sadrists and their allies "want to put the whole Iraqi state under the cover of religion." It's part of a larger fight over the future of Iraq, she said, but for now she's focused on lobbying political leaders to nominate women for the cabinet vacancies.
"This is a unique opportunity for us," Edwar said. "If we don't use it we will lose a lot of our achievements."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Too Funny! Snowball Fight

Maturity and trickery works every time!