Friday, October 28, 2011

A Change of Perspective and a Journey through Time

The view from my new desk

Amazing what a change in perspective can do. Of course, in my case, it took two months, being shoved into a dark office and the loss of a window to realize how oppressive a 4 ft x 10 ft office can be. Previously, I could not stand without my chair hitting the wall. I had a double door which clients referred to as the barn door. The connotations are not good.

To the left of my desk

The first class I took when I started this journey was Pastoral Therapy, so I thought of therapy as sacred from the very beginning. I often tell my client that we create sacred space together to experience their growth and change. So now I bring sacredness to this office, with several of Cameron's paintings. Above is a collage she created that expresses both pagan and Christian iconography. I love the drawing together of disparate and yet similar imagery. It's a powerful representation of both mine and Cameron's spiritual paths. Also pictured is a cross stitch Serenity Prayer. I created it for the boy's father, who handed it back when we divorced. It's dated 1983, the year before the I gave birth to my first son and married his father. I love the way it symbolically brings forward who I was and the beginnings of my path. I was 20 years old, about to divorce and remarry. Pregnant. Confused and filled with fear. I hadn't even found the 12-step programs yet, but I was drawn to the prayer. It hung in the boy's father's house above the television in the living room for four years, until we divorced, too. Mercy, I was a damaged child then. Much like my clients.

Entering my office:
my desk, cross stitch universe, and credentials 

When you enter my office, this is what you see. It's a huge desk! I love it! Behind, on the walls, are my credentials and a cross stitch of the universe, completed in 1995. I was 32. Married for the fourth time. I had already been widowed, David buried in the military cemetery in Arlingtonville, Ga. I was in graduate school for the first time and dreaming of tenure and teaching English on the college level. I never dreamed I wouldn't graduate, but would use the theories I was learning as the theoretical foundation of Converse's marriage and family therapy program.

To the right of my desk; I have a window!!!!

And of course, my window! Someone else's client stepped in moments ago to congratulate me on my new office. He doesn't know me, has no idea of my sexual orientation, but said, "I'm so glad they let you out of the closet!"

As I write this, I added the second part of the title. All week I've been thinking of my office as a reflection of my journey. From Arkansas to South Carolina. From broken marriages to an eight year commitment that will last my lifetime. From loss and darkness, from feeling confined in a small space, to the largest office of the building. To a feeling of expansiveness and possibility. Certainly, we still dream of Portland. I feel my future clients calling me. But the journey just got a whole lot more pleasant.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Whew! The weekend after the trip

Arriving home after lunch on Sunday, and then going right back to work on Monday, is a challenge. I go to Safe Homes/Rape Crisis Coalition on Mondays and Tuesdays after work, so I didn't arrive home until late on both days. By Wednesday, it was crash and burn. I got home, fell over in bed, and woke long enough to eat and go to bed. If I have ever hated waking for work at 3:30 in the morning, it's this week!

Monday was especially difficult because my head space was still in Arkansas. It was an extraordinary, transformative week. The joy and ease of staying with my son and his wife was amazing. While I had emotional flashback in preparing to see the parents, yet the visits went well and had their own beauty.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the week was missing my wife. But even that missing had an unexpected joy. I've known for many years the solidity of our relationship. I've long since yielded the fear and doubt and limits of relationships through the sheer constancy of Cameron's love. Indeed, Cameron has demonstrated unfailing love for me, bring profound healing to my life. We've not often been apart, and never for so many days. Arriving home was sweet. I had missed her terribly: )

So it's a quiet weekend. Home made pizza tonight, chicken wings and roasted potatoes last night. Now we lounge on the bed, watching the food channel. At one point we counted 17 cats on the bed. Nevertheless, it's a quiet, beautiful night and I am blessed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One Final Guest Blog Post by Cameron...."Going to Arkansas..."

Grace Dreamweaver
Dreamweaver and I have been talking off and on via cell phone and computer chat all week long during her trip to Arkansas. (of course, given the state of the cell phone connection, at least half of the conversations have been one of us screaming "CAN YOU HEAR ME?!?"  while the other one was saying "You sound like you're sitting right next to me, clear as bell, are you there?" *sigh*) Any way, she has asked me to write out some thoughts about her trip in our discussions. After some thought, I decided, to make it a guest post for her on her own blog. I can link it to mine. And I have permission to tell parts of her story.

First of all, never ever forget this. Dreamweaver is brave. Brave and heroic! Every trip to Arkansas carries with it bittersweet pain, co-mingled with nightmare. She is only just beginning to build a body of memory that has joy and happiness associated with "going to Arkansas".  The entire state is one great big PTSD  trigger for her; returning to it is always an act of courage and faith.

She was born in Indiana and then uprooted as a child to Arkansas away from family, her church and all she had ever known by events beyond her control - she only learned some of the truths behind that event so long ago on this trip, in conversation with her father. Her mother has schizophrenia...there is no way to over estimate the collateral damage this illness can cause in a child's life when a parent has this illness. Her mother, (let it be pointed out, only because of the grip of the illness, its paranoia and the voices in her head), neglected, abused and communicated to her only daughter that she, Dreamweaver, was not wanted. Was not loved. That she should not have existed. Her mother withheld love and affection, often acting as if Dreamweaver did not exist, even to the point of withholding food. There was no stability in that house. Rules changed. Permission to do the smallest thing would be given and rescinded hours later, harsh punishment always followed. Dreamweaver learned to live without a hard and fast reality. Learned that rules were not to be trusted. Learned that nothing was ever safe. And as she grew up, Arkansas,  with its deeply abusive conservatism and unspoken unreasonable societally constructed "rules" became hell on earth. No matter what she did, she could never get it right. No matter what she did, nothing ever made sense. There was no hard and fast ground to stand on, any where.

She fled Arkansas and her first short unwanted marriage (her mother literally forced Dreamweaver to marry the young man she was then dating, though Dreamweaver did not want to). She was then her late teens, with no concept of what a normal life was or how to function in the "real" world. And the real world, as it does so many of us, chewed her up and spit her out. She returned shattered and broken to Arkansas, remarried, had two sons. There is a lot of this story I am not telling, because its her story to tell...but I am going to focus on a certain part of the story, with her permission, in this post. Her second husband was a complicated problem. He was a good man as best he knew how to be. He was funny and he loved his sons....but he was also chronically depressed, an unambitious man who would only ever have a high school education and a low paying factory job in one factory his whole life, and his wit could and did turn sarcastic and cruel. He was so far out of his league being married to Dreamweaver, that I can sometimes muster up some pity for him.

 Dreamweaver is stunningly intelligent, she wanted more than dirt ignorance and a lonely house, a community that rejected her, and a factory or cashier job in perpetuity. She struggled with her past. She had to commit her mother to institutionalized care during those years, because her father would not step up to the plate and deal with the situation. She struggled with rejection, never fitting in any where, in their church or community. She also struggled with the beginnings of chronic life long depression, and then further, with post-postpartum depression on top of that after the birth of her second son. She struggled to parent two small active children, with no skills, no help, no way to know how to be a parent; when all she had ever known of parenting herself was abuse and mistreatment, passed down through generations of dysfunctional families. She feared desperately her own temper, her own lack of understanding or knowledge, her isolation, and lack of parenting skills. She did her best, and all the while, her soon to be Ex husband, either could not or would not give her the support, the care, the kindness, the understanding she needed to survive and escape her past. He loved her...but he did not love her unconditionally, he could not connect the dots between her past hell and her present struggle. He judged and he cut her with his words, driving her further into depression and shame.

And lets be honest - Dreamweaver struggled with a temper, that was created by and complicated by PTSD triggers, and damaged attachment from her childhood. She had no way to self soothe, or to understand how the effects of her abusive childhood were shattering her ability to manage relationships. There is no way around the fact that she was not easy to live with...but she knew too, that something wasn't right. At one point, pleading for help, struggling with Post-partum depression on top of her already desperate situation, she called DSS on herself, terrified of her own behaviors and temper. DSS, got her a baby sitter for one afternoon, sent her to the mall for a few hours, and closed the case. Not, as you might guess, a lot of help there...

And of course, this marriage ended. And Dreamweaver gave the care and custody of her children to her Ex, terrified of and fleeing the possibility that she would pass on to them the damage done to her by her mother, and dysfunctional past. She struck out to make something of herself, to have a career  and a life and to afford more for her children someday in the future, when things might someday be better.

She wanted college, and a world where education and a career made a difference. Today she holds a BA, an MA, an EDS, and is a liscenced therapist working in her field and seeking to build a private practice. She began back then by entering college in Indiana. Her marriage with Ex may have ended...but of course, when you have children together, like it or not, you must continue to co-parent. To be in a relationship  with the person you have divorced. The Ex stayed in Arkansas, with the boys; Dreamweaver went to college, looking out and up. She earned her BA in English in Indiana, and during that time, she dated men, but never looked for more than friendship and fun. School was her main focus and passion. She traveled endless miles to see her sons, and beggared herself financially to bring them to her for visitation, all the while struggling with the endless guerrilla warfare of the Ex, who resented her and her involvement in her own sons lives. She would arrive in Arkansas, for her scheduled time with her sons, to find "plans" made that prevented her from being with them, or circumventing what she had planned to do with them. She dealt constantly with manipulation, and shortened visits, and spiteful behavior from her Ex, and legally she probably could have called him on it in the courts, if she had known how the system worked, how it was being played against her.

Her relationship with her parents remained strained at best, but she did see them, off and on, and so did the grandchildren, Dreamweaver's sons.During those years she remarried once again, and then was widowed, which was a shattering event unto itself. And now we come to something that happened that was to nearly destroy Dreamweaver. She was dating/friends with an Indian man - Indian as in India, the country, not the American indigenous people - who also knew the kids, and spent time with them when he could. Their relationship caused difficulties for them when they were in Arkansas - he was very dark skinned, and they were taunted with racists slurs and bigotry; at one point they were very nearly run off the road by another car for being an interracial couple. Dreamweaver considered him a friend more than a boyfriend, though they were dating. She  kept the relationship very circumspect, especially when the children were visiting her. And then disaster struck...Indian had a car wreck. He was alone in the car, no one was with him; the kids who were up visiting, were with Dreamweaver, elsewhere.

And out of the blue, the next time she went to Arkansas to pick up her children at their school, she was presented with a restraining order denying her ability to see them, alleging endangerment by allowing them to be in the car with a man not she was not married to, and allegedly involving them in the wreck - which they were not! they were never anywhere near the wreck - and calling for her appearance in court to most likely lose her visitation rights. It was a cobbled up lie, complete fiction,  and it was about to cost her her children. And underneath it boiled the societal prejudices against non-custodial mothers, and interracial dating. Horrified, she sought a lawyer and set out to endure the separation from her children, struggling to prepare for the court. In the end, the legal advice she was given was brutally simple...if you ever want to see your children again, even though none of this is your fault, and none of it really happened, you and Indian must get married. Its your only choice, your only hope,your only chance, she was told, because due to cultural prejudice and small town politics, you will not win this one. If you and he are legally married, then it becomes null and void. Stunned, heartsick and exhausted, Dreamweaver complied, marrying Indian, before the court date, even though she did not really want to. Every instinct she had warned her that this was not what she should do. And it was her only choice, or otherwise she would not see her sons again for over a decade.  (this made Arkansas legal history btw; the laws were amended after what happened to her so that restraining orders could never again be served to a parent on school grounds, which is what happened to her when she went to pick up her sons on that horrible day.)

The courts case crumbled, and years later Ex apologized for the harm he  had done by pushing the flawed and illegal case at the behest of an ambitious and hungry lawyer. (little did he know, for he knows nothing of what really happened after.)  Her youngest son, the Enlightened One,  shaken by the obvious lies, and by not seeing her for so long, requested to change custody to her care; he was too young to legally make the choice to go live with her...but her older son, The Marine, was old enough to petition the courts. And so they moved in with her, later, when she came to live in Atlanta with Indian.

But now, Dreamweaver was married to Indian. And her instinct that she really didn't want to marry him proved out to be fatally right. Indian turned out to be her darkest nightmare. Ex was a confused, narrow, judgmental man, a product of white patriarchal  male Arkansas culture at its most bigoted narrowest, but he tried to love Dreamweaver - he just no more had the skills to be in a relationship then  she did, at the time. He did and does love his sons... but Indian was an honest-to-god Sociopath, for real, with no conscience or morality to speak of. His intent from the beginning had been Dreamweaver's destruction, and once he married her, as carelessly cruel as a cat playing with an injured mouse, he set out to ruin her, and perhaps even end her life. And he nearly succeeded. Those years I will not tell - that is Dreamweaver's tale to tell, should she ever so desire to. And I am not sure this blog is the appropriate place to tell that part of her story. Those were her darkest years and they became a horror. Suffice to say, she survived...broken and wounded beyond telling, but survived. Taking the advice of an alarmed and determined therapist who told her, "if you don't get out, that man will kill you", she finally fled the relationship

And in the very end she went on to thrive, but those intervening years cost her dearly. Fleeing Indian, vulnerable and wounded,  struggling alone in Atlanta with two children to now provide for, she stumbled into one final last bad relationship with yet one more cruel man. And that wound up costing her everything she had fought so hard to save - her home, her finances, her spiritual community. And part of what she lost in the end was her children after all. Shaken by the damage of the last man's manipulative evil, her now teenaged children fled back to Arkansas. The Enlightened One would not speak of what happened, though he told his mother "you were right" as he left. The Marine, bitter, deceived by the last man's machinations, and as judgmental as his own father, broke off his relationship with his mother altogether.  It would be years before Dreamweaver would ever hear from either of her sons - and then only sporadically from The Enlightened One, despite his love for her.  The Marine remains cut off from us, denying us the ability to see and know our grandchildren. Those years were agony for her. And Arkansas became the nightmare of her memories.

I want to add here, that I was there for part of this. I saw Indian from a distance. I knew Dreamweaver back then, and the man she was with in the final relationship. I saw his lies and manipulation and was even deceived myself by them for a short time. I saw it all come apart, and helped Dreamweaver move out of her condo when she lost it, into her best friends basement. I was ring side to the unraveling revelation of just how manipulative this man was, destroying not only Dreamweaver's life and hopes, but also a local church youth group as its youth minister (lying about credentials he did not have). When she needed a new start, I opened my home to her in another state, little knowing that our friendship would blossom into love and marriage. So, I can attest to the brutal truths of what Dreamweaver has survived.

Two years ago, the Enlightened One invited us to his wedding to Scientist, the incredibly beautiful and talented  young woman he had met in college. And so, for the first time in 12 years, Dreamweaver returned to the land of her nightmares, back to Arkansas, for her son's wedding and to see her parents. That trip, two years ago, is told HERE in my blog, one of its earliest posts. It is worth reading to put this post and Dreamweaver's past 10 days in Arkansas in perspective. While we were there for that trip, we made a stunning alarming discovery that changed EVERYTHING Dreamweaver knew, or thought she knew about the events leading up to the restraining order and her marriage to Indian. We still don't talk about it much, but it changed the fabric of the landscape of her life forever, based on what her dad told her. I think we are verging on talking about it at last and exploring what it means.

So,two years ago, on that first trip back, we had been talking to her father about the past, touching very high level on that time, when she married Indian and the lawsuit against her. And he told us what REALLY happened. Shortly before Dreamweaver was presented with the restraining order on the school grounds that fateful day she went to pick up her kids, her sons were in Arkansas visiting with Dreamweaver's parents - their grandparents. The kids were suppose to stay overnight, and then Dreamweaver was to take them home to their father, the Ex. However, unbeknownst entirely to Dreamweaver, Ex called her father in high handed dungeon and demanded that the kids come home right then. Dreamweaver, aware of her precarious position as a non-custodial parent, would have taken the kids home, if she had gotten the call. It had happened before. However, her Father, who did not and does not like Ex, developed a nice case of stubborn male mulishness, and flatly and pointedly refused to allow Ex to get his kids before the appointed time. They fought about it, with Ex hanging up, furious and seeing  red, determined to Do Something About This. And the next time Dreamweaver, all unknowing went to pick her sons up at school, she was confronted with that restraining order and the court case.

So....Ex's "Something" turned out to be seeking out a lawyer for advice, who saw - I presume - a shaky "legal" maneuver to deny Dreamweaver's custody rights, based on Indian's car wreck.  We suddenly for the first time ever, knew why it happened. Realized that due to her father's insensitive, unilateral handling of a very tense situation,  that Dreamweaver nearly lost her sons, her sanity was nearly destroyed, her life endangered, and the circumstances that led to her kids cutting her off were laid in train. And, her father, told the story to us with an oblivious disregard for the consequences of his actions - he knew that the marriage with Indian ended badly, if not the whole story, and yet there is no apology or sorrow for what his actions eventually cost Dreamweaver. Instead, all he seemed to see is that he got the better of Ex, in not letting the children go home. I find this disturbing, profoundly so. If something I had done had caused such devastating long range effects on someone's life, particularly someone I loved, I would be down on my knees in horror begging forgiveness! Instead all her father seems to be able to see is that he was "righteously right" and won the argument with Ex. And I doubt he will ever see it in any other light, given his general patriarchal sense of self entitlement.

It is almost incomprehensible to me that Dreamweaver survived these years at all. And they took their toll on her, in ways that still haunt her to this very day. But survive she did. And more then merely "survive". She is thriving! She went on, and over came the damages done to her psyche, learned how to love, how to be in relationship, how to function in ways she never dreamed of and had never experienced. This incredible, beautiful woman who is my best friend, my partner, my wife, has become so much more then the "sum of her parts", overcoming a life time of abuse that would have - should have killed her. She is loving, and strong, gentle and kind. And if she still has occasional bad moments, when memories, and fears trigger her old temper and PTSD rises up, she also masters those moments, trusting in love, and her own inner truths to over come them. She did what she set out to do...she broke the legacy of abuse and shattered attachments and did not pass them on to her sons. Enlightened One and Marine are both happily married, strong loving men who care deeply for their families, and if both of them carry some personal baggage from those years, still they did not endure what Dreamweaver endured - she stopped the legacy of abuse from passing down to yet another generation.

So going back to Arkansas for her is a heroic task. This trip was especially unnerving, as for the first time she returned alone, without my support and comfort by her side. Every time she returns, old horrors and memories struggle up from the past to ride her shoulder and try to darken her heart. And now, every time she returns, slowly but surely reconciling with her parents, enjoying the rich happy relationship of love, joy and  laughter she is building with Enlightened One and Scientist, renewing old friendships, she is creating new memories. These new experiences are a journey towards a new future for her with her family, new hopes and new dreams. She dreams of  being a grandmother in truth to Enlightened One and Scientist's children some day; she has already had one unbelievable dream come true she never expected to hear - her mother saying "I always wanted a daughter", speaking from beyond the illness that hid that all those years.

Arkansas will always be bitter sweet for her - difficult and charged with old horror. But I believe that someday, these new moments of love and hope will allow the sweet to begin to outweigh the bitter.

And I am honored to be in Dreamweaver's life, to be a part of her journey, to know and understand the message her life holds for us. And that message is that even though the past can never be forgotten, the affects of a life time of pain and sorrow do not have to rule our lives. That there is always hope. That change is always possible. And that now abide faith, hope and love - and that the greatest of these is love. Thank you Dreamweaver. I love you with all my heart!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Second Guest Post by Cameron - the Bridges in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Dreamweaver just crossed over the new bridge in Chattanooga....there are 3 bridges here; the old suspension bridge in the fore ground, a foot bridge, and then the new bridge in the distance.

 Walnut St. Foot bridge

The new bridge that Dreamweaver drove over.

She spoke with an individual who had driven an 18 wheeler over the old suspension bridge - it was so narrow, he said, that you sorta squinted and held your breath squeezing across it. She is not far from Atlanta now where she stops for the night, where Fiber Geek will be treating her to some rest, use of a hot shower, sushi and beer!  Wish I could be there! But she'll be home tomorrow! Yay! She will have more of her own pictures to post then too, instead of pictures I could find.

Guest post by Cameron....

Dreamweaver is on the way home,and coming through Nashville, Tenn! She said the skyline is beautiful, and the blue sky is brilliant...unable to stop to get pictures,though. So I found this to give an idea of where she is.

Nashville, Tennessee.
I really, really miss her and I will be glad when she gets home!!!!

Returning to SC

I've awakened early today. My son and his wife still sleep, and I've slipped into the living room to spend a few minutes in reflection. In a few hours I will bid my son and his wife goodbye and begin the journey back to my "normal" life. As always, this journey has been tranqformative. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with Debbie, who had been my best friend from seventh grade through high school. Our lives are radically different, so I was surprised to realize that they are running much more parallel these days.

She feels a call. She's taken early retirement and currently spends her days in preparation. She doesn't yet know exactly how her call will be shaped, but she has created space in her life for prayer and meditation. She seeks that which is yet unnamed, but I could see it in her. As I see it in myself. She may be a little ahead of me, but I have my own echoing of a call, which is actually far more formed. I returned to school and got my degree in answer to that call. Indeed, Cameron and I plan to move to the Portland, OR area, and I feel that call growing stronger. These days I imagine the beginnings of our call to the people who we will serve in our private practice and in our spiritual lives. They are also preparing for us to arrive. They just don't know it yet.

OK, I do know how goofy that all sounds. But we don't have the words in the English language for the thoughts I want to convey. Sigh. But as Debbie described the places she needed to be spiritually, I got it. I feel it too. I imagine the days when I sit on my porch and watch the water of the Sandy flow. I want to know it's moods, it's changes of season, it's temperament. I want to watch the shift of the snow on the mountain, sometimes seeing the snow reach my own porch. I want to listen to the wind as it whistles its changes. I want to linger in front of the fireplace, and sip hot chocolate. I want to create a space for healing, where people may come for spiritual direction, for therapy, for art. I can see the rooms and almost taste the air.

In the meantime, I have another year of my internship to finish. We have to wait the financial means to manifest. Cameron has to complete her practicum and graduate. So we have another year to prepare and to wait. And today, I drive from Arkansas to Atlanta. Tomorrow I will drive home, to wrap my arms around the person I love and miss. I'm ready.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dry Counties

I am really not much of a drinker, but just being in Arkansas makes me want a beer. Unfortunately, a beer is hard to come by. Much of Arkansas consists of dry counties. All of the counties I have been visiting this week have been dry. In fact, I haven't noticed a liquor store since I arrived!!

No wonder this state is poor. Look at all the liquor tax they loose!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dinner with Parents

Last night the Scientist's parents met us for dinner. Her parents are very kind, accepting folks. When they were planning my son and their daughter's wedding, they stood up for Cameron and me. Indeed, it was the last time my partner ever wore a dress. Out of respect, she wore a dress for my son's wedding. However uncomfortable she might have been in that dress, the courtesy of that dress eased the day for many. I was pleased to have the opportunity for a meal and a light visit. After the meal, we lingered, chit chatting for about an hour.

That dinner stands out in sharp relief compared to today with my own parents. My mother seemed to be rested and recovered from our longer visit two days ago. They were both quite obviously pleased to see me. We had a lovely catfish dinner, and as soon as the meal was done, they left. No chit chat, no lingering, just a meal and a few stories, and it was done.

I had tears in my eyes as I was leaving. It will be another year before I see my parents again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I always wanted a Daughter

I've written often of the challenges of being my mother's daughter. In my last post I briefly described growing my in Ar with a mentally ill mother. Understand, my mother spent most of her life in bed or at work. There was no middle ground. Escaping your daughter that way makes her feel terribly not wanted.

My mother's messages were very negative while I was growing up. When I was about 22, things changed. My mother's mental illness had worsened. Her voices had become extreme and she was living an alternate reality. Everyone could see her deterioration. Her few friends, my dad, the staff where she taught and, sadly, the students. One Tuesday morning I showed up at the high school, picked my mother up, and took her to the doctor. A few hours later she had a padded room. A few weeks after that she turned in her drivers license and teaching certificate. She applied for retirement and disability.

The transformation was remarkable. I'll never know what it took for her to get up every morning and face her voices and paranoia while she went through the motions of teaching. It must have been a living hell. Every summer she had to go before the school board to protect her job. They never had the grounds to fire her, but they knew there was a problem. Then she bore the shame of everyone knowing she went before the school board again. It's not paranoia when they are really out to get you.

My mother had been removed from a regular teaching program and was working with "special needs" students. Some were bored in regular classrooms and needed more challenges and she was good with them. The other end of the spectrum made her problems worse.

After the breakdown, it was as if the evil mother died, and a gentler, kinder woman took up residence. She's always happy when I call. She welcomes my infrequent visits. Sadly, my mother's extremely fragile these days. She tires quickly. The skin around her eyes is thin, papery. Her eyes don't have the clarity and focus my dad, seven years older, has.  Dad thinks she has Alzheimer's. But yesterday she took me by surprise. I had commented on how tired she looked, and she acknowledged it, but said she didn't get to see me enough and it was worth the fatigue. And then she said, "I always wanted a daughter."

I don't know what happened to that woman who didn't want me. But I cried when my mom told me, for the first time in my life, I was wanted.

It Could Have been Me

A few days before my tenth birthday my parents moved us to Arkansas. I was excited about the trip. I had very few friends in Indiana, was frequently bullied, and was already dysthymic (a fancy word for chronic, low level depression). Moving to Ar did not improve things, unfortunately. I continued to have no friends, be bullied, and feel depressed. My mother's mental health worsened and my dad was always at work, at school, preaching and staying with his congregation all Sunday, or studying and writing sermons.

Growing up in Ar was hard. I never stopped being perceived as "other". My accent, my clothes, my very being screamed "other" in a place where everyone's great-great grandparents grew up together. My mother's mental illness isolated us. Daddy preached 30 miles away, and stayed the day to save gas. My mother only attended with him a few times. Mostly she stayed in bed. Indeed, she spent the first year of living in Ar in bed  and only climbed out when working became a financial imperative. My dad majored in bible studies and minored in psychology. For the first time, I have realized why. He was struggling to understand what was wrong with his own wife.

Growing up with an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic mother is tough. Attachment becomes disorganized as the person who is supposed to provide soothing skills cannot even read their own child correctly. My mother was especially rejecting as the voices in her head played out a script that rejected me, the proof of her sinful condition. The valedictorian of Bloomington high school got pregnant before she got married. My grandmother's angry accusing voice plays out in my mother's head every day. Sometimes it comes out of her mouth, then to me, now to my dad.

I grew up knowing I was inconvenient and unwanted by my mother. My dad obviously loved me, he married my mother when I was five and adopted me six months later. But his continual absence sent a different message. I didn't know until this weekend the strain my dad was under in the year before we moved. I didn't know that as a member of a police department someone had put a hit out on him. I was too young to have known he mowed the yard every Saturday with a service revolver tucked in his belt and his habit of constant surveillance was more than a normal cop response. My mother certainly didn't know what was happening, either. And she was in and out of hospitals those years with a "nervous stomach". I suspect she was experiencing paranoia and delusions, and hospitalized during the worst of it.

I got married at 18 to get out. I lived in a crazy house ruled by a mentally ill mother who wanted me safely married and out. A year later I left my husband, having asked for a divorce, to go to Atlanta to meet my biological father. I came back to Ar pregnant. Married again to give the baby a father and moved to another small town in Ar with my new husband. My depression worsened. I didn't know anyone. Everyone knew my husband was not the father of my baby. I tried to go to church. I tried to get help. I tried to make friends. I was just too different. Attending the women's bible studies on Tuesday morning, after dropping the baby at the church for babysitting, took me into other women's homes. They weren't living hand-to-mouth. They weren't struggling to know what to say or how to fit in. I felt like I was faking everything.

I had another son. A year later, depressed, terrified, knowing I was becoming my mother, I left the children with their father. We divorced. A few years later I started college, married another unstable man, became widowed. Finally, at 29, I went to graduate school and got out. Before graduate school I had my children from 5 on Friday till 5 on Sunday. I missed two visitations, ever. One, because I was living in Atlanta and was too ill to travel. The other time a blizzard hit while I was in Iowa visiting friends.

Education and leaving Ar were the two best decisions I ever made. A few years ago I tracked down my first husband. He never saw me. But I saw his tiny travel trailer parked in front of his parents' somewhat larger trailer. I saw the children's toys scattered in the hot Ar dirt at the front door. Enough toys for a boy and girl, growing up exactly like him. Divorced, maybe, living in front of his parent's home. Obviously still suffering from depression.

The boys' father lives in the same house his parents' first purchased when they got married. He's lived in that house since he turned 18, having assumed the house payments. It's the smallest house on the block. Three bedroom, 1 bathroom, dryer inconveniently  located in a tiny closet off the living room, washer in the kitchen. He still works at the same factory, as a design draftsman and now as a supervisor, that he did at 18. He's been at the job and living in that house for 32 years. The house has somewhat improved with new carpet, new paint, new car in the drive. He's still depressed, too.

I look around, I know that could have been me. Making babies, depressed, trapped in Ar. Trapped in a world of dry counties (you cannot buy alcohol), strict church doctrine, and ignorant. As you can see, it's been a tough path, but it's turned out well at this point of my life. These last eight years have been amazing. Hard, challenging, but filled with love and transformation.

My youngest son did data entry two summers for that factory, before going to college. My oldest son went into the Marines after 9-11. Maybe their ability to break the mold, to shape their lives differently came from me. Maybe if I had been the mother who never went to college, who stayed depressed, who was trapped, I might have trapped them to. Hmm...that bears thinking about.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Morning

I'm still caught in that surreal space where the ordinary meets the impossible. To those who read these words, events like playing a board game with one's grown son and daughter-in-law must sound quite mundane. In my world, it's a miracle. Let alone going to a free movie or going to a pumpkin patch together. It's a world I once dreamed of, but gave up to live out of Arkansas, out of the children's father's home, out of ordinary time. These reflections make make me quite maudlin, but then, I'm entitled to be.

I wish I could really capture the essence of what I'm feeling while I'm here. Cameron and I talked a long time last night, and we agreed that the words just hint at the edges of what I'm trying to convey.

I come from a damaged world. Tomorrow I visit it again. My mother is paranoid schizophrenic. My adopted father is codependent. While I was growing up, he was mostly a beneficent, if absent, presence. Growing up with an undiagnosed mentally ill mother creates a damaged world. I lacked the skills most people took for granted. I was isolated, told to never talk about my family the way families hide substance abuse, was emotionally abused. Before daddy married mother when I was five, I was physically abused, but I have few memories of that time. In later years I was sexually abused. I lacked friends. I lacked ordinary coping skills. I lacked the ability to trust, to love, to be a friend.

I left the boys to live with their father when they were 4 and 1. I saw them every weekend, went to college, remarried, divorced, moved. Repeat. Repeat. These last eight years I have lived in SC are the longest I've ever lived anywhere.This three years I've been on my current job is the longest length of employment anywhere. These eight years I've been with Cameron is my longest lasting commitment. Needless to say, I changed a lot over the years. I fought hard for the skills most people take for granted. It's made me an excellent therapist.

But this week has given added clarity to how right that decision was to leave the children with their father. His stability was the greatest gift he could have given them. I watch my son and think, if I do nothing else right in my life, I've done something remarkable in bringing him into this world. And I've no doubt I've been a tremendous influence in his life. But my leaving those twenty-three years ago terminated the legacy of damage from me and my side of the family. He does not bear the wounds and damage of my past or my mother's.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rites of Passage

Ever notice that when you haven't seen someone in a long time, that their image remains constant. So when you see them again, you have to readjust your perceptions? Add to that another conundrum. I also have very few people in my life who have remained constant. Divorces, interstate moves, etc cause a lot of changes in friends. I've also been out of state from my family for a number of years. Two years ago I went to my parents for the first time in seven years. In fact, in the last twenty years I've only been home a half dozen times. So every time I've seen my parents, I have struck by how much they have aged. My dad had a mild stroke, which he did not tell me. So when I saw him two years ago, I spent half a day staring at him, trying to reconcile his face, the movement of muscles, age, and the daddy in my head.

Today I've confronted this conundrum from a different direction. My children. Most folks are a part of major rites of passage. Consequently, they have the opportunity to reconcile themselves to change and maturity. I unfortunately wasn't invited to either son's high school graduations (I suspect their father had something to do with it). In fact, after they moved at around 16, respectively, I didn't see either son until they got married. So they remained teenagers in my head until they got married, some five or more years later.

It's been two years since The Enlightened One and his wife the Scientist got married. Part of my focus that day split with the Marine and the grief over grandchildren who didn't know who I was. So I didn't really have time to process the changes, the aging, the difference.

Tonight my son and his wife invited me to attend a movie on campus. So we went over and watched Captain America, which I loved. But it struck me that the attendees were more than half my age, and that I was likely the oldest person in the room. Indeed, my son is turning 25 this year. He introduced me to a college student who had been in his student teaching class.

I've been wrestling lately already with the image in the mirror looking like my this has been a very strange realization. Age not in the perspective of others aging, but from the perspective of my own aging. Missing so much of the last ten years of my kids lives really has done a number on my perception of age. It's relative. I wasn't really getting close to 50 until I looked around that room tonight.

Mind, I don't mind the aging thing. I mind the parts of lives that I miss around me. Or not around me, but in my absence. I also mind my knees, but that's another topic altogether. So, in a round about way, as I sat in that room tonight, it became a rite of passage. A growing awareness of change. Of acceptance of where I am in life. It's a little bit disconcerting.

From Arkansas' Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze

Having slept extremely well, I spent a lazy morning enjoying orange sweet rolls and playing on my son The Enlightened One's computer. It amuses me to watch him doing homework while I play. Then his wife, the Scientist, suggested a trip to the pumpkin patch. We didn't walk the maze...good thing because I would never find my way out of it. But we did have a great time looking a pumpkins!

To see more:
Arkansas Oct 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Posting from a cell phone is interesting. Plz excuse im sitting in a Mississippi rest area, where I have stopped hundreds of times for the kids or dog. funny how much changes yet the pattern remains the same.  cameron could't make the trip so there are far too many spaces for reflection. But first, a nap.

From Atlanta to Memphis...Stepping Back in Time

in another lifetime that ended abruptly about fifteen years ago i drove this  round trip journey every other week. i used to joke about putting thirty thousand miles a year on my dog who rode shotgun. The journey is very different this time.  It got much longer. i didn't start in Atlanta but in SC. When cross the Mississippi I won't be turning right and heading toward my nightmares. Those were put to rest a long time ago. Instead, Imll turn left and begin something new.