Taking Precautions

As the older grand-son excitedly tells me about the basketball championship he has won, spittle hit my cheek like a dart. The tournament included all surrounding counties exposing him to a wide swatch of the population. Wiping it off, the younger one puts his head into my lap cuddling after he had just taken his finger out of his nose.

What’s a grand-mother to do as the coronavirus moves upstate each day from New York City with a vengeance? Though the love for family is great, dying for them isn’t attractive. The virus can be in a community weeks before someone tests positive.

Test kits are scarce so how to know? It is serious and real. We are both in our late sixties. Samuel’s lungs are compromised due to previous infections. We are the ones the virus attacks more fiercely.

My gut was screaming STOP seeing the grand-kids last week. But when my son asks, my mouth moves saying YES excitedly.

But now it the time to stop. That includes saying no to the joy of the younger one who looks at everything new with wonder. It is so hard, yet the spread each day as the news relays the closings of so many schools, events, and other gatherings, calls for reason hoping my decision has not come too late.  

Compassion and Self-Respect

“You did the best you could,” Samuel says in response to my tears over mistakes made at mothering.

“That’s what I heard all my life from my mother!” I retort angrily, “She didn’t do her best, she did nothing,” referring to her leaving me alone with her sons and not protecting me.

I did do the best that I could, and no way do I ever want to go back to those dark years somehow making a home for my boys who have grown up much more capable and stable than I’ll ever be.

But the guilt of mistakes wears me down when it comes to saying no to Shane, not wanting to hurt him, only to help. As years pass the toll of childhood abuse shows up in ways that must be attended to, needing more and more self-care, not less.

My younger body could take the slams of PTSD, hypervigilance, and anxiety buzzing through me like constant electric shocks. But the immune system and nervous system busted like frayed ended cords tangled in a blob. Care is needed to gently roll them out to make a life that works in peace.

No sense is made of having my grand-daughter overnight without problems sleeping, then a few nights later all three with a wicked sleep problem after they leave.

My heart fell at the door when Shane said, “It might be 8:30 or later when we return,” knowing that was too late for a toddler who just turned three.

And too late for my own needs which call for quiet in the evening so that my wild psyche and all bodily systems can calm down from the day’s efforts. It is uncommon to need this, yet a sad reality

But my mouth was silent. I want them to go out, double-date, and have fun. Shane works so hard, and going out together without the kids is a rare thing for them, and so important for a couple.

“Maybe next time I should tell Shane the cut-off time has to be 7:30,” I said to Samuel. Best for me, and best for the little toddler. “Remember, we used to hire a babysitter when we went out nights. Our moms didn’t watch the kids, especially at night.”

“Oh, maybe you just had a bad night,” Samuel replied, not one who usually backs my efforts at self-assertion.

So no help there. And how would I feel knowing someone else was watching them? Not good. I want to do it. It doesn’t happen that often, and these years pass so quickly.

But not sleeping, then needing medication that makes me unproductive and sleepy all the next day was not coincidental or worth it. Linking my guilt with saying no is hard. My guilt ripped into me after my head hit the pillow spinning out of control, beyond my control. I should not have guilt, so many sacrifices were made, along with mistakes.

All my income as a nurse went to Shane’s tuition each month. The pressures and stresses of work took a substantial, and permanent toll on my health. I made sure he had things I never did, or would have been able to handle if offered anyway;  a year in Spain as a student, and returning again with his girlfriend, now wife, after graduating from college, financially supporting the trip as a graduation gift…. and so much more that matters but so easily forgotten, choosing instead to beat myself up. 

How do I care for my own needs, which include spending time with grand-children, and keep my sanity? Like the Nike slogan, JUST DO IT. Even without Samuel’s support, just do it, just say no nicely, but firmly.

Suggest a babysitter that can come to their own house so that the little one is put to bed when he should be, temper and all. But then… what if after saying no, sleep evades me for saying no? It takes very little to upset my equilibrium, sometimes never knowing why, a grievous and permanent brokenness due to the assaults from childhood. 

 

WARRIOR

Feeling sorry for myself for so easily being pulled into the past where fear, powerlessness, and hopelessness swirled like a constant tornado, and because the day called for something lovely baking in the house, cinnamon rolls were made from dough using the bread machine.

The problem with sugary treats is that it rings a bell in my brain saying, MORE. And the day is lost not counting calories, which also means losing self-respect. And that does not make me happy.

So a new day with more resolve about what really matters; renewed dreams, goals, and the excitement of living. Always it was food my mother used to help me fill the holes left ragged by rape and abuse. It is a habit taught to me, but not restraining me. I have free will. It is mine to own.

It is a battle not going away started at age 8 after Danny’s attack, and will forever be there haunting me like drooling, starving, rabid dogs. The abyss of self-love always yawning wide open for filling.

The beastly hole is daunting needing loving comfort, not hate. Filling it with food when the soft words won’t come, because soft words for myself are not my forte’, ends up causing more pain instead of the comfort sought.

Daydreams of cookies, ice cream, cake, or pie dance like sugar plums of happiness in my head. The feelings are temporary turning in on themselves like the savage dogs of need after the numbness of satisfaction wears off.

Left in its wake are the same deprecating sneers Tommy enjoyed making towards me throughout life. He knew no boundaries when it came to putting me down. I seem to have readily taken up where he left off. 

It will stay this way, but how to handle it can evolve, and is evolving. Softer words, kindness to self, opening my arms to accept myself, all going against what I was taught. All things not learned through life and are yet to achieve. Steps forward then backwards. The way to get even is to give myself the opposite of what I learned—- love, safety and acceptance.

And though challenging, ongoing, and taking persistent work, it is doable, possible, and a war worth winning— slaying the ghosts one by one, over and over again.

 

The Loneliness of Shame

Temperatures dip into the teens and still dropping as snow swirls in mini-tornados off the roof. The fire emits a burst of heat after the fan is tuned on. Even the house temperature dropped overnight.

After the cat ‘hunt’s on the screen porch during my first sips of hot black brew, she comes in to curl up next to me on Samuel’s stuffed rocker complacently watching me write.

The comfort of home cannot be overstated. Home where my depleted nervous system can be pampered, protected, and cared for. Home where creativity can blossom, and working on freeing myself from the internal too harsh critic can be accomplished over time and with much dedication.

There is no freedom being locked in with critical voices of the past yammering in my head ever since age 8 and the first violent attack. When no one comes to help, a child feels to blame. The family unconsciously understands how well this silenced me, and willingly added to it along the way.

Their shame of doing such deeds, or standing by doing nothing, caused an even bigger shame, the shame of silence, dumped on tiny shoulders willing to take it on. Taking the blame was far better than feeling powerless, not a conscious decision, but self-preservation. I’ll take the blame because otherwise the people I depend on are not dependable, then where would I be?

Guilt and blame are easier boulders to carry than powerlessness. So the family’s shame became my shame. I didn’t just do bad, I am bad. 

It took a life to unburden, rock by rock, right down to the empty wheelbarrow where loneliness clawed like finger-nails on a chalk-board, scraping my insides scratching outwards on tender, raw flesh. Only in going there could I be saved, facing the self-hate, staying, exploring, challenging the voices…

Go to my center, be there, hold me, love me, settle in for the ride, because all others will come and go. I am the only one who will stay. My mother once said, “Be your own best friend,” giving me a book with that title. It has taken a life-time to begin that process. Thank you mother, but it would have been better had you kept them off me. 

 

Younger Brother

One week later, a call to my brother as promised, but this time earlier in the day. Surprisingly he pulled over while driving in order to talk to me. In the past calls became unheard of, chatting non-existent, time on the phone or on-line? Nix. 

Exposing myself to his pain is so difficult. Falling asleep took two hours longer even though our conversation was way before bedtime. Coincidence? Not wanting a sleep aid, nor wanting to get up to watch the TV, my inner voice commanded gently, stay.

And sleep did come after my rat brain took a twirl into the past, merging with the present; thoughts painful, memories sad. His son, my nephew, put himself into the psych hospital for a 72 hour commitment.

That is the most he will do for himself. My sister-in-law flew out to release him sooner, give him another credit card because he lost the one they gave him, and will fly back after he is walking the streets where he lives again… until the next episode. The streets are his home, all news to me after my brother shared it just last week .

My brother did not talk about his daughter either, not knowing about her serious drug problem until the day she died 7 years ago. Too late to do anything, to listen at least, to do something to have possibly saved her not that I could have. She was thirty years old, he is 35.

My head whirls into the past when Danny was so spaced out near the end when his last attempt at suicide succeeded. If the person afflicted will take no help is there hope?

Medication, counseling, and a case manager to oversee his mental state week to week once stabilized is crucial. All these necessary interventions won’t occur if he won’t cooperate.

And he won’t, or just enough to keep himself barely going. They bought him a new phone after losing one, and track what he’s doing by the credit card. What else can they do?

Sleep took two hours to come . Checking in with my younger brother is a choice I cannot abandon even if painful and worrisome. 

Love for a Brother

The scenery outside is beautiful, snow gently falling upon trees already frosted, the crunch of tires as they drive by, the warmth of the fire with gratitude for not having to negotiate icy roads.

An email read before bedtime caused deep concern. Walking to the phone, away, then back again, a call was made to my younger brother. Though in the past my calls sometimes went unanswered, this time he picked up.

We talked a long time about his son in Los Angeles, homeless. They are not talkers, he and his wife. I did not know, only that he had been struggling which my guess was that meant keeping a job and paying bills- not homelessness and disease.

His daughter was so deeply into narcotics that an overdose took her life only a few years back. Her addiction was kept secret. And now this, also a shock, though they have been dealing with it awhile.

Not only homeless but schizophrenic, a disease Danny, a sibling, developed before taking his own life at 28. My younger brother and I don’t communicate much, or readily. It seems to be a family trait, not talking about things.

We each carry so much pain from the shared chaotic upbringing, delving into the other’s pain is too much. That does not mean love is absent. Prayers of love are sent out to the airways… not much else can be done except emails and calls of support with open listening.  Future calls need to be much earlier in the day so enough time elapses for calm to return, so sleep can occur. 

 

Holding my Own Key to Happiness

Forever at the root of my core resided the belief of being bad, wrong, and always the one at fault. That is the feeling turned fact at age eight, growing every year becoming rock solid.

And that belief did solidify. How could it not with no one to tell me differently? No one to hold me, rock me, tell me that what they did was wrong, that they would be punished, that it wouldn’t happen again.

Because it did keep happening, and happening, and happening.

This is a time of peace, a time when that belief has been chipped at, questioned, and challenged. A crack has evolved where warmth seeps in, or oozes outward. Ever so slowly, bits of comfort float up where once only animosity to self had been. It is a change that could have occurred fifty years ago.

If only someone had the courage to hold my hand and take a stand. No one did. But I do now… tentatively, fearfully as if I’m doing something wrong in liking myself, for showing acceptance towards my own being, like the axe will fall for doing so.

No axe falls. Taking that step towards kindness and self-love after so long is freeing. The origin family collectively used subtle tactics to sustain low esteem to keep me silent. But my true nature includes persistence.

Baby- steps, tiny fissures are pried open wider using words of encouragement and uplift rather than harsh criticism. Treasures are found never enjoyed before: peace, openness, self-acceptance, joy.

Freedom is savored, the freedom to choose to (learn) to love myself. And each day a reminder to embrace gratefulness for making it through the hazards and treachery of all the years past. Where self-hate ruled in a mixing bowl of adrenaline pumped anxiety, confusion, self-doubt, and a total inability to connect with my own soul. 

To come to a place others never lost, is now found for me. A delectable experience not to be contaminated by bitterness towards what was. My choice is to enjoy the miraculous now.