I have these waves of beyond-exhaustion that come and go. Life is not easy at the moment, but it there is much to be grateful. I am bone-tired but also exhilarated; a nearly bottomless fount of creative energy, and a lot of wonderful support from my community. We have our health. Ralph’s job is going well, and the kids are thriving. We’ve got Christmas handled but that said, it’s always a challenge for me to pace myself during such an intense time of the year.
Due to several factors I am not going to detail here, I have habituated myself to forgoing breaks. I don’t take hours off let alone days off. I am work, work, working and only slow down at all to sit with the kids while they game, or to grab a bite to eat, or take a little time with my husband. My daily session on the yoga mat – which I never skip – is an absolute screamingly silent exercise in discipline: trying to breathe and be present in the moment.
So days like today are special. Yes, I worked during the day but I also set aside my time for my volunteer commitment, which is grounding and while hardly restful, is at least a couple hours I am not thinking of my own plans, my own hustle.
And then later this evening, a trip to the beach to meet up with friends and enjoy the air, and watch a fire dancing show long after darkness falls. It is hard to believe a year has passed since we were here last; last summer I remember Phoenix and I split a huge order of greasy fries and we climbed on the rocks at the quay. It’s even colder this visit, but we didn’t think to bring blankets or even camping chairs to keep us off the frigid earth. Nevertheless there is nothing I like more than being tucked away with my family and with what warmth I can garner from my hoodie and the close-sitting strangers around us, drinking hot tea and waiting for the show to begin. Long after the tea is gone and the warmth has left my body and I’m still shifting, I feel peaceful and grateful to be nestled into a crowd with nothing more to do than watch performers swing flame and spit petrol to television hit songs.
We arrive home late and I’m too tired to even tell the children to finish up dishes for the evening. Tomorrow we will wake and be full of energy and we can houseclean then. But for tonight I light my candle and put up my hair and hit the hot shower, and fall into my pajamas and then to bed where my husband rubs my aching feet and slender ankles.
I’m standing at the kitchen counter and it’s almost midnight and I take a bite of the sliced watermelon from the platter. I’m halfway through putting a few things away, and I’m overwhelmed because my husband is tearing apart the ceiling in my studio. At this hour. It has to be done, not that I’ll mention names as to what dog let his bladder loose on our living room floor, except his name is Hutch.
The dog doesn’t piss in the house so that means maybe something is wrong, so I get to think about that too. We’re behind on our vet bill as-is, to the tune of hundreds.
And tonight I get to wrangle two teenage boys into their sleepover needs, setting up a bed on the floor, and try to make meaningful contact with my eldest who has been gaming most the day. I think my husband is stressed about the house/dog thing so I get to think about that.
But now, I just lean on the counter and I have this slice of watermelon. I am struck by the fact that Ralph and I used to be up all hours on the regular when the kids were babies. Now we get another night like that. And while he’s down there hopefully not electrocuting or injuring himself, I make up the bed and put up some candles and a bit of lime oil in the diffuser and put on some Beach House and try to make things just a little pleasant, a little time stolen together if possible.
Suddenly my work life has ramped up. I have sewing work for clients; I have three freelance writing assignments. I have started developing a pattern line. I have officially been given my first web design project.
It’s funny. I entered the workforce in a semi-serious way under a year ago; now, if I’m not careful, it could swallow me whole!
But: I am careful. Today besides my work, I take the time off of the “me” stuff. I make several hours’ worth of time available for volunteer commitments. If I can’t put aside what I’m worried about, and focus on what someone else might want or need – I am lost indeed.
I stand outside a rain-soggy building for a bit. My husband has bogarted my keys and I can’t let anyone in. People need to come in, need to talk, need to get services. I am friendly enough but I refuse to worry much about the delay. I did my best today and today? I don’t have a key.
Today at noon my husband and eldest were already out of town, on a trip to do their own volunteer work. My son, asleep. His current best friend, a lanky boy of eleven who lives up the street, stopped over to pick Nels up for a swim date. I ask him if he can wait a moment; he smiles and twists his body and says “Sure.” I climb the stairs, open the door, and ask my still-sleeping son into wakefulness. Then I ask him – does he want to jump out of bed and accompany his buddy, to go swimming right now. And of course: he does. He pulls on a long-sleeved shirt I sewed him last month. He brushes his teeth, he asks me to pack his towel. My son is now a young man. He has a phone, he texts me. He mans his own schedule with deference to ours.
It all happened so fast. He was a baby when I started this journal!
It’s late. From my bed, buried in blankets – this selfsame boy. Not too old to forgo cuddling, holding me close, calling me his Little Mama, his Little Beak. No one can speak to me the way my children do. I am unsure if anything smells as sweet as my son’s hair, as his warm and brown little neck. He is still so thrillingly beautiful to me, and I couldn’t have invented it, couldn’t have made it happen on my own thoughts or dreams.
I’m not sure when life seemed to get a bit tougher, but it seems to have something to do with the increasing amount of pain and suffering my kidney condition inflicts. The pain isn’t devastating and it isn’t life-threatening but it is frequent and sometimes it gets worse quite rapidly. I am determined to be entirely honest when people ask me how I’m doing, how I’m feeling. I’m determined to tell them “low levels of pain”, or on some days, “it’s been rough.” I’m firm that I won’t say “fine!” when asked how I am. I often say, “I’m having kidney pain, but emotionally I am doing well.”
Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that. I think that having constant pain would wear on almost any emotional life, whatever one’s attitude. I keep returning to the thought there’s something different I should be doing. Some wall I should be trying to climb. As if there’s much different I could do.
Or the practical stuff. There is pain medication I can use. It does help. When I have it, I take it sparingly. And doctors, these days, prescribe it sparingly. Well, some of them do – including my kidney doctor. I can get more medication – but every refill requires another x-ray. An x-ray where they find yes, surprise, more kidney stones. An x-ray that costs us, and an x-ray that exposes my body to more radiation. It’s a yucky choice.
Welcome to life on life’s terms!
I’ve had a member of the community show up – at my door, in the morning – offering cannabis in some form or other (I didn’t ask for more information). Yes, at my doorstep. It was kindly meant, I am absolutely sure. I am too tired to be irritated or judgmental. I am too tired to do much of anything but try to keep a good attitude.
The pain brings gifts, and not trifling ones either. Spending some time helping others takes on a new meaning. In helping others I am transported into a reality, and out of my pain momentarily. I can experience creation and be loving and kind and not be blinded by misery and discomfort. I can have respite from a cruel illness and (occasionally) a punishing mind.
So please believe me that when I tell you to stop beating yourself up, to be kind to yourself – that I really am brave enough to do the same.
I find that, watching other people enjoy their life, is also a gift. My children are, no surprise, my greatest gifts. As I write this my son snuggles under my comforters, waiting for me to join him and cuddle him. My daughter is cozy upstairs watching a movie I rented her, a classic, on her headphones. Her enjoyment, her living and breathing and pain-free body, gives me so much joy. My son’s body under the covers in morning sleep – buying them lunch – talking to them about their troubles.
All these things: gifts beyond what money could buy.
“I’m so thirsty,” my son says. “I could kill a cow for its BLOOD.”
You know. Not its milk or anything.
“A gallon would be fine,” he continues.
“Of water,” a suddenly docile young man amends.
Today is rough. Several responsibilities, and I’m feeling off, and tired, and anxious. You know a few years ago, for about fourteen months, I had this prescription for Klonopin and took it nightly. A small era in my life but sometimes I miss it. It’s hard to relax. Sometimes.
But I don’t get bored of “chores” (housework, errands, cooking, appointments) on days like this because these so-called menial tasks are bookended by some brief but really unsavory ones. Since I get to do shit I don’t want to do, and deal with shit I occasionally wish wasn’t happening, anything short of physical agony or emotional bankruptcy is still pretty cool.
My daughter burns some homework; symbolic of her Spring Break:
Later she emails me: “Google up ‘bigfin squid nope’. You won’t be disappointed. Or maybe ye will.”
Yeah, so. Days like today I cling to kindness: the kindness of friends, who support me in so many wonderful ways. I cling to humor: my kids have got it right, a lot of times when I simply don’t. I cling to the knowledge I tried to help others. Today I helped facilitate a meeting with about fifteen young addicts and alcoholics. Statistically, something like three of them will get and stay clean and sober. Today I tell them, “You’re the lucky ones. No one’s life is over yet! You know why you’re all young, right?”
And I wait to see if they get where I’m going with this.
My daughter glides in the door and puts her arms around me. “How are you?” she asks, and she means it. Maybe no one is as kind, considerate, and loving as this child.
Sometimes I think she’s this way (in part) because of the effort I have put into being a good mother. Sometimes I think she’s this way (in part) because of all the mistakes I’ve made.
Sometimes I know I need to love her fierce while she’s here, and just be thankful.
My daughter shares her private life with me – so far, just me! – and this is truly incredible. I treasure her trust, and her disclosures, more than I can say. I am humbled, honored, and glad. She’s going through Big Stuff right now and I know lots of her peers and classmates are going through The Shit, so. I am glad she thinks I’m safe.
So she asks me How Are You and the truth is, I am still tired and I’ve been tired a little while. I’ve had my ass handed to me by a fatigue that doesn’t make sense. Kidneys, maybe? I don’t know. I’m not anemic; today’s blood donation (re-)assured me on this. I can’t afford doctor care right now but if and when things settle down a bit I will make a move in that direction. For now: chin up. Drink water. Try: patience. Today I read a tweet online, an actress ran her first twelve miles and was ecstatic – I feel (a rare and) strangled kind of envy. I would love something different than what I have.
Actor Russell Johnson passed today; my fellow B-moviephile and author Scott wrote up a post and I had a nostalgic smile over last March’s Attack Of The Crab Monsters embroidery project. I haven’t sewn, not a lick, in about two weeks – which for me, is a Forever. If I had food in the pantry and gas in the car I could sew maybe, but even then I’d have to feel less tired.
Times like this I have to practice my patience. That kind of earth-shattering, centered bit of patience. Maybe things will get better; no matter what, I know they will Change.
I heard a fellow a while back talking about what it is like to “be in his head” all the time. He said he kept busy in order to feel less discomfort and to distract himself. But then he said that was no real solution, as it ran him the risk of “being a human Doing instead of a human being.”
I knew what he meant. I think many if not most of us end up in that place. To that end, Fatigue is a great teacher. I can rail against it, analyze it, complain about it, tell you stories about it, take drugs for it, go see specialists about it, but in the end Fatigue continues and continues (well, in this case) until I finally, like a cornered rat, say You’ve Won, you got me. And even after a bit it is no longer a battle but a peaceable co-existence. I am no longer even interested in rehearsing my own Fatigue / Illness story (pretending I am special as if all human beings aren’t subject to illness and aging!) – I merely become curious, finally, I am ready to be teachable. In its way the Fatigue becomes beautiful because it exists, inexorable and mute and of a quality impossible to articulate, it is patient and waits for me to learn when I am ready to learn.
Fatigue remains mute and keeps company, bright-eyed and calm and loving and needing nothing, while other chapters in my life change before my eyes. My children grow more independent and find their own places in the world. I am still pretending as if our lives together haven’t changed, pretending all I’d have to do is round these children up and they’d spend the day with me all day on errands, even though it has been a very long time since that was a regular part of our lives. I am still pretending I am needed in the way I used to be needed. Even as I write here I know I am no longer really pretending, I am instead saying the words Aloud and getting used to the changes life brings. “I am learning to tolerate life’s changes” – instead of, “I can’t tolerate life’s changes.” This helps me a great deal.
Now I know that there is nothing I can do to stop or start anything in particular, things have changed. I rely entirely on my faith, on helping others when I can, and on expressing a simple and profound gratitude. In moments of conversation I can be animated and talkative, as stories flow through me and, I hope, help others. When I am quiet, though (which I wish were more often!) I have become “the wooden puppet and the iron man”. I give the gift of No Fear. I no longer look for the point in my suffering or that of others because I cannot understand it, I merely respect it a great deal.
I ask my daughter, “Did anything special happen for you today?” She says, “Not really.” Then: “Just my mama is still living and still alive.”
Christmas is over, and people ask me how my holiday went. The truth is, I am tired. Christmas was a lot of work for this single income family: two children, a fair number of loved ones, five animals, visiting friends and family, the household bills and fun stuff like that.
Lately my thoughts adhere to taking something I’ve heard called a “staycation”, in that I might get to stay home and enjoy time by myself while the other members of my family absented themselves. As it is, I get very little alone time in my life. While I am not complaining about this precisely, I recognize a lack of balance. I am mindful that whenever possible I should make some allowance to rest and have a period of little responsibility to anyone but my own self.
In addition, I have my work in Recovery, which I am starting to realize can take a toll on me in a way that is hard to explain. One key aspect: I have not allowed myself to write as fully about this as I would have liked and like we would have benefited me. I don’t picture that changing any time soon.
When I got started in this field a little while back, helping other alcoholics and addicts, I refrained from writing a great deal of detail on the work for several reasons. Foremost and final concerning this post at least, I reflected that even if I was very careful to not use names, or details that would reveal the identity or circumstances of any individual I was working with, it felt exploitive to with regularity write in all frankness the experiences I was being exposed to. When I mentioned this difficulty to my friends who know how much I like to write, some of them suggested I focus exclusively on my experiences, therefore maintaining a scrupulous set of ethics.
I have not yet found a way to do this that is not problematic according to my own sense of right and wrong.
I’ve spent hundreds of days in journalistic silence when what I wanted most was to communicate to the world what I was experiencing.
Believe me, if it had been at all possible for me to do as I was advised, this writing space would have been filled to the brim with what I consider today the absolute cornerstone spiritual experiences of my life. However, I have known for some time it is at least theoretically possible anyone, and I mean anyone, could happen upon the words herein. As much as I want to communicate what has become some of the most important work in my life, I cannot yet bring myself to risk someone might read here and have even a glimmer of doubt, the faintest inkling, that I might be exploiting their most personal and private struggles here for some kind of egoic gain. I must continue to write in a general way, then, even though it often seen those writings do not resonate with my readers, nor do they engender the kind of intimate narrative that my previous years of blogging has provided me, personally.
In a general way, then, I will share a bit.
Perhaps it would be different for other people, but I am finding that I cannot do this work without relying daily on regular prayer, meditation, and spiritual study. Last night I spoke with someone close to me as they described their spiritual experiences, and their relationship with God. To me what they were describing were incidents episodic, infrequent, infused with emotion or sentimentality, and discrete. Weather in a chapel or on a river bank, these experiences sound familiar: a human being is suddenly overcome with powerful, usually positive emotions. They sense there is an order to the world, or goodness to the universe, or even sometimes a Grand Plan. These experiences seem to be emotional yet powerful and they sound genuine. I am familiar with these experiences and have had a few of them in my life.
However, I am not strong enough, patient enough, intelligent enough, gentle enough, or wise enough to rely on these kinds of now-and-then experiences to get me through the difficulties I face on a daily basis. My budding spirituality has been built almost entirely on Action. Every day, I take a series of actions that I have come to believe are necessary to sustain my faith, my sobriety, my usefulness to and my quality of life. If I were to rely on positive feelings, or a positive thought-life – well, to put it frankly, I would be a dead man. What may indeed work for others does not work for me.
I have almost nothing to offer. I have my faith practice and today I can give this body of work the macho head nod of acknowledgement because honestly, it’s not too bad. My primary asset is a willingness to “suit up and show up”, as I have heard it said. Each day I take a series of actions that I believe increases my use to others, benefits the rest of the world, and keeps me from going crazy and/or drinking; a series of actions that keep me from being swallowed by despair or impotent rage or crushing anxiety – since, frankly, I apparently never learned how to take a flight into Apathy, another common defense I see in others. Most of these actions I mention are not ones I necessarily feel all groovy doing, and none of them bring the sorts of reward that people are often running after – that is, fame, money, sex, power, or material security. My willingness and my action, therefore, is a little special, and it keeps me a little sane. For I am NOT especially immune to the drives that cause us to run after the various intoxicants I describe here.
I am willing to learn more, and to seek more teachers. I am willing to explore further. I have almost nothing else to offer. I do not have the answers to why human beings have the capacity for, and apparent will to, suffer so intensely. I bring up suffering because although I have known of suffering my whole life, never has it been more obvious, more direly manifest, more destructive, more myriad in form and function as I have witnessed since coming into Recovery (and not just in the alcoholics and addicts I work with!). My work daily brings me stark confrontation with suffering and I am consciously aware of this confrontation. In contrast, it seems to me that many people trying to ignore suffering – unless it is their own, in which case they make this the center of their Being. Many people try to avoid suffering at any cost, and many people, when confronted with the suffering of others, respond with the strategy – and it isn’t much of a strategy – “better you than me”. Very few people I know would own up to having that worldview, but I think it is very common indeed.
“Better you than me” was my reflexive response to others’ suffering for quite some time. I am still healing from a lifetime habit that was probably formed when I was very young and could not handle some of the realities of my life. I am still healing from the habit energy of that lifestyle.
Well I remain employed in my practices, trying as best I can to meet my responsibilities to myself, my family and friends, and the world at large, I am building my own personhood. In my case, my principles, my logic and intelligence, my opinions, my emotions and sentiment, we’re not enough to build this personhood. I had to rely on faith practices – that is, taking actions in hopes of a kingdom not seen, almost impossible to describe, and absolutely impossible to “prove” to others. As the product of a skeptical, dysfunctional upbringing, my clumsy-ass clay sculpture of a spiritual life is still, you know, not too shabby. I’m good with it.