Beach Day

First the shock, then I screamed

Sharp stings across my calves

Filled my chest with angry hurt

Blue water, friendly one moment,

Betraying my trust the next

You swept me up in your Goliath arms

Held my beating heart against yours

Pulled me to the safe crevices I knew as Daddy

I squeezed my eyes tight in fury

You asked to see where the hurt was

Rubbed and kissed it, swore at the fish

I think that’s the last happy memory I have of us

Wish I could go back in time

Into the crawlspace of your chest

And be just your daughter again

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: sting

A Critical Juncture

I am a recovering perfectionist.

In “A Skin Horse Awakening”, I wrote about my perfectionism, and what I believe the genesis of this “ism” to have been in my life. (Or perhaps I should say “who.”) I don’t believe I was born with the affliction of perfectionism.

Let me walk this back. Perfectionism is bandied about a great deal these days. People jokingly refer to themselves as a perfectionist, and we all think things like “Oh, they work really hard to get things right,” or maybe that they are a bit anal (as in detail-oriented,) maybe a little bit OCD.

According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.[1][2] It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.[3] In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal while their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

When I say that I don’t believe that I was born a perfectionist or with a perfectionist gene, I am saying that I learned to be hyper-self-critical. I guess maybe perhaps you could argue that my being extremely sensitive is genetic, and therefore in a way that part of my perfectionism is genetic, as in I am extremely hard on myself and yet I am very sensitive to feeling like I am being criticized…maybe that being “so sensitive” is genetic?

If such a thing even exists. I can never know another’s internal experience, what life feels like for them through their nervous and other systems. I can only know my own.

So really, how can anyone, from my family (“You’re too sensitive!” “You are so sensitive.” “Don’t be so sensitive!”) to psychologists/people we label experts at such things be able to say that someone is “highly sensitive” or whatever? What do they mean? Are they really saying we are very emotional? More emotional? What does that even mean?

(I think perhaps it means that they are uncomfortable with our amount of feeling so they label us as “highly sensitive.” A label to explain away their discomfort.)

And if someone doesn’t “feel life”the way I or someone else labeled sensitive does, are they “insensitive” or unfeeling? Just because they do not seem to experience life the way I do, they are less sensitive? You see what I mean? (It is somewhat crazy-making for me, actually.)

Anyhoo. Perfectionism. Not genetic, in my humble opinion.

I learned to be hyper-critical of myself and to expect extremely high standards of performance from myself. I learned to care deeply and to depend greatly on what I thought others’ were thinking of me. To value other’s evaluation of me above all else, especially my own.

This relationship to myself and the world and myself in the world was learned. I learned it from a master, my father. I am not sure where he learned it. I am quite sure he suffered as much from it as I have. I am also sure that he had great regret later in life around the price of his untreated perfectionism on his relationships with himself, the world and the people he loved.

I am so grateful that I am in recovery around this. I do not have to suffer at my own hands anymore, or cause undue suffering in my loved ones out of my perfectionism.

One of the most tremendous sources of help around this for me has been the work of Brene Brown. You may have heard of her TED Talk on Vulnerability. If you have never watched it, I highly recommend it. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it! Then come back ; )

She has been on my mind the past few days as she posted on Facebook from Houston, where she was volunteering her clinical services, making a plea for donations of clean, new underwear for those recovering from the hurricane. First things first, please take a view.

Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.

1. https://www.amazon.com/…/2O89ZX93O…/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale: https://secure.lglforms.com/form_e…/s/uFpr61ITEItxPeN4Lo9zpA

Brene is an amazing woman. I could write blog after blog about her and how she inspires me. It has been through her work that I have had true shifts around my perfectionism.  I mean, I could understand before that I was one, but then what? What do I do to help myself out of it? Through it? She defines perfectionism a bit differently, and that difference has made all the difference in my being able to make shifts and heal. She defines it so:

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

She writes further:

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” B. Brown (2009).

Wow. I mean, just yes. And yeah, this is a daily practice. It is a struggle one day, a breeze for the next three days, and then the shit hits my internal proverbial fan and it feels like I am at day -4. And then I feel free of it again. But Wow and Yes. And I’ll take that over interminable suffering in the depths of the hell of my own mind being run by unchecked and uninformed perfectionism.

If you know of what I speak, I recommend her work and any of her books.

It is a lifelong process, but it is truly gratifying to find true relief.

Oh, what a journey it is, this coming to life. This learning to relax into all of the things I used to hate so about myself. To even begin to embrace and yes, even find love for all my parts. Especially the ones most imperfect.

To pull my own self down off the self-built marble column I had constructed so long ago into the real world where I can be with others, be a fully-fleshed human being among human beings. To smash the statue-like full body persona I had so carefully made and let the flawed imperfectly beautiful person I am start to live and breathe and love.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: critical

True Grit

My Dad and I had a very complicated relationship.

There were years we barely spoke, by my choice.

Our relationship was damaged in my early childhood, and afterwards, it was always in one phase or another of dysfunction.

I reached a point in my adulthood where I decided that it was best for my health to remove myself from the dynamic. And I thought that would pretty much be it for the remainder of my life, and I was OK with that decision.

Until, that is, my mother’s cancer.

Life is funny that way. You can think that a part of your life is beyond repair, and then lo and behold, Life brings you the only exact set of circumstances under which you would ever come together again.

In 2005, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She underwent radiation therapy (two rounds) and then chemotherapies (2.) I traveled down to Texas to visit often to be with her, me tersely tolerating my father, and he giving me a wide berth out of hurt respect of my former choice. (I also always took my then-boyfriend with me as buffer.)

Then in 2006, after the family gathering at Christmas, which was more uncomfortable than usual, my parents called to tell me that they had been informed by my mother’s oncologist that no more could be done for her. (I will never forget the agony of that call.)

Just like that, all bets were off.

It had been decided that she would be having home hospice care to make her as comfortable as possible. As happens in such situations, we were still hopeful that she could live for some time. No one can predict how things will really go, you tell yourself.

I started going to Houston weekly to be with her. My father and I, out of necessity and shared concern, began to interact more and more, all having to do with her and her health needs.

We found our way to something new, something beyond the pain of the past, for her sake. And later, after the inevitable happened, for ours.

In the weeks following my mother’s death, my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Now, my father had been a strapping, big and tall and healthy man his entire life. Never much more than allergies. But I think the stress of losing his beloved sweetheart of 54 years created the perfect storm in his system, and the cancer that might have lain dormant for years just took over the weakened man.

In the midst of undergoing tremendous grief (he’d also lost his father the year before,) my father had to make decisions regarding his own illness, which was acute and generally swift-moving. The standard treatment available was quite harsh. He decided to go an alternative route in order to potentially benefit others by entering into an clinical trial at MD Anderson Hospital to receive experimental drugs instead of the standard approach, which was tough to survive in and of itself.

So I continued my visits. My remaining brother lived in Houston, so he became the primary caregiver, which I was grateful for. But I went down as often as possible and our new relationship began to grow into a new chapter, slowly, carefully.

And in the year following, when one of my two brothers also died, unexpectedly, again, all bets were off.

I watched this man who was so complicated for me, who had hurt me in such far-reaching ways, suffer the loss of his lifelong love and his son. These losses broke him apart. He went through pain that I would not have wished on my worst enemy.

(And he was my worst enemy.)

Somewhere there in the midst of it all, after a lifetime of seeing no way to ever being able to forgive this man, I suddenly was able to see that he was worthy of my forgiveness. That I had been given forgiveness in my life, and that he, too, should be given that as well. That he was not beyond forgiveness, in some separate category unlike anyone else on the planet.

I guess I was finally able to see him just as a flawed man, finally, and not as the monster I had experienced and protected my heart from for all those years. (Perhaps justifiably, one might argue. But things had changed. And those changes had allowed for a shift of my perception. And that shift allowed yet a new phase of our new relationship.)

In the remaining time of his life, we found our way to a loving father-daughter relationship.

How did this miracle happen?

I think for me, part of it was seeing the sacrifice and the bravery with which he committed himself to surviving his cancer for those of us who remained and loved him.

I know that in his heart he was grief-stricken and lost without my mother and would have loved nothing better than to close his eyes and just let go, to die and be with her. But he fought on, for us.

And after my brother died, that grief was multiplied by 30, and yet still he fought on, for my remaining brother and I. My then-boyfriend-turned-fiance after my mother died, and in the midst of it all we were planning a wedding: a wedding my mother and my father had always wanted for me. He was fighting to walk me down the aisle. And to carry her memory on for his two young grandchildren.

He withstood grueling chemo treatments and daily hospital trips where he sat for hours going through the process required of his treatment. Hours spent sitting and waiting and getting tests and giving blood and getting chemo. Medications at home. The affect the treatment had on his body and spirit. His diminishing physical strength.

This big and tall, towering Texas man became a thin wisp of his former self, eventually walking with a cane.

And through it all, he never once complained.

Three months before my wedding date, he got a virus caught during one of the daily hospital visits. I went home on my usual trip but this time visited him in the hospital, where he had to be in a protected environment.

There, I could see that he was truly exhausted. Spiritually. Emotionally.

That the true grit that had been getting him through, that amazing reserve within that he had been tapping into for so long for our sake, was nearing empty. He had been fighting to give me these last acts of fatherhood, this time of repair, this time of untainted love. I knew this and I was so very grateful for it all. I knew that this time had been a supreme gift that would change the quality of my remaining time on the planet for the better. That my whole relationship to life had shifted for the better.

And so I gave him the last gift I could give him as a daughter. I gave him my permission to let go of the fight.

There are times when life provides you with an open door, and if you are paying attention, you see it and you walk through, somehow knowing that it is what you should do.

When a moment arose in the conversation that invited such a thing to say, I took it.

I told him we loved him and were thankful for everything he had been doing. For how hard he had been fighting for us, to be there for the wedding and for the kids. But that I would never want him to stay on if he truly no longer wanted to. That he had done it all, he had fathered through like a warrior, but that if, at any point, he was ready, that we would want him to let go. That we would be OK. That I would be OK. That he and I were OK.

It was just a few sentences. He knew and I knew what we were saying to each other. He said he wasn’t at that point quite yet but he could understand a time of coming to that point.

When it was time to leave, I told him I loved him, and meant it. I thanked him for being my father, and I meant that too. And I thanked him for fighting so hard to be there for me.

He passed away the next week, after returning home, having come through the virus. My brother found him laying alongside the bed, as if he’d gotten up in the night and collapsed.

I hope he felt at peace when the moment came. Perhaps he was walking towards the sound of my mother’s voice. I like to think so.

My love for him is complicted, yes. But it is true. As true as the grit that he was made of.

2009-07-24-15-22-58-e1499812592237.jpg Dad and I at the civil ceremony of my marriage, 8 mo before he died.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: grit

 

 

Bottleneck Love

When hate clogs the flow

Love is hard to find

It’s elusive for good reason

Don’t forget that it’s blind

Reach for bottles and bags

Try to wipe it all out

But that’s the big cosmic joke

You can’t get the love out.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: bottle

For my father: Keys Alexander Curry. May you rest in peace and know that love does indeed conquer all.


 

 

 

 

All About Joan, Pt 5

I remember well the last Mother’s Day with my mother. I had come home to Houston to be with her, as per usual, on my day off from the show I was doing in Illinois. It being Mother’s Day, I wanted to bring her a present.

It is odd when you are trying to pick a gift for someone who has been told that they are, in essence, dying. Certain gifts seem ridiculous, and some seem insensitive: a purse or some piece of clothing or jewelry. At this point, my mom didn’t leave the house, or have outside visitors, so such things seemed unimportant and unnecessary.

“Things” in general had long since become less important, unless they could somehow bring joy or add quality to my Mom’s life.

After wracking my brain, I settled for some kind of flowers or plant. I stopped off at a florist on the way to my parents’ house and picked a blue hydrangea plant in a blue and white ceramic bowl. She loved the color blue, I loved hydrangea, and I loved her, so it seemed the best fit under the circumstances. I figured it was at least something pretty to look at.

We had a particularly intense visit.

My mother had just reached the point where she and my father had to admit that they needed a nurse to come in: she could no longer get herself up out of a chair or sit up in bed unassisted. I had been noticing her failing body strength the last few visits.

But it had been a delicate subject to broach with them. As had other such conversations that had become necessary as her disease progressed.

First had been concern that the three steps up from their bedroom sitting area to the bed area had become a danger for her. I had become secretly terrified she’d fall and break her neck. So I very carefully brought it up to my parents, trying to seem casual so as not to belie the quiet hysteria I felt deep inside.

Such conversations with your parents are so surreal: to be both the child and the adult in the situation at once is strange.

They ended up moving the bed down into the bedroom sitting area, which was a great solution until even that was too much for her.

She eventually moved into Ground Zero – the open kitchen living room area. A hospital bed replaced the couch. She was in the center of things there.

Each new shift in her physical condition had required carefully approached conversations. I’d sense a hope in my parents that was a kind of invisible protective veneer surrounding them, one that colored their perspective of what was actually happening. It seemed to make them a beat or two behind in seeing the changes that were occurring.

Intuitively, I knew I had to take care not to puncture it. I had to ever-so-gently lead them to the realizations. They could not be forced upon them, or rushed.

This most recent concession that my mother’s physical freedom had become so altered was a particularly tough one for both of them. This Mother’s Day fell in the final few days of their time on their own in their home before a full-time hospice care person entered the picture.

As was true of our other weekly visits, we mainly spent our time together talking. Being together.

My mother talked of her life on those visits, and asked me about mine. There were times the conversation went to very serious subjects. Intimate information was exchanged. Old wounds were healed. Our relationship returned to what I can only describe as what I imagine to be the pure essential love between an infant and its mother.

And we laughed. A lot. And talked of lighter things. But throughout all of our talks, there was a subtle rhythm to them that I now realize she was orchestrating. Bits and pieces of those talks, that seemed so casual at times, come back to me as my life progresses. It turns out, she had been implanting motherly wisdoms all along. Mothering me until the very end.

And while I felt our beautiful closeness at this particular visit, I also felt a distance, too. She was moving through an internal process that was singular and private: it was something that neither my father nor I could be a part of.

When I left, I said what I had taken to saying every time: I love you. You know that, right? You hang in there and I’ll see you next week, OK? She hugged me and gave my cheek a little pat. I hated leaving her. It was always hard.

This particular time, for some reason I have never since been able to fathom, I wasn’t particularly afraid I wouldn’t see her again. I let my guard down for a moment. It wasn’t in the forefront of my mind that it might be my last time to see her.

I don’t know why I dropped that awareness. I’ve replayed that last goodbye over in my mind a hundred times. Berating myself for not having said more profound things. The truth was, we’d already said the truly crucial things we needed to say to each other, and for that I am truly grateful. I don’t know what it is I think I could have said at that last goodbye. I just know it still comes back to circle my mind at times. I guess it is all a part of the way the mind deals with grief, those senseless replays and circles.

The next time I visited my parents’ house, the hydrangea was still there. But my Mom was gone forever.