Archive for the ‘ Shadow Side Saturday ’ Category

Okay, deep, dark revelations time – my childhood was pretty dark much of the time. I know I’ve alluded to some things and outright stated others but to say it was a clusterfuck would be an understatement. My family was poor – I mean Mom sold blood for money poor. My parents were underage when I was born (16 & 17) and by the time they were 22 there were four kids. My father was an immature ass and bully for most of his life – at least as far as his family was concerned. We put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Only it really wasn’t funny.

I was battered and bruised physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually. For many years I believed that this was my fault; that I had done something or said something to bring this on me. Even most of my friends had no idea what went on in my house because who the hell wants to be the freak at that age. All I wanted to do was fit in and believe me that was already difficult enough without all of that shit being exposed. As a result of these experiences, I engaged in some very risky behaviors. I drank a lot! In fact, while in high school I had a few incidences of black out drunks and can’t remember anything. I was smart enough or scared enough not to try drugs more serious than the occasional joint but I took enough risks and chances to ensure that I could have easily become a statistic.

My parents had no clue how to handle me. Even my father, who was quick to beat the crap out of me should he feel the need, didn’t know how to stop me from going in the local bar. One night, after learning that I had been hanging out in the bar (I was about 15 at the time), he brought me back down to “prove” to me why it wasn’t safe. When we walked in my father was greeted by a number of patrons (including some who were rather criminal). When they learned I was his daughter they assured him they’d keep an eye out for me. So, I pointed out to my father that I was probably safer in that bar than anywhere else in the neighborhood. The fact that he accepted my statement and started playing darts rather than outing my true age to the bartender gives you a good idea how clueless he was as a parent.

Why am I bringing all this up? Simple, because one of the epiphanies I had at the 2016 Readers’ Studio is the fact that I was carrying the shame and guilt for events that were not mine to carry. I did nothing wrong. I was blameless in what was done to me. I was a child, powerless and defenseless. Even admitting that now is giving me palpitations. I preferred to take the blame on myself because it gave me the illusion of having some control, some power in this situation. What a load of crap! I was a child. I should have been protected by my parents not needed protection from them. Even as I write this I can feel rage flood through me at how bruised and beaten that poor little girl was. It took me a long time to realize that I was still that bruised, beaten, traumatized little girl.

Those experiences made me feel weak and made me determined never to feel that defenseless and weak again. Instead, I became aggressive – each offense resulted in a physical response. That often mean I got into fist fights with boys I knew. I eventually acquired the nickname “The Nutcracker” because I did not appreciate being groped by adolescent males. Believe me, taking punches from those boys was nowhere near as painful as taking them from my father. I probably would have continued down this path of aggressive, self-destructive behavior and binge drinking but I met my husband. I realize how amazingly lucky I was in meeting the hubby. I was 16 at the time and he was 24. He could have easily controlled and abused me – I was already primed for that kind of relationship. Instead, he defended me, protected me and made me question some of my more self-destructive behaviors. He encouraged me to do things for me not because of the expectations of others.

So here I am at 50 (facing 51) and I’ve finally been able to accept that none of that was my fault (well okay the binge drinking and aggressiveness but I’m giving myself a break because I had poorly developed coping skills). I don’t need to bear any of the shame or blame for those situations. I did not ask to be abused or molested. There was nothing inherently “wrong” with me that drew these types of people to me. Who knows, maybe my light was so bright that they felt jealous and had to dim it, tarnish it in some way. I cannot understand their motivations and no longer care. All I know is that I have shed myself of the blame and shame I carried for years. I feel lighter and more hopeful. I’m a survivor; I’m strong and resilient and I won’t let those experiences define or defeat me anymore.

Once again, this is something that has been incubating in me since last year’s Readers’ Studio. All three presenters (Heatherleigh Navarre, Barbara Moore & Sasha Graham, who were all amazing!) focused on shadow work. It was an awesome experience because each session managed to enhance and build upon the energy from the other sessions. Quite a lot of magical power was unleashed that weekend. As we worked through the exercises and listened to the presenters I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that I had no problem working with the darker side of human nature because I’ve been so exposed to it during my lifetime; it’s familiar territory.

I’ve probably hinted or even outright stated this before on this blog, but the fact of the matter is that much of my childhood was exposed to the darker side of human nature. My household was one of alcoholism, abuse (emotional, psychological, physical and sexual) and poverty. Most of my childhood friends came from similar backgrounds. We didn’t realize things were screwed up because this is the way it had always been for us. It’s not until I share tales of our exploits and get horrified looks from listeners that I realize how violent, dark and different my childhood was compared to many others.

I have learned to thrive in darkness, like a flower that blooms at night. It has become my milieu; I am comfortable in its environs. What I tend to avoid is the light, the gentle, the calmer approach to things. While sitting at Readers’ Studio I realize that one of my strengths is that I can help someone find their way through their own darkness. I can embrace and accept this side of their nature and help them work through it and find their way to wholeness. I can serve as the guide across the River Styx but I prefer not to accompany them back to the light. I prefer the shadows. I trust the darkness; I know what to watch for and what to expect. The light is something unfamiliar and untrustworthy. Random acts of kindness and spontaneous acts of generosity make me twitchy and a bit suspicious (something I am working on changing).

This realization also forced me to understand that my ability to endure and survive this experiences does not mean everyone can do so. It doesn’t make those who get lost in the shadows or who fear them weaker than me, simply different. I a bit like a colorblind person who doesn’t miss color because she has never seen them. I don’t miss the light side because it isn’t something I had a lot of experience with growing up. As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to make friends who have slowly exposed me to the benefits of the light side and I am more grateful to them than words can express but it hasn’t shifted my orientation much.

Maybe in a way, I’m like the Tarot version of a sin eater. I can absorb the darkness or shadow side that others fear so much and help them learn to become more comfortable with it too. Hmm, maybe I’m more like a dark side Brita filter, helping purify the dark side so it’s more fully appreciated.

Let’s face it – there are a lot of folks out there working the light side of the street. They try to convince us that it’s healthier and more positive. In my experience, it’s much healthier to embrace both sides. As Star Trek (yes I love classic Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry was a genius, and I plan to use examples from the show as often as possible) showed, humanity needs its darker side; messier, more violent shadow side. Without it we risk becoming indecisive martyrs, trying to harm none – that’s just not possible. I think we need to accept that every action has consequences, some good and some bad. In some ways, every choice we make has the potential to harm others. That is just how life works. If you are offered a job that means all the other applicants were rejected – someone was harmed. Get over it. Instead of ignoring or denying the shadow side, try working with it a bit. You don’t need to immerse yourself in it but try accepting and acknowledging it and learn what its energy can do for you. I think you’ll be surprised.

Death’s Handmaiden

 

As some of you out there may know, I spent the last 5 years caring for my elderly, dementia-ridden mother-in-law. I lived with her 24/7 and took care of all her needs. Although not a fun experience by any means, I will say that I learned a lot. Most of it I was unable to process until after she had passed, in fact I’m still processing. One thing I did learn is how to appreciate death. I realize this may sound a bit out there but the truth is that there comes a time when death is a blessing and this was definitely one of them.

In life, my mother-in-law was a fiercely independent and self-sufficient woman. She detested asking for assistance and would have despised what her illness did to her. Towards the end she was unable to recognize any of us (although she did still occasionally respond to my hubby’s voice); she had no control over her movements or bodily functions and no awareness of what went on around her. It was horrible to watch as she deteriorated over time and be unable to do anything about it. In her final days her doctor came for a home visit and told us that he felt she didn’t have much time left – days to months at the most. Ironically she died within two days. At the time we were arranging for in-home hospice care for her. We joked that she found the idea of strangers in her home so repugnant that she decided it was time to move on.

After she died she laid in her bed for several hours before the funeral parlor folks were able to pick her up. Although no funeral services were planned, we did want her to be cremated. The hospice agency sent a nurse so that time of death could be declared (it was actually 4:30 although legally the time was recorded as 6:30). The nurse also change my mom-in-law and cleaned her up. Now this is where things got strange for me. I am one of those people that has always refused to touch a dead body – visions of corpses sitting up and trying to grab me have always filled my mind, blame it on too many zombie flicks. Even when my father died I could not bring myself to touch his corpse. With my mother-in-law it was a very different experience.

Perhaps because I had tended her daily for the past few years (there was literally no part of her body I hadn’t seen), I was able to stroke her head and help prepare her for the funeral hearse. I helped the nurse change her and clean her. Before the nurse arrived I found myself entering her bedroom numerous times just to say goodbye and reassure her that her son, my deaf, mute & retarded brother-in-law, would be fine. There was something soothing about this ritual. It made me understand why having a loved one waked in the home makes more sense than a funeral parlor. Doing this for her made me feel like a priestess.

This experience also taught me not to fear death. Although dying can be traumatic, especially to those left behind, it is a natural part of life. If there is no death then there is no room left for new growth. Death can also be a blessing in disguise. I am often reminded of the classic Star Trek Season 3 episode The Mark of Gideon. The basic plot is that Kirk is beamed down to a fake Enterprise where he meets Odona. It turns out her planet is suffering from overpopulation and in an effort to control it Odona hopes to become infected by a disease Kirk carries but to which he is now immune. To these people, death has become a promise of relief, a surcease. For some people who suffer from a long-term debilitating illnesses or dementia, death but start to become a welcome experience.

What I have learned is that even if I have times when death seems cruel and capricious, there are also times when it is a boon signalling an end to suffering. Yes, it is a journey to the unknown but I now believe there comes a time in our lives when what is known is no longer tolerable and it is our choice to embrace this transition. Instead of fearing death and putting off the inevitable, we should speak to our loved ones and make our wishes known should certain situations arise. We should have the right to consciously decide if and when we chose to make this transition and the only reliable way to make our wishes known is through legal documents. These conversations may be painful but knowing how my mother-in-law felt about such matters make caring for her final days much more bearable.

Just take the freakin’ compliment

While at Readers’ Studio, I was chatting with Elinor Greenberg and Diane Wilkes. During out chat Elinor turned to Kooch Daniels and commented that several of my blog posts incorporating Tarot and psychology were some of the most insightful writings on the topic that she had read. I immediately made a self-deprecating comment along the lines of “knowing my own bullshit”. Elinor commented “Just accept the freakin’ compliment”. That stopped me dead in my tracks. Like a lot of people, I find it easier to take criticism than praise. Why? What is there in my soul, my ego, that cringes at compliments?

I wasn’t always this way. As a child I was very much a solar baby – soaking up all the attention and praise that I could get. I was a very good student and relatively well behaved child. In fact I was often embarrassed by teachers telling my mother they wished they had a “classroom full of Debbies”. Looking back now I realize that I began shying away from praise when it began to cause mocking by peers. One incident in my junior year of high school is still seared into my psyche. I took typing and steno (because why the hell not?). During one class the teacher asked for volunteers to read the transcription we had just completed. I can’t remember if I volunteered or was selected but as I was reading it I could hear a voice from behind me mimicking and mocking me as I read aloud. I felt so hurt and defenseless. I started tearing up and knew I couldn’t let them see me cry because (as I’m sure many of us remember) high school can be quite a dog eat dog environment. Another classmate sitting next to me realized I was close to losing it and told the mocker to cut it out. I will always appreciate her defense of me. I managed to finish reading without breaking down but it really took the joy out of that class for me.

Looking back I realize that kind of thing happened a lot to me. Not as cruel as the mockery and mimicry but being teased for being a brainiac, egghead, using $100 words. Even friends would make comments about my vocabulary so instead of feeling proud about it, I ended up feel embarrassed, shamed. Even in my family I’ve heard comments like I “think too much” or that I’m the “smart one” as though it makes me an outsider. I sometimes joke that I’m a Lisa Simpson in a Bart & Homer kind of world. It’s funnier to say than it is to experience.

This is just my roundabout way of explaining why I resist compliments – because I always assume they’re actually backhanded insults; ways to mock and tease me. I hate feeling that vulnerable and exposed so I go into an offensive position – I make fun of myself before they can do it. I treat it like a joke so they won’t realize how much it truly hurts me. It’s amazing and sad to me that after 30+ years that incident still causes pain. It’s not as painful as it once was but there is still tenderness and soreness attached to the memory. It’s ironic that when I was on FaceBook I got a friend request from the same person behind that incident. Just another reason I prefer to not be on FaceBook.

 

Blue Rose Tarot EmpressHave you ever found yourself looking at the Empress card and feeling irritated and resentful? I have. I often receive gentle (and not so gentle) nudges from her reminding me that I need to care for myself as well as others in my life; that sometimes I need mothering too. That triggers a host of negative associations – I actively resist being mothered.

I suppose I can lay the blame on my familial dysfunction (isn’t that always the easiest answer). My mother could be passive-aggressive and veer between smothering and deliberate obtuseness. My father was just aggressive, demanding and harsh. Let me be clear – I knew they both loved and supported me but on their bad days they could each be quite awful in their different ways. My father set a high academic standard for me and I rose to the occasion. Unfortunately, while quick to criticize if I didn’t do well, he was not so quick with positive feedback when I did. My mother preferred to stay out of that quagmire altogether. If I complained to her about the unfairness of my father’s expectations and treatment (he once gave my sister $10 for getting a B average report card while my A- average was criticized – “why the minus?”), Mom would shrug and comment that’s how my father was. I’m sharing this to explain why I find criticism or punishment easier to accept than nurturing kindness – it’s just what I became acclimated to receiving.

Mythic Empress

One of my biggest struggles has been learning to accept kindness, support and praise without brushing it aside or downplaying my accomplishments. It’s an uphill battle. I still find it very difficult to accept kind words from friends. I brush it off, make light of it. Accepting that I may be worthy of praise or comfort sits awkwardly in my psyche. I’m no one special – anyone in my place could do this. Maybe that’s true and maybe isn’t. I’m not sure. What I do know is that it’s still a part of myself that needs work. I’m not criticising or denigrating myself, simply acknowledging a truth. Even the Tarot has pointed out that this is an area that could “use improvement”.

So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. I will bet there are plenty more of us out there resisting praise the way toddlers resist nap time. We can change, improve our self-image so we feel deserving of praise and kind words, but for now we’ll probably keep squirming a bit. For those who have friends & loved ones like me, be gentle with your praise and positive feedback. We’re more used to cruel than kind and there can be quite a learning curve.

Bohemian Gothic DevilBohemian Gothic 6 of Cups

The other day I pulled these two cards as my cards of the day. I found myself looking at them from a different perspective because of past readings and exercises. It suddenly struck me that my antipathy for change has an almost addictive quality to it. I’m addicted to the past because of the memories (both real and rose-colored) I have. The “good old day” were never always good but time has washed them in a patina of gold and rose.

The truth is who the hell wants to sit around and remember lousy times? Who wants to dredge up unhappy, painful memories? That’s what therapy is for not reminiscing. Unfortunately reminiscing can also become problematic when it becomes a crutch, an addictive behavior that allows us to avoid facing current realities. Of course this also creates problems down the road because if I’m so focused on the past then I ignore the present and in the future will have fewer good memories from which to reminisce. It’s a vicious cycle! It’s like plowing and sowing seeds in the same field because they’ve proven fertile in the past but not giving them time to rest and regenerate. Eventually your harvest will become smaller and smaller before the field becomes barren. I don’t want my life to become barren.

So, how can I combat this? It’s not easy simply because I am in a nice rut and feel so little motivation to get out of it. However I have noticed that taking the time to consider the things I’m grateful for in my life can help. I did keep a gratitude journal at one point but it just became one more thing I had to do so I let it lapse. However that doesn’t mean I can’t take a few minutes every day and focus on areas of my life that are good. My life doesn’t suck. It may have sucky moments but overall it truly does not suck. What I need to do is find ways to keep this uppermost in my mind, especially when things really do seem pretty sucky.

Hobbies, friends, books and escapist television programming all help but at the end of the day it’s my choice, my decision to focus on the positive. I know it’s not easy because I seem to go through this cycle every few months but I like to think I’m getting closer to shortening my “life sucks” cycles. Coloring, Tarot cards and music help me de-stress too and that definitely helps elevate my spirits. I know I can do it, I just have to keep trying and not give up. I will not be defeated even by me and my inner demons and self-doubts and moments of wallowing in self-pity. I’m stronger than that. I just need to remind myself of this fact sometimes.

Fear & Loathing in La TarotBroad

I am a huge fan of the TV show Supernatural (I might have mentioned this before) and while watching a recent episode it occurred to me that even after 11 years of taking on all matter of supernatural creatures (including angels and demons) and emerging victorious, the two main characters (the Winchester brothers) still see themselves as worthless. They willingly sacrifice themselves for the greater good because they truly believe their only value is in their ability to save people. It’s heart-breaking and tragic to watch them fight their inner demons and try to convince each other they have value and worth.

Of course as I watched it I realized that I have the same tendency (as do many others I know). We all seem to willing to believe the worst about ourselves; to see ourselves are petty, venal and rather pathetic. We incorporate all the criticism, self-doubt and negativity aimed at us by the world but neglect the positive traits we possess, the good we do for others and benefits we bring to those in our lives. Why? Why do we all seem so willing to wallow in a trough of self-loathing? I have no idea. I’m sure psychologist and healers have been trying to answer that question for decades if not centuries. Sometimes it seems to me that the more free time we have, the more ways we find to fill our minds with negative attitudes and self-loathing. The human capacity for self-doubt and self-hatred is mind blowing.

So, if I can’t tell you why we’re like this then why am I writing this post? Because I am determined to wage a battle to stop or at least reduce this behavior in my own life & mind. How? Well, I do not have any clear answers to that so I decided to ask the Tarot. Using Arnell Ando’s wonderful Transformational Tarot, I asked “How can I release the self-doubt, self-loathing and inner demons that populate my psyche?”

I drew the 6 of Swords R, 3 of Cups + 4 of Wands.

The 6 of Swords tells me no one else can save me, this is something I must do for myself. No knight in shining armor will sweep me up and carry me away. This is a only I can steer my way through.

The 3 of Cups tells me that friendship, camaraderie and joy will help in this endeavor. Finding emotional support and people who can serve as sounding boards when things get bad; caring people who can counteract those negative voices we all hear inside our own heads.

The 4 of Wands suggests that I need to find stable and exiting creative outlets and support networks. Just as knitters love to talk to others knitters, we may all find our creative juices enhanced by interacting with folks of a like mind. It also helps to have a support network to guide and advise us when something gets screwed up.

So it would seem that the key to overcoming and releasing all those self-doubts and self-loathing; to slaying those inner demons is accepting responsibility for yourself and then making sure you surround yourself with supporting nurturing people who appreciate you for who you are and who enhance and appreciate your creative endeavors rather than tearing them down. We also need to make sure that we offer this same support and appreciation to friends and loved ones. I speak from experience – “positive criticism” can often come across as an effort to shred someone’s confidence and to sound superior. No one likes a know-it-all (trust me on this, I know of what I speak). It sounds so simple and yet I know so many who still allow this energy into their lives and continue to behave this way towards others. My goal is to call myself on this behavior when I am exposed to it and when I subject others to it. (Did that come off sounding know-it-all-ish and superior? I hope not!)

I recently completed an inner labyrinth journey using the Majors and Aces from the Dark Goddess Tarot. It was very transformative and magical and left me very excited to continue. So I have decided to work with Runes. I’ve dabbled in them for many years but have rarely focused on them in a more serious, structured manner. I started working with Runic Half-Months and drawing an additional rune each day to help me better connect with the energy of the rune of the half-month. Then I draw two Tarot cards for additional clarification and insight.

One thing working with the runes has made me think about is personal and ancestral wyrd or fate. How do the patterns woven by our ancestors play out in our own lives and in the patterns we now weave? I’ve always found it interesting that in ancient Norse mythology and belief the future is viewed as “that which is becoming”. It is not something set it stone; it changes and shifts according to our current actions. We literally create what will become in our lives by changing that which is right now. That is powerful. It takes our future out of the hands of some distant, impartial deity and places it firmly in our own hands. Now for some folks that is not a blessing but I embrace it wholeheartedly.

Dark Goddess Stars Spiderwoman

Of course it then made me wonder how my own family’s wyrd has impacted my ancestors and me. I’ve mentioned before that seeing the patterns woven through the tapestries of various family members’ lives has helped me forgive and let go of certain childhood pains. It has also made me aware of certain patterns that permeate my family line through generations. Substance abuse is a very strong thread as is abusive relationships of various stripes. On a slightly more comic note, the women in my maternal line seem to have a pattern of marrying relatively useless men and then needing to work to support them (this is a thread I have pulled out of my own tapestry).

Dark Goddess 3 of Earth

My family is not cursed but we certainly have made a hobby of being oblivious to how our own choices echo those of our ancestors. Perhaps if we were more cognizant and aware of the patterns we could have made better choices. Of course it’s never too late to change the patterns and weave a different tapestry. The true curse in any family history is the inability to see how you can change it in your own life. Instead we create self-fulfilling prophecies and tell ourselves it was inevitable and nothing we did would have changed anything. I think that’s bullshit! Every change we make in our lives today will change how our story continues. If we believe we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors then that’s what will happen.

Lover's Path Justice

I have decided that I’m going to continue pulling out those threats that taint my tapestry. Like Penelope in The Odyssey, I will not allow my fate to be determined by anyone but me. I’m going to make sure that which is becoming in my life is beautiful, joyful and worthwhile. Perhaps things won’t always be easy but I don’t think that was ever part of the program. I have to do what I think is right for me. It might not be easy but I’ve got quite a stubborn streak (that was inherited from my maternal line too).

Have you ever hated, I mean seriously hated a fictional character? I have. Recently I’ve been watching past seasons of The Walking Dead and I realized that I really detest the Andrea character. I find her arrogant, completely lacking in insight or intuition, and gullible. She refuses to participate in anything resembling “women’s work” (which I completely understand) but overestimates her skills in other areas. She wants to be a protector but when we first meet Andrea, she greatly overestimates her shooting skills. She routinely resists any authority figure whose priorities are not her own. Hmm, she sounds like me.

When that thought struck me I realized that it really isn’t Andrea I hate, it’s those trait I see in her that I share. It might be comical if it wasn’t so true. Like Andrea, I often think I can do things on my own without assistance. I hate being limited in any way (whether it’s being expected to do “women’s work” or being treated as though I’m incapable of understanding a concept). I also see myself as a protector although to be fair I have minimal self-defense skills. I have a lot of moxie but very little actual training to back it up. The one area we are a bit different is that I am not as gullible or lacking in insight or intuition as the character is but that’s only because I’ve spent a lot of time working on it. And yes, I’m arrogant. Fairly self-righteous on occasion too.

Another character I’ve realized irritates me for some reason (although not to the same degree) is Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I couldn’t put my finger on why, I simply found her rather ditzy and annoying. But the more I watched the show the more I realized I resented and was jealous of Buffy. I would have given anything to have special powers like her (then again what teen wouldn’t?). Her blonde cheerleader persona, that was basically destroyed when she learned she is the Slayer, was one that I envied a bit on some deep unconscious level. Once again, who hasn’t wanted to be in the popular clique at some point in their lives. Of course even as a teen I wouldn’t have lasted in that clique because, also like Buffy, there were things in my life that made me an oddball, an outcast. Now I embrace those things but at the time they seems embarrassing and painful.

It’s become a fun hobby for me to take note of which characters I like and identify with (Dean & Sam Winchester on Supernatural) versus which ones annoy me. I see them as keys to character traits I want to possess or ones I possess that I don’t really like. It gives me an opportunity for insight and challenges me to make an effort to change those traits I don’t like and cultivate the ones I do. Needless to say, this works beautifully with fictional novels too.  Try it sometime, you might be surprised at yourself. And you thought TV was just mindless junk food!

I have spent the last six years caring for my ailing mother-in-law. In that time I have seen her deteriorate from a semi-independent woman who needed assistance such as preparing meals and handling other household tasks to someone who needs help with the most basic facets of life. It saddens me because in her prime my mother-in-law was a fiercely independent woman. Despite the fact that she has a developmentally disabled son, she never asked for help. Now she is unable to walk without assistance. What makes it both sadder and a relief is that she is unaware of how helpless she is. She is like an infant – knowing only that she needs something and relying on someone else to provide it.

Dark Goddess Death

I feel like Death’s handmaiden. I am not in any way contributing to this process (although dealing with this has given me a new appreciation for euthanasia). My task is to calm her, provide what she needs (to the best of my ability) and try to ensure she’s not alone if/when her time comes. Having said all of this, I cannot help and will not justify the resentment I feel about this situation; the rage that flares up inside me at unexpected moments. The desperate wish I have that it would all just be over and I could reclaim my life again.

I am no saint or martyr. This current situation is intolerable to me. I detest it with every fiber of my being. Sometimes I practically vibrate with it. Every effort made to find assistance from external sources (government agencies, visiting nurse services, etc.) has either proven to be a dead end or beyond our financial means. I’m not willing to put this woman, who spent much of her life caring for family members, into a nursing home where she will be strapped down and drugged until her body can take no more. I may hate the lack of control and independence I have in my life right now but I would have that situation even more. I also don’t think I could forgive myself for it.

Well-meaning friends and acquaintances have spouted various platitudes about some divine being who does not give us more than we can handle. Generally my response is either a pained grimace or a colorful rejoinder which includes various profanities (depending upon how well I know the person). I bitch and moan to anyone and everyone who will listen, including the indifferent gods whose existence I honor. I get it – this will end when it is meant to end. However I must reiterate that it sucks beyond measure.

The main take-away I’ve gotten from this experience is a fierce determination not to find myself in a similar situation. I have no one that I can count on to care for me if I end up like my mother-in-law. I’ve also seen the various nursing home facilities available for elderly people in this condition and the reality is that if a family member is not a regular visitor and if one’s health coverage doesn’t provide enough benefits, the patient/family member ends up ignored, neglected, and even abused in some circumstances. That thought gives me nightmares.

Wheel of Change Death

I don’t believe we deal well with death in our modern culture. We fight it with a desperate determination that often results in circumstances like this one. The body keeps going because medical technology can maintain the status quo but it can’t do much to stop the progress of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. So the body is kept alive and as healthy as possible while the mind continues to disintegrate.

Support services for caregivers who are tending to family members in this condition are minimal and (in my experience) woefully inadequate. It’s wonderful that there are support groups, but if I cannot leave the family members alone how exactly do I attend? Home visits from doctors? Oh sure they still happen, just not in this part of the county. Home care assistance? It’s available but not to my mother-in-law because she’s not on Medicaid. My brother-in-law (who is deaf and retarded) is eligible but services cannot be activated without a doctor’s approval. No doctors make home visits in this area and he will not leave the house without a serious fight. It’s a Catch-22 that leaves you bitter, exhausted and defeated. I hate it!!! In fact, I cannot stress how much I hate it. The only thing I would hate more is to have to institutionalize these two people that I love. I accept that. It’s the trade-off I make in my life. I’ll put things on hold to tend to them and I can still face myself in the mirror and sleep at night. It’s not a perfect situation but it’s the best I can do right now.

So if there is anyone else out there who has found themselves in similar circumstance, please know that you have my respect and admiration. It’s a thankless task that is fairly unappreciated by the wider society. Make sure you keep in touch with friends somehow or else the isolation with warp you. Take care of yourself. Even if all you can do is spend 10 minutes every day one yourself, treat that time as sacred. I’ve done the “giving my all to the relatives” trip and burnt out quick. I have found the work of Jennifer Louden and SARK to be inspirational and helpful in dealing with all of this. I still find it difficult to balance time for me with their needs but I’m stumbling along and finding ways. And if your choices are different than my own and you had to make the agonizing decision to institutionalize your loved one, please know that you have my sympathy and support. No one else can understand what you went through and how difficult it was for you to make that decision. Don’t allow anyone to shame you because of it. We are all just doing the best we can in this life and shouldn’t be held to someone else’s standards or expectations.

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