One of my childhood favorite games was “Operation.” I loved the challenge of trying to pull the bones out of the guy without making that obnoxious buzzer go off. I blame Milton Bradley for at least part of my anxiety disorder. Between Operation and Perfection I was set up for it. Part of learning to live with PTSD is recognizing your own emotions. I’ve spent my life in public service and have tried, and often failed, to weigh and balance my words with wisdom. Therefore I have spent a lot of time biting my tongue and stifling my anger. (I know. I’m the pastor whose parishioners were going to start a blog entitled “Shit My Pastor Says.” I really did try and behave myself.)
Day 15 of 100 intentional, reflective steps.
The teens play this game called “bigger and better.” The teams are each given a a small object. They begin going door to door, calling on the poor neighbors to exchange the team’s object for something bigger and better. Each neighbor searches through their rummage pile or garage for a contribution. At the end of the allotted time the teams reconvene and judges decide the winner. Years ago when the teens were playing this game one group came home dragging a treadmill! Tonight it was a 10×10 carpet, a barbecuer, giant teddy bear and two extra kids!
Sometimes western culture is just a giant game of bigger and better. From the start of our “I want” stage in life we keep trading up; better toys, smaller electronics, better relationships, bigger careers, better houses, bigger toys, etc. No matter how much we get or how perfect it is that satisfaction is, temporary, so we trade up.
For a year I have kept even the large, scaffolding type details of my disappearance last fall a secret. I didn’t want anybody to know that I was in a hospital. Previous to leaving I had been seeing a counselor for a year and we had been to a marriage therapist for a year. I wasn’t particularly fond of anybody knowing those details! However, in hindsight I can see that keeping these things secret was as damaging to my soul as the illness is to my mind.
When we trade our vehicles for something bigger and better we try to hide the scratches, the dents, the paint chips. I bought into the lore, the lie that my value is related to my perfection, as if I should be judged, assessed and monetized like an object.
I am not confident now. Something about that experience and needing to be taken care of for so many months, not being able to care for my children, of living in solitude, losing career, relationships and independence has dampened my confidence. I still act confident, but I don’t really believe it.
I can feel the stilling of the jello that has been my confidence. I can feel it quickening like slow cure cement into something strong, like a bone graft that becomes stronger than the original bone. To succumb to the weight of a tragic childhood, diseases that have affected friends and family, the loss of loved ones, the suicides and unexpected tragedies I have witnessed, would be a tragedy. To deny their impact on my life would be an even larger one because that would be to refuse the grace that has been gifted to me to survive.
Much is put on being a “survivor.” We like the idea of the warrior who fights against the odds to conquer the foe. However, it isn’t being a survivor that makes me strong or confident. It is the ability to point to the wounds that stand witness to my pain and say “it still hurts” or “I need help” that takes me from the game of “bigger and better” and puts me square in the lap of love and grace.
Day 13 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.
When you really like someone you often give them a nickname. Take my dog for instance. We nicknamed him “kegogi”. (Korean joke.) I wanted to name one of our children “Abigail.” Kyle would walk around the house singing “abbi riley, abbi riley” in a sing songy pinched voice that sounded something like Sheldon Cooper singing a lullaby. His point, I think, was that the name would be abbreviated to something fonder, cuter and shorter. I often call my oldest daughter “emmy lou” but shorten it to “lou” just for fun. I express affection for her fiance’ by nicknaming him “boy.” Ok. Bad example. The point is, we express acceptance and familiarity by pet names.
For ten years I was on one antidepressant. Now I have a gallon size bag of medicationI received a thorough education on “safe” distribution from my addict friends last fall so I’m fairly certain I could earn a fortune selling little goodie bagson the street. I have a daughter getting married, a son in college and another daughter on her way to college . . . Maybe this could be a new fundraiser?
This year it seems medications have walked in and out of my life with alarming rate. At doctors directions I keep trying them all on for size to see what is the best fit. I’m a med serial dater. It’s like the worst kind of kissing booth at the fair. Some of them are friendlies and others are saboteurs. Some prospects are wonderful while others are completely unfortunate looking, sloppy and lack manners. However, as a category, it appears the medications are here to stay. So, I decided we have surpassed the formal stage. Now they are just “meds” and we are forever family. (Maybe like extended family. You get to keep them whether you chose them or not?)
I’m a gyroscope on a rollercoaster. My sense of balance and orientation is all dependent on the correct combination of sleep, food, activity, inactivity, interaction, solitude, spiritual balance and of course meds. If even one of those things is out of balance I feel like I will hurtle off the track and crash.
This year has been about adjusting. Its been about acknowledging my illnesses, which I don’t like, learning my limits, which I suck at, and admitting my need for help, which I hate. However, whenever I get overwhelmed I have to remember and be grateful for the fact that I don’t have a life threatening illness, terminal diagnosis or malformation of my physical body that would keep me from moving forward in life.
So, “meds” and I will be friends and I will quit hating them for their needfulness in my life.
Day 12 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.
I visited a place where I felt so much “less weird” than I had ever felt. It was an odd mixture of acceptance and challenge for growth. It was real world, in the sense that everybody had baggage and “stuff” and willingly seemed to accept that fact. We were all hurting and in need.
It felt honest. For instance, If somebody was having a bad day not only was it permissible to let it show (anger, tears, sullen faces etc.) it was also ok to not have to fix everybody else’s bad day. No, platitudes or placating, just a simple “Sorry, you’re having a bad day,” “Sorry, life is hard right now,” or even better, a nod and walk away. In my 43 years old I have never been in an environment so accepting and dizzyingly communal.
I think everybody should have an experience like this. It reminded me of how emotionally depraved we have become. So often we act as if communities should be homogenous. Enforcing conformity makes us feel normal. However, even in the most ‘welcoming” communities there are collective rules of dress, actions, vocabulary . . Sameness.
Many people think they have found that idyllic community, until the bottom drops out of their lives. All the sudden people who were unsure how to love them stampeded out of their lives, trampling the soul. Their lives no longer fit within the Stepford standards. It reminds me of a missionary story from South East Asia. A new pastor was surveying their new place of ministry. He looked out a window and was pondering the beautiful lush grass. The only such lawn in miles. All the sudden a dog ran across the lawn. Curiously, the yard began to roll up and down with the dogs every leap. The lawn was growing on the top of three stories of raw liquid sewage. As a general rule – we don’t want to acknowledge, let alone dig into, the sewage in one another’s lives; especially in the western world. We like the green grass.
My visit, though very very difficult stands as an oasis of generosity in a desert of perceived judgment. On more than one occasion I was struck by the thought that this climate, this attitude of mutual investment and giving of gracious space should be what church community should feel like. But I’m not talking about the church. It was in a psychiatric institution where I most clearly saw grace in action in the midst of the darkness.
Here’s the thing. My friends from the hospital knew their ailments and addiction and were talking about it; working through it. They knew they are like everybody else, except they were actively working to get healthy. They loved in spite of labels, some of which were worn right on our name tags; addict, victim, abuser, killer. From my experience people in churches don’t feel the same way. Wearing your depravity and need openly only warrants suspicion and pity, not welcome and inclusion. I fear that as a rule my friends would not find the church a welcome place. I get it but I resist it. We can do better.