Tag Archives: baggage

The Judge and the Victim


I realized that I have been ignoring a great free resource: podcasts.  I have an iPhone: there’s no reason for me not to stock up on a variety of podcasts covering a wide range of all of the topics that always concern me.  Since almost everything that bothers me winds up boiling down to my baggage, I focused on the meditation and self-help sections of the podcast store in iTunes.

I ran across one called Happiness Through Self Awareness that looked interesting.  I gave one cast entitled “Stop Beating Yourself Up” a try, and learned quite a bit.  He talked about how it was impossible for something to beat itself up: there have to be two parts, the beater and the the part being beaten.  He called them the judge and the victim.  I found the distinction to be very elucidating.

He went on to describe the judge as being something of a perfectionist: an all-knowing entity that never makes mistakes telling you how you’ve gone wrong and how you don’t measure up.  The victim is the exact opposite: a part of you that knows nothing and can do nothing right.  Our angst when we are “beating ourselves up” is because these are diametrically opposed viewpoints that can’t exist at the same time: you have to pick one.

In picking one, you free yourself from the struggle and remove the toxicity.  When you pick the judge, you take on the mantle of confidence that goes with knowing everything (even though of course you don’t) and you can stop being so mean to yourself.  When you pick the victim, you accept that you don’t have the knowledge and can view yourself with compassion.  Either way, when you pick sides and stop trying to be both, you can stop being mean to yourself and view your mental processes with more compassion and understanding.

“Ah, here’s where I know what I’m doing, and here’s where I don’t.”

The two interplay off of each other.  When the victim doesn’t know what to do, the judge is there to help.  At this point, it’s helpful to find different labels for the judge and the victim, because once they’re operating in a more healthy dynamic, they’re not judgmental or victim-minded anymore.  Perhaps the parent and the child, or the student and the teacher.  The guru and the follower.

At least, that’s what I got out of that podcast.  It was pertinent knowledge to get in light of having a week in which I seriously flogged myself for one thing or another.  I look forward to the next one.

There’s a website that goes along with the podcasts: you can find it here.

Minefield


I’ve been inordinately preoccupied lately with the subject of how girls mature in the modern world, seeing as how I have a 9-year-old daughter who seems to be maturing at a frightening rate.  My own upbringing, along with cultural stereotypes, have primed me to see the teenage years as a minefield requiring an emotional flak jacket, forcing me to steel myself against having my daughter unwillingly ripped from my arms as she does everything in her power to separate herself from me using methods guaranteed to purposefully shock and horrify.

Pardon me while I attempt to rip this pair of shit-colored glasses from my face.

I know this is the most extreme version of adolescence possible, and it is generated by my fear that my daughter and I will have the same hate-filled relationship that my mother and I had.  I do not trust my own bipolar-addled mind to react in a healthy way to the vagaries of her changing brain in the coming years, and I’m terrified of ruining the relatively happy relationship that we have now.  I’ve also heard too many stories of mothers who have loving relationships with their daughters, only to have them turn sour once they become pre-teens and teenagers.

I’m also greatly disturbed by the cultural forces that are at work in my daughter’s life.  She is 9, but the kids at her school are already listening to music filled with descriptions of sex and partying, even the occasional mention of S&M (!).  I know she doesn’t understand most of what they’re talking about (she didn’t even know what the word “porn” meant), but I do, and it bothers me.  A lot.

I would put my foot down and put an absolute ban on such music, but I’m wary of ostracizing her from her friends, which is just as damaging.  And as a very wise friend pointed out, you can’t dictate someone’s musical choices to them.  I’m also aware that every single  generation of parents has thought that the music their children were listening to was going to send them to Hell or ruin their morals.  I am equally aware that the things musicians have sung about really hasn’t changed, not in centuries.  People think of decades earlier in the 20th century as being more innocent somehow, but they were singing about the exact same things they’re singing about now.  Just not quite so blatantly.

There has to be a balance.  I must allow her to be the person she is, but without exposing her to things earlier than she should be exposed to them.  And that’s where the problem currently is.  I don’t know how to do that without cutting her off from the the things and friends that help her express her identity.  I know what it’s like to feel completely separate from everyone around you, and it’s terrible and will do just as much harm to her as not doing anything.

Music is just the tip of the iceberg.  She’s only in the 4th grade.  If there is a hell on earth, it must surely be middle school.  What’s going to happen then, when the minefield really begins in earnest?  Then there will be the clothing battles, and the battles over anything else that I feel oversexualizes her.  I probably will put my foot down with those things.  What about the other things I have to protect her from?  Cyberstalkers?  A culture that with one hand tells her that sex is bad but with the other that she must be a sexpot?  Our culture’s horrible views on body image and health?  Our culture’s twisted views on just about everything?  I sometimes question the wisdom of having a child at this time in history, although I suspect that, as with the music, every generation has felt the same way.

All of these things have stirred together in my brain into a melange of terror that will undoubtedly do its own damage even if everything else is going just fine.  I can barely sort my thoughts together.

I’m trying to turn to books for help, but cultural forces are changing so rapidly, what with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, that almost all of them are woefully out of date.  Reviving Ophelia, written in 1994 and long held to be the gold standard of how to save our adolescent girls from the cultural forces at work in modern times, is grossly outdated (not to mention it views society through the lens of a psychologist who sees only troubled girls, and as such is extremely biased).  Surviving Ophelia is a similarly biased and outdated work that I refused to read as I knew it would only feed the fires of my fear, as did Reviving Ophelia.  I need something that will make me feel better, and empowered, not worse and powerless in the face of the forces I’m trying to battle.

There is one fight that only I have the power to help her win, and that is body image.  It is well known that daughters look to their mothers for how to treat and view their bodies, and that terrifies me, because I hate my body with a passion.  Hate it.  I’ve never had any reason at all to love it.  Why should I?  It’s never brought me anything but grief.  First in the form of negative attention from men and boys, and then in the form of an imbalanced endocrine system which has caused irregular, heavy periods my entire life.  Then I gained weight as a result of trying to make myself unattractive in an effort to shun the attention I got from men.

There was one very brief period in my life when I lost weight and was happy with my body and the attention I got, but my own mental baggage betrayed me once again, and I went back to hating my body and being ashamed of it, wanting to be ugly once again.  I’ve stayed that way ever since, even though I was really quite attractive, at least until I had a baby.  My husband tells me I’m still beautiful, but I don’t believe him.  I look in the mirror and am disgusted by what I see.  I detest what pregnancy did to my body and know that what beauty I did have before I had a baby, and did not appreciate, is gone forever.  I hate my hair.  I hate my skin.  I can’t think of a single thing about my body that I like.  I know that attitude is going to poison my beautiful daughter’s attitude about her own body, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I know there are people who think the way out of this trap is to look in the mirror and tell myself every day that I’m beautiful, but I want to choke when I think of doing that.  I can’t even imagine saying the words, let alone actually saying them.  I can barely look at myself in the mirror.  I don’t wear makeup: it just makes me feel like I have to go somewhere.  All I wear is t-shirts that cover up my body.  I wear my hair in a ponytail all the time.  I don’t take care of myself the way I should because I don’t see what the point is.  I don’t have a mental image in my head of what I looked like when I wasn’t fat, because I don’t think I ever actually looked at my whole body in the mirror.  Ever.  Certainly not on purpose with gladness.  Maybe if I was trying on clothes, but that’s it.  Even then, whatever I was trying on wasn’t for looks, it was for comfort and just to make sure it fit.

I don’t want to be this way.  I want to be someone who gets up in the morning and is happy to see the face and body in the mirror and wants to take care of them, to make them look pretty because they (I) am worth the attention and energy.  I want to be someone who makes the effort and time to go to the gym and to yoga and karate classes because they’re good for me and because they make my body look and feel better.  Mostly, though, I want to be someone who loves themselves enough to think themselves worthy of the effort of all of these things.  Because I don’t love myself.  I think I’m a pretty mediocre excuse for a human being.  Most days, all I can think of are all of the things I’ve ever done wrong and how I don’t measure up.  I certainly don’t treat my daughter the same way: quite the opposite in fact.  But I know the way I treat myself will seep into her psyche.  Maybe not now, but someday.

Maybe the minefield I have to navigate isn’t hers: it’s mine.

Ghosts


I’ve been working hard on my book lately.  It’s mostly written (except for the last ten years of my life), which means I’m editing.  Editing means reading my book over, and over, and over again, because editing happens in layers, I’m discovering.  You go through the book once to catch one kind of mistake, then you go through it again to catch another kind of mistake.  So on and so forth.

I’m sure that with some other kinds of books, this merely gets tedious and boring after a while.  With mine, it’s really stressful sometimes, on an emotional level.  I’m writing about things in my life that made me very sad, or angry, or frightened.  Having to read them over and over again is taxing, to say the very least.  Some things that I’ve been able to distance myself from over the years are much closer to the surface, now that I’m exposed to them so much more often.  I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a long time, all over again.  Unpleasant things.

These feelings bubble over into my everyday life.  I’m crankier than normal, I feel, and need less stimulation.  Conversely, I’m appreciating parts of my current life more.  The difference between this life and that life are even more stark.  I’m aware of how my daughter’s life differs from my own as I was growing up.  My biggest worries with her are that she’s too materialistic and needs some direction, which seem pretty normal for a kid under ten.  I don’t worry about her needing years of therapy, or being saddled with severe personality complexes that hamper her personal relationships and ability to function in the world.  Like me.  I do worry about her developing bipolar illness, which seems to run in the family, but at least we know it might be coming, and forewarned is forearmed.

I have many hopes and fears attached to this project.  Like any writer, I have that tiny nugget of hope that this will be successful enough to garner a spot on the featured shelves of popular bookstores.  Perhaps even a coveted spot in the New York Times bestseller lists (hey, a girl can dream, right?).  I know the reality will probably be more subdued, though, that my readership will probably extend to my circle of friends and not much farther, if at all.  I may even have to self-publish through Amazon or some other venue, if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick up my manuscript.

I admit, I’ll be very disappointed if I can’t even get a publisher to consider printing my book.  I really do think it has that much merit.  Someone recently asked me why I was writing my memoir.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for them.  I think I started writing it just to get it all out of my head.  I had this jumble of bad memories, interspersed with the occasional good one, and I wanted to put it all down, in order, in part to see if it really was all that bad.  To see if, perhaps, I was ignoring the good.  I wasn’t.  It really was that bad.  It was an extremely valuable exercise to validate my memories and did a great deal for my confidence.

Then I wanted to share it, though I couldn’t say exactly why.  Part of it was attention, I won’t lie.  I think all humans want attention for the things they’ve accomplished.  Most people accomplish things like degrees, or mastery of a craft or art, perhaps.  I accomplished the feat of surviving my childhood, something that took far longer than any college degree.  And yes, dammit, I want acknowledgement for that, because it was fucking hard.  In acknowledging the hard, I found another reason for writing and sharing my story, which is best illustrated by sharing the last paragraph of my book’s introduction:

 

There is a Sanskrit word, bodhicitta, that means “enlightenment”, or “awakening”.  It is the primary goal of one called bodhisattva: someone who wants to achieve Buddhahood as quickly as possible, so they may benefit other living beings through compassion and wisdom.  That is my wish with this book, for others to benefit as I make my own journey to enlightenment, as well as healing.  If even one reader can stumble across their own bit of illumination that makes something make sense enough to propel them forward, then we will all be one step closer to peace.

 

While I feel pompous comparing myself to a bodhisattva, that’s how I feel.  So, yes, this book is for me, but it’s also for everyone else who needs inspiration to move forward with their life if they’re feeling like they’re stuck in the path that was carved for them.  It’s possible to get out of the rut, and to carve a new one.  It’s hard, harder than staying where you are, but it can be done, and it’s far more rewarding than staying where you are.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more ‘be’ verbs to turn into action verbs.

Openness


As I was saying in a post last Saturday, there’s been a lot of crying lately, either out of frustration or out of sadness or out of whatever.  Crying requires openness.  I can’t be tightened up and still cry.  Being sad about the cats lately has taught me that I have to open up and let go in front of other people, which is something that I have an extremely difficult time with.  Most of the people who know me have known me for quite a long time, but in all likelihood have never seen me cry.  I will engineer my life so that I express my sadness alone.

That’s not always possible, though, and it’s not always healthy.  People need each other’s kindness when they’re sad.  My daughter has seen me when I’m overcome with tears over the cats and she comes over and puts her arms around me, and it makes me feel better.  I’m sure the reverse would be true if our roles were also reversed.

This all reminds me of something I read either in a Buddhist or a yoga magazine sometime recently about meditation and how it opens you up.  Someone had written in confused about the sad and even angry feelings their meditation practice had brought up in addition to the peace and calm.  The answer was that meditation opened a person up to all of the sensitivities of emotion, not just the so-called positive ones.  Meditation puts us in touch with all of the emotions that we’re sitting on, even the yucky ones that make us feel bad.

Sometimes, though, I feel those are the ones that have to be processed the  most in order to let the ones that feel better to us, flourish and grow.*  The former have been sat on for a reason: they don’t feel good!  They just have to be dealt with, which means addressing how they got there in the first place.  Depending on what it is, that might mean a whole host of difficulties ranging from the very minor to the life changing.  No wonder we just push these things down and don’t want to meditate or do anything else that lets them bubble up.  It’s hard to stay open.  It feels vulnerable and dangerous.

The nice thing about meditation is that you don’t really have to DO anything with them.  You just let them BE.  You don’t have to judge them.  You don’t have to judge yourself.  Just simple acknowledgement is all that’s necessary, and the depth of that is up to you.  A full analysis of the situation might be useful, or a simple, “Yep, that came up, it can go now, too,” might suffice as well.  What happens next, remember: no judgment.  That’s crucial and can be a huge stumbling block  that can lead back to being closed.

My mantra at times like that is typically, “No one is judging me but myself.”  Judgment is me trying to close myself back up, and I have to stay open if I want to grow.  I also have to stay patient.  It took a while to push some of that stuff down, it’s going to take a while to let it bubble back out.  Those bubbles usually take the form of more tears, but that’s why I keep kleenex around when I’m doing deep spiritual or meditative work.  I know I’ll be releasing a lot of stuff up from the muck, of which I’ll just have to be accepting, non-judgmental, and open to.

*the rest of this presumes you already have a steady meditation practice

Reading and Writing


Things have been quiet around here the last couple of weeks, with the exception of the blatting cat, who still misses her mother.  She’s slowly getting quieter, though, and is settling into a one-cat routine.  We all are.  Samadhi gets a lot more attention than she used to.

I’ve been making myself read.  I do this dumb thing where I tell myself I can’t read because there must be something more important that I have to be doing, even when there isn’t.  I have plenty of time to read, in actuality, but don’t utilize it.  I’ve been trying to change that this week, using my backlog of Stephen King books as the hook.  Of his 50+ books that he’s published (just the novels, mind you), there are 34 that I haven’t read.  I own 8 of them, because I have a tendency to buy books and then not necessarily read them.  Such is the life of a bibliophile.

Whenever I read, it makes me want to write, and my brain writes in my head as I go about my day.  This both amuses and irritates me because it reminds me how shitty I am at writing fiction.  I get a little nugget in my head and try to make it go somewhere, and after about a page, it sits there like a dog turd needing to be picked up from the grass.  Maybe I just don’t read enough.  Maybe I’m really not good at writing fiction.  I don’t know.  What follows is an attempt at a fictional style of writing the ongoing narrative my brain generates when I read.  Enjoy, or try.

***************************

She did the same thing every time she read a decent book: she began narrating her life inside her head. Actually, narrating her life was something she did constantly, but when she read, it had a bit more clarity and definition. The increased narration also made her want to write. What, as if people want to read about the minutiae of your life? Well why not, she muttered to herself. My favorite authors frequently write about the minutiae of life to great effect, if not to great length. She went back to stirring the kid’s lunchtime macaroni. Lunchtime? Maybe in Seattle, sweetheart. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Fuck off, it’s summer vacation, she once again muttered to herself. She wondered if she didn’t need to call the crazy whisperer to have her bipolar meds upped.

 

Once her daughter was happily ensconced with a book behind the bowl of macaroni, she went back to her own book, or at least tried to. She was having a hard time maintaining her concentration and couldn’t decide if it was her or the short story she was trying to read. It was something by a favorite author, but that didn’t mean she swallowed everything they wrote. This particular piece was hard going so far, and she was about to give up on it.

 

Eyes wandering from the page, her thoughts strayed to her constant inability to finish anything she wrote. At least, anything that was fictional. She wished fervently that the same muse that struck her so hard in non-fictional matters would strike her as hard fictionally. Alas, her creative spark had always been one dependent upon being stoked by others. She could play musical instruments with great competence, but could not compose music. She could draw beautiful patterns and designs, but only ones that were inspired by others. She could write essays on specific topics that bowled over readers with their depth of research and clarity of writing, but couldn’t muster a decent short story to save her life.

 

Got those shit-colored glasses on again, dontcha. Fuck you, she thought, though she knew perfectly well that quiet voice in the back of her head was correct. It was the one she knew she shouldn’t ignore, the one that she had ignored in the past, to great peril on occasion. Whatever other crap life had dealt to her, at least it had given her a really great bullshit detector. It was up to her to pay attention to it, though.

 

She was jerked from her silent reverie by the yowling cat, who had been in some distress since the death of her mother a couple of weeks beforehand, and her brother a few weeks before that. Sucks getting old, doesn’t it, she thought to the cat. She felt bad for her. At fifteen years old, she was alone for the first time. It made her trepidatious about her own approaching old age, being in the late stages of one’s seemingly mandatory mid-life crisis. Oh don’t even go there today, girlfriend. She pushed the thoughts away and went back to addressing the distressed cat, who was finally silenced by some ardent ear-scratching.

 

She gave up on the book, which had become more of an annoyance than anything else. Better to bookmark it and put it aside before it got flung across the room. Book abuse was inexcusable, even if a story was bad. It was too hard to try to read above the yammering in her brain anyway, which was one of the more delightful (not) effects of her bipolar illness. So was book throwing. Or throwing in general, though it had been a while since that had happened, thankfully. She wasn’t sure what suffered more damage when her mood devolved to throwing things: the thrown object, or her own self-worth. She was quite certain there was very little in the world that could make a person feel worse than being angrily destructive. At least, there was very little in the world that could make her feel worse. It could take days, or even weeks, to recover from such episodes, and she did everything in her power to keep them from happening. Just thinking about them made her feel bad.

 

You’re not like her, she thought. Are you sure? another part of her asked. She steeled herself for another internal debate over how similar or dissimilar she was to her mother, who had been, to put it mildly, batshit crazy. For fuck’s sake, do we really have to go through this again? You are neither batshit nor crazy, she told herself. She once again thanked her lucky fucking stars that her mother wasn’t around any more to make her crazy, and then immediately felt guilty for being happy that someone was dead. Some people just really need to reincarnate and do it all over again, hon, and that’s okay. She tried to remind herself how much fucked up baggage went with having a parent kill themselves, let alone both of them.

 

You’re upright, breathing, not addicted to anything other than chocolate, have a family and a home, a big circle of real friends, and take much better care of yourself than anyone else in your family before you ever has. Give yourself some credit, and a break.

 

She acknowledged the quiet, small voice in the back of her head that never lied to her, and went back to trying to read before the mental dinner party really got out of hand.

Clueless, Part Two


A while back I wrote an entry called Clueless about my inability to tell when people like me and want to be my friend. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of friends, it’s just that in some part of my mind I assume they’re there merely out of habit rather than desire. Which the rest of me knows is just fucked up and somewhat insulting to the people who do call me their friend.

It came up again the other day when someone very stressed out by finals said that they missed spending time with me and my daughter, and I remember feeling somewhat surprised that someone actually missed me, other than my daughter and husband. I mean, if people are my friends, then of course they would miss me when I’m not around or if they haven’t been able to see me for a while. It would be stupid (and again, insulting) to assume otherwise.

I don’t know why I do this, really. Enough time has passed between now and when I was incredibly insecure in my early 20s that I think I shouldn’t feel this way any more. I have achieved what I had sought for so long: to have a stable and long-lived community of friends, something my parents were never able to maintain. They couldn’t help but to offend people eventually, and the people they didn’t offend were just as fucked up as they were.

I need to work on appreciating my own worth. I’ve solved many other of my baggage issues, which is a fucking miracle considering how much of it I was hauling around. Seriously, if mental baggage had to be carried in something physical, I would have occupied an entire FedEx 747. I’m down to a small two-engine plane these days: just a few bags. One of the last ones, though, is the one marked “Poor Self Esteem”, destination code SOL. That’s a tough one. I have a mantra that I tell myself when I think I suck:

“I cannot suck.
I am surrounded by intelligent people who would
not spend time with someone who sucks.
Therefore, I cannot suck.”

It’s my personal Dune fear mantra (which is another fabulous one: I need to memorize it). I’ve told it to myself enough times that I think I suck much less than I used to, but it still needs tattooing on the inside of my eyelids, along with a Zen koan I recently read:

Let go or be dragged.

Amen. Perhaps I should see the baggage as being what’s in motion, rather than myself, and it’s dragging me along. Or flying the plane. That seems dangerous if I want to be mentally healthy. I wouldn’t let someone who’s delusional drive me around in a car: I shouldn’t let tenacious negative delusions drive my life.

Speaking of delusions, news on the headmeat front is fairly positive lately. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that the lithium went away last year (thank the gods) along with a couple of other meds that were causing skin and breathing problems (I like air, I’d like to have as much of it as possible, thank you very much). They were replaced by Lamictal and Ritalin, of all things. I used to think that disorders that “required” things like Ritalin were a bunch of trumped up hooey made up by teachers who just wanted a quiet classroom. I know differently now. Ritalin lets me focus and think. Without it, my mind meanders here and there, like that dog in “Up”.

“Squirrel!”

Recently I’ve added another: Saphris. Which unfortunately is incredibly expensive. Like $13 a pill (FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!!!), but unlike the other drugs in its class, it doesn’t cause severe sedation or weight gain (which is a misnomer: these drugs don’t cause weight gain, they cause uncontrollable munchies). Fortunately, it’s pretty new so the headmeat folks are still drowning in samples.  If I can float on samples for another year, I’ll be able to actually afford it since we’ll be done paying off an old debt. And I’ll probably keep taking it, because it’s outstanding at shutting off the constant mental chatter and musical jukebox going on in my brain (you only think you know what an earworm is like). A good friend calls it the Mental Dinner Party. Sometimes the guests are all happy and enjoying their meal and conversation. Other times they’re really angry and are throwing dishes and wine glasses at each other. Or knives, if it’s a really bad day (those are just analogies: I do not throw things at people). Saphris makes everyone get along.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry. But it’s a normal-in-the-way-others-get-angry sort of thing. It’s hard to describe how to tell the difference between good angry and bad angry. It’s a mental quality that’s impossible to tell someone about unless they’ve experienced it. It’s the difference between being in control, and being out of control. And the latter is very frightening, let me tell you. I’ll take anything that puts a lid on that happy horseshit.

On that note, I’m going back to working on my spiritual journal. It’s the most fun I’ve had creatively in a very long time.

Warrior


I used to think that to become free you had to practice like a samurai warrior, but now I understand that you have to practice like a devoted mother of a newborn child. It takes the same energy but has a completely different quality. It’s compassion and presence rather than having to defeat the enemy in battle.

Jack Kornfield, “The Question

I’m having one of those moments when I feel I’m so close to understanding something, but putting a finger on it is like grabbing smoke.