Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Five Weeks and A Hot Minute

 After a long wait, I finally had my tough conversation, my "come to Jesus" meeting. In a crowded Starbucks, hemmed in front and back by other chatty coffee drinkers, I prepared to speak the hard truths in a carefully modulated-for-coffee-shop voice, to make convincing eye contact in a space full of distractions, and to actually postpone the drinking of my convivial beverage until after the important business.

It took five weeks and a hot minute for me to prepare for this conversation, to herd my ranging emotions into a controlled space and lead with my brain. Until two days prior I had planned to go with Plan A - one fully supported by my family and fervently championed by my mother - but after a surprise encounter with a third party I jumped tracks and hit the gas on Plan B.  Though waiting for the meeting was torturous and my mind couldn't get off the hamster wheel of "what to say" and "what to do," I am grateful for the extra time to process.

Early in the frozen darkness of meeting day I walked with a dear friend, a therapist with deep practical and intellectual knowledge of human foibles. She reassured me when I felt weak, bolstered my determination to stick with "I" statements despite a terrible desire to slide into four-letter words, and let me in on her recent findings about certain triggers.

While I'm not quoting or even paraphrasing, let me give you the gist. It seems that people have certain psychological / emotional needs. We're all familiar with Mazlov's hierarchy and the basic physical requirements for life, but less comfortable with what we need emotionally. Two of the requirements for my healthy psyche include 1. Feeling valued, and 2. Feeling included. When I do not feel thusly, I can either assign it to a bad moment and a difficult group and move on, OR become sufficiently awash in humiliation, shame, and anger to move into feeling that I will never be valued or included again.

This was an "ah hah" moment for me. Though I can usually keep perspective on slights and oversights, this particular event shot me right to the stratosphere of "never" feeling the good things again. Once in orbit, I found it hard to come down. Only after many conversations, a great deal of soul-searching, and a hard look at my own limitations could I determine the best path forward.

So it's over, or at least over for me. Events now are out of my control, but thanks to family and friends I came out of this weird season with greater self-knowledge and understanding (and a less fervent desire to hurl four-letter words in certain directions).

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

How to Let Go of Anger

Humans are animals, and when we're cornered our fight or flight response engages. Our brains and bodies can't always distinguish between fear generated by a tiger chasing us up a tree or a hostile boss trying to cut us down in front of the team. Either way our amygdala is triggered, our heart rate skyrockets, and our breathing becomes shallow.  Emotion overcomes thought, and terror or anger subsumes rationality.

I understand the dynamics of flight or flight, and I've taken classes on how to move control of my thoughts from the primitive urge amygdala to the logical, reasonable frontal lobe. My problem is that I can't actually do it at the moment. 

My "cornered animal" response was triggered almost a month ago, and though the physical symptoms - nausea, skyrocketing heart rate, hot flashes, etc. - have diminished almost completely, my brain just can't stop circling around the hurt and anger. Somehow I lost my grip on the "rise above" mentality and now it's floating in the atmosphere. I can almost see it disappearing when I look up and shade my eyes.

Given that I haven't been praying or meditating, I'm not wholly surprised by my failure, but I am disappointed in myself for giving this event - this person - power over me. Knowledge isn't enough to stop a spiral, I need to put in the hard work to step sideways and out. I know my Mom is praying enough for both of us, but that doesn't let me off the hook.

A big part of my issue is that I haven't been able to hash it out with the person who hurt me. When my cats get  mad at each other they hiss, scratch, yowl and then chase each other all over the house, nails raking across the wood floors, tails puffed, teeth bared. I haven't yet had the opportunity to bare my teeth and hiss, so my reaction has all been internal. That's not healthy, and until I can process it verbally and get a response, I'm stuck.

As a good friend told me last night "there's always room on the high road" and so I've set my sights on an amicable conversation rather than a catfight. It might be a struggle to get up there, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Out of Bed

Our 16-year-old son recently had a meeting with his school's college counselor. In preparation for the meeting he had to fill out a lengthy assessment of his non-academic college readiness. Questions included: "can you get out of bed with just an alarm?" Subtext: do your parents have to bang on the door, pour water on your head,  or otherwise force you to move? Daniel gleefully circled "No" for his response, a fact I'm pondering now as three wake-up calls have yielded no movement and the arrival of his carpool looms.

Rob and I both dislike the extra effort required to get Daniel out of bed on school days, though we sympathize with the desire to stay asleep. Both of us parental units have been under stress lately, waking up at 4:30am with phantom physical pains or problems that spin in our anxious brains without yielding a single solution. The goal is always to get enough rest and wake up naturally, before the alarm blares and shocks a sleeping partner. In fact, my specific goal is to be in bed when my earplugs go off.

You read that correctly - my ear plugs power up during the day and provide white noise at night while I sleep. The charge lasts eight hours so when the plugs' noise abruptly stops - first one ear (the plug I put in first) and then the other - I feel like I crossed the finish line, having slept my ideal 7.5 hours and the slowly moving to wake up. Rob gave those earplugs as a present; they block out snoring and other random wake-up noises. They don't prevent me from snoring, but if Rob wants to block me out he knows where to buy his own pair.

Alas, I pulled the earplugs out at a wakeful 4:30am tussle with the covers. My left big toe was hurting for some odd reason that I will probably never understand. Beginning the day with a grouchy teenager and a sleep deficit is no one's preferred modus operandi, but here we launch into Tuesday with the hope of a nap and good goals for tonight's rest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Grace, Grit and Purpose

My mom texted me yesterday after watching an inspiring interview with President Jimmy Carter. Carter told the interviewer that he focused on living his life with "grace, grit and purpose." Mom knew I needed a dose of inspiration with a salting of grit, so she passed on the uplifting phrase with lots of heart, prayer and thumb's up emojis.

It's interesting how the world - or a few people in said world - can really bring us down, even when we know to our core that we didn't do anything wrong. A few weeks ago, by virtue of rules, regulations and the choices of a few people, I was brought low. I mean under the concrete, so hurt that tears wouldn't even come. The dual fears of humiliation and exclusion came home to roost in my chest and my amygdala took over my internal regulation, causing unending waves of nausea and stress. My frontal lobe didn't stand a chance, couldn't find a way out of the circular thinking and remembering.

Rob was out of town for part of that week so I binge-watched silly SyFy shows that took my brain to a different world. At one point during my TV marathon a female lead preached to another: "The world can't handle a strong woman. If at any point the world tries to bring you down, take it as a compliment." I clung to those words as well as Carter's, trying to process my way out and forward.

Knowing that my hurt doesn't figure at all on a global scale (given earthquakes, wars, environmental devastation) didn't help at first, though it does now. The challenge of the next few weeks is to find a new purpose, and to rise above the circumstances handed to me with grace and grit. I can dig my teeth into the grit piece, but I'm scrambling for the grace to exit calmly, with good wishes, when all I wanted for the past week was to hurl my rage and grief via sharp words. 

I imagine a round table of all my favorite people, those whose opinion I value most. I know they would tell me to keep my head high and a smile on my face, to make my choices from a position of strength and certainty. I just need a few more days to re-charge the batteries of grace and grit before I can move forward with that purpose and make them proud.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Hiking through Heartbreak

Aden and I went winter hiking on Saturday, a sunny warm day which made us think (erroneously) that the trail would be clear. Rather, the shady trail up the first Boulder Flatiron was snow and ice-packed, and we managed the ascent with assists from various trees and rocks (ie crawling on hands and knees). We knew the downhill would be precarious as we weren't wearing spikes or yak trax on our hiking boots., which error was constantly noted by the skilled and well-outfitted Boulder hikers who passed us.

"Be careful" called one mom as we slithered by.

"Don't worry, we're going very slowly" I reassured her. 

Even the precocious four-year-old in her wake piped up, "Oh I see why, they're not wearing spikes."

But the view from the top was stunning: blue skies and pine trees, a broad vista of the plain with Denver and only a faint layer of smog beyond. After exchanging hellos with a prospective CU parent and son from the Virgin Islands (the only people with worse footwear), we decided to go down a different route to avoid sliding off a rock face.

The path we took abruptly ended - or was lost - in a snow-covered rock field and we hesitated, unsure of the best route forward. After checking GPS, Aden fixed a path across and down the mountain, zigzagging from tree to tree. We checked every foot placement, every step, laughing and swearing at the same time, both grateful for the need to concentrate. As two individuals currently struggling with heartache (though of different types) we both found that need for focus and survival helpful in taking our minds off painful subjects.

After we finally arrived at a maintained trail, my daughter realized that we were close to one of her favorite outlooks. Only problem - we had to scale a boulder-covered hill and crawl through a small hole in the rock feature to reach it. I looked dubiously at the narrow aperture and raised my eyebrows when Aden demonstrated how to hoist one's self up through arm strength alone, lower the head so as not to get clobbered, and then slither through on her belly. None of those actions are in my normal repertoire, but there was no way I was going to be left behind.

As I clawed for handholds and dragged my chest and belly across the rocks, I was bombarded - not by rocks - but by a sense of deja vu. My father used to take us out hiking and climbing in Montana when we were kids, dragging us through rough terrain, up steep crevasses and along terrifying cliffs. It occurred to me that my father was literally in the air around us - as well as living through his granddaughter - encouraging me to be strong. I nearly burst into tears (which would have made the ascent even more hazardous), but then I felt embraced and emboldened by my two angels.

I made it, careful not to look down until my derriere was firmly planted on a stable rock seat. We sat and took in the spectacular view for a while, and then Aden helped me down the way we came up. We slipped and slithered the rest of the way to the car, laughing at our narrow escapes. My clothes were much the worse for the wear but my spirit was slightly better, and I was filled with gratitude for the support from family members past and present.