Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Reaching Cruising Altitude

My bright red 30th reunion "Anniversary Report" came in the mail yesterday, a harbinger of many 1993 classmates preparing to gather in Cambridge this June. I withdrew it gingerly from the cardboard envelope as if the crimson binding would bite my fingers - in a Hogwarts cum Harvard sci-fi move - for not contributing this go-round. Rob asked me why I didn't submit anything, and I didn't have a quick answer. I remember writing something for the 25th reunion and given that the pandemic created a time-lapse in my brain between 2018 and today, it feels like yesterday that I contributed.

Classmate life summaries have always been tricky for me. Tenured professors, award-winning authors, heads of hospitals, life-saving doctors, judges, cabinet posts, etc. etc. rise out of the page to threaten my small narrative and self-confidence. I hesitated to open the book but once the list of names was opened, I couldn't help skimming through, looking for old friends and roommates.

Far fewer people wrote this year, perhaps for the same reason, perhaps because the 30th reunion is not one of the "big" ones. I was startled by the tone of the entries that do exist - prior emphasis on career triumphs and goals has been replaced by a major focus on relationships with friends and families, the loss of connection during COVID, illness, divorce, addiction. While not startled that these life changes impacted my college companions, I am blown away by the vulnerability, the desire to help people going through similar struggles. When I say that my classmates never revealed weakness in college, it would be an understatement. Everyone was on top of things, everyone busy, driven, outwardly confident and intimidating. How the wheel of life has turned for us all.

I'm grateful for the openness of people that used to scare me with their intelligence and brazen confidence. I'm warmed by love for parents, children, significant others that was expressed beautifully in many entries, and saddened by the additional deaths that transpired in the last five years. Real life priorities have emerged in the anniversary report and they shockingly align with mine.

One regret - I didn't come up with the most trenchant line in the whole report, a perfect summary of life in our 50's expressed in three words:  "reaching cruising altitude." Leave it to one nameless classmate to put me in my place with delicious writing.

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, at least 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.