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Monday, 19 July 2021

Settling into myself.

 

Me as a young mother with Lexi, my oldest, aged 7

Pondering at nearly 61

I am going to be 61 in a week or two.  I remember being 10 and spending all my pocket money on some lipstick for my mother's birthday and a Bic biro for my father's and feeling very grown up. I have a handle on life, I thought, I know what these grown ups need. Theoretically I am grown up myself now, and I am very glad.  There is much to be grateful for, not least that I do not have to go through the learning any more that has led me to who I am now.  The learning is not over, it never is, but the hard lessons during my travels to where I am today, are over.  They still reverberate and I deal with the fall out from time to time, we all do this, and the fall out can be good too.  Then I am relieved and feel that we never really know how things will turn out.  With the best will in the world, struggling through the business of being young, trying to work out how the world works and who we are in it, sometimes our worst decisions can end up being beneficial in the end, after many years, despite the fall out at the time. 

Being a young mum

The most difficult times of my life were as a young mum.  I was not as young as some, my first child was born when I was 30, my last when I was 36.  I did not have a clue how the world worked and did not have a clue who I was.  My first pregnancy was a complete shock, I had only just met the father.  None of my clothes fit me any more and I felt sick and exhausted. "You're pregnant", said the doctor when I went to see her, and I was outraged.  "How very dare you!" I said, and changed doctors.  At the new surgery, the doctor said, "You are probably pregnant," and as I made to leave in a huff, she gave me a pregnancy test and told me to come back and see her with the result.  It was positive.  OMG. I was so clueless.  But in this strange and confusing world, where I was now to have a baby despite feeling totally disconnected to life, my own mother was a lifeline.  She was calm, loving and practical.  She was the grown up, she was the real mother.  I was stunned.  A baby.  Blimey.

I found motherhood both beautiful and glorious, and terrifying and challenging.  I made it up as I went along, I meant well but had absolutely no grasp on reality.  Sometimes I thought I was only three months more emotionally mature than my children.  I had no idea how to do it, what the rules were or who I was.  And after my divorce and two children later I was, for most of the time, a single mother.  To say I was anxious and frightened was an understatement.  We were poor, chaotic and for much of the time I was ashamed of how bad a mother I thought I was.  Not only that, I thought I was a bad person.  I just wasn't like everyone else, and I felt too different. Of course I was never a bad person.  I was different, I wasn't like everyone else, but I lacked the experience and insight to understand that that was my USP.  My unique selling point.  That was my strength.  That is what artists are.

But

With all those years behind me, with the benefits of hindsight and time passing, I completely see I wasn't so bad.  This is the good bit of settling into myself.  I wasn't so different from other mothers, though I thought I was at the time.  Somehow the kids and I got through and everyone is still alive today, which in some places, is a huge success.  All those years of ups and downs, good and bad decisions (lots of very bad decisions) made me work out who I am and what I want.  There is nothing like being on the front line of experience to make you decide to sink or swim.  

My own daughter has four little children and a lovely husband.  She has everything right in ways that I had not. But her struggles with being a mum are, actually, the same as mine were and, I see, the same as all of us.  Despite making excellent choices, and despite being a very sound family, the actual job of parenthood for her looks as difficult as mine was.  I am reassured that perhaps the bottom line for many of us who have children, is that we really do love and we do the best we can.  The rest is just a muddle. Life happens around us at the rate of knots and we do a great job of running as fast as we can to stay as still. I know who I am now because for so long I did not know.  All those years of struggle have led to a degree of calm now, and the calm is not just from outside because all my children are grown and living away.  That does help, boy does it help.  But the calm is also from inside -  we have all staggered through the good times and the bad to right now, and though my children are all beginning their crazy journeys through life, I am beginning the long last road of mine.  I am not old and am not intending to die just yet but I am looking at about 20 years with luck, and I know now a lot more about what not to do, and how not to fall into traps which leaves me with what I do want to do, and, of course, what I can do.  And, I am deeply sympathetic to my own mother too as I get older. 

Work

My work, my family and my social life are all linked together in a big crazy knot. While a young mum, I became a self employed artist almost by accident, I announced it one day out of the blue and then had to learn about business, about clients and new things called the internet and mobile phones.  It seemed such a huge deal at the time to admit that I was an artist, even though in my heart I never was anything else.  A friend held business support sessions and encouraged me to think big.  This is where Artist Extraordinaire came from, but for the first ten years or so I used to whisper it in case anyone thought I was uppity. Yet I didn't reject it.  Funny, really.  Like I knew I was an artist extraordinaire but no one else would. 

About to set the world on fire at uni

I have not set the world on fire.  At university, my aim was to soar to the greatest heights and change the world.  To what, never crossed my mind.  It was all about me.  The hard task of life got in the way of all that, and for many years it seemed I was never going to amount to much.  It was all such hard work.  Trying to be a mum, doing my own growing up (painful), following a dream and navigating the real world as an artist meant that all I ever seem to do was get it all wrong and tread water.  That is how it seemed.  I still stuck at it because that is what I do, I stick at things.  And because in my heart and soul I had never ever wanted to do anything else than be an artist.  So when I look back at all the crazy, I see someone who was just a bit different, who did not conform to anything much but had so little self confidence that she thought she was just wrong.  But what I also see disguised in there as stubbornness, is self belief.  Wow.  That's good.  Self belief helped me to choose and stick to my destiny as an artist even though everything around me was mental, and everyone else thought WTF.  

And so -

 Here I am today.  Feeling chilled about life in the way I used to marvel at in my grandparents.  In my opinion, they had finished living because they were happy to do gardening and reading, and have early nights.  I see the almost spiritual benefits of that now.  I can't wait to do some gardening and take a book to bed for a night of reading.  Damn, I would have considered that a punishment at one time.  Time is different to me these days, and I suppose will continue to change and morph.  I don't have to rush about now, and I am learning that whole chunks of time spent not being an amazing human being are not only preferable, they are a relief. And they are possible!  The world does not end.  By now, being an amazing human being is less about changing the world with a fanfare and lots of praise from the outside world, and more about getting a balance between me and my soul. I don't have to do anything to be amazing, I just have to be.  Then, I notice that everyone else is an amazing human being, and we are all in this together.  Life changes over time, and it becomes less about the outside and more about the inside.  The great Franciscan priest, author and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr says that we spend the first half of our lives building our container, and the second half examining its contents.  Well, I am examining the contents of my container, and finding much of what is in there can be gently removed and the space that it leaves filled with only peace.  

I will just end by saying that to the outside world I am still constantly on the go.  Yes, I am.  But I can, and do, stop and spend the time chillaxing alone that once I would have spent with children, life and ambition.  I am full of projects, thoughts, events and stuff.  I am a whirligig.  But I am not driven now, there is no point, I can't change the world.  I still want to get things done and make a difference, but where I once wanted to change the world, I now understand that my journey is not to do that.  I can still make a difference, as can we all, and it is lovely to make a difference every now and again and feel good about it.  I am settling into myself very well these days, and finding that it is nice, being nearly 61. 

Nearly 61 with my little granddaughter Lilz. All the world ahead for us both.

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Thursday, 8 July 2021

Look at you, you great big booby.

 

Little boobies

Everything about those that support the Covid narrative and those that don't, has mostly been said.  There are those who follow it, there are those that sort of follow it, and those who don't follow any of it.  I try to keep myself in check, remembering both to love my neighbour blah blah blah, and that, according to my Qi Gong teacher, energy follows thought.  That means something along the lines of I have a thought, it creates energy, energy creates matter and boom, I have created my reality.  If I engage in negative thoughts about people wearing masks, washing their hands every time they pass someone in the street and keeping as far away from me as they can on a small path as if they are both doing me a favour and furious that I am not climbing the fence to keep out of their way too, then I create my experience of lower vibration hostility and judgement.

But. It is hard work.  I took my car in for an MOT last week, and found myself wanting to stop being so reasonable.  I am reasonable, because we get nowhere challenging very convinced people.  After all, I am a very convinced person too, and I am utterly unmoved by the Covid pantomime. 

At the door of the reception in this garage is a notice telling me not to cross the threshold.  There is a bowl on a small table for my keys, and some hand gel in case I have suddenly got Covid on my hands. The staff sit about fifteen feet away, safely behind clear perspex screens with little holes to receive money and paperwork. Most of the staff are big, lumbering blokes.

When I went to collect my car, I walked into the reception thinking that as they would like my money, this was allowed.  "Where is your mask?" asked the big burly fellow sharply, sitting by the little hole in the perspex where I would be paying.  "I'm exempt," I said.  "But I'm not," he said with suppressed bad temper.  I dug out and put on my exemption lanyard, and he said with a curtness that told me what he thought of me, "Oh.  I see."  Despite the disapproval in the air and the feeling that I had personally offended him by my death wish behaviour, we had a civil transaction, and I left.  I hadn't noticed him moving his chair further away from me as I approached though, nor was he wearing a mask himself.  Perhaps he had not thought about the rules very logically, and wearing an official lanyard was safe as a mask because the virus has had the memo from the Government and knows to leave them and masks wearers alone.  Though not as safe as if I had stood at the doorway fully masked wearing my laminated "I have been double jabbed" badge, and thrown him my money to him across the no mans land where the virus waits to bring him down.  I wondered if he knew the virus might go through the hole in the perspex and get him that way but he didn't seem to have thought of that either.

You big booby!  I thought as I left.  Look at you, a big healthy fellow like you pandering to this nonsense!  Here you are, young and fit, probably double vaccinated, hiding behind a plastic screen and feeling hard done by because I, an actual old lady who you have been told should be clinging on to life with my fingernails inside my motorised perma-sealed bubble mobile, am walking free, ignoring the rules and do not have a mask.  You big soft lump.  What on earth has made you into such a weakling?  Oh for goodness sake. And I thought, how have these previously proud and fit youngsters been cowed into such foolish subservience?  That bearded, tattooed bloke in the garage, treating himself as if he has special needs, who must have created all his muscles in the gym and lifting cars to work on them in order to look like a tough guy, has become a self righteous school prefect. Pompous buffoon, I said to myself.   

There are so many who are not like this, but I do see these self important boobies everywhere, masked up to the nines, swerving to avoid each other delighted to be following the new protocol in politeness and social acceptability, checking their phones to see if they have been pinged by their app telling them to self isolate.  "Look at me look at me!"  They seem to imply.  "Even though I am young and healthy with my life ahead of me and a stupendous immune system evolved over millenia, even though I smoke and drink like a fish, I want to be prematurely old and terrified into delicious paranoia and join your gang, the one where nothing in our lives will get us no matter what risks we take except for this one virus.  And," they may continue, "we agree that plastic will save us, and wearing masks will save us, and being alone for the rest of our lives will save us, thank you very much for this amazing life saving wisdom." They remind me of the little green aliens in the Pixar film Toy Story.  

I think, what happened to you all? Young people need to rebel and question the older lot who decide the rules.  Young people are quite literally the future. What have you done with your brains?  What are you doing, you ninnies?  What happened to you that you feel safer behind a bit of perspex when the air around you is swimming with bugs and germs and long legged beasties that never bothered you before, and what makes you think that the perspex is going to fool all the swirling bacteria and viruses in the air now?  Can't these beasties see the holes in the perspex for money transactions?  Can't they pop over the top and around the sides?  Can't they pop into you through the gaps in your masks round the ears and nose and don't they rush at you when you take your mask off to take a bite out of your sandwich? And what in heavens name is going to happen to you if one virus with a 99% chance of survival gets you?  You will probably survive.  And then what?  My mask free youngest son is 6'7" and makes a point of peering over the top of the safety screens in shops because they only come up to his chin, and no one has been carted off to the crematorium yet.  No one has asked him not to because he is far too close to the cashier and breathing down on top of her head.  They think it is funny and everyone laughs at how tall he is.  No one has noticed that he is a killer in action.

So I will go back to my loving my neighbour as myself thing, and remember my Qi Gong energy follows thought thing, and try not to swerve into people as they swerve to avoid me.  And I hope that these big boobies get bored with all this fuss, and start to swerve into me too. Then I know we are getting back to some kind of normal.

Yeah, well.

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Sunday, 4 July 2021

"We have to learn what kind of love works for us." Love in addiction.

 

No matter how wise I think I am about other people, I can feel clueless about myself.  Someone called me once, at her wit's end, because her daughter was doing the crazy, angry, help-me-it's-your-fault-give-me-money-or-I-die thing.  I had been supporting this lady over an entirely different health matter but what she needed on this call was immediate and intense help with how to cope with her daughter's out of control drug habit.  She wasn't supposed to have my number but we had realised very early on that in the background we both had addiction problems in our family.  I gave her my number for this reason, and because other people had been so kind to me when I was overwhelmed at the beginning of my own journey. I knew how helpful it was for her to have a no holds barred conversation about a loved one's addiction, because I have been where that lady was.  It was crisis time for her to recognise the depth of the problem, how she was going to protect herself, how she was going to detach with love.  I repeated one of the Al Anon pieces of advice given to me when I needed it - do not cause a crisis, but do not get in the way of one if one is naturally occurring.  I knew how bad she felt about not being able to help or protect her daughter.  I knew that awful helplessness in the face of drug and alcohol fuelled self pity, drama and manipulation. This lady had called me was because she knew I knew about the handicap, as it can be, of loving an addict.  Her story is my story.  It may be your story too.  Our phone call gave her permission to love and be ruthless and be safe.  It is not easy.  It doesn't feel like love at all, because love is kind and gentle and saves the world.  It feels like rejection, cruelty, selfishness bordering on sociopathy, and it feels like everything a Mum should never do.  But it worked for her that day, and she was able to put herself in a place of safety, detach with love, and make herself a priority for once.

Here I am today then, in a muddle myself, wanting someone to come in, be a grown up and take it all away. There has been so much disruption and madness with drink and drugs this past week, and when it is in my family, when I am the mother who has to rethink her idea of love in a split second or go under, I can't remember any of the things I have learned about how to survive it.  I have had to call on other people to help me remember what is real and what is not, and to breathe, and to not be afraid.  I had to do what that lady did when she called me.  Thank goodness we all have each other.

I want to talk about love.  It is this in all its different layers and manifestations, in its abundance and in its absence, that makes everything so complicated.  If I had no love for anyone, it would be so easy.  I could dismiss everything that got in my way and have no feelings about it at all except possible satisfaction.  If I had no love for myself, I would fall prey to everyone and anyone who said something nice to me, and blame myself when it went belly up.  So having no love is not a good thing.  Over-loving is as messy as under-loving.  If I love too much, I misunderstand the idea of love and think that I should give it all to everyone without limit.  Without boundaries.  When it goes belly up I blame myself again, and carry on with my warped idea of love (which always goes out, and never comes in) until I am a pale shadow of a person with no will of my own left to save me. 

We have to learn what kind of love works for us.  How to do it, what version is going to work best for the person giving and the person receiving. It is easy to love the lovable, and very hard to love the unloveable.  When challenged, in an emergency or when the chips are down, our idea of love can become tangled with other emotions like guilt, sentiment, anger, control and punishment to name a few.  Love is meant to be uplifting and purifying, but so often isn't.  It is painful and confusing and we need help to work it all out.  Do I love, or don't I?  Is this how love behaves?  Am I loving enough?  Am I loving correctly? Is it my fault that my love is not working?  Am I to blame?  Is my love not good enough?

Over the last few days I have expressed tough love.  I have done this a few times now and it is never easy.  The first times I put it in place I did so as a last resort to protect myself from addiction behaviour that threatened to stop me functioning at all.  It was then, and is now, so hard.  It feels like abject failure to turn my back on all the crazy that is trying to pull me in, because the crazy is so powerfully painful and I need to make it better.  The addict is in meltdown acting out all their pain, fear, illness, trauma and rage; I am watching someone out of control with mental, physical and spiritual agony but whatever it is that they are begging, shouting, crying and demanding I do, I ignore.  I walk away. I turn off my phone, I do not take calls, I ignore all the calls from the emergency services and I will not engage.  No, I say, this is not for me and I must put myself in a safe space and keep myself there.  And then I ask myself , "How is that love?"

I cannot love you until I love me.  My own love, for me, has to survive all the sabotage and cruelty that I put in its way. It is an ongoing struggle to love myself, especially when tested by the extreme distress and drama of someone who I am supposed to keep safe and love forever, kicking off.  If I have worked on my own self love I will know what I can do and what I can't do for someone else.  My self love has weathered its own storms of self doubt and self loathing.  Of course it has.  We all have messages on a loop in our heads that insist that we are unworthy, ugly and failed.  Self love tries to address that narrative and limit the damage by consciously choosing another one.  I am worthy, I am beautiful, I have done well.   I have also learned that giving into sentimental self love is OK sometimes but mostly leads to self indulgence and superficial relief. If my go-to self love tactic every time I am distressed is to eat cream buns, watch Bugs Bunny on a loop and lie on the sofa, and this is my only response, I may feel instant comfort and distraction but I will end up fat, spotty and a bit emotionally stunted.  It is when I am challenged by myself, in loving myself, that I learn to persevere and keep on trying to believe that I am worth it.  I end up learning to love me even when I feel lost, frightened and unloveable. It is good training for dealing with someone else's crazy when they are demanding the impossible.  When they demand to be saved from situations in which they put themselves time and time again, with no self awareness and no intention of not doing it again, I discern that the love I need to access is not the love they think they want.  

How is this not love? 

Here is tough love.  I do not play the game any more.  I will not dance this dance.  I step out of the madness leaving the addict to cope without me.  If mere words worked, then we could have talked about it.  Words have not worked yet and it has been years.  If diving into the crisis helped, I would only have had to do it a couple of times, but the crises continue.  My love becomes weak and confused and I no longer know what to do if I enter the fray. I get ill, the addict gets worse, I feel responsible and the addict continues to take without a conscience and maintains the story that I am in fact, responsible.  Nothing changes for the addict except that when I am truly under and far too crushed to continue, they need to find a new source of attention and money.  That is not love.  That is abuse. 

I have to remember to step away and focus on myself, keep trying to learn compassion, love and respect for me. I put myself in a place of safety and I learn from all the stuff I have done and failed to do up until now.  I learn to be kind to myself and I learn how others have coped and I share my experiences.  All this is done so that I can see clearly that my addict is doing the addict thing and I need to toughen up so that when, if, I can help and support, I am strong and experienced enough to do it.  Love can be soft and kind, it can be gentle and insightful and save the world.  It can also be powerful, robust, challenging and tough.  It can be boundaried and it can say No.  True love does not shut down, it strengthens, challenges and demands truth from the person working with it.  It keeps an eye open for a chink in the armour of addiction and prepares to go in to do what it can however many times may be needed without getting lost because it can retreat as well as advance.  And if nothing else works, I heard a wise man say once, and nothing we say is being heard, the last thing we can be to those around us, is a good example.  

 


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