Courage and fear

It seems so strange, but just three times (so far) of being able to connect with a horse, an animal that I’ve always admired and loved, has been awakening both courage and fear inside of me.

I’ve found myself thinking of things once lost as though they may be found again.  I’ve scheduled our piano to be tuned. (This may sound puzzling to many, but coming from years of financial instability, it was a step towards living for me.) I plan to get the bow from my decades unplayed violin rehaired.  I even allowed myself to dream a teeny bit of getting a better violin and playing as well as I could with arthritic fingers… just because.
I dreamed one night that I was dancing, young and twirling freely.  I threw out rusty muffin tins and ordered new ones.

I was able to find the courage to go to a funeral last weekend.  In the past, it’s exactly the kind of thing that I’d kick myself over and over for ‘failing’  at because I couldn’t get myself to leave the house and go out where people were.  It’s sad how much I’ve missed because my ability to cope met its limits at my own door.
Later that same day, I kept a promise and took my youngest daughter to see the movie Cinderella.  (It did sort of take a lot out of me, many hits of waves of anxiety that left me feeling exhausted by evening, but I did it.)

The fear and anxiety also has a new kind of ebb and flow.

What if suddenly a session goes badly?
Where would I turn then?
What hope would be left?
What if the therapist really dislikes me?
What if the therapist meets my husband, is charmed by him as counselors in the past were, and then I slide into gray invisibility again?
What if it’s too late for me?
What if I don’t have anything worthwhile within me that could lead to financial independence?

Along with the fears, I can still hear my own harsh judgments and criticisms.

You should never have let it get this far.
Why was I so stupid?  So blind?
What was I thinking?
What’s wrong with me?
kick kick kick… I haven’t: sorted through the bins of my mother’s stuff; started very many seeds for this year’s garden; joined a gym; used the sprouter kit; organized the bins of photos; started learning yoga etc.
kick kick kick

I don’t listen to the fears and condemnations for long.  Instead, I take a slow breath, and let the courage rise back just enough to keep moving forward.

I look in the mirror and say, “It’s okay.  You’re getting there, so one step at a time, and that’s okay.”

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This morning’s argument

Our two youngest daughters have been sharing the responsibilities for the cat we adopted from their older sister.  This cat has won the hearts of the entire family, but he’s also been battling cancer, and so gets special supplements on schedule with his meals.  He’s an emotional kind of furball, and very needy and clingy to the two girls particularly.

At some point not long ago, the older of the two girls decided she didn’t want to take turns feeding him anymore, and told her younger sister that instead she would take over care of the cat’s litter box.  I felt some unease hearing about this, but had let it go for the time being.  It’s turned out the the older sister has not been responsible for the litter box.  (Normally, she is a responsible kind of kid.)

This morning, my youngest daughter shared a concern with me about her sister only ‘loving’ their cat when it was convenient, or basically enjoying his cuteness without being patient with his needs.  The catalyst for her sharing this concern was her sister scolding the cat for waking her up this morning.

I listened to her, and then told her that I felt it was a valid concern, and that I’d think about it more, and possibly talk to her sister about it.  At this point, her father came out to the kitchen.  I asked him to listen to her concern (without sharing my thoughts) to hear his perspective.  I thought his perspective was somewhat different, but good and his feedback to her was good.  (He felt it was reasonable to scold the cat to deter it from behavior that was unwanted by her sister.)

Then our youngest daughter asked us not to talk to her sister because she was afraid that her sister would resent her for talking to us (and basically treat her poorly because of it).

Her father responded immediately to that.  He said something like, “That’s a serious thing, and it’s important to understand how it can affect your life.  It’s a problem that Mom and I struggle with.  When people treat us unfairly, and we put up with it because we worry about them taking it out on us or making us suffer from talking to them, or hurting the relationship if we try to address it, then that’s unhealthy.”

I think he actually said a bit more, but in the aftermath fog, that’s my best recollection.  What jumped out at me was, “It’s a problem that Mom and I struggle with.”

When he finished speaking, I said, “I think that what you’re addressing is so important, and spot on, except for one thing you said.  Concisely, what did you mean by, It’s a problem that Mom and I struggle with?”

He gave a blank glazed look.  I said, “To clarify, I want to know specifically what you meant by that.”

He glared at me.  Glared.  In that moment, I saw that he knew and he just plain old resented my asking.

He started to say that he didn’t understand what I meant (but I knew he did), so I responded by saying, “If every morning when we walked by the laundry machines, you punched me in the arm, that would be a problem.  If you said to someone that we had a problem hitting each other when we passed the laundry machines, I’d feel angry, and I’d want to find a large heavy object and hit you with it.  In fact, I think you do know what I meant when I asked you to clarify what you said, and I am feeling angry right now.  My therapist encouraged me to be in touch with how I feel, and anger is definitely what I’m feeling.”

Then the turds began to fly.  He was tired.  He didn’t get enough sleep.  He accused me of making assumptions about what he said, judging him, and having double standards.  He said he was sick of putting up with ‘this’ and that now he was angry, and stomped off saying he was going to get ready to leave for Costco.  (A trip that he usually extends by a few hours, avoiding helping out with anything I actually want him to help with… as I said, a busy guy.)

It’s a crummy way to start a day, but better crummy than gulping for crumbs.  He quickly flipped into funny friendly dad mode, something that in the past years was more effective when I’d be frozen in place and depressed.

Not today.  I’ve already asked my oldest son if he’d be willing to use his car for a Costco trip, and I plan to have a nice outing when we do the food shopping.  I still only wear what are really pajama lounge pants, but by golly, I’m going to forget that and smell the fresh air today.

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Reflections on shopping

I’ve been thinking about my shopping comments from this post.  To those who aren’t familiar with my background (or passive aggressive men), it’s another subtle dynamic that plays out.

My experience with my husband is that when I’ve gotten to participate in something, have something, or get something, it was a problem unless he got to do/be/have something equal or better.

In the past this has meant he could resent me for jobs I may have enjoyed or that held potential, taking a class, joining a group, buying clothing, traveling to see my family, playing an instrument, being noticed for an accomplishment, or even just watching a show on television.  I learned to ‘have’ or ‘be’ by making sure that he was included or compensated somehow.

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What I still feel

I’ve been concerned about how dull I’ve felt.  Gray, washed out, and non-caring.  I’ve felt little enthusiasm about starting plants for the garden, and because of that, already missed opportune windows for starting some from seed.

Morning began around 5:00 a.m. with a dream about my youngest son.  It was a half waking moment when you instinctively transition to prayer.  At some point, I knew that sleep was finished, and tiptoed out to start working on the kitchen mess.  Around 6:30 a.m., I’d finally just finished when I heard voices at the door.  It was my youngest son and his friend.  S5 has been gone for a couple days (this has become routine and we’re working out the best way to address it), but was apparently coming in to catch more sleep before he starts work later this morning.  (At least in the pattern of self-sabotage, he’s hanging in there with keeping his new job.)

I was suddenly grateful for waking early.  I was glad that the kitchen was cleaned up and peaceful.  I was in a good head and heart space to see if they were hungry,  and get a pillow and blanket for his friend to rest on the couch in the family room.  I felt sadness and concern, but not anger.

When we talk soon, if my youngest son chooses to not abide by the house rules and boundaries we set down, I want to not be reactive and angry about what I might feel are poor choices.  I’d be sad, but I’d rather just feel that, and let the parting be as peaceful as possible on my side.

I’m aware of the chronic pain in my body like an unpleasant kind of white noise gone awry, but I’m calmer.

I feel a little more alive.

Thank you Lord, for creating that beautiful white horse, and making the way for me to return to counseling.

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Much better

Third session today, and it was so much better than last week.  S4 was the driver, and he was more of a quiet presence for part of it, and then off visiting with the other horses for the rest.  I was able to take part in a kind of bonding empowerment walk with my favorite horse while using just using an extended hand.

It was the same beautiful white horse, and this time she was standing there at the gate as though she was waiting for me to arrive.  I sit here and get a silly smile as I remember that!

I wish I could coherently remember the conversation from today, but I don’t.  I do know that the therapist talked about ‘living’ in my thoughts and being disconnected from feelings, and showing signs of someone who’s experienced trauma.  I remember walking with the horse and not being able to stop smiling.  I have white horse hair all over my black shirt, but I’m reluctant to change because that makes me smile too.

I just ordered a couple books about equine therapy to help me get the most out of this experience (that she recommended).

At home, it’s the same kind of stuff.  I threw out a couple of gross muffin pans, and ordered replacements, then added a spatula and coffee filters to the order.  The minute I let my husband know, he started to tell me about needing to get a different monitor to replace a brand new one he needed a few months ago (but apparently no longer likes).  I asked him to just let me enjoy my order… books for therapy, muffin tins, and a spatula (what a splurge…).  He said that his ‘need’ for the monitor was independent of what I’d just ordered, but by this point I started to ‘feel’ (ha!) anger, and told him that he swore the last one was exactly what he needed, and I wanted him to use it a bit longer before paying over twice as much for another new one.

I don’t write about this kind of stuff often, because little strange things happen and it’s not only easy to forget, but easy to just not be sure of what is what.

Lately I’ve felt certain physical pain seeming to be escalating a little (a lot of stomach and lower abdominal pain), so I started taking some adrenal support herbal tincture, and I’m singing my own version of ‘let it go, let it go’ in my head.

It’s Friday, and I made it to one more session!  That’s a happy thought right there to start my weekend!

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TGI (almost)F

No, it’s not Friday yet, but I am giving thanks that I have therapy to look forward to.  Not sarcastic, quite sincere, and very grateful.

Last Friday (the second session) was draining and difficult, but not so much from what was covered.  I wrote earlier that on the way home from the first session, my son(S3) asked me if he could drive me again, but the second time around it didn’t go well at all.

He was tired.  He’d had quite a bit of caffeine and not much food.  I’m not sure if there were other factors, but he was terse and edgy.  Since I’d pushed through a small mountain of anxiety to get out again, I already felt drained by the time I buckled my seat belt.

I’m not sure how to condense details that are possibly inconsequential, or is the devil in the details?  I think he was irritable before we had conversation.  I said, “Hey, did you talk to Dad this morning and hear that —”

“…yes… isn’t that awesome!  She said his blood panel looked like a two year old cat!  So I’m going to bite the bullet and pay for the dental work he needs.  I know it’s crazy, but he’s old and dependent, and I’m pretty sure he’s the kind of cat that would get it done if he could, so I guess Tiger will get to the dentist before we will.  We better get ourselves there soon!”

(My son and I both need to go to the dentist, but as a result of his traumatic brain injury, he’s in danger of losing teeth if he doesn’t get there soon.  He and I have had calm discussions about this, and while he had allowed me to make an appointment for an exam and estimate, so far he’s procrastinated on getting another estimate or choosing which dentist.  I can understand why this possibly irritated him,  but not what followed.)

I could hear him almost begin to steam at the steering wheel.  He glared and curled his lip and talked about he hated the word ‘we’.  I can’t remember his exact words, but suffice it to say that he was angry that I used the word ‘we’.

Fair enough.  I apologized for doing that, then sat quietly and looked out the window.  But then he turned and said, “I notice that whenever you start to get well, you start talking about something like the dentist.”

Closed my eyes… breathed… said, “I understand why you were upset that I used the word ‘we’, and I apologized for that.  Your comment just now feels unfair, unmerited, and out of place to me.”

He replied, “That’s not a feeling.  It’s not about you.  This is me expressing a boundary.”

I said, “To me, it feels more like I irritated you, and now you’re trying to take a poke at me somehow, and that feels hurtful.”

He replied, “That’s not a feeling, it’s a thought.  I told you that this isn’t personal, it’s a boundary.”

I asked, “How is making a comment about me that’s an opinion, a seemingly judgmental opinion, a boundary?”

So on and so on until I just stared out the window, he drove too fast past road signs, missed a couple turns, and we were almost half an hour late.  As I was unbuckling my seat belt, he was already out of the car and responding to the therapist’s greeting by telling her that we’d gotten into an argument on the way there.  My knotted stomach clenched a little more tightly in pain, but I got out without knowing how to respond to the questioning look in her eyes.

She asked if he’d like to join us, and so the beginning of the shortened session began with her showing us how to both stand and run our hands in synchronized motion and deep breathing on the same horse.  She asked my son how he was feeling, and he said that he was angry, and began a rant about me that included accusations about codependency, excuses,  and not doing anything to get help.  She asked him what he thought I felt about him.  He paused and said, “I think she’d give her life for me.”

The therapist nodded and said, “You believe that your mother loves you very much, and I think that you also love her.  It seems strange then that you have all this anger, why do you think that is?”

He didn’t really respond to the question, but added more to the rant.  I pressed my face with closed eyes into the side of the patient horse, and almost went … somewhere else.  Just somewhere where it was just the comforting horse and me.

The therapist had to answer a call briefly, and I could palpably feel the anger next to me.  Very quietly I asked, “S3, would you like to have the rest of the time to be able to talk with her?  I don’t mind waiting, like you did for me last week.”

That made him more angry.  I could hear it and feel it.  He said, “Are you saying you don’t want to be here?”

“No, I’m not saying that.  I’m asking if you’d like the rest of the time to talk with her alone.”

The therapist came back, asked him how he was feeling now, and in his response he used the word ‘rage’.  He told her that I’d offered to let him use the rest of the session, and that made him feel rage.  She asked him if there might be another way to look at it.

Well… there’s more, bits and pieces and details, but this was the gist of it.  Around this point, my son started walking the horse around, and the therapist and I had a few minutes together.  She asked me if my son was like this before the head injury, or if this was something since the accident.  I told her that I thought.. a bit of both… possibly.

I told her that I felt as though there were a thousand thousand things (intentional repeat of word) that I wanted to say to her to hear her perspective about, but that much of it was just lost in fog and fatigue, and the rest I found myself second guessing.  I said, “I felt like I couldn’t even choose a horse again today.”

She said she was aware of that (so had chosen one for me to push on with the session), and one of the first goals was to build confidence in me.  She said that she saw what looked like conditioning, and that she’d once been in a bad relationship, one that had sapped all confidence in herself.

The session ended with her giving me a hug, and off I went to the car.  With my son who was still quite angry.  We took one more long and convoluted conversational spin around what had happened on the way to the appointment, but he said again that it wasn’t about my feelings, but also said, “I don’t give a damn about your feelings.  (pause…)… I mean, I care about you… but I don’t care about your feelings.”

I said, “I don’t think it works that way… to care about someone is to care about what they’re feeling.  Not to take responsibility necessarily, but definitely to care.  It’s not about fault or responsibility in the caring, as much as it mattering if someone you care about is sad, happy, in pain, excited, discouraged, or afraid.”

This trip ended with a long silence, going straight home without stopping for lunch, and since then, like a low-grade fever despite normal behaviors and pleasant words, I sense a below the surface resentment from him.

This was a long post, but it’s about a small window of time that seemed to sap so much from me, that the days since have been like a gray blur.  If it took so much out of me, it seemed that perhaps I should try to write about it. There’s probably no way I could have ever explained to my therapist about my relationship fluctuating with this particular son, but maybe the silver lining is that now I don’t have to.  Becoming a better and healthier me is a lot of work.

In case anyone is wondering, I’m car shopping.  I may not have it by Friday, but I’m doing my best to find a car that I can afford and feel safe in driving myself.

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691. Unto the Cross came death, and unto death came the Cross. ~Anthony Liccione


“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Originally posted on Sacred Touches:

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Our Father. We have killed Him, and we will kill Him again, and our world will kill Him. And yet He is there. It is He who listens at the door. It is He who is coming. It is our Father who is about to be born through Jesus Christ our Lord.” ~Frederick Buechner

For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16 ✝

**Images via Pinterest, collage created by Natalie

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