Saturday, November 19, 2011

Avoiding Conflict

It’s very hard to separate rational truth from what we were taught as children.

For as far back as I can recall I have strived to avoid conflict. With everyone, in every circumstance, regardless the consequences. Not only do I stifle eruptions of anger that well up within myself (even if justified) I do everything to avoid others becoming angry with me, especially in public. As would be expected this has exacted quite a cost emotionally and at times financially and professionally.

My husband challenged me recently to consider this pattern of behavior; to study it deeply and identify why I often sacrifice everything at the altar of ‘keeping the peace’. So I did. I took time away from distractions and set myself down to pray and pursue and unravel this compulsion that often costs me so dearly.

Here is what I discovered.

From the time I was a very small child my mother would frequently yell at me. It was terrifying, loud, sometimes accompanied by physical violence (throwing things). I never had to ask ‘why’  she was angry; she always volunteered the reasons:

~if only I was a good girl she wouldn’t be angry all the time

~I *made* her yell at me because I am  terrible daughter/person

Paired with my Mom’s behavior was my father’s frequent derogatory comments and put-downs regarding my appearance, my personality and my behavior. He was on the same page as my mother in explaining why he treated me this way:

~I tell you this terrible truths because I love you and want you to become a good person

From both sides it was clear: I was a bad person. I could be a good person. If I could figure out HOW to be a good person, the yelling and the derogatory comments would stop. From this I could also extrapolate that if someone expressed anger with me in public everyone within sight/earshot of the scene would find out that I am a bad person (b/c why else would someone be angry with me?).

This may seems ridiculous, shocking, or unbelievable but I held onto this thinking  well into adulthood. That is why others expressing anger has always been interpreted as terrifying reinforcement that I AM TERRIBLE. And since I don’t want anyone else to every hear “YOU ARE TERRIBLE”, likewise I rarely express anger toward others.

Jon’s prompting to *really* think about these issues lead me down a fruitful road. Not only did I honestly analyze the beginnings of these ideas and feelings but I was ready to evaluate them objectively. And that’s when, at age 35 (approximately 2 months ago) I realized my concept of anger is completely flawed.

Truth is, there are many reasons why someone might express anger toward me:

~ they are angry at something/someone else and taking it out on me instead

~I did something and it upset them and I need to evaluate whether their upset is reasonable (and take action to amend) or unreasonable (and let it roll off or explain to them why I’m not amending behavior). This doesn’t mean I am terrible, just means I might have some behavior changes to make.

~they are mentally ill

~they are sadistic

~they are jealous and want to hurt me

~they are proud and their ego is feeling threatened

~other (I am sure there are more reasons)

When I first came up with my list I sat down, stupefied, in the realization that I was able to rationally make sense of it all on paper. But would you believe readers that just because it makes sense on paper I still struggle with letting go of the old way of thinking? I’m working on frequent self-talk and corrective thinking:

“Anger != I am terrible. Anger != I am terrible.”

I repeat this mantra in my thoughts frequently, especially when others are clearly on the verge of expressing anger toward me. It’s very difficult in the moment of an angry scene to remember this truth, but I am working on it. And working on it allows me to stay emotionally reasonable and open to hearing what the angry person is attempting to communicate instead of curling up into a self-hatred ball inside myself. A long and slow road ahead but I have a map now. I have a map now!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Suzie

My sister Suzie died unexpectedly yesterday in a most horrific way (she was 48).

My college classmate Tondra died last week, also unexpectedly and horribly (she was 35).  I lost Jenna at the end of September (she was 14). I lost Daddy in March (he was 82).

I am having a hard time keeping sane at this particular moment in time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ode to My Beloved Jenna

RIP Jenna "Piranha Mama" Parks
December 1996 - September 2011

Jenna. My beloved Jenna.


You have been a part of my life since I was 20. Since Jon and were in our first year of marriage. Nearly every meaningful memory of the past 15 years is intertwined with your presence.

When I broke my leg that cold Valentine’s day (a month and a day before my 21st birthday) as I raced up to my parents home barefoot with you in my arms (which you went sailing out of when I slipped on the ice and the audible crack of my bone could be heard) it was you, first on the scene, to lick my tears away and bring me comfort.

When I packed everything I owned into my car, said goodbye to my husband and set off for a new life in New York, it was you by my side in the car as my companion in adventure.

When we reached NY and were forced out of the only place we had to live, it was you and I against the big cruel world and I remember the promise I made to you through tears: I would never let anyone take you away from me. If that meant living out of my car b/c the homeless shelters didn’t take animals so be it.

When I drove excitedly to pick up Jonathan from the airport after 4 months of living across the country from each other you sat beside me and waited to greet him anxiously.

You’ve been through poverty with us in our early adulthood and the secure financial years since. When our financial outlook improved and we had the funds to take road trips, you went everywhere with us. Camping, long drives in the country, and more.

When we lived in the apartments next to the cemetery you made a game of running and jumping through the forks in the trees. A whole row of trees and you jumped them- at least 3 feet off the ground- one by one over and over again tirelessly. You were a star athlete, even if your gait did run a little crooked.

You ran into the cemetery once late at night and I was terrified! But I had to let my responsibility for you win over my fear of cemetery ghosts so I sheepishly closed my eyes and went in after you calling your name (and banging my arms and legs against several tombstones in the process). I finally found you after I tripped on one and hurt myself so badly I sobbed- you ran over quick as lightning to give me kisses and make it all better.

Funny stuff: you discovered early in life you could lick your girly-bits to feel good and work yourself into a passionate frenzy. You did so whenever you wanted -always ending with heavy panting and thrusting in front of your audience till you were spent. We just laughed it off every time (what can you do?) except that one time you staged your performance during the group prayer time in the middle of a bible study we were hosting. Talk about embarrassing! And then there was that time we were learning how to send voicemail over email and were preparing a greeting for our family and you tooted loudly on mic which sent me into hysterical laughter (also caught on mic).


You loved the water. You were like a duck in the water- always wanting to swim out a little further, stay a little longer. Every stream we crossed came with a look from you – “Please Mommy can’t I just go in for a moment?” And I always gave in.


You loved the snow. Tromping in it with your woofy boots to keep the ice and cold out. Chewing icicles. Running and catching snowballs.


You loved to run. In wide outdoor spaces (look! there’s a squirrel!) or our tiny cramped apartments (you’d chase me round and round the coffee table till I collapsed in giggles under your kisses when you finally caught me).

You barked on command. You fetched on command. I could throw one stick laden with your doggie drool into a pile of 100 and you knew just which one was yours to bring back. Sometimes you were overly ambitious in your fetching- trying to pull an entire fallen tree by its branches over to Jon or I to play with!

You taught yourself tricks to compensate for my weaknesses. After getting frustrated waiting for me to take you for a walk sat muttering “Let me just find my gloves and your leash, where did they go?”, for the umpteenth time, you brought me my gloves and your leash! Such a smart doggie.

You weathered through seizures as a young adult and tumors and surgeries as an older dog. So brave and always so excited to see me after waking up from one of your ordeals.

You took the addition of Julia to our family 5 years ago pretty well, showing patience and kindness to your new doggie sister. You got a good bit of fun out of playing tug of war with her and wrestling.

I think you beamed proudly along with me when the vet told you (at 12) that you were in great health with the body of a 9 year old! Perfect teeth!

When your health finally started to slip away from you, you took it in stride. You couldn’t walk as far as you used to, you couldn’t run as far (and then eventually not at all) and you lost interest in most games most days. But you still never wanted to be separated from us- so you slowly and painfully worked your way up the stairs to sleep with us each night. It had been many years since you were able to jump up on the bed to sleep beside us, so you slept at the foot of the bed on the floor and let Julia take over in-bed duty.

Jenna we loved you so much and we miss you! Thanks for bringing us such joy moment after moment, day after day, year after year. You were a great dog and a best friend. Three-way kisses forever Jenna!!

My Protest against the 1% (God) Who Has 100% Power Over Death

It’s been a little over eight months since my father died. It’s been a difficult eight months. Sometimes my grief wells up and spills over into tears when I’m not expecting it but for the most part I find that the wound heals a little more each day.


While I am still healing emotionally and have healed physically (the human stress response of cortisol elevation causes multiple problems for our health), the death of my father has led to significant and permanent changes in my relationship with God and my understanding of the world. As I posted in a previous entry, during his health crisis in his final weeks I researched tirelessly to try to find a way to prevent my father from dying, all to no avail. This failure to control the situation burdened me with immense guilt (what if I had just could have done something different to stop this?) and stirred up irrational anger in me against the doctors (why couldn’t they save him?).

After a time, with the help of others I was able to see reality as it stands: death is real, death is terrifying and death cannot always be stopped. This acceptance allowed me to let go of my anger against the doctors and much of my guilt but fueled an immediate and intense anger against God because it is he who ‘let’ this happen. I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry as in those months following Daddy’s death. Now you have to understand that I have heard stories of parents who turn away from God b/c their child dies and I always shook my head in disapproval sadly at their idolatry because I understood on a rational level that our loved ones do not belong to us and we must let them go and give them up to God when required without a grudge against God, lest we idolize another human over God. That all went out the window though when it happened to *me*. Now it was personal! Besides, I rationalized, this was totally different. I wasn’t mad at God over my father in a fit of idolatry, I was mad at God over the ENTIRE concept of death (which I never bothered to really think through before I was touched by it). To be touched by death is to have some of our childlike innocence and naivety brutally stripped away that we can never restore. We see the reality and the pain of what it means to die and what a horrific consequence it was that God dished out to our sinning humanity. To feel the sting of death and know it’s going to happen again when other loved ones die and even ourselves one day is a crushing blow to the spirit!

So I threw a temper tantrum. Literally. And when I was done crying I took God aside and let him know that death changes everything between us. I explained that when I gave him my life all those years ago that was *before* I understood how horrible death was and now that I really know the power of death and to know that he lets it happen left and right every day it is just too much. So I told God the deal was off, I was taking my life back! And just like that I stopped praying and stopped treating my life and my body and all that I have as if it were his. I didn’t even want to go to church anymore, but I kept up just so as not to make waves.

During the whole time I turned my back on God he was still there, patiently waiting for me to return. He worked diligently to engineer circumstances in a way to steer me away from real trouble over and over again while I was off trying to run my own life without him. I’m grateful for that, even though I did manage to still affect some minor damage to my life and loved ones while trying to pilot my own ship.

At some point in late summer it just sort of occurred to me one morning that by staging my little pretentious protest and abandoning God I was not going to get my way and that I was making life even more miserable. God is not going to dismantle death b/c I staged a protest. Death is still a reality as is God and all the railing against God and his ways that I don’t understand doesn’t change this reality. So I put away my protest signs and turned back to God and made an active decision to stop being angry.

Now, without the anger, I’m just left with a tiny little emotional scar that signifies my brush with death and as I’ve already alluded to, I’ve lost a good bit of innocence that has been replaced with a *personal* and painful knowledge of the consequences of evil in the world. While I am still by no means a true cynic, this newfound knowledge does weigh on my soul and chips a bit away from the unbounded optimism and love of this world that I previously displayed. Of course, the cynics among you will note that I’ve been very privileged in my first world upbringing to be able to hold onto that optimism unfettered for so long into adulthood – free until now from death, other violence, or general hardship that hardens hearts.

To Mom

I sent this letter to my mother today...

 I have been thinking a lot about Dad lately and our family. Mostly lately b/c I have noticed how much happier, calmer, peaceful and kinder you have become since Dad has died. At first I was really angry that you seemed to be doing so well without him and not very sad all the time in tears missing him. You seemed to be even better than when he was still here. :/ But I talked about it a lot with Jonathan and I think I see really for the first time that maybe Daddy was not always kind to you and maybe that the way Daddy treated you and talked about you in front of me was part of the reason you struggled so much. I mean you made your own mistakes and I'm not saying that it was all Dad's fault or that I can pretend you did everything right as a mom but maybe I see that Dad didn't really help you when you were struggling with problems and depression when I was growing up or even when I was an adult- instead he used them against you to make you feel bad. He would say bad things about you and from a young age he really turned me against you, making me think that everything was your fault and that he was the innocent party. But that isn't really true and I guess b/c I was always Daddy's little girl I never saw that. I practically worshiped Dad and believed everything he said.

So I wanted to say really I am sorry that I was unfair to you and always took Dad's side of things and made you out to be the bad guy. It must have hurt a lot to feel like we were ganging up against you. I love you and I'm sorry if I made you feel bad.

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Running and Fitness

 

Several of you have emailed me to ask how my running regime has been going. I started c25k in June 2010. Way back in 2010! I made it to one week shy of graduation (I chose the distance goal versus time so for me graduation= running a 5k) and it took me something like 12 weeks to get there. I felt so good about my progress and about myself. And then...when I was so close...I let life get in the way. I lost my job (govt contract rebid lost by my employer), got depressed/anxious about that and stopped running consistently which kept setting back my progress. THEN I landed a  job and was super busy learning the paces of  the new environment and used that as an excuse to not run consistently. THEN in the winter my elderly parents fell ill, Dad came to live with us, was very sick and eventually died in March of 2011. Between the stress and grief my running was sporadic at best.

I was determined to start running again in March after his death but something just wouldn't snap into place- I was in a really sad place over my Dad's death. I signed up for a half marathon to force myself to train (I needed a goal!) but it didn't motivate me much. I made it back to only w5 by the time of the half marathon. I didn't back out of the race - noooo I stuck with it and ran/walked the whole 13.1 miles. I felt great! Crossing that finish line with the support of family (my husband and brother-in-law both ran in the race) was amazing! I wished I had trained more and  in the moment of the finish line I was so excited that I committed to disciplined training once I finished the race so that I could run- and i mean fully run- the next half marathon that comes my way one day (Disney princess?).   Sadly, a few hours after the race my body began to scream in pain - turns out I ended up with peroneal tendonitis from pushing my body beyond what it had trained to do. Ugh. It meant no running (not even a lot of walking) for SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS.

So October rolls around and I finally was able to start running again. And now I am once again making progress with couch to 5k(Dr said after I was allowed to start back running I must start all over from w1d1).  I just finished w3d3. My husband who started C25k around the time i did in 2010 is now regularly running half marathons and logging over 41 miles a week. So I know it's possible if i just keep at it!!

I really wanted to post here for 2 reasons:

1. to encourage myself to keep going
2. to encourage you to keep going no matter how many stops and starts you've had

TL;DR: running is hard, but even with a ton of stops and starts and seemingly failures DON'T GIVE UP, YOU CAN (we can!!!) DO IT!