29 July 2012

The Lessons Never Stop - Do They

I guess I've lived alone too long.  It seems I've forgotten how to live with the strong emotions of another person without seeing those emotions as something to do with me.

Maybe I never did know how to do that.  Maybe I never really learned, as many children growing up in alcoholic homes do not, that it was ok to have boundaries, that other people's emotions aren't my problem.

I thought I'd overcome this, that I'd learned - rather late in life it's true - how to draw the line between someone else's emotional outburst and my own feelings.  And I think I have learned that - to some extent.  Yet, when it comes to anger, it seems, I've got some learning still to do.

I'm currently, temporarily, sharing living quarters with a friend.  It's the first time I've shared living space in a long time - five years any way.  And in those years living alone I've had the luxury of escaping from emotional eruptions when and how I chose.  And escape seemed, all that time, to be the best thing for me.  Maybe that wasn't so good.

For the last twenty-four hours my friend has simply exploded with frustration and anger over a situation  - what it is doesn't matter really - that is causing inconvenience and a certain amount of extra effort for him.  It has nothing, zero, nada, bupkus to do with me.  I didn't cause the situation, exacerbate it, or add to its difficulty.  And he is not aiming his anger at me, nor is he in any way looking to me for solutions or a place to lay blame.

Yet - yet - yet I keep expecting that to happen, and find my mind searching for ways I can assuage his anger, ways I can help him "feel better."  SHADES OF CHILDHOOD!!

I know all the reasons for this, all of the experiences from childhood, not to forget a seventeen year marriage to a mean alcoholic, taught me to work diligently and without pause in doing MY JOB to fix things that made others mad.  In truth, my childhood experiences convinced me that my very survival depended on the - admittedly 'childish' - strategies I developed for deflecting or even managing the anger of others.

The most important thing though is that I HAVE learned the core reason for my automatic reactions to anger.  I jump without pause into these ways of thinking because I'm scared!  Anger - particularly anger over something that makes no sense - to me at least - feels threatening to me.  And when I'm threatened I feel afraid, as we all do.

I thought I'd learned to tolerate this sense of fear over the years.  But, I'm wondering now if all I really learned was to escape from the fear by escaping from the angry person.

So now I'm confronting, once again, the reality that the lessons of life never really end.  I'm smack in the center of learning that there's more learning - even at the far end of middle age.  And I'm learning that - though my initial reactions to my friend's anger were just the same as my earlier reactions - I have made some progress.  I did feel afraid - afraid that the anger would be turned toward me.  True also, I did mentally conduct a frantic search for ways to 'fix' things for him - and thus, for me.

But on the positive side of the scale - I did NOT take action based on my thoughts and fears.  Hooray for me.  Instead I'm writing about it, attempting to transmute what's going on in me that holds me back, to transform it all into something creative.  And I'm sharing it with you - whoever you are out there reading this.

Maybe some would think that this isn't much - writing it out, sharing it out.  Maybe they'd be right - for them.  But for me it's a motion toward loving myself, toward gaining, in tiny increments, a sense of peace with who I am - fears and all.  And I say - Namaste to that.

12 July 2012

Tendency Toward Torpor

These days packing up to move, even if the move is temporary, fills me with anxiety, also a not-small-amount of fear.  This emotional response drains the life right out of me - particularly because it's a new response - part and parcel of only the two most recent moves:  the one I'm mired in now, and the move from Illinois back to Kentucky in 2006.  During the many and myriad moves I made prior to that I never experienced this debilitation - on the contrary, I found a certain energy and even a sense of hopefulness (false and fleeting though it was) during the eleven moves made between 1979 and 2004.

Of course I understand the reasons for the differences.  Of course I do, even though what I know about those reasons makes me squirm.  Why squirm?  Well [oh hell, just SAY it!] during those earlier moves I could and did focus on two things:  on other people in my life and what the move could mean to them, and on forcing myself to shove down any fear or anxiousness, really ANY emotions that might distract me from the tasks of moving.  Shoving down all emotions does contribute to the available energy, it's true.  And focusing on others makes shoving down emotions easier.

For these last two moves both of these things differ greatly from when I made the others:  there are no other people affected by my move, and I no longer have either the ability or the need to ignore or subsume my emotional responses.  Whether or not either of these is literally true - and certainly neither is completely true - what IS real, and thus constitutes truth for me currently, is that the move I'm dealing with now is about me.  Yeah, that's it - doing for, and with, and by myself, without consideration of others affectedness - doing only for and about me - that generates anxiety.  The little girl who still lives inside me learned, so well and so completely, that focusing on her wants and her desires was dangerous.  And that darling child seems to jump up and down on my belly as if it were a mattress, when I make choices and take actions in my own self interest.

So - anxiety and fear, and the torpor of the body and mind that these emotions generate, make the work of packing, sorting, arranging, lifting, throwing out, and so forth - the work of preparing to move really feel like work.  None of this is logical.  None of this truly even is real, and so none of it ought to keep me from getting the work of moving done.  And it won't.  Yet I know too that the only way - for me - to move along in the work of moving is to bring all of this into the light and open - by writing about it.

I'm reading Augusten Burroughs' new book, "This is How" - and lovin' it - because he's writing about just these kinds of things.  The ways we wear ourselves out, give away our power, and remain running in place (with scissors of course), our feet sticking in the muck of the unreality we accept as real are his topics - disguised within chapter titles like "How Not to Drink" or "How to Drink."  What he returns to again and again in his literate and ironic style is how we refuse to see what is real, really, and so cannot see what we need.  For Augusten, as for me, the need is to write about what is happening in emotion and behavior.  This act of writing - and sharing, that's part of it - helps with the tendency toward torpor, helps transmute it into it's flip side - the combination of taking it slow and steady and honoring the experience by expressing it.

In the same way that Burroughs has always given aid and comfort to the mistreated little guy who lives in him through his writing, I find that my scared little girl stops jumping on my belly when I write.  She's content to suck her thumb and smile at the upcoming adventure.