Archive for category Crossroads
My mother’s life was violently interrupted this month by bacterial meningitis. Of all things that might befall this hardy 71 year-old woman, I suspected a landscaping debacle involving a palm tree, hedge clippers, and a ladder would bring her down. Great genes, great bone density, good BMI, physically activity – health concerns shadowed the recesses of my brain with a taunt of ‘someday when she’s old.’ She had a brief episode of cancer 20 years ago and has never been seriously ill since. But a handful of days and a chance encounter with a carrier landed her in the ICU intubated, sedated, and experiencing renal failure.
A splenectomy, 18 years ago, left her more vulnerable to meningitis than the rest of the population. The fight of her life began after being discovered on the floor of her bedroom by the police. I wept when the police officer described the entry and rescue, but I had no clue of the emotional nightmare to come. As I was pelted by phone calls states away with urgent decisions and approvals, my brother raced to the hospital through seven hours of rain. We quickly began to see how tenuous life the hold on life is and how heartbreaking it can be to make life-saving decisions for a loved one. Sixteen days later all I can recall clearly are the plethora of times my brother and I have said to each other ‘What do we do now?’
I have to admit I barely listened when my mother spoke of her ‘arrangements.’ My brother knew all those details for when she passed and I thought it inconsequential to think so far ahead with her so healthy. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I was in the moment. I couldn’t ask my mother if she was allergic to penicillin, her blood type, the name of her primary doctor, or tell the police which neighbor was okay to leave her purse and keys with since they’d broken a window and left the house vulnerable. I didn’t know the difference between being on a vent for life support and being intubated or if either of those procedures violate the DNR. I had to learn the difference between EEGs, EKGs, and MRIs quickly so I could keep up. Initially the prognosis appeared optimistic at the weeks start; it became a ping-pong game of stabilize one symptom, create another problem, over and over again.
The situation vacillates between overwhelming and humbling with chaotic days plus an uncertain future created by the meningitis, the hospital-supplied MRSA, and erratic levels of care. But I’m not the one laying there fighting for her life. I pray she’s truly not in much pain and that she hears our voices. I pray for peace for her mind and body.
Life is on hold and out-of-state until then.
And finally, here’s the next installment on Recovery…
… codependency (the Merriam-Webster definition) – an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction. I would suggest that this definition is no longer as accurate as when coined in the AA realm decades ago. I discovered Melody Beattie’s book ‘Codependent No More’ in the late 80s, before my children were born. My partner and I saw ourselves illustrated in those pages, but due to our failure to hook up with a CODA (Codependents Anonymous) group, we never found a way out of the insanity nor did we understand from where it originated. We also did not see how we were in a codependent relationship when no illness or addictions were present. After two daughters and many personal trials, our 24 year marriage was shattered by the weight of decades of denial and lies.
At the time, I was baffled by my reaction to the breakup. I had decided to end my marriage and yet my emotional reaction to this action was the complete opposite of what one would expect. I was insanely upset that he did not want to save the relationship despite my desire to end it. My emotions were as out of control as my life’s circumstances had become (unemployment plus a bad economy.) After several months of tears and trying to figure out the ‘why,’ a friend suggested that I attend Celebrate Recovery. I did not understand why I would find any answers at CR (which I thought was simply a Christian 12 step program) but I attended until the process began to make some sense.
What I learned in those first few months, working the 12 steps & 8 principles of CR –
1) codependent relationships don’t always present just between partners who are involved in the ‘traditional’ addictions (drugs, sex, alcohol.)
2) that codependency is, in my opinion, a result of the interaction between people who have unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with pain (present & past)
3) some addictions are not as obvious as others, nor thought of as destructive (ie. food, shopping, people pleasing, perfectionism.)
At CR, I heard people from different circumstances and situations talk about their feelings and experiences and I could empathize with those feelings though our experiences were different. It sounds ridiculous on the surface. How could I genuinely relate to a young woman who has been raising several kids for a decade with an alcoholic husband? I realized it wasn’t about where we were now, but about where we had come from and how we were taught to cope. It was not about the content of our stories at all.
Now I was faced with the reality that I did not have to act or react the way I had in the past (similarly, an addict realizes they don’t have to have the drink, but it is a habitual practice of coping with pain.) The disease itself has a root – a beginning – that is about more than becoming addicted. I became addicted to numbing the pain (past) and it was the only way I knew how to cope in my adult relationships (present.) I could simply try to retrain myself to respond differently (to have sobriety,) but there would always be a struggle between me and the addiction. I began to believe that ripping out that root and facing it, developing a new way to cope with pain, would be a more effective path to recovery. And onto the next leg of the journey…
When someone has suffered a trauma, we know they seek to recover a sense of peace and balance – the very thing they lost due to this unexpected event that crashed into their lives. When we refer to addicts & alcoholics, in terms of recovery, in the acceptable sense, we say that these individuals seek to recover their sobriety. Unfortunately what we, as a society miss completely is that sobriety is a goal but not the point. Or you might say, not the punchline. No one would deny that it is a battle to get sober whether its sex, food, smoking, alcohol, PTSD, or drugs you’re struggling to overcome. However, once the battle is won, so to speak, oftentimes families are in tatters, relationships are destroyed, people are separated from those they fought with and for, for this sobriety, floundering, wondering why life is only minimally better after the defeat of the great big ‘ism.’
Recovery it seems, to me, is like child-rearing. Everyone tells you that it’ll change your life and it’s really hard, but they never tell you how gut-wrenchingly bad it will be at times. It’s like that with the healing that accompanies sobriety. Conquering an addiction is hard. Nailing the root cause of why the addiction began is excruciating. Some people never get to this part of the process. They stick with the 12 steps and go to their meetings, they stay sober, but they never know that life can be better than just drug-less.
Finding the root cause – the ‘why did I choose this method to avoid, not feel, escape, stuff, repress, or hide, what I was feeling and experiencing. Why did I feel so angry, abandoned, powerless to control my circumstances and therefore seek to give up that control to feel whatever pleasure I could grab. This kind of introspection requires an honest most people are not capable of – we like to be liked, we like to please others and we like to look good in front of others.
Even further from this intimate recovery process are the non-addicts – the family members and friends, not because they have suffered at the hands of addictive behaviors – though that’s totally valid but because they have not acknowledged or healed from their part as enablers in the relationships. They are the people who had to deny what they were feeling, experiencing, repressing, and stuffing, keeping secrets about. Spending their time keeping the peace, accepting unacceptable behaviors, making excuses. In their attempt to control, they are as out of control as the addict himself. And codependency now enters the conversation…
Sitting at my desk, as the Northeastern autumn dump melted around me, sipping orange spice, I thought about what really makes me happy. The last few weeks have been filled with a blur of new information and potential. I spent last weekend with 450 women searching for revelation about their lives; a pathway to peace; an opportunity to hear what God is longing to share with them about their destinies –a venue to in which to grow. Earlier this week I spoke with several potential colleagues about an interesting job opportunity – unexpected, yes, but the timing is impeccable. This weekend overflowed with fellowship – nothing is quite like extended time with friends who know how to encourage you and speak the absolute truth when you really need it.
So what does this all have to do with happiness? A new friend recently wrote a thoughtful piece about the crossroads in life and how he had come to one, or rather, another one, in his life. He commented that he envied people who seemed to make life-changing choices by instinct rather than struggling to let go and make a choice to move on or stay. Considering this, I reflected on the past year and the painful choices I’d had to make. It was difficult to let go of a dream, of expectations, of promises, but the hesitation to ‘move’ or make a decision is often about the discomfort there is in change rather than the inability to decide. In my life, I find that when I’m stuck in that holding pattern, so to speak, eventually a catalyst of some sort will present itself and then I am forced to make the decision I wanted to make all along.
Once I moved, so many possibilities presented themselves it was almost overwhelming. That said, choosing a path does not solve all the problems or answer all questions. Nothing is ever that straightforward and choosing is just the beginning of the work. Through the hard work – answering the uncomfortable questions about how our lives are lived and who we are, choosing the healing over sickness – flows the happiness, the peace, and the genuine connection with inner selves and others.
Reflection does have its pitfalls. Chatting with a close friend on the subject, he questioned how I would be handling this new crossroad in my life. Really, I thought, what on earth was he talking about? Things were progressing swimmingly. I had never been happier in my life! I’d survived an unpleasant divorce, a career change, and a severe financial crisis this year. He was obliged to point out several looming issues that needed attention and I begrudgingly agreed with his assessment. I guess there will be more work after all. The crossroads were starting to look more like navigating the rapids of class IV river.
So what really makes me happy? That is where I began after all. Possibilities, potential, not living on auto-pilot between the ‘crossroads’ but living intentionally and doing the hard work, being honest about what makes me happy and the values that make me who I am. It’s not the easy way to go, but embracing the crossroads – stretching emotionally – will offer an opportunity for greater peace and happiness.
For another view on the crossroads in life @ www.prestonehrler.com, “Letting Go, To Move On.”