Rising up

There are days when life is unbearably hard. We carry around our old burdens like sacks of boulders, unwilling to set them free.

I know that I don’t need them,
but without them, how can I be me?

For most of my life, I have been my mother’s caregiver. Her guide…hoping, willing, trying…to set her free. A role I know I was never meant to play…or was I?

I have been strengthened &
refined by
these trials.

The other week I went to visit her feeling so weighted down & heavy with resentment, going to see her mostly out of duty. As we go up to the deli, I see printed on the board:

“Be thankful for the obstacles in your life…they give you strength on your journey.”

Yes…Ok, God…you are right. It is something we hear again and again, isn’t it?

“That what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger”

I sometimes get stuck in the old lies and hurts of the past. I even get angry at God, so I avoid him for awhile. But all that serves is to cause me more pain.

I get so tired of trusting in a plan that I can’t always see. I suppose it’s my old need to stay in control. When I struggle to surrender my control, I pray for Him to help me trust:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

“We do not look at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. “
~2 Cor. 4:18

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, 
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6

This song, Rise Up, has gotten me through this tough week. It reminds me to keep my eyes UP, focused on Him, His word, His light, His mercy, His ever present grace & love.

“When you don’t know how to surrender
Cause your whole life’s been a fight
When the dark holds you and you can’t break through
Cause you haven’t seen the light.

Open up your eyes…

You’ve got to rise up, rise up
When this life has got you down
You’ve got to look up, look up
When you search and nothing’s found
My eyes have seen the glory of the love that’s here and now
It’s coming down
So rise up now.
Yeah rise up now,
Oh rise up now.”

A poem I wrote this summer:

Forsaken,
Alone,
And
Misunderstood

Uniting
Your sorrows
With All,

When
No one else
could

Following you
on the road
To Calvary,

Wretched,
Aching,
& Unforgiving,

This heavy cross
Of wood

Clinging to you
for dear
Life

Your promises
And
Hopes

Holding on…

We were
Made for You,

We were made
For good…

Burn Out Brightly or “Just Keep Swimming”

The news of Robin William’s tragic death by suicide yesterday has left me reeling. He was a favorite actor and comedian of mine, as he was for countless others. 

This loss hits so close to home for me. My mom’s story is very similar, only her life isn’t ending as abruptly or as brutally. But, it is just as tragic. She too, has suffered for years with severe depression and addiction.  She too, could just never get that damned monkey off her back…always wanting more of her…no matter the cost.

You want to know the hardest part of my journey right now? My mom has no memory left of the path of destruction her abuse of chemicals created. Her world of denial, in which we always dubbed, “Donna World” is now permanent. She is now trapped for good, living in a prison that she helped to create. So each time she so desperately looks at me with those confused eyes and says, “Why am I here? Why can’t I go home?” I have such polarized internal reactions, that sometimes I literally feel physically sick from the intensity of my emotions. 

A part of me wants to scream out at her, “YOU PUT YOURSELF HERE, REMEMBER MOM? YOU FUCKED IT ALL UP, REMEMBER?” (which is cruel irony, since she can’t remember) In those crazy feeling moments, I need to make a conscious deliberate choice of taking a very deep breath, counting to 10, and praying to God for HELP to control myself, so that I don’t actually yell those things out loud.

At the same time, another gentler, forgiving side of me wishes to whisper, “Don’t worry, I will be your memory and eyes. I will guide you to the peace you’ve sought after for so long. I will be your angel.”

Each time I hear of a death of a much loved actor or celebrity from addiction or depression, it feels like a bandage is being savagely ripped off of a healing wound (my grieving heart), leaving it bloody, gaping and rawly exposed once again. That may sound a bit exagerated and dramatic to some. And I suppose it is for those who have never experienced the hell that is the world of addiction and severe depression. 

For most of my life, (since I was about 10 years old) I have suffered on and off with severe depression. I am not talking about the “oh, I feel sad” feeling that leaves the next hour or day. I am talking about the “can’t get out of bed, or face another day of debilitating blackness and sorrow” kind of feeling that persists for days, and sometimes even weeks or months. 

Much of it stemmed from the turmoil I was surrounded by as my mom struggled to stay sober and the helplessness I continually felt as I watched her spin out of control again and again.

As other 13 year olds were thinking about what dress to wear to the dance that weekend, I was busy consoling my dad after mom yet again fell down the long flight of stairs in her drunken stupor, as he clinged to me pleading, “What do I do, Mary?” What do I do? Tell me what to do” I thought at the time that I was supposed to know the answer to that question. When I didn’t give him an answer, I felt even more helpless.

When it got really bad, I remember hiding behind the chairs in the living room as mom and dad fought about her drinking and lack of control. I remember all to well the one and only time that I confronted mom in her rage, begging her to “please stop doing this to us”. She responded by slapping me very hard across my face, leaving it very red and burning. And, like many codependents do, I remember being preoccupied by finding her bottles and pouring out her liquid gold. But I was careful not pour out all of it so that she would know… just enough that she would wonder when she had drank that much of it. Call it tricks of the enabler’s trade.

When I was a teen things got so bleak, so helpless, so dark for me that I locked myself in the bathroom one Saturday night when mom and dad were out for dinner, with a serrated steak knife, a towel, and a bottle of tylenol. People wonder how a person could ever DO something so horrific as cutting themselves. What they don’t understand is that in some odd twisted way, the searing, hot pain of the cut is in some way a relief from the intense overwhelming dark emotional pain going on inside. It numbs the intense pain inside for just a minute, and provides a sort of release, even though it is a deep pain of a different kind. 

I chickened out, thank God, and didn’t take it to far. I listened to my inner voice of truth telling me to stop this destruction, that it will not really solve any of my problems. I still have the scar today that reminds me of my deep deep pain, yes, but it also reminds me of my strength. It reminds me that I have been through so much, but I have made it so far. 

I told my therapist in a session that next week of how low things had gotten, and she, by law had to tell my parents. Opps, I thought, now I really blew it. They would probably freak. My mom’s reaction, even today, after all these many years later, still makes me so angry that It is hard for me to recall. Because she was so enmeshed in her world of denial, mom was angry with me for days and was disgusted that “I could ever do something so disrespectful to myself”. She hardly talked to me for a few days she was so upset about it. I remember feeling so flawed and ruined and misunderstood that it just made my depression worse. I like to think that maybe she was just so scared of how bad things had gotten, but I will never know. We have never spoke of it again after that week. 

Severe depression feels like you are swimming under water. Things start to move more slowly, like in slow motion, and you feel heavy and isolated. You look around at the others next to you through murky lenses, and wish that you didn’t feel so distant, even though they are standing right next to you. You get frustrated both because you don’t have the energy to try to clearly express how you feel, and because no matter what, they just never seem to see you or really “get” you. You are so close, yet so far away, and so stuck.

You look up, and see the sun shining, but you can’t feel it because you are hidden beneath the cloudy blueness. You hope you can reach it some day. You wish you had the energy to reach for it, but you are just so tired and you don’t know how. Now you have stopped swimming, and you don’t know what to do, or where to go, because the pain of keeping up the pace of your swim hurt almost as much as where you are now.

So, you think, maybe it’ll just be better if I just lie down here…it will make it easier for those I love who worry about me and easier for me…because it is just to hard to keep it all going. 

I think for many who struggle with mental illness/and or addiction, the pressure of living the way one is “supposed” to can sometimes become just to much. The race of always staying above the water, and stay in control, becomes suddenly just to exhausting. You start to lose the will to even care.

It takes a tremendous amount of will power, self discipline, emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental strength to fight these battles every day. Many lack one or many of those strengths, for many different reasons. Many, like my mom, are just not cut out for the long haul battle. It takes constant honesty, self-reflection, and commitment to overcome the obstacles these diseases bring. Many can maintain that level of balance and health, through determination, practiced faith, and accountability. But, it takes a lot more understanding and awareness from us and the world. 

And until we get there as a society, there will sadly be more lives who will burn out not so brightly. And we will be left striving to focus on the light that they emanated, instead of the darkness that overtook them. 

Letting go…

Lately I have been reflecting on when my mom last admitted she was powerless over her addictions, which was a few months before she landed in permanent nursing home care. This was in 2009. By then, she had 24 hour at home care for 3 years already. She called me late one night, about 10:30, which she often did when she was drunk.

She started with the usual niceties and small talk, asking about our day and the kids. Then, I gently confronted her, as I often did when she was in that state. She almost always denied that she was drinking, and would get defensive and angry, sometimes causing her to hang up on me.

For some reason, this phone call was different. Perhaps I was more gentle in my approach than usual (it was always a struggle), or maybe she had just finally had enough with it all. She began telling how she wanted to be done with this life, and how painful it all was. My dad had left, not able to cope with her addictive behaviors and the constant lies and game playing.

She had been dealing with hydrocephalus, memory loss, and various aches and pains related to her chemical abuse for a few years . In her stupor, she finally confessed that she was in real big trouble this time, “I think I am in big trouble with it, this time. I think I may need to do something about it. I might need help again.” It was one of the only times in 20 years that I heard her so clearly admit that she needed real help. The other times were when she was about to go into rehab, in rehab, or after she had just gotten out of rehab.

Looking back, I know I did all that I was expected to do, and more. Sometimes, you can do everything in your power to help those in trouble, and they still won’t choose it.

My mom was and is one of the best people I will ever know. She is smart, sweet, kind, funny, beautiful, charismatic, affectionate, and loving. The one thing she could never be enough was honest with herself. She had deep fears and insecurities that she tightly held on to, and probably will until the very end.

I suppose that is why I have such strong convictions, and why I have deeply committed myself to always be honest about who I am, and to keep striving to do so in my life. It isn’t always easy. Addictions can have all shapes and sizes, and almost always start innocently enough.

The key, I have found, is to try to always be mindful of keeping a healthy balance of everything good in my life. If a certain activity or situation starts to consume me or I am obsessing over, then I need to back off a little, and give my time to other things. With prayer, and the help of those around me, I can then push through those heavy feelings of loss, dread and stress. I always take it “one day at a time”, and try to never listen to the negative self talk that creeps into my head from time to time.

I get stuck sometimes…in my anger, in my resentment, in the sadness of it all. Dealing with dementia in a loved one is hard, yet it is harder still, when THEY DID IT TO THEMSELVES.

I am reading the book “Codependent No More”. It’s a great one (one of the BEST) for knowing your boundaries of loving those with addictions and those with dysfunctional patterns of behavior. It is basically about how to take responsibility for your own reactions to people and situations. It’s about knowing that it’s OK to let go of the guilt and anger of those who consistently try to drag you into their drama and patterns of dysfunction.

It’s important to try to not let their drama and chaos rob you of your peace and joy. It is about living in the moment, and attempting to detach from the tendencies to control people and situations, which were habits learned after years of living in uncontrollable situations.

I have had this blog for about 4 years now, and I feel like I’m almost ready to let it go. I started it as a way to help myself, and hopefully I helped a few people. I know what I need to do to be healthy and I have lots of tools to help me create the happiness I have always yearned for in my family. I will continue to rely on my deep faith to help me get there.

God bless

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I’m sorry

I’m sorry mom.

I don’t always return
the many calls
you make when
pacing those halls

I should reassure you
that I’m OK,

You’re worried
& not sure
of where I am,
or if I’ve found my way…

You’re surprised
I’m now married,

“You better not be!”,
you exclaim on
our machine

All those 15 years
just suddenly vanished
like the breeze…

I’m sorry,
It just hurts so much
to hear you lost
and wanting out.

It may be a selfish reason,
and feels a bit like
a cop out…

I pray your angels
keep you
close
& free of fear,
at least Until
the day
we can be near…

Dear Mama

I don’t often repost other blog posts, but this one was just too powerful not to share. It is written by a woman named Colleen Duggan, and the link is here:

http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/04/duggan-encouragement-for-struggling-moms/

It is an open letter to all of us mothers and women in the world. I see myself in many of these descriptions, as I am sure most of us women do.

In today’s day and age, more than ever, mothers feel pressured to do it all and to be it all for their families. More moms need to work outside of the home than ever before, all the while balancing house work while trying to successfully care for their children and husbands. Many mothers also care for their own ailing mother or father, as I do.

At times, it can get very overwhelming. At times, the duties that are expected of us feel or seem impossible to accomplish. We can get depressed or filled with anxiety. We can feel hopeless at times, not knowing how we can “do it all”.

For me, the grace, love, and peace that I have received from actively practicing my Catholic faith has allowed me to let go of many of those fears and anxieties.

It has enabled me to embrace the joys, as well as the struggles, giving me the peace of knowing that I am never alone in my trials. As long as we have each other, and the love of God, we will never be alone.
Here is the letter:

Dear Mama,

I’m talking to you. Yes, that’s right, you:

–the working mama who feels sick on Sunday afternoon because you report for duty Monday morning at 8:00 am and the thought of leaving your baby makes your heartache,

–the mama sitting in the oncology ward next to your sick child, helplessly watching while toxic chemicals are pumped through your baby’s veins,

–the mama whose husband just left you with a slew of hungry mouths to feed and a mortgage you know you can’t pay,

–the nursing mama who is so tired you fall asleep sitting up because that baby eats and eats and then eats some more,

–the overwhelmed mama with a house full of kids and school work and laundry and dirt and dishes,

–the mama who drives hundreds of mile a week to and from sporting events because God gave your kid a gift and you want him to use it,

–the addicted mama who wants to quit but can’t find the will or the way,

–the widowed mama who misses her best friend, especially when you look into the face of the child, who looks just like him,

–the mama with the handicapped child, who has learned more from your kid with “limitations” than from any “normal” person,

–the mama who longs for more children but knows you won’t have them,

–the dying mama who knows you won’t see your child’s next birthday,

–the estranged mama who can’t or won’t forge a new relationship with your child,

–the old mama who somehow found room in your heart and space in your house for just one more, and the young mama who has no idea that you are in for the ride of your life,

–the homeschooling mama and the mama whose children attend private or Catholic or public school,

–the worn-out, burnt-out, bedraggled mama who loves your littles so much it hurts, but admits they drive you crazy too,

–the worried mama with the Prodigal child you can’t stop praying for,

–the mama who buried your child, but yet can’t seem to bury the ache,

–the mama who grew up poor or abused or abandoned or neglected and is determined to break the cycle,

–the mama who conceived a child or many children but lost them to miscarriage,

–the mama who has no biological children of your own, but counts the blessings of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of spiritual children,

–the mama guilty of hurting your child with words or fists or neglect,

–the desperate mama who couldn’t see a way out so you aborted your baby,

–the mama who couldn’t have your own so you adopted and now your heart overflows with a love you didn’t think was possible,

–and the physically ill mama who wants to keep up with your kids but who is limited by your body.

You, mama, I’m talking to you. Here’s what you must know; here’s what all of the mothers of the world must know and why we should refuse to participate in those vicious mommy wars:

You are good, so very, very good and you are loved, so very, very loved — not because of what you do or how you do it but because of who you are. And you are a child of God, created in His image.

The care and concern you feel for the children entrusted to you?

All of that pales in comparison to the care and concern your heavenly Father has for you. His love is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3). He has called you and you are His (Isaiah 43:1). How can you question your significant worth when He remembers to feed even the tiniest birds of the sky (Matthew 6:26)? You are precious to Him; He has counted the hairs on your head (Matt 10:30).

He has written your name in the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). He formed you in our mother’s womb, knew you before you were born, and foresees all of your actions (Psalm 139: 13-16). Nothing can keep you from His love — not death, not life, nor principalities (Romans 8:38). If this isn’t enough, He gave you His only Son to save and redeem the world (John 3:16). You have a God who loves you passionately and intimately.

Those imperfections you worry about it, the moments when you fail with your kids, the burn out you often feel?

God knows. He knows all of it and yet, He loves you anyway. He never asked you for perfection, He asked for you — your heart, your mind, your soul, and yes, even your children.

Give those things to Him. Give it all to Him. He’ll make good what you can’t.

He sees you trying. He sees you fumbling and falling and He sees you getting back up. If you clapped and cheered and celebrated when your baby took her first steps, He’s cheering for you because He knows what it takes to get up from the mud and take another step.

Like you, He’s so proud.

Mama, he knows the heavy burden on your heart and He has not abandoned you, even though others might. Turn to Him; beg Him to be your food, to comfort you in your pain and your worries because He will.

Don’t listen to the voice, taunting and tormenting with lies:

“You are a bad mother.”
“You are worthless.”
“You are lazy.”
“You’ll never change. “
“It’s all your fault.”
“Your work and service are pointless. No one cares.”
“You don’t work hard enough, try hard enough.”
“You’re family uses you, manipulates you to get all they can. “
“They never listen. No one ever listens.”
Lies. These ugly words are all lies. The Father speaks love; listen for His voice.

Beg His mother, the only Perfect Mother there is, to help you. She loves the child most in need — you. She bleeds for her children when she sees them cut open and gushing–you. When she hears your voice, she won’t be able to stop herself from running to her Son and begging His grace for — you.

I’m praying for you, Mama. I’m praying you experience God’s love in a way that transforms you forever. Please, pray for me, too?

With much love from another mama in the trenches,

Colleen

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Time

I wrote this poem on the beach in Florida, while watching the power of the surf and admiring the extreme beauty of the ocean.

My parents have lived in Florida during the winter for about 20 years. My parents built their dream house there about 15 years ago. I traveled there frequently when I was in college, first married, and when my first born was a baby. It became a second home to us, and we treasured our time spent there.

It all changed when my second born was a baby. My parents had separated (due to my mom’s addiction problem) the year before he was born, and 2 years later, in the the summer of 2006, was when mom became very ill with hydrocephalus, just after our last trip with her in Florida. We stopped going to Florida after that, for a few different reasons. We were very busy trying to get mom good care and manage her healthcare, as that was the year she started needing full time nursing care.

Another reason is that it was to emotionally painful to spend time in the paradise that mom helped build, knowing that she would most likely never get to experience it again. The other was that we started going on yearly trips with my dad instead, which I feel was a way of escaping from the painful memories & loss we were experiencing. We had amazing family adventures together all around the world, and the memories will last a lifetime.

We recently started going back to their home last year. It has been great for my kids to spend time with their grandpa & have fun exploring his beautiful home. It feels like the start of a new chapter, and we are very excited and grateful to embrace it. Life is to short to live seeping in grief for to long. If it is one thing the pain of loss and illness has taught me it is…life and love are precious & that life is made for living.

The erosion
Of time,
Steadily
streaming
across
the years

Beneath
the relentless
weight of
silt and sand,
and
lies,
so grand

Creating
caverns
deep,
and grottos
of secrets
to keep

You thought
you built
your love
to last

On strong
solid rock,
not
brittle
sinking sand

Broken promises
and deception
again and again

Were to much
For this towering
fortress
to withstand…

http://youtu.be/CYxFEFklMPA

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Holding Pattern

Living with dementia or addiction within the family, often feels like you are flying within a storm. The air is rough. Yet, you have unexpected calm periods, which you joyfully accept.

Learning to peacefully live within the chaos is a sort of learned skill; which takes much patience, courage, faith, and perseverance. It is a continual quest trying to hold the tension of uncertainty and fear, and also learn how to not only accept the pain in the journey, but to embrace it.

Every time I visit mom, I never know how she will be that day. She may be having a good day, like last Monday, where conversation came easy and she was content to live in the moment. I treasure those moments. Because I am not sure how many more we will get.

Some days we go, and she has her bag packed, ready to go “home”. She is fixated on getting out of there, wanting to experience a sort of freedom she once had, even though she doesn’t quite remember what that was like. She no longer remembers where her home used to be, she just knows that where she presently resides, is not it.

On those days, I do a lot more redirecting and talking of the past (not of “home”!) to help keep her mind on pleasant things. On some days, it is easy to do, and on others, it is very emotionally exhausting and depressing. I focus on the love we share, and gratitude for the things we still have.

Lately, I have found much comfort in my convictions and beliefs in redemptive suffering. As a Catholic, I firmly believe that suffering offered up for the good of others (mine or another’s) can have real redemptive power and strength. I found an easy to understand explanation of that here:

http://www.fisheaters.com/offeringitup.html

II Corinthians 4:8-12
In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straightened: but are not destitute. We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us: but life in you.

Waiting
In the wings,
Living for each day,
Never knowing
What time will bring

Living within the tension,
Striving with intention,
To seek
New meaning in the pain

One day,
Soaring above
Holding on
In smooth skies,

The next,
sudden
Turbulence,
And we are all
Taking a dive…

Though,
Surely
Knowing
His grace will catch us,
And we’ll never
Just fall out
Of the sky…