A bit of a Sidebar
It was a dark and stormy night… Yes, it was and here’s the story behind this sidebar.
I drove out in the dark rain one night in February, 2016 – around 9 pm. Yasik had called to say he needed a ride home. He had spent a night in jail for what we later learned had to do with being caught with tools for breaking and entering, tools he is not supposed to carry based on previous criminal charges. All I knew that evening was that Yasik needed a ride back to the homeless shelter where he had a bed.
I worked out three things I wanted to say and memorized them as I drove to the bridge where he said he would be watching out for me. I waited in the dark and after a time he showed up out of nowhere. He slid up into the truck, reached over and gave me a one-arm hug. Sometimes I have hugged him while he remains unresponsive; other times he has given me this one-armed hug that does not allow me to hug in return. It feels imbalanced, perfunctory. Of course it is entirely possible that the logistics in my little truck allowed for only a ‘one-armer’. There have been times when his hugs do feel like a communication of love.
Before I started the truck, I said there are three things I want to say. No dialog, just me spouting my prepared speech- an objective observer might have called it guilt tripping. With minimally thought out ignorance, I likely had only his acknowledgement that listening was the price of this ride. And no surprise to Yasik, I accompanied this little speech with my usual unrestrained tears. But I could see Yasik did actually look sad, staring out into the middle distance. Was I offering him a hand out of hell or just pushing him further into the muck?
The three things which I thought I communicated in a wonderfully simple and sincere format were: 1) you are beautiful, 2) in a more hopeful time a few years ago, you promised to be there for me if something ever happened to Dad, and FYI, Dad is right now seriously ill and wants my life and your life to be together in case something goes wrong with his pending operation, and 3) you have to get help; we will help you. Are you up for that? It seemed to me in the moment that he looked truly down and vulnerable as he said, “Sure”. I had him repeat it to be certain I had heard right. These things I said to a young man who was facing charges and possible jail time, may have just realized he’d fathered a daughter with a young woman also struggling with addiction, and who was a drug addict who, the months ahead would show, was definitely resistant to rehab. Or he felt powerless against his addiction for reasons he did not feel were our right to understand. Yasik has adopted a ‘need to know’ policy in his communications with us since he no longer lives with us.
But I blustered on about him taking the next step by letting us know when he wanted our help because, of course, without his motivation nothing could work. At that point, in his head, he likely affirmed, “Exactly.”
Before I dropped him off, he asked me for a ride to court on a date coming up in a few weeks. Of course I would do that for him. All he had to do was call and set things up with me. It was his responsibility after all and we were off the guilt trip hook. After dropping Yasik off, I do remember I drove home kind of smiling with some hope (self-satisfied?) that now the change would be coming.
It’s 2017 and that change I was a little bit hopeful of that night hasn’t come.
But other changes had come. Dave was scheduled for open heart surgery March 7. Waiting for the surgery date, Dave was on a daily roller coaster of uncertain heart valve function and an accompanying aortic aneurysm. The mentally challenged fellow in our care was beginning to act out a disturbance within himself that we did not at the time understand. We thought he was simply upset that Dave was not being his immediate caregiver during Dave’s time in the hospital and recovery at home. It was frustrating not to be able to help him mellow out. My mother was beginning to show the vulnerability of aging. I was a recent retiree finding my way in a new lifestyle. The daily barrage from the 2015-16 American election process didn’t help either. And whether my conscious mind was able to recognize it or not, I was concerned about Yasik’s court case. I had begun a regimen of meditation and exercise and sensible living, but I was a novice at dealing with the fear that would not be restrained.
I have gone through an 18 month course with an anti-depressant twice since Yasik turned 14. Since then, I have read about several studies that question long term use of anti-depressants. I did not want to go back there for I felt confident that if this new regimen of exercise and meditation was given time, another 18 months on an antidepressant was at the very least unnecessary. But here I was, needing to be strong for Dave, needing to take principal care of our client and yet dissolving in blubbering, sodden tears at often inconvenient moments. One sloppy moment, I remember myself lying in bed mid-morning trying to help Dave of the weakened heart understand what was the matter with me. I told him it wasn’t really about his condition or Yasik’s ongoing nightmare though each were definitely contributing factors; I was afraid of the fear that comes with anxiety. I didn’t at the time know that being afraid of the fear was actually the subject of a book.
With days to go before his surgery, Dave took charge, taking me to a clinic for a supply of Ativan to ward off the most obtrusive expressions of anxiety. Ativan does not promise to be a helpful little support for more than a month. Beyond that it may start to be more assertive, effectively or not so much. But for the period of Dave’s operation and recovery, Ativan was up to the challenge, giving me some control over each day.
The direction I am going with this side bar, however, came through a recommendation by my brother-in-law who has had his own issues with anxiety and depression. He gave me a copy of the book, Hope And Help For Your Nerves, written in 1969 by Dr. Claire Weekes, an Australian general practitioner who is considered by some the pioneer of modern anxiety treatment. Speaking directly to the issue of fear itself in any given situation, her suggestion is to face the fear, accept the fear, ‘float’ past the fear and let time pass (24, 25). The book was so helpful in those days when anxiety seemed uncontrollable without medication that I got curious about what was being said in current literature. Because it’s all just a tap of the finger away on the internet, I ordered essentially any material our regional library had on anxiety. And in the months to come, I read roughly 30 books and a surprising array of magazine articles.
Community libraries do not offer a lot of research material. Most of these books were self-help books or memoirs. But there are several that provide the lay person a less formal presentation of research.
I hope what I have discovered and personally tested will be of help to others who struggle to make a family via adoption.
Google offers the following definition for anxiety:
A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
Medical News Today adds:
These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life. Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function. Generally speaking, anxiety occurs when a reaction is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation. (www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/anxiety)
Mayo Clinic offers the following definition for depression:
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases/conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977)
Several of the books I read make the point that anxiety and depression should be kept separate from the concept of sadness for in sadness a person does not feel trapped but with depression it is difficult to see a way out. (i.e. I Want to Change My Life: How to Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Addiction by Steven Melemis, P. 192). The book Overcoming the Fear of Fear: How to Reduce Anxiety Sensitivity by Sherry Stewart PhD, Steven Taylor PhD, and Margo Watt PhD also wants a distinction made as they point out that anxiety may not be about the sadness of a situation but the fear of the sensations of that sadness.
The July 2014 issue of Oprah offers an explanation of the mechanics of anxiety pointing out that these symptoms arise when the two areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, the hippocampus and frontal cortex, are flooded with hormones called glucocorticoids, which help our body prioritize what’s most important in a crisis. These hormones maximize our strength and energy- in case we need to flee a predator, while temporarily shutting down less essential functions, such as maintaining connections between neurons in our brain (You don’t want to spend precious mental energy consolidating memories when you’re trying to outrun a saber-toothed tiger) P 62.
This information is repeated in essentially the same form in most writings about anxiety and/ or depression-right down to the ubiquitous saber-tooth tiger.
Not only do most suggest that a tiger was everyone’s biggest fear back in the day, I doubt I read anyone who did not also focus on the following 4 F words: fear, flight, fight, or freeze. There was also a lot of mention made of igniting the sympathetic nervous system in times of stress, and the need to balance this with putting the parasympathetic nervous system back in control.
There is a problem; your brain registers and responds to the problem in fear and proceeds to set up the body for flight, fight or freeze. How we engage in any one of these F words ranges from the healthy to the pathological.
We can lay down, a ready banquet for said tiger, we can run to get out of the way, we can put up our dukes, or we can spend the needed time dealing with the prospect of the approaching tiger – this ‘fear of the fear’ thing.
In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, the character Bailey Johnson Jr. says that in times of stress his soul got up and hid behind his heart and curled up and went to sleep. I guess he chose flight or freez from fear. When I read his sister’s recounting of his reaction, I thought the kid understood stress and how it registers in the body even though his sensations were not ones I have felt. This is to say there is a substantial list of symptoms for anxiety and depression.
Again, according to Google, general symptoms include:
• Trembling or feet/finger twitching
• Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
• Problems sleeping
• Hair loss
• Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
• Shortness of breath or holding breath with intermittent heavy sighing
• Cold or sweaty hands or feet
• Having difficulty controlling worry
• Not being able to be still and calm
• Dry mouth
• Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, or even around the lips
• Pounding heart beats-from which all assure, you won’t die
• Feeling weak and tired
• Muscle tension
• Experiencing gastrointestinal ( GI) problems, or sensations of tension in that area
• Loss/increase of appetite, with attendant weight loss or gain
• Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
• Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness – often strongest in the morning
All of these symptoms are enough to sustain the fear that keeps anxiety/depression alive and well.
For further description, Chapter 4 in Hope And Help For Your Nerves by Dr. Claire Weekes is useful. Don’t be put off by dated tone and language.
Thirty plus books on anxiety/depression can actually be collapsed to a sentence recommending diet, exercise, sleep, therapies and meditation– read mindfulness meditation in a wide variety of forms here. Lost Connections (2018) by Johann Hari offers equally substantial ways to walk through anxiety or depression.
There is no magic hidden behind any of these recommendations.
When I walk, I am doing so to counter daily build ups of stress. I need to walk until my body feels release, and for me, that is rarely before about 45 minutes each day.
Getting a morning hit of anxiety most mornings, and given how quickly my mind slips away from the grasp of focus, I personally need a daily 10-15 minute time span for meditation to ensure that sufficient mind quiet happens. And yes, I can find these times. I am retired.
When I was working, I struggled just to walk several times a week. I had not yet experienced the value of meditating. But I also think as I pushed my anxiety to the side in those days, or smothered it with anti-depressants, I was banking it for a bigger payout in the years to come. And now the words “daily” and “need” are part of the payout.
Further comments on bits I have found re:
Diet: Nothing surprising here – eating balanced, regular meals, drinking enough to keep the pee clear, going easy on sugar and caffeine (or not) and alcohol, taking supplements like fish oil, magnesium, B complex. Some books add less well known, and less researched suggestions, like Tryptophan.
Exercise: What is surprising here is how much attention this one gets from media. Most focus on the range of options. To guilt ourselves when we wander by the Triathaloners, is a waste of energy. So is the assumption that for the anxious or depressed Yoga is the go-to exercise for it offers the double whammy of meditation. Whatever our choice of exercise may be, for many, it can be effectively coupled with mindfulness in a variety of ways. There is likely only one must – to exercise at least several times a week.
Sleep: This one is also getting lots of attention. Most of the discussion is around the how-much-is-enough question. Seven hours tends to win out as an average. In my working years, when the day’s anxiety tightened my body and mind, I found it hard to get my 7 hour quota. So I worried, with reason, that I would fall asleep while driving home after work if I didn’t get enough sleep. And yes a few times I hit the edge of the road. I had to start telling myself that most days I was getting sufficient sleep and that I would catch up the next night. Worrying less about sleep has helped to give me more of it- a case for Amy Carmichael’s ‘In acceptance, lies peace’, another aspect of Mindfulness!
Therapies: Two issues dog this one – cost and questions of efficacy (Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided). Several writers, even while authoring a book on their particular take on a therapy, somewhat abashedly also acknowledge these two problems. Nonetheless, currently there seems to be consensus that CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy or a newer one called Behavioural-Activation therapy and/or Positive Psychology, while likely no less costly, do appear to be helping people. There are also many DIY therapies to refocus your perspective on the problem, like journaling, retraining your brain to be consciously grateful or working with apps.
And here is where I return to where this sidebar began – with Claire Weekes’ book, HOPE AND HELP FOR YOUR NERVES. Her message helped and I found that essentially it was the message of all the books I read.
Meditation: For me, it says something about the pervasiveness of this recommendation that I got directed to my first meditation app by an article in Esquire (April, 2016 p.82). Suffice it to say, meditation comes well recommended. The one question I currently have comes out of concerns for some friends now struggling with depression and for whom it is reasonable to assume a doctor today might suggest meditation. How might they find ways to calm their minds, given how hard it is to imagine them focusing on their breath even for a few minutes?
To this question, on page 99, Priscilla Warner writes in Learning to Breathe, “If you are focusing your mind to the extent that other tangential things are excluded, if you are immersed in an experience, that’s meditation” (I am not certain that this is a complete quote).
I do not need to go into detail about any of these techniques. Google, books, social media, friends, and businesses all offer in depth direction. The August 2016 issue of Oprah offers lots of advice about getting into meditation from a common mindfulness meditation routine to repeating a calming word like ‘patience’ or ‘smile’ until you notice your emotions slip into another gear to imagining a black dot on your navel and then visualizing it disappearing to ease yourself out of jitters; Meditations for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris is also helpful. How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman puts the menu on the buffet table with a ‘Top 8’ list: 1. faith, 2. dialogue, 3. exercise, 4. meditation, 5. yawning (check it out) 6. consciously relaxing, 7. staying intellectually active, and, like Oprah encourages, 8. smile. Try it. You likely will actually sense physical as well as emotional relief. Social connection and being kind to ourselves when we are not doing so wonderfully well at diet, exercise, therapies or meditation are good too. Slip up, pick up and go at it again.
Dr. Claire Weekes connected with me when she pointed out that anxiety is fear of fear.
From Buddha to quantum physics (more than likely weakly understood) we are learning that our thoughts have some impact on our reality. Yes, we may continue to struggle with anxiety for much of our lives as Harry Chapin sings in “Circle”.
It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when
But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again
There’s no straight lines make up my life and all my roads have bends
There’s no clear-cut beginnings and so far no dead-ends
That tiger may bound across our landscape time and again, but maybe it’s hopeful that ‘so far no dead-ends’.
Gary Shteyngart mentions in Little Failure a story of Russian peasants who were just glad they made it through the day; I too am thankful some days that I simply made it through the day. I love someone who is deeply troubled and I am not always able to look at my life positively though I know I am expected to find peace with that reality in my own life. I have tools that help. And I am comfortable with that because while I am not necessarily stronger in the face of stress, I do see how my life experience is making me more compassionate for I am actually living human experience and learning from it. So often earlier in my life I felt I was an awkward bystander, seeing problems and often wanting to help, but never quite knowing what was truly helpful. I have opportunity and resources now that I am personally testing out.
In A Brief History of Anxiety Patricia Pearson leaves the reader with a challenge. She rephrases Pascal’s wager which says, “If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss)”.
She suggests “Dare to be irrational (because guess what, you already are) and wager that your life has a purpose, a meaning, an overarching story. And imagine within yourself a light or spark or Lord that will show you the way”(p. 172). Or maybe just some techniques to help you make it through the day.
Last night we watched Lion. Saroo’s mother tells him she adopted him and his brother because she saw it as her purpose in life. It seems by her sense of being blessed that she saw the attendant struggles as part of the package. She likely has learned some techniques.
It is September 2022 now. Recently I read an ending to the Sisyphus myth finishing Sisyphus’ story. Albeit with a little trickery, Sisyphus was able to get his boulder over the hill. Dusting his hands off, he moved on to a comfortable life. Exchange ‘trickery’ for ‘techniques’ and we might say that as we learn skills to help us live, we may move on to a more comfortable experience of life. With that in mind I update the above with techniques I currently use: Qi Gong -not only offering exercise but a kind of rhythmic, repetitive mediation; meditation – now with Insight Timer; CBD – government sponsored family therapy using Empathetic Listening and encouragement to look for hope in daily life; and of course, continuing with exercise, sleep, appropriate diet, projects, daily reflections on gratitude and a compassion meditation with a long list of those I care for addressed to ‘ God as I understand Him’.
March 30, 2018
Somewhere in one of Joseph Campbell’s books referencing our individual life journeys, I came across his observation that in our communication with God we should be encouraged not to dialogue from the place of “Father, forgive me for I have sinned” but rather “Father, look at all the good I have done.” And though a protestant would not say ‘Father I have sinned’ to a priest as a Roman Catholic has been taught to do, as a Protestant I was also taught to come at my religion from the position of a sinner. I orient more quickly to ‘Father I have sinned’ than ‘Hey Father, look at the good I have done’. And when it comes to banishing my son from my home before he was 18, “Father I have sinned.” comes far more easily to my lips than “Hey God, look at what a good mother I have been.”
Several times in any given month I screen several movie shorts set on a loop in my brain. In one, I am standing outside a classroom talking with a colleague about a student who has been kicked out of his home. The colleague wonders aloud how she would be able to cope if she ever did that to her daughter. My response: “I deal with that every day”. She is silent. What can she say when she doesn’t know if I have done the right thing or not.
In the other, I play and replay the night we decided to deny Yasik further access to our home, in less civilized terms—kicked him out. We are standing at the window in his bedroom. He is outside in the dark with nothing but the clothes on his back. We tell him he can’t come in. There is some back and forth. In frustration he sits down on the front step. Inside, I slide to the floor, slumped and overwhelmed with tears while the back and forth continues between Yasik and Dave.
After he returned from a juvenile pretrial treatment center stay, and only a couple of months before the above black night, we had sat down with Yasik in an awkward triangle in our cramped livingroom to make clear that if he wanted to go forward with us as a family, we could not continue dealing with drugs and theft. Return to school or get a job was a must. Yet this final night did not come as a direct consequence of that family ultimatum disguised as a family discussion. After waffling over a couple of incidents with theft and drugs and absence from school, we had finally decided the night before that final night that if he took any more money from either of us, he would have to go. We barred him entrance that night because the story he told us about his plans for the evening turned out to be untrue and $3.00 was missing from my wallet. We carried out the refusal to allow him in even as he pleaded he wanted at least a belt for his pants because we were uncertain whether we could handle him once he got in the house and we didn’t want him taking more of the stuff he had ready for a pawn shop. Yasik walked back into town that night to stay with a friend. The next morning I probably called in for a family day from work. We took our client to his day program, stopped at Macdonald’s to pick up some breakfast and went knocking on doors looking for Yasik to see if we could work something out. When we found him, he resisted our overtures for help. We tried to step inside the apartment we found him in so that we could talk more privately. He called us rude for trying to step unasked inside the apartment of his friend. He refused the breakfast we offered. He has always had a strong sense of justice. We were the wrong doers and needed to be put in our place. We, in turn, felt we had tried to reconnect, felt somewhat justified, ate the breakfast and went back to our home and daily responsibilities. He once made reference to our kicking him out for taking $3.00 dollars from my wallet, and I stopped him quickly by saying we found him the next morning and he refused to reconnect with us. He did not remember that, he said. Our kicking him out over $3.00 was also the story he told his probation officer. As we assured her, there was more to the story than some wallet change.
Nonetheless, for all that we finished off the breakfast we had bought him, and went home to go on with our day, we have never dusted off our hands, shrugged and simply moved on.
Our son has not lived with us other than a few short term stays since that day when he was not yet 18. At first he couch-surfed, then lived for a few years in a homeless shelter and spent one winter in a tent city. But he remained angry and resistant to offers of help for many of the first half of these past eight years.
And what do I say? “Father I have sinned” or “Father, look at the good I have done”. I have not been able to let go of all the “what if”s and “maybe”s. I do try to work the mindfulness meditation idea that while we cannot control the thoughts that intrude, we can try to keep them at an observational arm’s length. And it’s true, most thoughts pass through even the most well-worn pathways in our brains in about 90 seconds. But are they resolved or just helplessly brushed aside?
Of course wisdom tells us that if we refuse to engage with or are able to let go of the guilt ridden thoughts about our relationship and interactions with our addicted loved one, we may be freer to move forward to more helpful thoughts.
One of the first points made in the Coping Kit prepared and made available to the families of addicts by the association, From Grief to Action, (www.fgta.ca), is the following:
Don’t blame yourself. Guilt is not a useful emotion.
Other people’s actions generally do not cause alcohol/drug dependency.
Admit it when you’ve blown it, apologize, and move on.
Focus on what you can do, and let go of what you can’t.
I agree that guilt is not useful. I have acknowledged failure a fair few times to Yasik, though to be honest I don’t know exactly what I did wrong which is, of course, why I am reading and writing, seeking to understand and also perhaps find ways to more effectively support him in hopes that he will be able to return to wholeness.
But “Don’t blame yourself….let go of what you can’t.” Some days I am still praying,“Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” At least this response to guilt offers an avenue for blame. Other days I want to do as Hans Rosling advises in Factfulness: “Look for causes, not villians. Look for systems, not heroes” (p222). Some days I am looking at what might be done to turn things around.
Is this ‘letting go’ or ‘moving on’?
The following thought may take a more circuitous route to clarity than is helpful, but it seemed amazing to me, at least initially. Right now I am making my way through a book by James Breech, The Silence of Jesus. It is not that in this particular book I expected to find anything blog-oriented. (Understand that I come from somewhere between fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism, more steeped in all things biblical than I am likely aware of). I was given the book and so felt I should work my way through it because it may counter some of the ideas I was exposed to in my actively protestant years, besides which, I somehow manage to find something about our relationship with Yasik in almost anything I read. (I am also currently reading a detective novel, some tree and bird books, a Lewis Mehl-Madrona, The Unmade Bed, Goldacre’s Bad Science and two books on attachment theory. It is a good chance I will see something of my search in each of them.)
James Breech has made a study of the parables of Jesus, pulling out what he may have said from the cultural context and interpretation of those who recorded his words. Here’s the backstory. Breech is examining the story in the Gospel of Luke of the Good Samaritan. First he strips away what he considers are the trimmings in which Luke couches the story. It becomes simply a story of a man assaulted by robbers. Two people passing by do literally that, pass by, even crossing to the other side to do so. A third person comes along and having wine and oil, cleans the assaulted man’s wounds, puts him on his donkey or horse and takes him to an inn. As Traveler Three prepares to go on own his way, he instructs the innkeeper to take care of the wounded man and promises to settle whatever expenses are incurred when he next returns to the area. And then the good fellow continues on with whatever business brought him to the area. He understood that his responsibility was to help another on that individual’s journey and nothing more.
A few years ago I chose to explain to myself why I am on earth by espousing the concept that we are each on a journey through life (yes, Joseph Campbell influenced). Traveler Three metaphors our individual life journeys. Breech suggests that Jesus’ point in this story is that a man as he travels his own journey shares with another in need to aid the wounded man on his particular journey, nothing more, nothing less. It was not Traveller Three’s intention to go about helping people. In fact no motive for helping is offered other than obvious, immediate need. Traveler Three recognizes that harm has been done, but that does not need to be the end of the story. Because he has some medical supplies with him, he can reorient the story in a different direction, a better possibility. As Breech stresses, the storyteller is not asking his listeners to dwell on whether or not the victim recovers, just that Traveller Three takes care of what he can. He suggests that Jesus is telling this story to make the point that helping others on their equally valid journeys if at some point they need a boost is simply part of going forward each on our individual journey. We give that boost because we see ourselves as having enough to be free to share. So parents often adopt to aid another on his or her journey because they want to share (Note: there are lots of other reasons to adopt as well, just as there are other reasons for the choices of the other characters in the parable). But once we have offered aid in a difficulty we carry on with our own journey, assuming the other will be quite capable of also carrying on. Is this the “letting go” concept or the “moving on” concept we are encouraged to embrace over staying in a slumped tear-drenched heap of guilt?
At any rate, when I read the bit about Traveler Three taking care of what he could and then moving on with his own journey, I did not think it was about dusting my hands of my son, but I did feel some sense of release from guilt. Or maybe this post is simply about Breech’s thought on the parable being a boost for me on my journey, helping me get back on my feet and enabling me to move forward. And actually thereby giving a boost to my son for in my giving into guilt, I am denying my son the respect that comes from believing he has yet within himself the strength to continue on his journey.
Yes, we have taken on responsibility for a life. Yes, we are ‘Parents Forever’ (see fgta.ca). But our hand-wringing guilt is not a boost to our child in his or her difficulties. The FGTA site would encourage parents to get past self blame for guilt does little more than sink a parent in a sodden heap or urge a parent to “cross the road to the other side and hurry on by” the problem. As FGTA encourages, there are helpful steps to be taken.
If the kindly advice, “Let Go” sometimes leaves the distraught parents bewildered for its frustrating vagueness when something is consuming their psychic energy, with respect to difficulties in adoptive relationships, perhaps a plan to stop enabling is meant by “letting go”. In terms of a broader scope of struggles, in You are Not Your Brain: the 4-step solution for changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D.(p134) give four concrete directives:
Step 1: Relabel or call our negative thoughts and emotions what they are. Are they thoughts of continued enabling or guilt with how we have engaged with our child to this point? Perhaps we ‘Let Go’ of the way we are currently handling our situation with our child or our guilt for our past failures by ‘Relabelling’ our situation with our child.
Step 2: Reframe or look at why these thoughts and emotions are bothering us. Give our situation some analysis; come to a new perspective.
Step 3: Refocus or redirect our attention to an action or thought that is healthy and maybe kind forgiveness of ourselves.
Step 4: Revalue or recognize that the negative messages that, as Mindfulness training aims to demonstrate, are merely passing thoughts or emotions that will vaporize as we choose to move in another more positive direction.
There is no passivity here, waiting for a hard-to-visualize god to come and zap us with a new life; there is us pulling ourselves out of the abject slump on the floor, and walking toward a better activity or thought.
Thoughts on Yasmin Mogahed’s comment on Attachment
Yasmin Mogahed, writer, instructor and speaker, urges her followers to “Try not to confuse “attachment” with “love”. Attachment is about fear and dependency and has more to do with love of self than love of another. Love without attachment is the purest love because it isn’t about what others can give you because you are empty. It is about what you can give others because you are already full” (https://themindsjournal.com/try-not-confuse-attachment-love/). I do not know the context of this comment. Perhaps in terms of altruism or aspiration, this quote is a noble sentiment. Maybe she is referencing what Larissa MacFarquhar explores in Strangers Drowning. But I latched on to that one word, attachment. It is one big word in the context of adoption. Google it. Attachment is connection. Attachment is not the evil twin of love – fear, dependency or self love. Some people like to see themselves as independent bags of chemicals, but a peek over the shoulder of their egos will reveal something that binds/connects/ties (“No [one] is an island’ and all that). For me a close metaphor might be ‘synapse’ which is “the point at which a nervous impulse passes from one neuron to another” (Merriam Webster). A neuron loaded with fear may pass over the synapse, attachment, to a neuron that passes the fear along or the dependency or self love. A neuron developed to love may pass over the neuron to further the love.
A book I have just finished reading, Born for Love by Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry is helpful in suggesting how one neuron or another might be developed. On page 315 they talk about introducing reading “…in the laps of caring parents, siblings or grandparents….” This they suggest is just one way to encourage love to grow and hopefully fill one more person with love. My thanks then to Yasmin Mogahed for giving me a nice segue way to the many considerations of attachment as it relates to adopting families.
God is Not a Genie
I don’t think I am depressed. I am sad and anxious. There is a difference. Check out the definitions in “A bit of a sidebar”. (Actually, a week later the ‘self-editor’ me, a Mary Karr suggestion, is looking at this piece again and not sure if a good measure of petulant self-pity energized this writing.)
Today is a few months short of when we told Yasik he had to leave our home nearly 10 years ago. He will be 27 in a few weeks.
He is scheduled for a video sentencing today. It may be in process as I write. It’s 11:28 a.m.
Dave is out shopping for a turkey for Thanksgiving this weekend. I will mow the lawn after writing this because it is sunny out and the grass keeps growing, so why not? Life does not stop; it does not make a U turn or even try another road just because it is not going the way I envisaged it. So later today I will drive over to the tutoring agency I work with and help a middle-aged woman who is upgrading her job skills. It may at the very least divert my emotions, gripping the normal to counter the upheaval as every unguarded moment will veer toward thoughts of my son’s bleak passage on his journey. An ode to turkeys, lawns and other people’s needs.
Last night while trying to lull the neighbour’s young son to sleep, I held him – his eyes resolutely grasping at Paw Patrol to fight sleep and my mind and heart reciting a mantra for the outcome of Yasik’s sentencing today. Over and over, I called on ‘God-as-I-understood-him’ to please send my son to a prison that will offer to show him a new path to life – in our case, quite specifically the open prison system in a nearby town. My rational is that then we can visit more often and be a counter balance to unhealthy influences he may engage with in the prison. It certainly sounds a reasonable prayer to me. This morning I asked my sister to pray as well for the sentence to be at this prison. My sister’s response was, “God isn’t a genie.” Barely holding it together, I slid over my real reaction by agreeing, not interested in arguing the pointlessness of my rationale. But to myself I think, if not God, who else is there for Yasik anymore? And then I enter my mind dialogue with God.
In my speaking for both God and myself and therefore assuming I have some idea who God is and how He interacts with humans, I argue with Him. Yes, I have no right to make demands; yes, I don’t know if this is how I can engage with You. But, on the other hand, You give an open invitation when You, or your hopefully legitimate proxy, say, “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you.” Isn’t that what we are encouraged to do when we rub the genie’s lantern? Isn’t Yasik, especially with his back story, also someone who needs a helping hand? But no, if you do the crime, you better expect to do the time. Round and round, throwing up mental hands in frustration, despair, confusion. It’s a tangle of all sorts of thoughts, feelings, understandings, ignorance, love and a measure of self-pity.
And it is not one I can easily talk to anyone about. First, it is such an old story now – over 10 years relentless disappointment, heart ache, anxiety, hopelessness. Who wants to talk about it anymore? He committed a serious crime, why should he not get the treatment others who get caught receive? What can anyone say to out argue that? Ok, he has the scars of abandonment and orphanage life until almost 5. He may have prenatal drug or alcohol impact. School left him feeling incapable. We didn’t understand most of what was going on in the memories, brain, and consciousness he then developed. He ended up on the streets, in and out of trouble with the law. The ‘stats’ on that life trajectory are awful.
So if prayer is almost my sole recourse to help my son, why prayer? Is that the best I can plan on in terms of a rational solution to the problems of the prison system, or more specifically my son’s situation in the prison system?
Ah yes, I can speak with my vote. Which party is promising to work at a more rehabilitative prison system in readiness for the upcoming election next week? The Conservatives under Stephen Harper took Canada backwards to a more punitive system. Justin Trudeau promised in his first campaign to reset the system in a more progressive direction. He had 4 + years to do so. Turns out not much has changed and little is being said of future plans in the current campaign. See “Harper was tough on crime, Trudeau promised a new approach – did he deliver?” by Jane Gerster, Global News, posted October 6, 2019 4:00 am.
Other options: my husband and I could spring for a lawyer rather than leave Yasik to work out his own legal aid. He got into this mess and we established our take on that right from the beginning of ‘The Troubles’, telling him even when he was barely 16 that he had to take care of the legal repercussions of his actions. Recently though, we did talk to a lawyer who did not encourage us to seek out a lawyer for Yasik because there is little that can be done at this stage anyway. And no one is asking us to become involved. The current probation officer called us as she prepared her pre-sentencing report. We assured her that we are willing to be involved with a caveat that Yasik also be getting a rehab recommendation. We are not prepared to work with a still addicted Yasik without support. That is rational, is it not? Anymore options? Well, there is also the activist option which I keep shelving for the present. I could get involved with Moms Stop the Harm or return to AL-ANON or whatever activism is encouraged in my small town. In lieu of stepping out in activism, I know there is always the good old ‘look for the silver lining’ fall back. Who knows, some serious prison time in a medium security prison, likely near to his home and just as likely with cellmates he knows, may be just the thing. The memoir, The Master Plan, could not have been written had it not been first experienced by Chris Wilson.
Right now though, it is going to be hard to tell me not to rub the genie’s lantern, if only out of petulant self-pity.
You know how our brains work. One little dendrite developed by some circumstance in our individual lives reaches out to connect with another in our unique lives. The connection I made the other day is going to seem odd but it comes out of the neuronal activity developed through my life circumstances in my particular brain. I was reading the April 2018 copy of The Atlantic. I too was surprised how dated it was but it was hard copy from the library if that is an explanation. The article is titled “The Last Temptation” and is by a thorough going Evangelical, Michael Gerson. He was raised evangelical and seems to be a spokesperson of respect. In this article he is trying to explain why evangelicals have supported the American president, DJ Trump, suggesting that in doing so they have lost their way. On page 48, he argues that evangelicals “lack an organizing theory of social action….” In comparison, Catholics, whether they always follow through or not, have a needed theory. This theory “…acts as an ‘if, then’ requirement….” He then goes on to explain. If Catholics say they are “pro-life on abortion, then [they] have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants [as well].” If their theory of social action is to be pro-life, it must be pro-life across the board.
And what has this to do with parenting an adoptee, you ask?
Remember how individual neuronal development is. My neurons are a rather thick mass when it comes to things having to do with my son. One of the struggles I have had with how things are going with Yasik has to do with how we handled his rebellion. Were we too soft? Were we wishy washy? Were we too harsh? Were we inflexible? The phrase ‘if, then’ resonated with me. If we have had an operating principle with Yasik since our relationship with him went sideways, it was that we would support what we believed to be healthy life choices. We would not support the unhealthy. That meant that if he chose to go to soccer on a school night, then we would drive him. If he chose to go out on a school night to hang out with people who were doing drugs, then he would have to find his own way home. If you agree or do this, then we will follow through and do what we felt (rightly or wrongly).
Of course a moment later all the other arguments swimming around in my brain shake off sleepiness and begin to hawk their wares. What about the danger of leaving an immature teen out on his own at night in a sketchy situation? What does the refusal to help say to someone who started life with at best a shaky sense of attachment?
Yes there are complexities and the strident questions they shout back at my attempt to reconcile the choices we made refuse to be ignored. From where did our Ifs come from, were they the best for our son, and did we follow through on the Thens or at times ignore them?
Adoption Flags Surface
One day just as we were nearing the parking lot where Yasik’s team was set to play soccer, he blurted out that he didn’t want to play. I didn’t ask why. Appearing responsible is my default mode, so my blunt and totalitarian response was: “You have to.” Yasik came back with, “I don’t have to listen to you. You are not my mother.” Likely my eyes bulged a bit, but on the surface of things, I acknowledged his point, then coolly countered that legally and in terms of his care, yes I was. We went to the game. Years later he told me he would never make his kids go to soccer. What was I not understanding? Was there a problem with soccer that I was missing? Or was this the first display of those ‘adoption issues’ adopters hear about? He was ten then. Nothing else surfaced for several years, at least that we were aware of. Then along comes a cold, wet night in March of 2007. Yasik was 14. Was this the night those deep-seated issues of attachment determined to surface again, this time strong enough not to back down? Or was it just blinding, untested but quite normal teenage testosterone obliterating reason?
As a student with learning challenges struggling against parents who believed nothing, and I mean nothing, was more important than a solid education, fighting about doing homework was a nightly ritual by now. Yasik probably had more homework than most students, certainly more than he ever wanted. That made this night no different than usual; it started out as just another night with a flare up over getting homework done. Of course there is always more than just the tired, after work, homework conflict at stake. We were in the midst of another threat of flooding. TV weather reports had us uptight about the North Allouette pouring down the road instead of flowing sensibly under the too narrow bridge at 224 St. and 232nd Ave. If Yasik was angry, we too were tense; none of our tempers would have been at Calm on the emotional dial.
My journal entry of the night does not detail the fight we engaged in but does note that Yasik was arguing to go paint balling or skiing and we were countering with a negotiation of homework first. The fight escalated. Yasik, who deeply though sometimes selectively believed (you might read ‘stubbornly’ here) in justice, wasn’t giving in. He left the house. Did he grab a coat? Did he slam the cheaply made front door? The journal doesn’t say, but it is likely on that cold, wet night threatening a flood, he was jacket-less.
The first time your kid does that, you stop a moment. And I guess going outside into a night that does not warmly embrace his anger gave him a slow down as well because apparently he went only as far as the front patio. A probation officer once noted that most runaways opt for warm summer nights.
Dave clicked in first, pulling a jacket on and going out after him, thinking Yasik was running off somewhere more in line with a great teen drama of fiction than merely hiding out under the eaves. I guess when it is your first move into rebellion you don’t always work out a detailed plan. Yasik let his dad go off on a goose chase, slipping back in the house while Dave was out blindly checking up and down a rainy street boasting one lone streetlight on the corner.
Those of you who have a Bible-infused background may remember the verse in the gospel of Luke (my version) that goes, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” referring to the unusual activities of her firstborn, Jesus. This was the piece of the evening I continued to ponder in my heart for a long time after: when Yasik came back into the house it was not with more fighting or cold slamming of doors. Instead Yasik came into our bedroom; I reached out to him and held him. While we stood there mute, me crying and shaken, Yasik said, “I always wanted to do that.”
Picasso The Tragedy