The “Right Hand” Version

Which means more logical and rational than the previous one.

The fall happened in my house.  Paying attention to the fragments I was juggling, I failed to see my feet and tripped over the lintel.  I hit my chin and my left hand.  The fragments were the pieces I was making for the Grandmother ceremony.  Working on their placement gave me a sense of integrating the pieces of my life.  Lynelle came immediately and helped me with arnica and Traumeel.  She also told me that when this sort of thing happened to her, it meant that there was some deep part of her that was not happy.  I couldn’t imagine why a part of me would be unhappy with integration, a process toward health.  It came to me that that piece might have been afraid she wouldn’t be accepted by the others, and later that she feared they would try to make her conform.  I had resisted the pressure of the part of me that wanted me to conform to the traditional way of doing the patches.  I had an image of the safe conventional things I made because that was what my mother wanted, and then an image of the outrageous things I made when I was free to do it my own way.

It is absolutely wonderful to suddenly see myself as a very creative person.  I think I thought that I wasn’t creative because I had nothing lasting to show.  But I’ve had a tremendous outpouring of different things that only last for a while.  And of course, Neskaya is something lasting.  Sometimes I imagine that the concrete roof will still be there when all the other buildings have fallen down and decayed.

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Bababadalgharagh…..denenthurnuk!

Friday, April 14

I wrote this this morning , trying to understand what is going on in my psyche.  It actually produced something that helped make sense of the many issues I am juggling.  “Keep the pen moving” is an instruction designed to get around the logical mind.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it just produces nonsense.

“The fall” happened on Monday, April 10, when I tripped over the lintel and fell on the tile floor in my house.  I hurt my chin and my left hand badly.  The odd word in parentheses “babadagalgara…” was as much as I could remember of James Joyce’s sound of “the fall” at the beginning of Finnegans Wake.  “Juggling pieces” was an image that came in work with my therapist Erica the next day, that I was juggling pieces of my life and not paying attention, so I tripped.  Lynelle’s suggestion was from her enormous knowledge about PTSD and how it shows in what happens.  Trying to understand what she said brings up a fear of being forced to conform.  “The huge pressure” was something I felt as I was writing to my friends about how I needed my participation in the Grandmother Ceremony to be in a way that worked for me.  One of the requirements was to make some patches representing parts of our life.  Doing this, and working with the images started a process of integration.  The “Grandmother Ceremony” will be described in a subsequent blog post.

I want to just keep the pen moving and see what happens.  The fall (bababadalgara…) juggling pieces and tripping over the door stone.  Trying to integrate process started with working on Grandmother patches.  Then Lynelle’s observation that there’s some deep part of me who’s not happy with what’s happening in my unconscious.  Not happy with integration?  I come across a fear of being forced to conform.  Actually, the huge pressure I felt about asking if I could do the patches the way I needed to, that was my introjected mother trying to force me to conform.  I resisted that, and I’m telling that part that I did resist, and I will resist, and all the pieces of me welcome her into the tribe and are interested to get to know who she really is.  Not who she thinks she’s “supposed to be.”  I see an image of all those cards I made for all the grandchildren (of whom I was one) so Gee-Gee could put one on each pile of presents at the big Christmas gathering.  A different image comes, from the glittering blue cloth we found in my studio on Wednesday.  There was the remains of one of the figures I made: stuffed bag for head on pole, hanger attached to it with duct tape to hang the robe on.  I also found a string fastened to a bone so it could be hung around her neck.  She was the Spirit of the North.  I had made Spirits for all the directions.  I made a bunch more for a Samhain celebration.  There are pictures of them all in one of the booklets at Neskaya.  I see them now as a huge outpouring of creativity.  I remember that my ex-husband was uncomfortable with what he called my “shrine making.”  I thought he meant that the things I made might draw in spirits that were negative.  Looking at it now, I see spirits drawn to my work who were outcast and unwanted, perhaps “negative” because they had been hurt and I feel my heart open to draw them in.  Come to me you tired, poor, and heavy laden, I see your goodness.  I know you have been hurt.  I welcome you into this space so you can rest and heal.  I see the enormous gap between the little girl who carried out her mother’s instructions to make nice, safe, name cards for the family Christmas, and the woman who created all sorts of flamboyant exotic things and environments to appear for a brief time in the sacred space of Neskaya.

Spirit of the North

Here is the sound of The Fall: bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!
and a link to the source.

I read this piece of writing to my therapist on our phone session which happened about 30 minutes after I wrote it.  She really liked it, but then she knows the things I am referring to.  I read it to her a second time, and some new images and material that I hadn’t seen before came up.

When I read “I welcome you into this space so you can rest and heal,” I saw Neskaya.  The building has been called a “healing sanctuary,” and many people have told me they feel at home, completely accepted for who they are.  I saw the Red Woman as the healing spirit of Neskaya.  And I remembered when we were building it, the roof and walls were built around/on a structure of steel I-beams.  The beams can be seen holding the roof from inside and outside.  The steel structure was a little like a crystal form, three-dimensional with facets.  It was unusual enough that we were only able to find one contractor who was willing to try it.  The first time they put the beams together, the last ones didn’t fit.  So they had to go back and modify the junctions so they would fit.  I remember very well how I felt when the steel structure came together, I could feel it in my heart, a crystalline shape, very strong, holding energy.

Neskaya steel structure

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Eight Learnings

Written on Saturday, January 2, 2016

I had a number of learnings, things I suddenly saw were true, late in 2015.  I decided to write them all down.  I planned to take one every day and think about it.  And I did it for a few days, but then somehow, without intending to, I stopped doing it.  In spite of wanting to find/design a daily spiritual practice, this happened over and over until a couple of weeks ago.

1) Depression is a big deal, I have courage, strength and persistence to have managed any sort of life at all.

2) I’ve started to take in the positive feedback Erica gives.

3) I am big enough to make a loving container for the broken parts.

4) My depression is NOT MY FAULT.

5) My depression is not a sin or a moral weakness.

6) Even while depressed, knowing it won’t last forever.

7) Realized that my emotions (“empty sophistication”) are not who I am.  How I feel emotionally is not the truth of who I am.

8) Realized that I’m not either the “creative one” or the “broken one” — although my experience of one tends to make the other disappear.  But I am both at once.

I knew these intellectually, was quite sure of their truth, but they didn’t operate in my life at all.

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Insight —> Endurance —> Action

I spent my time with Erica talking about the good things that I’ve been doing spontaneously: taking apart the puzzle that’s been there for three months, playing music that I haven’t listened to for years, starting to meditate regularly, being able to work on the patches alone, seeing that I can create a good life for myself at Kendal.

Work on the patches for the Grandmother Ceremony has somehow helped me integrate the pieces of my life.  Something else that’s been happening deep down inside.  As I created the patches, and placed them in relationship, I saw how they interconnected.

The strangest thing of all is looking in the mirror and seeing an attractive person.

I told Erica about the pattern that Francis Weller talked about: insight —> endurance —> action.  Now, as I look back, I see that, more than a year ago, I had a series of insights beginning with “my depression is not my fault.”  Another major one was seeing that I am a good person.  It’s very odd how it just appeared one day, as a solid knowing.  I never actually thought of myself as a bad person, I said things like “Nobody ever loved me and nobody ever will.”  I thought of myself as “worthless and rotten,” thought I “never do anything right.”  I believed that I didn’t deserve to live.  But the truth is that I never did anything mean to anybody.  Part of this new understanding might have been because of looking back and seeing that I have no regrets, that all the things I did that were not very wise were done because I didn’t have enough information.

I think this process began long ago, with Elizabeth’s letter about my “commitment,” “vision,” and “generosity.”  My first reaction was that it wasn’t true but the scientist in me presented evidence for all three.  Then there was Jalaja’s letter in response to a post, where she talks about “the depths to which you are journeying” and my “passion, devotion, creativity, and sweetness.”  These words struck me so powerfully as an exact description of myself, that I could not deny or disappear them.

All of these understandings were pretty solid, but a little bit disappointing in that I didn’t feel any better.  I wanted to feel warm and relaxed, connected and sharing, and instead I felt scared, frozen, or empty.  I’ve been through months — well really it’s years — years of feeling depressed and miserable, and trying to push it away.  Then years of trying to “be with” the difficult feelings with both success and failure.  This last year the grief work showed me that most of my pain was not about me at all, but was about the painful things that are happening in the world I love.

The long stretch of what Francis called “endurance” was this period after the positive intellectual insights.  It was a long hard time of trying to hang out with painful and confusing feelings.  Working as hard as I could to just be with, and bring compassion to, almost unbearably painful feelings.  Actually those feelings were unbearable to the baby I was, which is why she got traumatized.  To be able to feel them now I need the support of my therapist.

Then, suddenly, action.  I’m acting in new ways.  Not thinking about them first but just doing them.  Thank You!

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What it’s like to live with PTSD

This is a series of journal entries from June 2016.  I think it gives an immediate sense of what my life is like.

Driving home it was a glorious day, blue sky, white clouds, green trees, enough breeze to make the leaves glitter.  All I wanted to do was get home and hide.

Woke up feeling so sad.  Bright sun only makes it worse.  I think about writing my journal in the dining room at Adelynrood, at Kripalu, at Rowe, where I feel safe.

Nothing to say.  I sat here yesterday, staring, not really thinking tho I can’t call it meditation either.  I look around my house and think how long the journey has been.  Have I gotten anywhere in all this time?  Have I gained any wisdom?

Still feeling very strange.  It’s like I’m not at home anywhere.  I don’t know what to say.  The bright sun on the bright green leaves and the blue sky are too much.  I think of my friend Barbara pulling all the blinds to shut out the day.  That’s how I feel, wanting to hide, crawl into a cave.  I don’t know what’s happened to me.  Maybe I feel too exposed.  I think I felt like this back in the California days.  I tried to email Erica hoping it would help, but I haven’t finished it.

Dear Guides and Guardian spirits, I feel so strange.  Please help me.

Dear Jenny, we love you very much.  You are going through a huge transition/transformation.  The lost feelings are part of it.  Think of it as a vision quest.  You are traveling through unknown and frightening territory.  We are watching over you.  Yes, you are scared, but all is going to be well.

I look at things that need to be done and don’t have any energy or motivation.  I don’t know if this is apathy or tiredness.  “I will just sit here, staring into the wind, until a solution opens.”  I think about getting out a puzzle, or paying bills, or brushing the dog…

Thinking about trying to cook breakfast.  I feel the fear — an empty hollow in my heart.  A very low level version of “shocked heart.”  I wish someone would come and take care of me.

Feeling spacey and strange.  Being alone has suddenly gotten a hundred times harder.  I feel very lost.  I was OK when I was with Karen, and OK at the vigil last night.  It was at the Episcopal church in Littleton, for the victims of the Orlando massacre.  Different people read the names of the victims.  We sang some hymns.  Other people read poems or personal statements.

Trying to find words/”felt sense” for “not quite there.”  When I try to feel my feet on the floor, my butt on the couch, they don’t feel more connected when I put my attention there.  Usually when I’m trying to get “resourced” I feel more connected, feel myself sinking into the couch and the floor.  It also feels a little as though my head is filled with kapok.  There’s a kind of hollow in my chest, emptiness.

The quote about “staring into the wind” is from a time in 1969 when I had reached a dead end in a relationship.

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Struggle with Old Patterns

I’ve been reading over my journal for 2016, trying to see if there’s any pattern to my life.  This was written in June.  It’s an example of how I work to understand something through writing.

While I was at Barbara’s, she was looking for a movie but we came upon a piece by Noam Chomsky.  He talked about how 70% of the people disagree with what the government is doing, but they have no power to change it.  I found that very discouraging.  Why keep fighting?  Then I think about Eleanor’s parents, who haven’t money for a nursing home, would have to go into a state one, and they’re horrible.  That is so outrageous.  The people with the money don’t care because they can’t make money off them.

Where is god in all this?  It makes sense to me that god is in everything and so god is feeling their pain, feeling my pain, but that’s an intellectual idea, not a felt sense.  I want to say that the Universe is malevolent, life is meaningless, but I don’t believe that.  I do believe that Divine Process moves toward consciousness and compassion, I do believe that life is meaningful, but I haven’t had an experience to confirm that.  That’s not true.  I’ve had a number of experiences of understanding what my life is about.  They just don’t last.

I wondered yesterday what would happen if I just stopped trying to make things different.  What would that look like?  Would I not water the plants?  I did yesterday, finally.  I’ve thrown some out.  Would I stop trying to take care of things?

I wanted to write Erica yesterday, I think because I was feeling so bad after our good talk on Friday.  I’ve been feeling that I should just stop complaining about my life — do I do that? — That’s the confusion.  Is paying attention to what I feel now just making everything worse?  That’s what I’m struggling with, the feeling that I am doing it all wrong.  I think there’s also some anger, anger that I was given all these gifts to be given to the community, but I’m not able to do it because …  I’m defective, cowardly, broken?  I’ve been seriously wounded and have to take care of myself and work for healing?  I know that the feeling that I’m “doing everything wrong” is an old, old feeling, but also that when it happens I have no idea of what to do to be “right.”  That sounds an awful lot like a child trying to figure out what would make a parent happy when that parent is determined to be unhappy.  “You’re miserable because you want to be.”  No, I don’t want to be miserable, but I don’t know what to do to change it.

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Healing from the Bottom Up

I want to write about what’s been happening lately.  When I came back from the visit to Kendal, I knew I could create a good life for myself there.  I put it in that form without really thinking about it, but looking back I see that at that moment I took charge of my life.  I didn’t say “It’s a good place.  I’ll be comfortable there.”  What I saw was that there was enough support, a strong enough container, so I could “have a life” — a real life, created by me to be what I want.  This is a big deal.  For most of my life I didn’t know I needed support, or I saw the need as a weakness.  My parents shamed me for asking for help, and I learned in my family of origin that if I wanted something to happen, I had to do it all myself.  So being able to say “I can create a good life” is tremendous.  It means that I have accepted that it’s OK to need support, and it’s OK to find support for myself, and it’s OK to use the support.

Another thing that happened is that I started playing music that I haven’t listened to for years.  The CD was by a Scottish group, Ossian, called St. Kilda Wedding.  I haven’t been able to listen to a variety of music for a long time.  I’ve been restricted, or restricted myself, or actually couldn’t tolerate a lot of music, especially from the past, from happier times.  Or maybe I should say times when I felt more solid and could be cheered up by music.  As I’ve had to restrict myself to “safe” reading, books that wouldn’t trigger me, books that didn’t require a lot of brain power, so I read the same books over and over.  I can always enjoy meeting again characters I’ve come to know.  So in music I could only tolerate music we dance to, Gregorian Chant, and the Oratorium in Memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Another really important change is that I am meditating every day, and doing it in a completely different way.  I’ve been wanting to start meditating, but when it happened it was a surprise.  I’ve been coming to a place where I have no thoughts.  Sometimes I experience it as scary and empty.  But recently I thought “I haven’t anything to write or do, why don’t I just meditate.”  So I set the timer for 20 minutes, and just sat there, on the couch, with my feet on the floor.  I started counting my breaths, then began to just notice when the out breath turned into an in breath, and the other way around.  Of course my mind got distracted, but I didn’t get stressed about it, I just went back to the breath.  When I was first learning to meditate, I was very harsh on myself.  “Sit straighter.” “Pay attention.”  I also had a problem with following the breath, because as soon as I did that I started controlling it.  I couldn’t seem to witness my breath without interfering.  Now it’s completely different, not because I’m actively trying to do it different, but because I’m naturally doing it different.  I’m finding it easy to follow my breath.  I notice when my mind goes off, and bring it back affectionately.  I’m so immersed in what I’m doing, that I jump when the timer rings.  I don’t sit there wanting to look at the timer or wondering when it will ever ring.  No more getting bored or impatient.  Now I’m surprised that a whole 20 minutes has gone by.

I think these new openings are coming from some place deep inside, some place far out of consciousness where I have finally been able to integrate my new learnings.  I have been reading my journal from a year ago and am struck by how many new realizations I was having.  For example, really getting it that my depression is not my fault.  But I was disappointed that this new understanding didn’t change how I felt.  Now I see that feelings/emotions are not very important.  I tend to think they are very important, that they give me information about how I am now.  But the truth is that my emotions are too often triggered by some reminder of my painful past.  What tells me the truth about how I am now, is the felt sense in my body.  The felt sense of “sturdiness” that allowed me to pick a different CD and put it on.  Though I’m not aware of doing it consciously, I just take the action spontaneously, and then realize it’s something I haven’t been able to do for a long time.

This is healing from the bottom up.  It’s a process that’s completely out of my control.  I can’t make it happen, I have to allow it to happen.

“Sturdy” is a new word for me, at least applied to myself.  My friend Elizabeth used it to say what she heard in my voice as I was telling her about these changes.

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Full of Wounds and Still on my Feet

This morning, whenever I stop writing, I’m in a place of emptiness.  I feel like I have absolutely nothing to write about.  I suppose I could see it as the creative void instead of being scared of it.  It’s basically the same as meditation.  Why am I scared of it?  It makes me feel insubstantial, like I’m not really here.  I think Krista Tippett says something about that, maybe even in the conversation with Bessel van der Kolk.

Van der Kolk “The big issue for traumatized people is they don’t own themselves any more.  Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves.  And so what we have learned is that what makes you resilient to trauma is to own yourself fully.” p88

What I see is that what brings me down, what “hijacks” me, is not just someone insulting me.  I was thinking that I was getting there (wherever “there” is) when I saw that what I was sad about were things happening out there, and it wasn’t about me the way depression is.  But now I’m seeing that I got hijacked by “Hillbilly Elegy.”  I am seeing that, as in my childhood, I still feel that it’s my fault when anything bad happens, and it’s me alone who has to take care of it.  I can see that the hillbilly book hijacked me because it looks like a difficulty, a culturally engrained group of dysfunctional behaviors, that no “program” can help, and I don’t see anybody who is helping, and that makes me feel like I’m supposed to do it, but I can’t, and so I feel bummed out, helpless, and discouraged.

Brené Brown said something like “remember a time when you thought the obstacles were bigger than you could succeed against, but you managed to.”  Going back to the quote I see that it was “coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath.”  p251  I’m interested to see that I seem to see evidence for me being some kind of weakling, unable to beat the odds, instead of seeing that she was talking about surviving things you didn’t think you could survive.  Instead of seeing that I actually survived, I see myself getting defeated and running away over and over again.  Actually I made most of those “running away” decisions — like going to Europe the year after I graduated from college, going out to California a couple of years later, coming back East — those decisions were made out of desperation.  I wanted to find someone who would love me, and I wanted to find some way I could make a livable life for myself.

What I’m remembering, but can’t find the original, had something to do with identifying your strengths that you were able to get through something you didn’t feel you could get through.  I couldn’t think of a time when I had done that.  What I remember is what Kazantzakis said “Did I win or lose?  All I know is I am full of wounds and still on my feet.”  I do know that the many times I collapsed and “gave up,” something in me, usually a day later, got me up on my feet again.  I call her the tough little drip that just wouldn’t quit.

I remember when I used to see how I got through my life as though I were walking through a blizzard.  Somewhere somehow I knew that I couldn’t lay down, though I had forgotten why.  I said to myself “Now put your right foot forward, now put your left foot forward…”  I remember watering the plants when I was terrified out of my wits by a bad reaction to Paxil, and holding on to the stream of water because I had to hold on to something and that’s all there was.

What Brené Brown actually said was “Think of the last time you did something that you thought was really brave.” p248  I do things I don’t think are brave, just make myself do them, and then other people tell me I’m brave.  People tell me that those decisions I made out of desperation were courageous.

Brené Brown:  “C.R. Snyder’s work … shows that hope is a function of struggle. … hope is not an emotion.  Hope is a cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when people have faith in our ability to get out of a jam.” p250

I’m interested that she doesn’t say you have the faith in your ability, it’s when others can see it.  Your belief in yourself is relational.

As I write this, I see that when I saw myself as defeated over and over again, the truth was that I was up against PTSD, a truly huge and undefeatable monster.  To be still on my feet is an achievement.

I remember a quote from Rilke that David Whyte reads:

Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

All the quotes, except the one from Kazantzakis (which I’ve memorized), are from Krista Tippett’s new book: Becoming Wise, an inquiry into the mystery and art of living.

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Pictures of Little Jenny

Wednesday, March 1

Tough morning.  Very hard to get up.  I’m feeling grief — but it’s more stuck grief — o god do I have to do this again?  I prayed for help but nothing came.  Yesterday’s session with Erica was very difficult.  We looked at the pictures of me as a child, of Mom & me when I was a baby, of the whole family.  There’s one picture, I think it’s 7th or 8th grade, my hair has obviously been set in pin curls, and the face is so vulnerable.  She looks so sad and unprotected.  I would look at that picture, or Little Jenny with the Dar Gorani look, or the other little jenny with the open face, and my body would contract with grief, and I would start sobbing.  I can feel the pain now.  It’s more in my gut than in my heart.  I feel like a mother who lost those children.  They never got to grow up.


Little Jenny

Little Jenny with the Dar Gorani look

Jenny at 12

 


I don’t feel very connected to the younger pictures of me.  Even though I’ve been looking at them all week.

The pain has moved to my heart.  I don’t know what to do with this pain except sit with it.  It’s connected to looking at those three pictures — but am I feeling their sadness, or my own sadness knowing how much pain they are growing up into?  Especially the vulnerable one.  It hurts so much to see how easily she will be hurt.  I look at her budding breasts and wonder if this is when Daddy was molesting me.  That look could be that she’s understood that he’s not doing it because he loves her, that she can’t protect herself, that she’s not worthy of a loving person, but only for the sleazy ones to exploit.

I told Erica that the piece I had written to Stravinsky was very dark, and I told her as much as I could remember of the Thomas Wolfe.  I said I thought all those were about how I was feeling inside, but I didn’t know it.  She said you knew it, but you didn’t know you knew it.  I was thinking just now about Judy Collins’ Albatross, and the Song of the Wandering Aengus.  I’m seeing now, that these expressions of pain come from a world where there are spirits, and spiritual energy, but there’s no overarching universal Spirit that is loving and good.  Where there are all kinds of emotions and feelings but no solid ground, no connections.  No connection.  That’s what’s missing in the songs, and even in the young Jenny faces.  In the earlier ones, she is still hopeful of finding what she wants and needs, but it’s not near her now, but in the sad and vulnerable one she’s lost hope.

I sit with the pain some more, and then I want to throw my arms around the vulnerable one and comfort her.

When the pain’s in my stomach, it’s about safety.  When it’s in my heart, it’s about love.  As I’m writing this I have a sense of a big container that’s holding all of it.  I’m glad that’s there, even though I don’t connect with it, other than to sense its presence.

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A Co-dependent Child

The original title of this post was about my denial.  Fairly soon after I had saved the first draft, I realized that it wasn’t really denial.  Denial is when you are faced with evidence, but refuse to believe it.  The refusal is not conscious.  If you’re in denial, you don’t know it.  You truly believe that you are not an alcoholic, even though your life is falling apart.  What took me so long was not denial, but lack of information, compounded by my mother’s refusal to acknowledge my pain.  I once told my mother that I was being teased by classmates, and she said “Ignore them.”  I didn’t even know what the word “ignore” meant.  My pain was invisible to her and so it was invisible to me and without cause, so I believed I was defective.

Denial was why it took so long for me to accept how damaged I was.  I was the oldest child of five, and both our parents were alcoholics.  I was given far too much responsibility for the younger kids.  I was expected to do things that were way beyond the abilities of a child.  Mama Greene told us a story of when Mom & Dad wanted to go to a cocktail party, and the babysitter fell through.  So I was left alone, at 7 years old, to care for 3 yr old Jack, 2 yr old Josephine and infant Jesse.  When I told my friend Beverly about it she was horrified.  She pointed to her daughter and said “Olivia is seven.  Leaving a child alone like that is illegal now.”  It surprised me to see that Olivia was just a child.  I had no image of myself as a child.

I remember learning to cook hamburgers for my younger siblings when I was left to babysit at our summer house in Maine.  I was 12 years old and no one had ever taught me how to cook.  The first batch of hamburgers were burned on the outside and raw on the inside.  The next time I babysat I tried again.  This time they were not burned but thoroughly overcooked.  Finally on the third try, I managed something tasty.  After I had got the kids fed and into bed, the sun had set and the sky was darkening.  I remember feeling alone in an empty house, feeling bleak, unwanted, and alone.  I imagined that my life would never be more than this, looking after someone else’s children and then being alone.  I called it “that twilight feeling.”  There was no support for my intelligence or my creativity.  Years later, when I finally understood that I was depressed, my therapist asked what was my first memory of depression.  I started describing “that twilight feeling,” and realized that it was exactly what I now knew was depression.

These experiences left me with a life-long sense of inadequacy about all the practical tasks that were part of living.  The only place I didn’t feel inadequate was at school.  I was very intelligent and got good grades.  All the way through grade school I thought everyone got A’s.  I was surprised in Junior High when I was first made aware that it wasn’t true.

I did well in school, graduated from Wellesley college with honors.  (This is the person my parents thought only good enough to babysit.)  I had no idea what to do with my life, so I thought perhaps I might go to Europe.  I mentioned it at the dinner table in my dorm and a classmate said “I’d love to go with you.”  Only now do I realize how lucky I was that she wanted to do it too.  We planned a trip that started in Ireland and went all the way to Greece and back.  As we interacted with people in different countries, I discovered that Bettie had good social skills and I had none at all.  This became more evidence for how inadequate I was.  I had no idea it was due to lack of teaching and modeling, I believed that I had been born defective.  I remember watching other people to see when it was OK to eat, always waiting for someone else to start.  I was horribly embarrassed as a teenager, at a dinner party given in my honor at a country club.  We all sat around the table, food in front of us, not eating until an adult (not my parents) came and told me that, as hostess, I had to be the one to start.  (One of the characteristics of Children of Alcoholics is “guesses at what is normal.”)

Another thing that happened with Bettie was that I would say and do things that puzzled her greatly.  I said that I had taken math and science because I was good at them.  She said with astonishment “You don’t take courses because you’re good at them.”  Another time she told me I didn’t have to lose my temper.  She was right, I even said it to my father one day far in the future.  But Bettie’s puzzlement I interpreted as criticism, and when I came back after the year abroad I felt exhausted and a failure.

I spent the next year at home with my parents.  An Aunt, who was a supporter of the Natural History Museum told me that they were looking for someone to help in the Planetarium.  I really loved the work, I loved teaching, I loved running the machine.  It was during this year that a school friend came for lunch.  Mother drifted in and out of the pantry in her usual fashion and Susan asked “How long has your mother had a problem with alcohol?”  The lights went on, that’s what it was.  Denial would have said “What problem with alcohol?”  Not that I even began to guess what that had done to me.  I still thought I was defective.

The next year I tried what co-dependents know as the “geographical cure.”  I went out to California, to the Bay Area, where another Aunt had been trying to get me to come for years.  I got into Stanford, I even had a fellowship for the MAT program: Master of Arts in Teaching, and I would do it in Earth Sciences.  I loved Geology, and did well at it, but going to school with men was too much for me.  As I had done earlier the few times I met a guy, I fell in love with one after another, who either didn’t know I existed, or dropped me after one date.  I had no idea how vulnerable I was, and that I had never learned the skills for negotiating relationships.  It was the 60’s and I was swept away by the rebellious intellectual ferment.  I dropped out of Stanford, giving up my fellowship, not wanting to be part of the “Evil Establishment.”  Because I had a small independent income, I didn’t need to get a job to support myself.  I had several emotional breakdowns, which no one saw as such because I wasn’t working or in school so no one noticed.  I did start seeing a therapist, and I’ve been seeing them on and off for most of my life.

While I was in California, not realizing how badly I had been wounded, I took lots of “Personal Growth” workshops, but I continued to have difficulty with relationships. I met a man on some computer dating scheme.  I didn’t like him that much, but I was desperate for security so I moved in.  I made myself believe that I loved him.  Eventually I was forced to see that the relationship wasn’t working.  I fled to my friend Kathi who lived in Oakland.  She offered sanctuary with her parents, who couldn’t have been kinder.  They let me have a room to myself, fed me, and asked nothing of me.

Kathi moved to Davis to go to Nursing School, and I followed her.  The environmental movement was just gearing up — it was 1970 — and I was invited to be part of a team that was exploring computer modeling of biological systems.

Looking back, I can see that if I had wanted a career, I could have easily found one in Planetarium work — the San Francisco Planetarium hired me to teach a class, and I was even allowed to run their beautiful machine.  Or, I could have had a career in the growing environmental movement.  I remember Dr. Watt saying of my Wellesley degree, “They taught you how to think.”  It was all too much for me.  I got overwhelmed, got into another bad relationship in my desperate search for security, and finally had a breakdown that landed me in the University Health Center.

I used to feel guilty for the luxury of not having to have a job.  What I didn’t know, until I began to work with PTSD, was that I would never have been able to work a 40-hour week.  If I had not had an independent income, I would probably be in a mental hospital, or dead.

Previous posts on Denial:
Denial and Science
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