Defeated by Greater and Greater Beings

First there was trauma, followed by PTSD, before my brain and nervous system matured.

Then lack of mirroring and mis-representation by a narcissistic mother.

Then the usual damage by Alcoholic parents.

Then being a Highly Sensitive Person in a toxic environment.

Then being a very intelligent female in a sexist culture, therefore scary to men.

I was fortunate that I thought my problems were because I was defective, and I was rich enough that I could see good therapists starting in my twenties.  I have spent my whole life in therapy, trying to understand and fix myself or heal myself, hoping that I would finally “have a life.”

But, due to lack of energy because of aging and chronic fatigue syndrome, I am finally defeated.  I am losing ground, and the final defeat, Death, will be a relief.

I debated about whether to post this, since it sounds pretty bleak and despairing.  But I remembered the line in the poem that says “this is how he grows” and wonder if I have grown at all during this struggle that is my life.  And I am reminded that my favorite holiday is coming up, the Winter Solstice, the rebirth of light when things are at their darkest.  Right now the nights are longer than the days, and they are still getting longer. But in about three weeks, the days will start getting longer, even though it won’t really show for another twelve days or so. So I hold tight to my faith that turnarounds are possible, and that we are all part of a bigger process that is beyond our powers of comprehension.

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Do the failures matter?

I’ve actually been feeling better since I acknowledged that I’m too tired to do much of anything, and stopped making myself wrong for not getting things done.  Stopped pushing myself.

from my journal Wednesday, November 25

Another amazing talk with Erica.  I came out of it accepting that once again I’m trying to do too much, more than I have energy for.  Seeing yet again that I have failed to live as “wild, wide, and creative a life” as I have gifts for.  Do I still matter?  Do the failures matter?  What about the person on the back ward, stunned with drugs?  What I see now is that that person still matters, that their “failure” is a consequence of an unfair system, not a character flaw.

I sit here, one hand open, holding my heavy head, one hand closed, holding the pen like a weapon, like a hypodermic.

I write, I type, I post.  This is my existence.

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

The last lines are from a poem by Rilke.  I think I must have heard them on a CD by David Whyte, but am not sure.  They are the end of a long poem.

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Non-Relationship with Mother

I went back to look for the Thanksgiving in 1991 to find out why we hadn’t joined the rest of the family in Florida.  I don’t mention that, just that we did spend Thanksgiving with Dana’s parents.  But I did find this other entry which really struck me for its illustration of my relationship — or non-relationship — with my mother.

November 27, 1991       (day before Thanksgiving)
Jo and Jerry were angry at Mom for having the operation without telling us.  (Jerry said “you could have died”.  Mom said “It’s just routine”.  Jerry said “Dad nearly died.”  Mom claimed it wasn’t true, and Jerry had to check with Jesse to be sure he wasn’t crazy.)  I told Jo how I felt cut off from any feelings of sympathy I might have expressed.  Jo said Mom had told her that she was talking to me every week, enjoying it, that she was “so cheerful that she can’t be in a bad mood.”  Jo wasn’t sure she had the words right but it sounds like mom to take credit for a change in my behavior.  I’m interested that she seems to have perceived a change that as far as I can see is entirely internal (namely I’ve given up my anger and stopped trying to change her).  I don’t think my outward behavior is any different.  And it amuses the hell out of me, or kills me, or something, that she can call suicidal depression, the rage and grief of an abandoned child “a bad mood”.  I remember my struggles with “bad moods” when I was a teenager, but of course no one tried to give me any guidance.  What am I left with?  Slight feelings of hurt that Mom can so miss the point, but mainly validation for my decision to keep her at arm’s length.  It’s sad that she sees it as an improvement.  She’s delighted that I’m finally behaving like a proper daughter, all cheerful and superficial, and I’m sad because I have finally given up trying to have a more meaningful relationship with her.  At least I don’t have to feel guilty because she’s hurt that I’ve pulled back & don’t share myself with her.  Yes, that accounts for my astonished sense of amusement and relief.  It’s been painful to me, reading old journals, to see how often my responses to her have missed the boat, how they look inappropriate or even crazy when looked at from outside.  Of course, the journal records just the words, not the tone of voice.  But I think what she wanted/expected was a more conventional response, not my anguished efforts toward truth or deeper engagement.  Now I’m feeling bad that I failed to see the more conventional aspects of the situation and give a more appropriate response.  I think I’m going to have to hunt these down and find a way to validate or forgive myself.  I suppose I’m angry at myself for failing to be more mature; since our relationship has always been one of roles reversed, I still think of myself as the older wiser one, the one who “should have known better”, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t.  Sigh.  So I’m still angry at myself for not being a better adult when I was a child.

Note the gaslighting Jerry talks about.

I think the operation she refers to must have been a hysterectomy.  Her mastectomy must have been some years later, by which time I knew exactly what to say.

The Story of My Mother and Breast Cancer
I didn’t know she had breast cancer until she called me and said: “I found a lump and I went to my doctor and I had a mastectomy and I’m fine now.” Knowing from painful experience that she would not want sympathy, I hesitated a moment.  Finally I said “You sound fine, Mother.”

I wrote this in a retreat with Deena Metzger, it appears in the Alternative Version of my life in “about Jenny Deupree.”

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What I learned from the Retreat

This was written the day after the final day of the Courage and Renewal Retreat. Normally, when I post things I’ve written in my journal, I either edit them, or add material to explain some of the references.  Today I’m too tired.

From my journal for Sunday, November 22

I started yesterday feeling despairing.  No one tried to talk me out of it, they just listened without judgment.  We were told to wander outside, or inside, look at something, then turn around and look at something else.  Try to see them in a different way.  I looked at the various works of art hanging on my walls: Amazing Grace, the big green painting, the tiny sewn collages, Judy Brubaker’s turtle shield, the objects in my hanging box.  I took the pomegranate, thinking of the Armenians, and the forced marches into the desert.  Then we were to do 5 minutes of “spontaneous writing,” what I call “keep the pen moving” —> there’s a story: Laurie’s “two minute writing.”  The pomegranate pointed me to Persephone, and I wrote a piece that’s similar to one I’ve written before about my journey in the underworld.  Then they played a piece of music called “with my own two hands.”  What is there I can do for the world with my own two hands?  Teaching sacred dance and creating ceremonies is no longer an option.  Aging and chronic fatigue have made just getting through the day difficult, and I’m losing ground.  Unless I can find ways to nurture myself, things I can do that give back more energy than they take, I can’t possibly do more than I’m already doing.  What am I already doing with my own two hands?  I’m writing this journal.  And then typing it up.  And then, if it’s relevant, posting it to my blog.  This is my line in the sand.  I take my stand in my truth, and the only thing that can move me is truth itself.

I was thinking that it’s because I inherited money that I had the privilege of being in therapy, of living to write my story instead of killing myself or ending on the back ward of a mental hospital, filled with drugs.  But it’s also true that the “privilege” of wealth did not buy me a comfortable life, or only materially comfortable: enough food, a roof over my head, a reliable car.  I look at Eleanor’s struggle with the bureaucracy and see how it takes every scrap of her energy to keep going.  Finding help for healing is not an option for her.  But the truth is: I write in my journal, type it up, use it as raw material for my blog because I can’t not do it.  Even when I question what’s the point I don’t stop writing, typing, or posting.  I post the question.  I say yes, I’m in despair, this is what it looks/feels like for me.

When I realized that the loss of truth in the present crisis is what bothers me the most, that I have always let go of an old truth and gone for a bigger one whenever one came along, I saw that what I can’t forgive my mother for was her denial of the truth, her refusal to listen to the little IRNK inside that warns you, her drowning truth in alcohol.

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Persephone, revisited

from journal for Saturday, November 21

This was the second full day of the Courage & Renewal Retreat described in an earlier post:

We were told to wander around outside or inside your space, find things that are beautiful, find yourself seeing them in new ways.  On a shelf in my bedroom, I found a pottery pomegranate, given to me by a woman who researches and teaches traditional women’s ritual dances.  It was broken and glued back together. 

Pomegranate — Persephone cast her ear to the great below.  It wasn’t any rape by Hades, it was her choice.  She went down, down, under  — go down under and through — came from a dream, a powerful dream. so I went down and Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds while she was down there.  So Demeter searched for her daughter and while she searched and mourned nothing grew upon the earth.  The people began to starve.  So they went to Zeus and prayed him to make Hades give up Persephone —     o but that was the patriarchal version.  In the myth of Inanna, her angry sister killed her and she hung on the meathook until Ninshubur, her trusted secretary, one of the “essential workers”, knew what to do.  So the weird little hermaphrodite critters echoed the sister’s pain and brought Inanna back to life.  As she walked back up the road from the underworld, she gathered the tokens of authority that she had let fall.  I notice that the pomegranate was broken and glued back together but there was a piece missing — “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  When she went down she was Kore the Maiden, but when she comes back she is Queen of the Underworld.  I have earned my PhD in PTSD.

The myth of Persephone has long been meaningful to me, especially when we started doing the Sacred Circle Dance Kore — a Greek word, meaning maiden, pronounced Core-ay.  I talk about it some way down in this post about the Grandmother Patches.

“There is a crack in everything..”  Words by Leonard Cohen, from a Hasidic tale about cracked vessels.

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From my journal for Friday, November 20

I wish I didn’t wake up in the morning feeling so tired and discouraged and meaningless.  “May all beings be held in lovingkindness.”  But I have no sense of love, or kindness, or the vast compassion Elizabeth Goudge talks about.  There are people dying of COVID and insisting it’s cancer.  People believing and spreading any number of lies and disinformation.  I guess that’s what hurts the most — the mangling of truth, of integrity.  I once vowed allegiance to the God of Love, even if the God of Power was stronger.  I suppose it’s time to renew that vow, even in the teeth of the evidence that Power is winning.  Of course, Power isn’t winning, because Power is destroying everything worthwhile, and it will all end in darkness.  I’m sitting here, physically comfortable and helpless to change the fact that the ship is sinking.  That’s what it looks like, right now, from here.

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Losing Ground

I’ve been losing ground since I first stopped changing the hangings at Neskaya eight times a year, for the holidays of the Ancient Nature Religion of Western Europe.  I didn’t even notice when that began to happen, I guess I was focussed on getting through one day at a time.  I was mostly spending my energy on healing from trauma, which involved three therapy sessions a week, and a lot of emotional pain.  At least I still had Neskaya across the road, exercise and yoga classes once a week, circle dancing once a week.  Kayla was teaching every other week, so that made my load less, but I remember when I began to just teach old favorites.  Dances I really knew well didn’t require any preparation.  I also did very simple centerpieces.  My spirits were still being lifted by two hours of circle dances.  I could start teaching depressed, and feel much better by break time.  So I think I didn’t notice that it was costing me more and more to teach.  The last time I taught, after I moved to Kendal, I was fine while teaching, but when it was over I almost fainted.  I could barely put food in her dish for my dog.  Fortunately, I was going back to spend the night at a friend’s house, and she took care of supper.

All the work of moving further exhausted me.  Fortunately I had help, and I didn’t have to sell the house right away.  Once I got here, I finally started paying attention to my therapist who kept saying “You are BEYOND the end of your resources.”  I hoped that being here, with meals provided, exercise classes, and no extra demands, that I could begin to recover.  I think I was starting to when I found that just having dinner with a bunch of friends, even if the conversation wasn’t particularly interesting, began to feel comfortable.  I think it was being so depressed for so much of my life that made me very uncomfortable with small talk.  Only meaningful conversation would engage me, otherwise I felt the time was wasted.  Erica pointed out that, as I recovered from having pushed myself unmercifully for most of my life, I began to be supported by ordinary things: ordinary conversation, ordinary hanging out doing not much, going to movies and concerts put on here in the community.

But alas, the pandemic stopped all those things.  No dinner with other people, no exercise classes, no movies unless you had a TV — actually I guess I could even watch movies online — at least we started doing Quaker Meeting on Zoom, so I still had that.  At first I was able to feel energetic connection while on Zoom.  But gradually it began to be apparent that I really need to be present with other bodies, other nervous systems.  When your own nervous system is dis-regulated, being with a calm person will help you calm down.  Because of very early trauma, I need this help on a regular basis.  Bessel Van der Kolk says that what heals trauma is “touch, rhythm, and movement.”  Folk dance, and then circle dance, have been doing this for me for years.

So now I am getting more and more tired, having trouble sleeping.  My body is beginning to hurt on a regular basis.  My brain often ceases to function when faced with even an ordinary task.  Today, even after a reasonable night’s sleep, I woke tired.  Walking Mocha I felt like I was a diffuse cloud, not something with solid muscles.  Instead of brewing a cup of decaf, I just heated up a cup of regular, brought back from the dining room last night.  That has kept me going during the half hour it’s taken me to type this.  I am feeling almost as without hope as I ever have.  What’s missing is the energy to feel really deeply.  I don’t know how I’m going to be able to keep getting through the day.

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Major Trigger

I usually type up my journal about one month later.  It often gives me some perspective that I didn’t have when I wrote it.  Recently I typed up this:

from October 14
The part of me that’s behind my inability to get that what I’m already doing — my inner work — is important, is a baby who needs food, and no one is coming, no one is acting, mother is taking care of herself and neglecting the emergency.

I have been going through a period of Election exhaustion and COVID exhaustion, but what I see here is the major trigger of the “leader” of a country whose people need food and medical assistance, but no one is coming, no one is acting, he (helped by his enablers) is taking care of himself and neglecting the emergency.  And I, poor fool, get triggered into a state of “false urgency” — imagining that I have to do SOMETHING because the ones with the power are failing to take responsibility.

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The “Gift” of Life

I am doing a Retreat with the Courage and Renewal folks. It’s called “Tending to Our Grief in Autumn” and is similar to the one I did in person in Burlington last January.  Except that this one had to be on Zoom, and the leaders were in Denver and New York City.  The schedule, instead of being a weekend, was a few hours on Friday, November 13, 6 hours on Saturday, November 14, and 6 hours on Saturday, November 21.

In one typical exercise we were given a poem and some prompts, asked to write or draw or whatever for five minutes, and then share in a small breakout group.  Here is the poem and what I wrote.

The Thing Is  by ELLEN BASS

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

From my journal for Saturday, November 14

Courage & Renewal Retreat:
Be present with who I am right now: exhausted, sad,
close to tears
Saying “Yes” to life     ??  It’s like God.   Love life even
when it’s hard
Write or draw: what roots you, sustains you?      anchors you

Right now?  well the Stivell an dro and the landscape of Lewis/Callanish.  But I’m really having trouble with the poem by Ellen Bass ending with saying “yes” to life. 

It feels like being asked to be grateful for the “gift” of life    — it wasn’t a gift.  It came to me smashed.  It came to me with the expectation that I would cure my mother’s pain.  I never felt that my life was mine to do what I want to with.  It felt like I had to prove that I deserved it.  That’s not a gift.  That’s a bribe.  And it’s a bribe to be something I’m not.  I refuse to do that.  I refuse to be the person my mother wanted. a sycophant, who would tell her how wonderful she was, praise and believe her lies, never ask anything from her.

I read the last paragraph to two young women with a lot of fierce anger.

“An dro” is a Breton dance.
My problem with the “gift” of life is the same as my problem with “God.”  With trauma conditioning, the Universe is malevolent, Life is meaningless, and the self is unworthy.

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From post for October 2003:

The pain in my heart is so great — there’s something about this deep level that’s so difficult.  I suppose because I’m so practiced at making myself wrong and turning away from this kind of pain.
Did my best to sit and breathe with it for 20 minutes.  It’s very painful.  I understand better why people will do anything — keep busy, drink, abuse children — to avoid feeling this kind of pain.  I think this is the “soft spot” that Pema Chodron talks about.  It’s like an unhealed wound.  Part of the pain is the vulnerability — too open and sensitive, feeling only cold hostility or indifference — desperately wanting to be safe and warm and comforted and not seeing any possibility of that.

“It’s like an unhealed wound.  Part of the pain is the vulnerability — too open and sensitive, feeling only cold hostility or indifference — desperately wanting to be safe and warm and comforted and not seeing any possibility of that.”

One thing I’ve been finding very helpful is to go back and read old blog entries. I can finally see is how far I have come, how much healing I have done.  This particular description, “too open and sensitive, feeling only cold hostility or indifference,” I realize now, is exactly how sensitive Baby Jenny felt when cold narcissistic Mom left her alone.

The last time I felt any vestige of that was in December 2019, when I went to sit with Little Jenny in the Pit, and the Pit began to crumble.

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