Lately my life has felt much like the I Love Lucy episode in which she and Ethel are working at a candy factory and their job is to wrap the bon bons as they initially coast and then speed down the conveyer belt. They are doing well in the beginning and then the pace is picked up. Knowing that they can’t possibly keep up, they stuff the sweet treats into their mouths and then down their shirts and in their chef’s hats. Rather than admit that they are challenged by the expectations and risk being fired, they pretend that they can do it. When the demanding supervisor comes in, she doesn’t suspect what they were up to and tells them that they are doing a “splendid job” and yells “Speed it up!” to the person sending the candy through.
I pride myself on being able to keep on keepin’ on in the face of whatever shows up. Today it was my son calling from the road while making pizza deliveries because he had a tire blow out in the rain. It got resolved when my friend David who I called who earned his angel wings for the next month at least, came to assist and get him back on track. It showed up in the form of my sister telling me she wasn’t feeling well and her BP was still low, following a heart attack on Saturday which meant she wasn’t being discharged home tomorrow. It came with the conversation she and I had, in which she told me she was concerned that I, like she, had a hard time saying no when people asked things of me and it could lead to the situation she found herself in. Both of us are amply aware that ‘no’ is a complete sentence and are becoming every more facile with expressing it. It arrived with more, albeit, satisfying things to do in my work as a writer and speaker. A friend asked me to collaborate with him in teaching workshops and we are scheming ideas. All of these things are what I have asked for and they are indeed responding at an ever more rapid pace….thus far I haven’t stuffed any metaphorical candy down my shirt or into a hat…maybe I’ve nibbled a few.
Tonight I was speaking my wise friend Ondreah who was pointing out ways that I shut down emotions in the service of avoiding looking at the mess that comes along with this human package. I sometimes experience sadness to which I don’t give voice because I reason that it would keep me from checking off tasks on my ever growing list, as if the world would cease to spin if I fully engage my feelings. I responded that my writing is a way to process emotions and she still feels that it is a way of avoiding real feelings since I “still doing it alone.” The justifying part of me calls out that I am sharing my observations with the world, rather than stuffing them. “Yeah, but…..they are observations, not emotions”, cries the little one inside whose Mommy and Daddy used to be here to comfort and ease the ouchies. Since they have died, ‘she’ has been in the background watching as the adult part of me has taken on my mother’s role of being ‘the rock’ who could handle any crisis; except my mom would add that she would “fall apart afterward.” The strange thing is that I never saw her do that. She always seemed to remain steadfast. When crises have occurred in my life, I just tick them off the list, like being at a customer service counter. I have told clients/patients over the years that in the midsts of their seemingly overwhelming issues, they could imagine being behind that counter and have their challenged line up in front of it. “How many people can you serve at once?”, I would sweetly ask, to which they would respond, “One.” And yet, I often attempt to offer support, service, ideas, resolution, healing to multiple people at a time, fully expecting that I can do them all justice and feeling a bit like a failure if I don’t. Even as I type these words at 3:28 a.m. on a blustery, rainy last day of January night, I know how preposterous that is. And yet, as Ondreah in her lovingly kick ass manner, reminded me, I keep calling out “Next, next, next…” ticking off the things that show up and not taking time to just sit with my heartbeat and simply BE.
Over the past week or so, I have written about these very things in the Bliss Blog. Life Gets Lifey (January 29th) and Wake Up Call (January 27th) have been the containers for some of the spillage. I have been in this mode for the several years and wonder how to safely and easily get off the conveyer belt. Humor helps, speaking with friends, turning it over to God, reaching out, asking for and being willing to receive support, and yes, writing about my journey keep me from having to resort to eating too much chocolate.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI I Love Lucy
Today as I was facilitating a recovery group at my ‘day job’ as an addictions counselor and going around the circle as people were checking in and sharing how things had been for them since our last meeting, one of the men said “Life was pretty lifey this week.” Knowing laughter ensued, since everyone there had experienced what he was talking about. I call it “life stuff happening.” For me this week, it was job, laundry, coaching clients, recording session and prep for my soon to be launching radio show, gym time, relationships, bills to pay, snow to shovel, grocery shopping to do, phone calls to return, workshops to plan and promote, articles to write, a class to teach yesterday and another workshop this coming Saturday, emails to answer and then add to that, car repairs, heater challenges in the midsts of the coldest days this winter AND my sister’s health crisis (she had a heart attack on Saturday that thank God, she survived and from which she is recovering) all added up to life getting pretty lifey around here too. So, what’s a type A (allegedly recovering), get- it- done, functionally manic, Wonder Woman aspirant to do? Honor where she is in the process at any given moment. I had come home from teaching a class on co-dependence for a group of Social Workers, feeling both accomplished and spent. I felt I had given it all I had, wrung myself out like a sponge, was in creative flow and ready for a nap. I didn’t even go to the gym as I had planned, wanting nothing more on that drizzly night, than to curl up under the blankies. And so I did.
How rarely do you honor your need for self care? I was speaking with someone recently about the difference between being selfish and offering good self care. My idea is that someone who is selfish feels that he or she is only one whose needs are to be met and that a sense of entitlement goes along with it. Someone who provides self care does so, not only for their own benefit, but when that occurs, they are better able to be of service to others. It is an infinity symbol, a interwoven tapestry, an endless loop tape.
I was reminded of the man on the Ed Sullivan Show who was adept at spinning plates. Erich Brenn’s gift still dazzles me when I watch it on You Tube. There are times when my life looks just like that as I get one aspect twirling and then move rapidly to the next thing on my list, keeping a watchful eye on the most recent symbolic plate. It can get exhausting. I envy people who either have fewer objects in the air or who are more talented than I am at keeping them in motion without dropping or at least breaking them. Maybe they have paper plates or Corel dishes.
What do you when life gets lifey?
http://youtu.be/Zhoos1oY404 Erich Brenn – Ed Sullivan Show
Everyone should have a mentor; someone to inspire them, to challenge them, to hold them accountable and help them laugh their way through life challenges. I am blessed to have one such in the form of a British born, Brixton raised, humor driven thriver who has been through life stuff that might make you wonder how she remains, as I like to say ‘sane and vertical’. Dr. Yvonne Kaye, uses humorous anecdotes as an antidote for whatever ails you; body, mind and spirit. In addition to being a psychologist, she is an interfaith minister, educator, author, speaker and former radio talk show host. For many years, she had a Phildelphia based Saturday night sojourn on 96.5 (WWDB). Her listeners would gather, as if around a campfire and listen to her wisdom, call in and share theirs, ask questions, offer prayers. When Michael was in the ICU in the last month and a half of his life, Yvonne would ask for prayers for him and we would receive cards and letters from her listeners who had never laid eyes on us, but offered their love. Her specialties are addictions recovery, women’s empowerment, loss and grief, working with parents of murdered children and spirituality. She has been a companion through many a dark forest with her clients.
I like to say that she ‘kicked my butt into recovery from co-dependence’ and got me into treatment for my savior behavior and chronic people pleasing ways. She used to tell me, whilst in the throes of it, that “discipline is freedom”. “Huh?,” my airy fairy, cosmic foo foo social worker self queried. “Whatchooo talkin’ bout?” my incredulous, I don’t wanna be in a box, rebel spouted out. She explained that within structure and a framework, we can create all of the magic we want. Not sure she used those words, but it is how I chose to take it in. I use that invaluable concept all these years later.
This past Sunday, Yvonne spoke at Circle of Miracles on the subject of New Wisdom: The Power of Laughter. No surpise that this seasoned woman who says she is not aging, but instead is ‘ripening’, had us rolling in the aisles. She finds that too many people are ‘terminally serious’ and she is inspired by two doctors who offered a dose of humor in healing; Dr. Seuss and Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The first a profoundly wise poet, the second an icon in the field of thanatology (death and dying).
One of the places Yvonne used to offer her own brand of rowdy, raucous irreverence is in the prison system. She regaled us with a story about what happens when American English and British English collide. In the midst of a session with a group of inmates in a maximum security setting known as Graterford (if you are in the Philly area, you know the kind of place we are talking about), she noticed they were “apathetic” and not paying attention to what she was saying. Turns out that there was a basketball game on that they would much rather have been watching than to sit there and listen to her…imagine that?! She then said that if they weren’t going to be attentive, she would just pack up and leave and see them next week. As a parting comment, she said “Keep your peckers up,” which sent them into roaring laughter. One of the guards came in and asked what was going on and she repeated what she had said. His response was “We want them to keep them down.” and Yvonne couldn’t understand why, since it is British slang for “Keep your chin up.” He explained that in America, it referred to something a bit farther down the body. Fast forward a few years and Yvonne is standing on the street in Philadelphia with a professonal colleague. Three of the former inmates who had been paroled were standing across the street, spotted her and called out “Hey, Yvonne, how’s your pecker?” At that, I think she said the man to whom she had been talking, walked away, she imagined, wondering if she had been hiding something from him and if what you see isn’t what you get, with her. They treated her to lunch after that and they all had good laugh about it.
When Yvonne became ordained as a minister via The New Seminary, where I attended as well, she chose to refer to herself as the Irreverent Reverend. That she is as she looks at life, including her losses (a daughter with MS, a grandson with Tuberous Sclerosis, sons in-law who have had Cancer, and her Life Partner who has three different types of Cancer, herself with Arthritis) through the lens of happiness, not just in spite of, but also BECAUSE of her challenges. She teaches by example and is as real as they get.
Many blessings on you, Irrev Rev.
Yesterday, a life changing event occurred. My 51 year old sister called to tell me that she had, in her words “a mild heart attack”, which, as it turned out, was indeed, as she corrected as “a big boy”, that could have taken her out of her corporeal existence, had she not had guardian angels looking out for her. Perhaps my parents who are on the Other Side, had a hand in keeping her around as well. I was shocked, but not surprised, as bizaarre as that sounds. The possibility had been there and building for years and as much as I believe in the power of thought and intention, her circumstances may have felt like they were closing in on her, just as the artery that needed propping up with a stent was constricted. Her husband has had ever worsening health problems and as is the learned way in our family, she kept on keepin’ on, running back and forth to the various hospitals in which he was getting care, maintaining a full time job in retail sales, and doing the daily household chores with the support of my teenaged nephew and (when she is home from college) young adult niece. This morning, after the procedure, she is in the ICU and is recovering, surrounded with the love and prayers of those who know her and those who know of her via the marvels of modern technology and the phenom of Facebook. I posted a call for healing energy in whatever form people had to offer and the response came pouring in. People love to pray for others and feel as if they can make a difference, so all who are reading this are invited to join us.
It occurred to me that this is a wake up call in so many ways, beyond the obvious need for her to slow down. Our mother’s death certificate diagnosis was CHF (congestive heart failure) two and half years after our father passed, but I think she really died of a broken heart. The heart is a resilient muscle in the biological sense but also in the emotional sense. Jan is adept at opening her heart to others, but when it comes to self compassion and love, not so much. Our parents modeled taking care of others, sometimes to the neglect of their own wellbeing and she and I learned all too brilliantly from their example. It is so insidious and sneaky that I sometimes am not even aware that I am doing it and I wonder if it is the same for her. It doesn’t feel intentional most of the time, yet there are moments during which I think, “Oh, I’ll just get by with a little less sleep or rush through dinner, so I can get this other task done.” There is a certain degree of hypocrisy in that, since I teach people about good self care that I don’t always exhibit.
I saw my sister today and when I walked into the ICU room of a suburban South Jersey hospital, she was garbed in fancy hospital finery, being a lady of leisure in a lounge chair with all kinds of tubes connected to various body parts. Monitors did their jobs keeping track of her vital functions. She regaled me with tales of the adventure that lead her to this point. I wagged my finger at her; the first of several times in the three hours we spent together, since she had waited more than 4 hours from the onset of the symptoms until she called 911. When I was leaving, I reminded her that I was still the big sister, even though smaller in stature than she is, and I could kick her butt if she didn’t take care of herself and stopping running herself ragged. She winked and said, “You could now.”
Ironically, I am teaching a class tomorrow for social workers on co-dependence and boundary setting. So much of the ‘savior behavior’ that co-dependents exhibit, grows out of the denial of self care. What if we took as much time and energy to nurture the woman or man in the mirror as we do our loved ones? Nothing selfish about it and if caring for others is a priority, it will enable you to show up even that much more fully for those in your life. As I like to remind folks ‘you can’t give whatcha don’t got’.
Please don’t wait for your own kind of wake up call to pay attention to what your heart wants you to know.