Saturday, September 28, 2013

Waiting, or Living?

So much of my life was spent waiting, rather than living. As a child, I waited to be adopted, believing that when I was adopted, I would finally be happy, secure in a family of my own, loved, free of the fear and anxiety I felt being moved from pillar to post, one foster home after another. Back then, 50 years ago now, a child was moved from a foster home if it was felt that he or she was becoming too attached to the foster parent. This is an excellent way to create an adult incapable of commitment, for fear that the loved one will be snatched away, just as every person one dared to care for as a child was snatched away.

When finally adopted at the age of six, I realised very quickly that my new home was not going to be much of an improvement on the foster homes, because my adopted mother was a woman so full of rage and fear that she was unable to nurture or love a child. She used physical force to get her point across, and beat me regularly. I settled down to wait until I was sixteen, and could leave home.

 (It wasn't until I was an adult, sitting in the kitchen one day with my first husband's youngest daughter upon my lap, chatting to me about a movie she'd seen, and playing with my then waist-length hair, that it struck me how frail and delicate she was - her hands and wrists were tiny. I'd been told for many years that the beatings I suffered were my own fault, that I had caused them through my own choices. I took that information and internalised it, accepted it in some internal measuring place we all have. It wasn't until that day in my kitchen, that it struck me all at once - I had been about the size of the little girl in my arms,  and there was no way a child that age or size could have "deserved" the beatings that were administered to me. I just wasn't that "bad.")

When I left my adoptive home I quickly became involved with a raging alcoholic - my first husband. For ten years I hoped that he would change, and waited for things to improve, so I could be happy. It didn't happen, and I left that marriage no happier than I'd entered.

My second husband was a sober alcoholic, but not in recovery. His ego was the size of a mastodon, and I was miserable in that marriage, too. I had figured out very quickly, when he moved me to a town in which he'd lived before, where he felt comfortable and I knew no-one, that he didn't care how I felt, as long as he was content. I tried to work my Al-Anon program and accept my lot in life, but I had the feeling that there must be more to life, and to a relationship.

When I left that marriage a year and 3 months ago, I grieved for my little dog, whom I'd had for six years, but had to give back to the breeder. I knew I'd never be able to afford to look after her the way she deserved, since I was going to be living on a disability pension. I grieved for her, and for the death of my dear friend, who had died a few months prior to my leaving.

During that marriage, I had learned to find happiness in my friendships and my siblings, in gardening and art., but on some level, I was still waiting.

Alone, and once again living in the city I love and where I feel at home, I had begun to find a real happiness, and life was a wonderful adventure. I met Robert after almost a year, and we became first friends, and then as we realised how well matched we are, more than friends. I found myself eagerly anticipating the next time we got together, for the conversation was wide-ranging, our interests intersected in plants and gardening, and other areas of life, and we can make each other howl with laughter. I slowly, ever-so-slowly, allowed him access to the part of my character which had before then been closed away for over 50 years - my deepest feelings. I trust him completely, and it's an astounding feeling, this amazing trust. I had stopped waiting, because life had given me everything about which I'd dreamed.

We had 3 months of bliss uninterrupted, then I was diagnosed with cancer. I began once again to wait, but the waiting was of a very different kind this time around, because I have a partner who waits with me, for the tests to take place, and soon, for the results of the tests. I'll know on Oct 10th exactly what it is that I am facing, whether surgery is an option, or if the prognosis is grim. This time, I have only been waiting for short periods of time before I've pushed that thinking right out of my head, and gone back to dealing with the glorious delight of daily life in a relationship with a man I'm crazy in love with, who loves me. Somehow, even facing the most frightening possibility of my life, I am waking up full of joy and delight, turning to catch sight of my beloved's sleepy face on the pillow beside me, and greeting him with a bursting affection.

I'm waiting for the results of the tests, but I am also living in a way unknown to me before now, and this I wouldn't give up for a clean bill of health. I'll take it all, good and not-so-great, because all of it makes up my life, and life is good.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mood Swings.

Today started out well, then I was sitting here doing some unpicking of a waistband on a pair of pants I'm altering, because they've gotten too big for me, and began thinking about my partner and I collecting seeds for the rooftop terrace garden, and wondered if I'll even be around next year to garden. Within a short time, my mood has darkened considerably, and I've gone from feeling fairly cheerful and positive to a much more negative frame of mind. I'm wondering if there is any point in doing some of the future planning I've been doing - will I be alive to do these things I'm discussing with friends and family?

I was diagnosed on August 12th, it's now September 21st, and the waiting to get all the tests done in order to stage the tumour, and being told nothing whatsoever until they are all completed, is beginning to wear upon me. I'm trying with all of my might to accept the waiting period as just something which must be endured, and I'll find out when I find out, and not before, but some part of me is straining at the bit and wanting to scream, "Just tell me how far gone the bloody cancer is, will you?"

Patience has never been my strong suit, and waiting to find out something like this is trying beyond anything I've ever gone through. Most of the time, I can manage to push the wanting to know out of my consciousness, and go on with the next thing, but some days, days like today, it fills my worldview and leaves me feeling unable to cope. I want to collapse weeping in someone's arms, but as a friend who had cancer a few years ago said to me on Wednesday, "They're all so down about it that you feel like you have to stay cheerful for their sake, it leaves you feeling terribly alone."

That it does. My partner lost a family member to cancer a couple of years ago, so I have been feeling uncomfortable talking to him about it. My friends keep telling me how strong I am, how brave, etc, which leaves me feeling like I'm getting an unspoken message that this is how they want me to be, so that I feel stifled about revealing myself to them; where can I go to howl and cry and rage against this quirk of my fate? I feel alone in a way I wouldn't have expected. My sponsor has said several times that she's "proud of me for the way I'm handling it." That sets me up to feel that if I were to collapse into weeping the way I sometimes want to, I would be disappointing her. So I don't feel as though I can go to her when it threatens to overwhelm me.

I haven't felt this alone in a long, long time. I realise that partly, it is because no-one who hasn't had cancer can ever truly understand the way it feels, and partly, it is my own inability to reveal myself to other people past a certain point.

Today, I'm struggling.

I decided to speak to my partner, Robert about how I was feeling, because being the sensitive man that he is, he knew I wasn't doing well, and asked outright what was going on. It was an enormous relief to be able to get it all out over a period of several hours. At one point, we stood in the kitchen locked in an embrace while I wept into his shirt. There is nothing so comforting as loving arms holding us tightly.
He told me that he doesn't want me trying to protect his feelings by not telling him what's going on with me. He suggested that I call my sponsor, so I did, and was honest with her about my difficulties revealing my feelings to her, and was told lovingly that she is proud of me whether I'm doing well, or as I am today, being swept around in eddies and whirlpools of emotion.

So it all comes down to my own expectations of myself, which I've projected onto the people who love me - an old behavior pattern to which I've regressed somewhat, during this difficult time. I'm feeling much better this evening, am going to have something to eat, get some sleep, and go to church in the morning, and to see my sponsor in the afternoon.

Thank you to those of you who have written in support of me, I'm deeply grateful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Things NOT to Say To A Friend Newly Diagnosed With Cancer.

"You haven't mentioned dying, are you in denial?"

This was said by a woman who I'd thought was intelligent and sensitive, but when she came out with that comment, I was momentarily speechless.

"If you want to stay healthy, don't repress your feelings, that leads to illness which degenerates to cancer."

Oh, I see, the cancer is my own fault, and preventable, if only I hadn't repressed my feelings. Gee, wish I'd known that earlier.

"My sister's cousin's mother's uncle's girlfriend had that, and it was no big deal."

Well, I guess I should be able to breeze through it too, then.

I saw my doctor yesterday, and was telling him some of the astounding comments I've received, and that I planned to write a book with the same title as this blog post, and he assured me that he'd purchase a copy.

In truth, most of my friends have rallied around with great support, and my partner is a gift from my Higher Power with his steadfast love, and ability to make me laugh so hard I can't see straight. I'm still waiting for the last test needed to stage the tumour, and then for a visit with the surgeon to find out what sort of horrors will be visited upon me by the medical profession.

My mental state is good, when I'm not hearing versions of the above nonsense. Please, don't say things like this to a friend with cancer, it doesn't help even remotely, and saying, "You're handling it so well!" is akin to saying, "Whatever you do, don't break down in front of me." Sometimes, all we want is to be able to say exactly how we feel, without feeling judged.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Emotional Exhaustion

When my dear friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer a year ago this past April, and I went to see him twice a day in the hospital over the few weeks between his diagnosis and death, I made a concerted effort to be positive, make him laugh, be sensitive of his state of mind, and let him set the duration of the visits.

 I'd walk out of his hospital room, make it only a few strides down the hallway, and feel the tears and grief wash over me in a tidal wave. But in his presence, I kept it together, and I did that for his sake, because I was sure he had enough to deal with, without having to comfort me.

I had been procrastinating about telling his lifelong partner about my cancer diagnosis, because I dreaded his response. It's all still raw and new for him, and he's still struggling with the loss of the love of his life. My own partner has been gently pushing me to let him know, asking would my friend want to have the news, or prefer ignorance? I knew I should tell him, but for both his sake and my own, I kept putting it off for one more day.

2 days ago, I finally told him, and just now received an email from him which brought the hot sting of tears to my eyes; his pain came through so clearly in his loving response. It's agonising to listen to, and feel the pain, of those who love me ,as they fight their way through their fears and distress about the diagnosis.

Yesterday another friend asked rather bluntly whether I was thinking about the possibility of dying, or was I in denial about that?

I'm finding it exhausting to deal with all of the powerful emotions being expressed to me. about me.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Obstacles to Growth

When new to program, the idea that it was not possible, or even my place, to change another person's behavior to suit me, was one of the most difficult for me to grasp. I wanted. And when I wanted, I thought I could make another person give me what it was I wanted, through the use of manipulation, guile, reasoning, or demands, whatever I believed would work.

Letting go was so far beyond me that I first dismissed it as nonsense, then when I began dimly to understand that it was truly desirable, I despaired of ever understanding how to go about doing it. What did this mysterious "letting go" involve? How did I let go? What did letting go look like?

From the viewpoint of 29 years in Al-Anon as of this month, I can state that learning to let go was the best lesson that program has taught me. I don't have anything that consumes me anymore. Life is an easy, peaceful ride nowadays. Even a diagnosis of cancer wasn't able to unbalance me for more than a few weeks, before the knowledge and the understanding I've learned in Al-Anon reasserted itself, and my state of mind has come back around to one of joyful delight in life.

The cancer diagnosis caused me to revert for the first week to a fearful state of mind, but that passed fairly quickly, then I was angry for a few days or another week, then I let it all go.

This may sound a little strange, but I can't be bothered giving it any more head room. I don't want to be the person I once was, consumed with fear, anger, resentment, and self-pity. I'd rather be happy and serene, and the only way to achieve that, is to let go. Let everything go.

Apart from my deciding upon which treatments I am willing to undergo when and if they are offered to me, the cancer is completely beyond my control.

I like to be happy, and happiness is within my control. My partner is a source of delight and comfort, with his steadfast love, and wickedly funny sense of humour - I want to enjoy him with the same abandoned glee I did before the diagnosis, and I can, if I let go.

It's an easy choice.

I'm up to go to church this morning;  the gathering of  people, the minister's messages which always sound like 12-Step wisdom, and the glorious feeling of my Higher Power there with me, fill me to bursting with joy and serenity.

I wish for you, a day of letting go. It's an astounding feeling.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Perfectionism - How Much Is Enough?

A reader has asked me to share on the topics: "I do enough," and "dealing with chronic pain."

I can relate well to both of these, as I have had back pain for about 25 years, as the result of an injury sustained at work, and more recently, I've had to struggle against my early training in being a rabid perfectionist.

I was talking to a program friend the other day about perfectionism, because I've noticed that in dealing with the cancer diagnosis, if I'm not careful, I can get caught up in the "right way" to manage my feelings and thoughts regarding the situation I'm facing. Before Al-Anon, I was a person hiding my true feelings behind the mask of "Oh, fine thank you," and it's been rather alarming to discover just how quickly I have wanted to revert to this behavior since the diagnosis. Part of this is a response to the pain in the faces of the people I love, when the cancer is mentioned, partly it's my pride -  wanting to deal with this "well" - either way, it would keep me isolated and alone, were I not to recognise that's what I'm up to, and work to be mindful of my own behavior.

I've had to make a conscious choice to answer honestly, when asked how I'm doing, how I'm feeling, how am I handling this, or any one of the ways in which friends and family offer me the chance to unburden myself.  I've had times when I wanted very badly to respond with the "I'm fine" reply, because that would save us both the discomfort of honesty. It can be quite the struggle to admit that I'm feeling exhausted by the myriad of tests to stage the tumour, the stress of waiting to find out if it has metastasized, and what sort of surgery, and/or long-term outlook I'm facing.

It is disconcerting to recognise and admit to my fears. At the same time, my relationship with my partner is a delight and a joy - he can always make me laugh, and gives of himself so generously, being a support and an encouragement when I'm feeling weak, tired, or just flagging from the stress of it all.

I spoke to a cancer survivor, and one thing she repeated several times was, " Let other people help you, they want to do it, allow them the room and the chance." I've been independent; I believe it will help me with achieving humility, to learn to accept help graciously, and without the frustration of wanting to do it myself.

I need to relearn how to accept that whatever I've managed to accomplish in a day is "enough." When I do this, I give myself room to be out-of-sorts, tired, unwilling, or even lazy, that crime of my childhood. One could be anything but lazy; doing nothing was completely unacceptable in my childhood home. If sitting, one couldn't just sit and cogitate, one had to be doing something with one's hands, sewing or embroidery, painting or reading, something. One couldn't just be.

When I was a kid, I used to like to sit on her bed with our Border Collie, but wasn't give the peace to just sit and pet her, or sit quietly beside her. So I'd get the dog's brush and use it on her silky hair, because that was considered "doing something" and meant I could spend time enjoying her company.

My partner and I like to sit on the rooftop terrace and admire our pots of flowers. I'm always entertained if another resident comes out and asks, "What are you two doing?"  I will sometimes reply "Nothing at all." I find it enormously satisfying to be able to say that.

In dealing with chronic pain, acceptance of my limitations is the key. Admitting to the pain is another. My back always hurts, it's a matter of hurting a bit less or a bit more, but the pain has been a constant companion for many years. I've discovered that being involved in something which catches and holds my interest will allow me to detach from the physical sensation, and push it from my conscious awareness. It won't be until I stop for a short pause or rest, that I will realise that my back is hurting, and it's time to stop for the day. This works for me, whether the activity is gardening (I don't do any heavy digging or lifting) sewing, painting, whatever I like to do.

My Higher Power is continually finding new ways to teach me patience.