Friday, April 29, 2011

Broken but Still Walking

If there is good news, it is that my dear friends keep driving me to clinics for appointments for my broken arm as well as to the grocery store and the Post Office and Church.  One dear friend helping me is Elizabeth, my clergy abuse survivor partner.  The other two are Church ladies from Ascension -- Helen, who organizes the Spaghetti Dinner every year, and Mary Lou who serves as a lector, Eucharistic Minister, Sunday School Teacher (catechist) and a few other assorted Church volunteer duties.  I posted this on Facebook and a clergy abuse survivor commented that they should challenge the Church on it's faulty priests.  Actually my friends do this too -- through diplomatic private letters to the Archbishop, to priests and parishioners in public forums, and in private.  These are my stalwart friends who have stood by me for years -- when I handed out articles on clergy abuse, when I got thrown out of Church for handing out articles on clergy abuse, when we set up forums in the Church on clergy abuse........and now that I am struggling with a broken arm and no health insurance, they are still with me.

I am learning another side of abuse -- what it is like to be struggling financially, to not have enough...I feared the medical bills, so I didn't go to the emergency room.  And now the bills are going to be bigger than I would have paid had I gone to the Emergency Room right after I fell and broke my arm.

And then there is the matter of what I was doing when I fell and broke my arm. I bring this up because I so often hear people blame those who have suffered misfortune for their misfortune.  I wasn't drinking and doing something stupid. I don't drink alcohol.  I wasn't taking risks.  I was simply taking an early morning walk for my health.

People ask me about my arm all the time because it is pretty obvious.  I carry the arm in a sling.  Everywhere, in every store I visit, the counters by the cash register are high up.  I can sign with my right hand if the counters are low, but low down counters are rare.  Boy can I identify with people confined to wheelchairs.  The first President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act signed some twenty years ago, but our society remains arranged for the able bodied with relatively few concessions to the less abled.  We still place the majority of the burden on the person who is hurt to find their way without help.

All the time I meet people who have no health insurance.  They ask me how to obtain healthcare, where to go, what to do.  Perhaps it seems like a no-brainer that I should have gone to the emergency room after I fell.  But it wasn't so easy at the time. First, I am a single divorced mother.  Who is going to care for my kids?  Who was going to drive me?  I think a taxi driver would not have been able to cope with my pain and disability.  An ambulance would have cost a $1,000.00.  The friends who give me rides are older ladies.  I am normally the person who gives rides to other people.  Second my injury resembled an injury from 2007, when I also fell on the ice and recovered from a torn ligament on my own.  I've usually been able to recover from my illnesses ad injuries on my own without a doctor.  I went through four cases of pleurisy without seeing a doctor in the last three years.  Once the pain was so severe I hurt no matter what I did.  I bound my chest and stayed in bed for a week. People told me I was lucky I did not end up in a hospital, but I managed on my own.  My kids have gotten really good at cooking.  House cleaning, not so much.

Only about 15 out of the 51 years of my life have I had good health insurance.  It is always easy to say what I should have done in hind sight.  I saw the Family Nurse Practitioner at my Multnomah County Health Department clinic this last week, She told me probably the orthopedic specialists at Oregon Health Sciences University, when I finally get in to see them, will "re-break" my arm and set it in a cast or splint for a period of time afterwards.  She told me than an old, unhealed broken arm is not considered urgent care, but that if I had gone into the emergency room within the first four to six weeks after my fall, they would have been able to "set" my arm in a cast.  Actually, I began to seek out medical care about 3 and a half weeks after I fell -- when it was becoming obvious that I was not regaining movement in my right elbow.  My first step in seeking healthcare, because I was uncertain of where to go, was to type "Free Clinics Portland Oregon" into a search engine.  A list of clinics popped up.  I called one and got a message machine.  I called another and was told it was for people under 30.  I called a third and was told they did not serve people not on the Oregon Health Plan.  I called another clinic on the list few days later and got an appointment at a Naturopathic Clinic.  I knew they might not be best for a bone dysfunction so I asked if they could refer for x-rays and Physical Therapy.  The receptionist said they could.  I was seen at that clinic 5 1/2 weeks after I fell -- still within the outer limits of having my bones reset and put into a cast.  I was seen by Naturopathic students who care measured my elbow and put me through a variety of range of motion exercises.  They concluded that I had no broken bones because all the bones were still in place.  They thought the problem was inflammation and that everything would get better when the inflammation receded.  However, they also referred me to a Chiropractic Clinic.  At the Chiropractic Clinic I was told that my elbow was broken and that I would need surgery.  I was also told that I really needed the x-ray the Naturopathic students did not think I needed.  The clinician lined out the free clinics with access to x-ray machines, which were mostly Multnomah County Health Department clinics.  X-ray machines are expensive, and most free clinics can't afford them.  That day I called up Multnomah County Health Department and found out that they have restrictions on taking new patients.  I was told to call back every morning at 8 AM until I got an appointment.  Two days in  row I called about 10 seconds to 8AM per the time on my computer.  The second day I received an appointment at a clinic some distance from my house.  I took it.  I didn't want to wait any longer.  The clerk who gave me the appointment told she was one of seven operators, each with 35 people on the line.  More than 200 people needed appointments.  Only a handful received them.  The day I arrived for my appointment at Multnomah County Health Department, I was told that my provider was out sick, and I was offered another appointment two week away.  I insisted on being seen and was seen by a young, newly minted Physician's Assistant.  She prescribed an x-ray and Physical Therapy.

The x-ray technician saw the x-ray and said, "I am going to show this to the doctor and see if she will see you today."

The doctor gave me the bad news -- my radius and ulna are dislocated and the portion of the epicondyle that held them in place chipped off.

She conversed with an orthopedic surgeon at OHSU and told me that I'd been seen at OHSU the next week.  She also had me fill out an application for Project Access as Multnomah County Health Department does not provide specialty care.  Project Access is a not-for-profit organizastion that offers access to specialty healthcare through volunteer physicians.  She also gave me the phone number for the financial eligibility department at OHSU.  Apparently for lower income patients, OHSU offers a 75% discount.  My guess is they do so because they receive some public funding.  Getting that discount as well as an appointment at the Orthopedics Department is not so easy.  I had to make multiple phone calls.

One day, more than a week after the first time I was seen at Multnomah County Health Department, I called to find out that Project Access still had not received my application for care from Multnomah County and that the Orthopedics Department at OHSU still had not received my x-rays.  I am really grateful for Multnomah County Health Department, but they have cut so many corners to try to provide as much care to as many people as possible, that they are not very efficient.  I burst into tears. How much time and how many phone calls would pass before I received the care I needed?  It seemed like an eternity to me.  I needed to call the Orthopedics Department at OHSU one more time to ask for an appointment once again, but I needed to cry out my frustration before speaking to another person.  When I composed myself, I made that call.  I was placed on hold by the receptionist to wait for the appointment clerk.  I got tired of holding the phone in my left hand and put it down and on speaker phone.  In any case, it is hard to write down information and hold the phone at the same time.  I normally tell whover I am speaking to that I need to use the speaker phone.

When the appointment clerk finally answered, she found the speaker phone annoying.

She spoke sharply, "Take off the speaker phone."

It was all I needed to push me over the edge into tears again.

"Stop screaming at me," the appointment clerk screamed at me.

"I'm not screaming; I'm crying, " I sobbed.

I tell this story for a purpose.  When you are sick and hurting, you don't know where to go.  We have resources for the poor but they tend to be scattershot and inadequate.  If your illness is really serious, the Free clinics can't do much for you.  If you don't know where to go and what to do to begin with, it is hard to know where to go and what to do.

If I had known that OHSU discounted their services for people with financial challenges, I probably would have shown up in their emergency room on February 19, but I did not know about and fully understand that discount until April 19.  Getting the help I need has taken multiple phone calls and multiple trips to multiple clinics the last 6 weeks or so, and I still have at least a month or so to wait before I receive the proper healthcare.

I've been through multiple crying jags.

"Why did you make my life so hard?" I scream at God.

The little voices in the back of mind keeps saying, "So you can understand a modicum of what it is like, what down and out people without communication skills and resources have to go through when seeking help."

Those voices also say, "Tell the story so other people know."

These days being down and out and lacking healthcare is a common affliction in our country, but it s always an affliction for many survivors of abuse.

See that homeless person lying drunk in the street.  Talk to them about their lives.  You'll meet the elderly Vietnam Vet and increasingly the young Afghanistan or Iraq Vet, you'll meet the schizophrenic who probably can't give you a coherent story, you'll meet the young woman who is a child sex abuse survivor, the man whose father got him addicted to drugs when he was a boy, the man who was abused in a monastery where he went for refuge from child abuse, the man who was sexually abused in many of the foster homes he cycled through as a child...

These people are not bad or lazy, they are struggling with deep wounds the rest of us cannot fathom.  And our society is just not there for them.  There is help.  The not-for-profits are limited in what they can do.  The specialty care is hard to get and what is available, is provided on a shoestring.

When you are already depressed, you get even more depressed when you can't get the help you need, when you have to jump through many hoops and wander here and there, struggling to get the help you need.

Which brings me to the Catholic Church and the clergy abuse scandal.  The Church has many valuable charities and shelters and soup kitchens, clothing closets.  Probably many clergy abuse survivors have received help from these charities anonymously.  What the Church is not so good at doing, is helping those in need who identify themselves as clergy abuse survivors -- despite employing people whose job is to help clergy abuse survivors -- Victim's Assistants.

The Victim's Assistant for the Archdiocese of Portland attends Ascension Catholic Church.  Actually she sings in the choir, but she attends a different Mass than I do.  Mostly she attends Church incognito.  Most people don't know what her job is.

One day in 2007 a survivor called me up.  He was referred to me by another survivor.  The survivor had vandalized a number of building, including a Catholic Church or two.  Sometimes his rage and pain overtook him.  But now he wanted therapy.  He was facing felony charges, and he was afraid of being overtaken by rage and pain again.  He asked me to help him so I suggested that the Victim's Assistant for the Archdiocese of Portland might be able to help.

I approached her at Church and told her that this survivor wanted and needed therapy.

"He's speaking to you?" she asked, "Tell him to call me."

So I told him to call her himself.

The time he called me, I asked him how things went.  He told me that she had told him that she could not speak to him because he had an active lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Portland, that his attorney had to ask for therapy.  So I urged him to ask his attorney for help obtaining therapy.

When he called me again, I asked how it went.

The survivor told me his attorney advised him against seeking therapy.  I know that particular attorney was unusual in that he was not particularly supportive of therapy but that there were others who paid for their clients to receive therapy.

Let me make clear what the problem was.  The Victim's Assistant would not work with me and the survivor's lawyer was not interested in seeking therapy for his client and the lawyers for the Archdiocese would not allow the Victim's Assistant to speak to the survivor directly because he had an active lawsuit against the Archdiocese.

Rules are important.  They must be followed.  But even when it means that people who need help don't get the help they need?

Still later I found the survivor other sources of free therapy, but he was no longer interested.  Through the years that have passed he has struggled with depression outbursts of anger and drug and alcohol addiction.  He really needed therapy.

There was another adult female survivor I worked with who had a similarly frustrating experience when it came to obtaining therapy from the Archdiocese.  I suppose that the Victim's Assistant was just following rules, but the rules seemed more important than the actual people in need.

I know what these survivors went through when they went to the Catholic Church for help -- despair, because they did not fit the rules.  The very act of asking for help is wounding.

I don't think we can wait for Church leadership to act.  They are too attached to this earth, too worried about bank accounts and buildings.  We ordinary Catholics need to get together and do the work that is needed to show the way.  For people who don't want to pay taxes -- get out there and get volunteering at shelters and schools and soup kitchens and free clinics.  Or get out your wallet and donate.

I know too, the fear of Church leadership about finances.  I am living that fear too.  We have so many potential bills.  How are we going to keep body and soul together?

My finances are precariously balanced, but I think I don't have much choice.  I am 51.  I haven't worked in 15 years.  I couldn't work after my son was born.  He has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, although he has had much therapy and is doing well,  I had to stay home and care for him for years.  Who is going to hire me?

 But I have my 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit designation.  I have some innovative ideas.  I know what to do grow and am doing it although it is slow.

I decided that I am still going to try to Walk Across at least some parts of Oregon to End Abuse and Heal Wounds.  I'll be confined to Portland and the Oregon coast, where my friend Mary Lou is willing to help me.

I am broken, but I am not bowed.

I am broken, but I can still walk.

As long as I can still talk and walk, I will advocate for survivors of abuse.

I might have a cast on my arm..or a sling.. or a splint, but I will be there.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Healing Power of Compassion or Changing Ourselves to Change the World

When I wrote my last blog about my recent fall and how badly injured my arm is and how sh*tty my life is right now, I received four supportive responses and one angry response from an old friend, who thought I was harming myself with self pity (more on this later).  My partner in this work, Elizabeth, sent me a really lovely response as did a Child Protective Services employee I met on the 2010 Walk Across Oregon.  Jaime Romo also wrote a kind response, but I was most moved by the kindness of this note from Kay Ebeling, who writes the City of Angels blog on clergy abuse.
Oh, Virginia, I so know what you are going through.  Self Medicating has a whole new meaning in today's world of profit based health care.  I hope you are able to heal, I wish your ex-husband would pay for you to see a doctor, I have been there.  Somehow the blood in my stools disappeared, so I guess I'm not dying, but for a while I thought I had some kind of cancer and no way to treat it.  It's HORRIBLE what working class people go through (if you were more poor you could get Medicaid, in most states anyway, but you are probably like me, earn just enough to not qualify).  I'm shocked there is no nonprofit that can help you see a doctor...

Just keep taking care of yourself, Virginia and....  Exercise?  Slow methodical movement, will that help, to heal the tendons?  Tune in to your body and feel what it needs, in other words, self medicate...

Gosh, I'm so sad to hear you are going through this.  
kay eb
Kay is able to listen because, to varying degrees, the details of her story and mine are similar.  She feels my pain because she is living through similar pain.
Actually, going back to what Kay said about finding a nonprofit clinic, I started accessing the low cost clinic system last week when it appeared that the functionality of my right arm was not going to come back on it’s own.  I didn’t go before partly because I had been relatively healthy and didn’t need to seek free or low cost healthcare, partly because there is no  one-stop-shopping center for lost cost healthcare -- it can be a little difficult to know where to go, and partly because these clinics are overwhelmed by need so it is difficult to get into the system.  You have to keep calling around and calling around and calling around.  There are many roadblocks to receiving free or low cost healthcare.  I am living through those roadblocks now.
The easiest place to access low cost healthcare was a Naturopathic clinic staffed by students, but they were not equipped to cope with a musculoskeletal problem so they referred me to a chiropractic clinic also staffed by students.  The student who saw me yesterday had never seen an injury like mine, in which the patient is unable to flex or extend their arm.  The Chiropractic clinician on staff thought my arm might be broken, and that I might need surgery.  Unfortunately, she knew of no ready sources of free orthopedic surgery.  She referred me to the Multnomah County Health Department for an appointment and x-ray.  I called Multnomah County Health Department, but they could not give me an appointment.  They told me to call back every morning at 8 AM until I got an appointment.  The receptionist did not know when that would be.  She said that I might have to call several days in a row and wait on the phone for an hour each time before I could get an appointment -- kind of like a lottery which you lose most of the time.
I have a hard time not making snarky comments about Republican healthcare policies.  I think I lost one of my Republican readers of my blog because I made snarky comments about Republicans.  I looked up the cost of elbow surgeries on the internet.  If I need surgery, it may cost up to $50,000.00.  One person had out patient surgery on the elbow that cost $36,000. It is possible that if I don’t get surgery, I may remain functionally disabled for the rest of my life and may qualify for disability payments.  What is more cost effective for society -- $50,000 for elbow surgery or disability payments?  And I already tried asking my wealthy Republican relatives for money to ease my situation.  They declined to help.
I feel like crying again.  I am crying as I write this.  There goes my house, Compassionate Gathering, and more......  I don’t really know what to do.  Once again I am faced with choice -- I can self numb with drugs and alcohol, but that doesn’t solve anything.  All my problems get worse.  I can get bitter and angry at people like my relatives who have chosen not to help me, but I will drive away these people who might help me in the future.  Or I can persevere the best I can with the most positive attitude I can muster while trying to think creatively about how to raise money and/or find cheaper alternatives. If the arm is not broken, can I regain use of it through physical therapy?  If it is broken, my Chinese renter suggested that I might go to another country such as China, where I can obtain the same elbow surgery for less than half the cost of the surgery in the United States.  Some people at Ascension Catholic Church have suggested starting a fund to help me raise the money for surgery.  The truth is this is the only way forward is forward -- keep a good attitude, keep trying all possibilities, think creatively, keep asking for help.....  All other choices lead to devastation.
 I hope and pray surgery is not necessary....that there is another way to heal my arm and regain functionality.
I am trying to see the silver lining in all this.  Several of the survivors I worked with are psychologically or physically disabled.  I am learning first hand what it is like to walk in their shoes.  All but one has inadequate support and struggles to get by.  One, a clergy abuse survivor named Danny, sleeps in his car with his dog.  He struggles with addictions.  I am not sure how he keeps body and soul together.
It is hard for many people to read stories like mine -- or these survivors.  Some people are by nature or professional training, able to listen.  Jaime Romo, the CPS employee and my partner Elizabeth Goeke, are all in this group.  Elizabeth’s reply to my blog was so lovely and thoughtful I decided to share it with you.
Virginia this is beautiful and such a truthful opening of the heart.
 I do hope your arm heals.
 I think this is a time of cosmic difficulty. The earthquake and nuclear disaster, the social anger, the extreme illness for so many in my life, Nathan has a re occurrence of his thyroid cancer (the dad of the children I go to cancer support with). The mother of the grand kids had a big break down last night…matt brought the children, plus packed up all the valuables from the apartment to this house in the middle of the night. We knew this was a possibility and so our daughter is moving out to make room for matt and the boys. Plus our hospitals are full of people with mental problems and the emergency rooms overflowing with people in crisis.
 As a spiritual artist I heard last week, reminded us…we are each here for a reason…and that reason is that we are to be part of the solution for this time......
 Your writing is so good. It is a joy to read .
As you can tell from this note, that although Elizabeth herself is doing well, other members of her family are struggling with gigantic problems.  Because Elizabeth is so loving and compassionate, they turn to her for help.  And Elizabeth works full time as a mental health counselor for Multnomah County.  Elizabeth knows very well how to support others through their pain.
What surprised me is how others are intensely uncomfortable with my pain.  Some people are just silent and standoffish.  
One woman wrote back to me, “Get your butt to an AA meeting asap.”
I was surprised by this reaction because this woman knows me well and knows that I don’t drink at all and even in my past, rarely drank alcoholic beverages.  I have never taken an illegal drug, not even marijuana.
I shared my friend’s reaction with Elizabeth, and she wrote back to me,  “My thoughts in regard to your “friend”. If we can’t identify and honor our own pain how can we love ourselves and love others?. How can we feel others pain if we are “afraid” to feel our own pain? How can we heal the pain if we don’t feel the pain?
 Congratulaions to you for your ability to describe the process. Wonderful.”
Elizabeth’s comment feels insightful to me, because the friend who thought I needed to go to AA is someone who has dealt with considerable emotional and physical pain in her life.  She has made relatively healthy choices whereas others in her family descended into alcohol abuse.  It may be that she has unresolved issues in her life, and that my pain and anger and sadness and my difficult situation bring these up for her.  She reacted from her discomfort and not from her heart.
Although she later apologized to me, even her apology rang hollow.  She said she was sorry that I felt “so rough and so low.”  She never acknowledged the difficulties of my situation.
But I would never condemn this friend.  She is a lovely and giving person.  I just know I can’t go to her with my troubles.
Moreover, my friend is not alone, many people are caring but only have so much energy to listen to tales of woe.
You might be getting an inkling of why I am writing about this.  Many survivors of abuse struggle with difficult circumstances.  People are just not able to cope with the intense anger and pain of survivors.  They often shut down and withdraw or they start lecturing the survivor about what to do, how to live their lives.  Or they get mad at the survivor.  All of these reactions rewound the survivor.
The sad part of this dynamic is it is much harder to heal alone.
Unfortunately, listening and communicating with compassion are not skills most of us have.  I had to learn these skills by going on training retreats and paying mentors who had mastered the skill.  Although, more and more I am able to respond with compassion to anger directed at me, my first reaction to words of anger is to often defend myself.  Unfortunately, when we defend ourselves, we sometimes express ourselves in ways that wound others.
This is what has happened with the Catholic clergy abuse scandal.  My experience is that most Catholics shut down when I mention the scandal.  This is frustrating, because it is much harder to heal a wound if you don’t talk about it.  There was a grand jury report in Philadelphia in 2005.  The findings were shocking.  Then another grand jury report was released in 2011.  The findings were still shocking.  Not much had changed.  This causes many survivors to conclude that the Catholic Church as evil and that parishioners who remain in the Church are like cult members.
My thought on this is, most Catholic parishioners are like my friend who got mad at me for expressing my fear and my pain over my situation.  They haven’t come to terms with their wounds and are frightened by the intense pain and anger of survivors.  They either shut down and avoid the issue.  Or they express anger at survivors who are not able to heal from their own wounds quietly.
Can you change someone’s mind who is hurt and scared by expressing anger at them?
Not usually.
Let me switch gears and share a story about my daughter that illustrates my point.  My daughter loves to bake and cook.  Some years ago, after I started the process of learning to listen and speak with compassion but when my daughter was still rather young, I got an opportunity to explore how healing listening and responding with compassion is with everyone, not just with survivors.
My son has a birthday every May.  I usually buy a packaged cake mix but make my own cocoa buttercream frosting.  So one May day a few years ago, when my son’s birthday came around, I made the mistake  of baking the cake without my daughter.  She doesn’t like the actual cake, but she loves cake batter.  However, she really loves cocoa buttercream frosting.  I knew she would be annoyed with me for baking the cake without her, but I’ve gotten so busy, I didn’t know how I would have time for everything.  I wanted to get the cake baking out of the way.  I was thoughtful of my daughter’s desires.  She likes coconut but my son doesn’t.  In addition to the cake mix, confectioners sugar, butter and cocoa, I purchased flaked coconut and baked a small cake round just for my daughter so she could decorate her own cake with coconut.  Well, when she came home from school, she was furious that I had baked the cake without her.  She didn’t know which cake I had made just for her.  She took that small cake, the one I baked for her, and threw it on the ground.  I couldn’t let her destroy my son’s cake, so my son and I pulled her into a bedroom and held the door closed for a few minutes until she stopped screaming.  Then I went into the room, pulled up a chair next to the bed where she was sitting and crying.
“You were really looking forward to baking the cake with me, and I took that away from you,” I said.
She responded, “I did a bad thing, didn’t I Mommy?”
She even came up with her own solution.  She offered to pay for a new cake mix out of her allowance.  I did not need to punish her or scold her in any way.  All that she needed was a chance to cool down before I expressed compassion for her feeling.
Obviously, there are many survivors who can’t reach out to Catholics.  Their wounds are too deep.  
I work with one survivor, the one I call Danny, who feels the desire to vandalize a Catholic Church every time he gets near one.  He sleeps in his car with his dog.  I am not sure how he keeps body and soul together.  He has never attended a Compassionate Gathering.  I visit him now and then, and I’ve taken him to court to face vandalism charges.  There was briefly a warrant out for his arrest because he kept missing court dates, but when I got him to court, the warrant was rescinded.  I don’t want to add Ascension Catholic Church to the list of places he has vandalized and have to take him to court all over again.
Danny can’t listen to anyone with compassion.  About all he can handle is getting through the day.
Just an aside.  My heart goes out to many homeless people because many are like Danny -- victims of horrendous abuse.  People walk on by and judge them for their dereliction and use of drugs and alcohol.
I think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
The truth is that most Catholics can’t handle listening either because they haven’t come to terms with their wounds, however small those wounds may be compared to Danny’s.
There is just a small number of us, survivors and other Catholics, who have done enough healing work to listen with compassion to each other and to others.  Because when we listen with our hearts, we open the hearts of others.
When you want to change the world, you begin by changing yourself.
I am disabled by my wounded arm, but I decided I needed to  keep trying to develop Compassionate Gathering and the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  I am 51 and haven’t worked at 15 years.  What else am I going to do?  My 15 year old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and suffered separation anxiety and various relationship problems for years.  When I tried placing him in daycare, he cried so much, the daycare operator asked me to stop trying.  I tried placing him in a pre-school where I volunteered, but he acted out and the teacher asked me to remove him.  I tried placing him in a private kindergarten with a four student to one teacher ratio.  He acted out so badly, the headmistress asked me to remove him.  I had to homeschool him until age nine, when he was finally able to handle a classroom situation.  By then I was working on the early development of Compassionate Gathering.
Right now I can’t drive more than short distances at low speeds in traffic free situations, but I can write (on the computer with my left hand), listen, and speak.
Hint, hint, I can still teach and mentor.  Contact me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Blogging Jaime Romo's Book: Choosing To Be Happy

One of my favorite songs is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from the Monte Python movie, Life of Brian.  My favorite line from the movie is “Life’s a piece of sh*t, when you think of it.”
Sometimes it certainly seems that way.  There are a small number of people for whom everything comes easily.  There are much larger numbers of people born in desperately poor, war torn countries.  Afghanistan comes to mind.  Life is very sh*tty there for large numbers of people who live there.  Oh, and Rwanda and Somalia too.  Wouldn’t want to live in Libya right now.  Cambodia sure was a hell hole in the 1970s, but I hear it still is a country with lots of problems.  Normally Japan is a nice place to be but right now I would not want to be in the North East of the island of Honshu, particularly in Fukushima Prefecture.  Maybe my sh*t filled life in the U.S. isn’t so bad, not that the comparison to life in these other countries makes me feel any better.
I had a really sh*tty thing happen to me recently, a really big sh*tty thing.  On Saturday, February 19, I was trying to prove to myself that I was strong and smart and willing to make psychologically and physically healthy choices in my life.  I went for a walk in the morning.  I was going to make a commitment to regular exercise that I seem to have gotten too busy for.  I was just going to make time.  But there was ice on the ground.  Not very much ice, just a little bit of ice.  I slipped on a little bit of ice and fell on my unconsciously stretched out right arm.  I did the same thing 4 years ago and tore a ligament.  Recovery took a while, but I recovered on my own.  I drove from above Seattle, Washington, home to Portland, Oregon, 4 days after I fell in 2007.  This time almost 6 weeks have passed, and I am not driving yet.  This time I probably tore more than one ligament.  I also damaged some nerves.  I don’t know exactly because I haven’t gone to a doctor.  I don’t have health insurance.  I can’t afford it on a tight budget.  On a Saturday I would have gone to the emergency room and racked up thousands of dollars in bills I don’t have the money to pay for.  
Life’s a piece of great big, stinking sh*t.
I do what I do because I feel called by my spiritual faith to do it.  Sometimes I feel like telling God, “You can take this job and shove it.  I ain’t working here no more.”
Funny how music keeps inspiring me.  I sing these songs and then laugh or cry or both.
I operate on a shoe string with no big backers.  I have given significant help to survivors who are clients of one particular lawyer here in Portland.  After I received my 501 (c) 3 designation, I asked him for a donation.  He didn’t give me one penny.  I would have thought he would have given me $50 or a $100 as a goodwill gesture, but apparently he didn’t view that as necessary or valuable action. So be it. The Church certainly doesn’t back me although I read a blog which accused me of being a professional writer paid by the Church or a front for a team of priests.
Everything in my life and work is precariously balanced. I have to work very hard for every step forward I take.  People help me, but they help around the fringes and not with the core work. I had just started an advanced grant writing  class on February 16, and had started writing a grant application as part of the class before I fell on the ice on February 19.  After I fell, I lay as still as possible for 10 days, having no other cheap way of immobilizing my wounded arm. I got no work done. When I began to work again, it was only for a few hours a day.  Only now, if all goes well, I can work 6 to 8 hours a day.  I am so far behind on doing everything.  I had to cancel two Compassionate Gatherings, and I am concerned about being able to drive soon enough to Walk Across Oregon this summer.   I discovered that when you don’t take a shower or put on deodorant for days and days that you really have to scrub to get the sweat smell off of you when you finally do feel well enough to step into a shower.  My children grew reluctant to sit next to me.  Not that it mattered that they didn’t want to hug me.  Their hugs were unbearably painful.   
These weeks have been periods on calm acceptance of the difficulties in my life punctuated with bout of tears and screaming and crying and bitching at God for giving me such a horribly difficult life.
I can see why people, particularly survivors of abuse lose faith.  However, I can’t lose faith because I have had mystical experiences that have confirmed the existence of God for me. I am not going to discuss these mystical experiences here because I used to be an agnostic and a mere 13 years ago would not have believed someone recounting such experiences.  Faith is a personal issue, and I am not going to try to argue anyone into having it.
Right now, faith aside, I’m scared.  I’m scared that I will loose everything and that my right arm will always be this useless impediment attached to the right side of my body.  I am really struggling to hold onto some shreds of happiness.
Well, anyway, I have been blogging my way through Dr. Jaime Romo’s book, Healing the Sexually Abused Heart:  A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers and Supporters.  Dr. Romo has an exercise on page 17 -- Act 1.03 Happiness.
I wasn’t going to blog on this exercise, but after I fell and hurt my arm, I knew that I had to.
Jaime introduces the exercise with a question and comment, “Are you happy?  To whatever degree you can answer “yes”, you can point to a seed of happiness that can grow, flower, and be fruitful.”
Well, of course, I have lots and lots of unhappy worries right now.  I also have plenty of happy times so the answer is I am unhappy and happy at the same time.
I have some choices.  I can wallow in my grief and let it overwhelm me or I can acknowledge the grief, sit with it a while, and then move forward.  I am trying to follow the latter path, but I don’t usually sit with the grief quietly and thoughtfully, I usually rage until I can pull myself upright again.
But the happiness in my life is real.  I can’t drive, but I can walk and take the bus.  Over Spring Break I did things with my children walking and riding the bus.  We had great fun.  I even walked 9 or 10 miles one day with my son.  My right arm is disabled right now, but the rest of me is not.
I will answer the rest of the questions Jaime poses in his workbook in the Happiness exercise below.
Jaime: To what degree am I willing to ask for or accept help from others who can assist me in becoming the person I want to be?
Me:  I have to guess a bit what Jaime means here.  We child sex abuse survivors often have trouble with trust and end up isolating ourselves one way or another.  It is much harder to heal alone.  We need compassionate people in our lives supporting us, but sometimes it can be hard to find people with the skills to support us.  I guess that’s why we have therapists and spiritual directors and retreats and support groups.  People without special training can be overwhelmed by our needs.  There is a writer that both Jaime and Billie Mazzei have referred to in their writings, who I don’t remember the name of.  Survivors build walls around themselves so no one can hurt them, but these walls also prevent anyone from helping them.  Sometimes survivors have the perception that things will always be bad and that everyone will always betray them.  I have plenty of experience working with people who feel this way about their relationships with other people. Once a clergy abuse survivor called me up at home for emotional support on a Sunday morning right before I had to leave to go pick up my children from their weekend visit with my ex-husband.  I told her I could only listen for ten minutes, and then I’d have to go pick up my children.  Ten minutes passed, and she was still talking.  I told her again that I had to go pick up my children.  She kept talking.  I had no choice.  I hung up on her.  I can’t abandon my children to give care for survivors.  I just can’t.  The survivor left an angry message on my answering machine and didn’t call for several months until she needed my help finding a place to live.  I can’t really know what the survivor was thinking.  What it felt like to me is that she perceived betrayal in my actions when none was intended.
I was trying to help her but she was unable to accept help as I was able to give it.
The question of me accepting help is a hard and painful one.  I wish I had more help with my not-for-profit.  As far as my arm goes, I was afraid to ask for help because of the cost.  Some of you’ll be happy that I am going to Naturopathic medicine clinic tonight that does referrals for x-rays and Physical Therapy and charges low, sliding scale fees.  Some people think I need surgery.  I am not seeking surgery, but I am finally seeking some sort of medical help.
Jaime: “Which image of myself am I willing to let go of?”
Me:  I am just going to guess that this survivor on whom I hung up was feeling that no one would ever care for her and she saw every action as confirming that perception.  What she needed to let go of is that she would always be betrayed.  What I have learned to do in my life when some says or does something that is hurtful to me is to ask for more information so I can better understand the situation.
What I have more trouble with in my own life is fear of failure, fear that not enough people will support what I do in order for me to succeed.  I have lots of people who tell that I am doing good work, but that is the extent of their support.  It feels as though they are watching me to see what I can do on my own, and if I succeed, then they’ll join me.  Not very encouraging.
So what I am always saying to myself is, “No one supports me.  No one believes in me.”
Now I have this additional enormous roadblock of of my badly injured right arm in front of me.
No, I am not overly happy at the moment.  But the truth is I am not as alone and unsupported as I often think I am.  I don’t have to walk or take the bus everywhere I go.  About twice a week, people I work with in Compassionate Gathering give me rides to the grocery store or to church or to the therapist who works with my children and now to the Naturopathic doctor.  Moreover, even if I have no big influential backers yet, I have been approached by several well connected and skilled people who are considering helping me.  If I keep persevering, these people will probably starting helping more actively.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my family, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other; you’ll get through this.”
Jaime:  Where did I get that image of myself.
I am tempted to answer, “Real life.”  The answer is true and not just a joke.  For most people, life is hard one way or another.
I can give up, but I can lose more safety than I gain by leaving my work.  I could take up drinking, and smoking and drugs and numb myself.  I can isolate myself and become bitter that I gave lots of help to people who later abandoned me when better connected people came along.  I could take my remaining savings and try to educate for myself for another line of work but these days, with this economy, who knows how that will turn out.
But I will let you all in on a little secret.  I am working on solutions to societal problems that don’t involve the government in more than a minimal role.  I'm working on bringing the whole community into the process of preventing abuse and supporting survivors.  Since our political leaders have a penchant for cutting taxes on the wealthy and the corporations, while simultaneously cutting spending on services for the Middle Class and the poor, I really don’t think we can depend on the government, any branch of government, to solve the problems cause by abuse in our society.  

I know my ideas are really good ideas.  The people who work with me really believe in me.

And what goes for society, goes for the Catholic Church too.
There are good people doing good things in the Church.  We need to connect with each other and work together with survivors -- doing the work that needs to be done together-- because the leadership of the Church isn’t going to do it.
Jaime:  If there are some aspects of this self image and self understanding that are life giving, am I willing to let go of the rest.
Me:  My first reaction is, Oh no, I am very attached to seeing the dark cloud of every silver lining.
Maybe it is OK to acknowledge that bad things do happen, and it is normal to feel sad and scared at times.  What I need to do is not wallow in my sadness and my fear but to pick myself up and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Jaime:  What is keeping me me from letting go of a self image that brings me unhappiness?
Me:  Easy, bad things keep happening, and not enough people support me.  But the life skill I learned is to talk back to these negative thoughts.  Yes, bad things do happen, but good things happen too.  And more and more people know me.  More and more people are expressing an interest in what I do.  And my children really love me.  That counts for quit a bit.
Jaime:  What might I gain by transforming my experience.
Me:  Well, If I keep reminding myself of all the positives, it becomes easier and easier to keep moving forward.  If I wallow in my unhappiness, it becomes much harder to move forward.
Jaime:  What might I lose if I don’t transform my experience?
Me:  Well, the risks that I will fail will go up.

I wrote this blog on Wednesday morning, but was unable to post it until Friday.

Well, Helen, a Compassionate Gathering founding member drove me to the Naturopathic clinic.  They say there are no broken bones, but that I still have inflammation in my right elbow.  They are unsure why I can’t flex my right arm more than a few inches but hope that flexion will come back as the inflammation recedes.  They prescribed a number of anti-inflammatory treatments and some visits to a chiropracter.  I’ve driven my car around the block but it is clear to me that I should not attempt freeway driving or driving in traffic.  However, I am hoping to take a disabled survivor to the Stations of the Cross tonight.  Hopefully I can make it.  I’m feeling like I could really identify with the physical pain and suffering of Jesus right now.

The silver lining of all this -- I lost 4 1/2 pounds without trying because it is so much harder to cook and eat right now.