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.

1 comment:

  1. Virginia,

    You're really an extraordinary woman and I hope your arm heals soon and you are gentle with yourself and recovery. I'm sorry that the attorney didn't help you and that you've worked so hard without more company/ collaboration. It seems that you see the good that is there, amidst the frustration.

    Please take care of you. There's no doubt in my mind that you're strong and dedicated. Rest up, my friend.