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.

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