My Inner Worlds
This post was written by my husband Matt this morning. Because I just can't.
I promise this post is about my dog, but allow me to provide some background.
My first therapist gig out of grad school was in a very rural county of the Appalachian mountains. It was rural enough that the county could compel me once per month to do a 24-hour crisis shift. That meant if anyone in the county wound up in the hospital's emergency department impaired by drugs/alcohol, or by mental illness, I would have to drive there and assess them. The doctor could override my decision (it only happened once) but it was typically my call if this person would be sent home, to jail, to a psych ward, or to a detox center.
Here's one example.
Whenever possible I like to talk to the client before I get info from family or staff, so without any foreknowledge I am led to a room with a 73-year-old woman dressed casually at about 3am on a Saturday morning. She has a pleasant smile and is quite chatty. In a sweet voice she is complaining that people should leave her alone in her own home, and let her do what she wants. "I wasn't hurting anyone. There's no reason to drag me here." Her body language is energetic, expressive. Her voice lilts and slides very persuasively, commanding a measure of compassion and respect.
Her tangents are about family who have abandoned her, friends who've died, and the lack of direction for this stage of her life. However, she always reigns that in quickly, then tries to develop a connection with me from a very rational, unemotional voice. I know she is trying to find what frequency I'm at. Am I a soft-hearted social worker? A detached clinician? How can she get me on her side? This is not a good sales person. Operating in this situation at 3am, this woman is a great salesperson. "So you see, they should just leave me alone," she says, referring to a neighbor who got the police involved.
But you don't wind up with a police officer standing outside your emergency room door for no reason.
I excuse myself a moment and exit the room to get more info from the armed guard outside. A neighbor complained of very loud music coming from the home, and found this woman singing and dancing in the middle of her living room, a glass of wine in one hand as she emptied a container of gasoline all over the floor and furniture. As the woman lit a match, the neighbor called 911 and responders arrived to find a fire slowly consuming the carpet, the woman dancing in its light. Her blood alcohol level was .360 when she arrived at the hospital -- four and a half times legal intoxication -- though she demonstrated no signs of slurred speech or loss of balance or coordination. This highly experienced drinker would have passed as simply "quirky," were it not for the small blaze about to consume her entire home - with her in it. That was the plan she finally admitted. Nevermind it might have taken thousands of acres of forest with it.
That was one of the easier and more pleasant cases. On one Christmas shift I spent twenty-four hours handling thirteen different people at the hospital. Each one requiring paperwork, endless faxes to various psych wards, and phone conversations trying to sell my cases to these facilities. I spent all week with severely mentally ill people and needed my weekends to rejuvenate, so you can only imagine my enthusiasm. I was forced into these despised shifts for about three years.
Unfortunately, just as I reinforce with my clients, a bad attitude only makes everything worse. The whole thing felt heavy, full with resentment and an internal voice that invented profane insults like nothing you'd ever heard. I had never hated a job so much. Something had to be done.
I worked through numerous solutions, including distracting myself with the Internet, writing emails, and so on, but none of it worked. Finally I discovered that my entire attitude changed if I sat still and imagined my dog Tia in my lap for a few minutes. This was more powerful than anything else I came up with. It worked every time I did it. It was impossible for me to be angry with Tia on my lap, as her lively energy and warm, loving kisses instantly brought a smile to my face every time. So that's what I did each time I had to go to the hospital, for over two years of these monthly shifts. On the rough shifts I'd have to break every hour or so and do this exercise. It made life a lot easier.
My little hero was chosen from a litter by Sarah, who identified her as the most active and playful of the bunch. This later translated into Alpha dog. She would fearlessly launch all twenty pounds of her at any dog or child within ten feet, no matter how large or threatening. Probably the Chihuahua part of her. The same part that makes her such an impossibly loving and loyal part of our pack. When Tia sits her cute little butt on you, you know you're being sat on by one of the greats.
And this is where the heartwarming tone of this blog post must end.
Eleven-year-old Tia is experiencing chronic back and kidney pain, isn't eating much, and is laying still. We could probably leave her in this body another month or so, but we don't see the point in watching someone who has been so good to us suffer day after day. We cannot do that to her or to ourselves.
The time has come to send this wonderful companion on to her next project. We send her with medals of honor, passionate testimonials, and all the love in our hearts.
Spring is just around the corner, night taking one more breath to whisper its final goodbye. With this last kiss, we can all wake from our hibernating selves and inhale the growing sunlight.
At this time of equinox, I shake off the cobwebs in body and mind, in hearth and home. The tradition of spring cleaning came from days of old when we relied on wood-burning heat sources and the light from candles to keep the darkness at bay during the long winter nights. I never really understood this need for spring cleaning until I had to light an apartment using candles for three solid days during a snowstorm (no power means no heat and no light). Afterwards I discovered black soot all over the beige walls, covering my white trash can and any other surface that smoke and its crud can cling to. It took a lot of scrubbing to get my home clean. That experience has made me incredibly grateful for electricity and the modern conveniences that come with it.
The past three months have been intense for my self-identity. I’ve cleared many old thoughts and beliefs that don’t work for me and probably never did. I’ve begun to abandon behavior patterns that destroy any chance that I’ll be who I want to become or accomplish the pursuits that bring joy into my life. There are some things that I’ve let in—that little creative girl who got stuck at some point in childhood, but now wants to join the game; that fearsome weird-looking part of me that others may not get, but that is essential for the work I crave to do. Now that dark and light will balance their energy in a moment’s passing, I also will bring equilibrium to those now-empty spaces and find more effective places for the new aspects of my self.
Every spring we have the opportunity to emerge from our winter caves and see the potential that quietly grows during the dark, still season.
What have you seen or experienced that you want to strengthen in yourself or in your home? How can you feel more love, joy, and gratitude for who you are and who you can be a year from now?
This past week was a pretty balanced one. Yoga tired me and reminded me I need to take it slow as I build my practice back to what it was last fall. Work offered unique opportunities, but allowed me to stay in my quiet zen-like office for as long as I wanted. I felt good and in my flow.
My flow broke when I returned a call to one of our stakeholders. I’ve never truly interacted with this particular woman and regretted the need for a conversation after ten seconds on the phone. This lady was filled with spiky, intense, destructive mojo that absolutely destroyed my peace of body and mind. She argued and actually told me she didn’t care what I had to say (I was explaining financial policy that is out of my control). Ugh. After attempting to be gracious in a no-win situation, she finally allowed me to hang up the phone. But that didn’t disconnect the attachment that formed between her energy and mine.
I’m a Reiki Master, and I’m in tune with energy around me. It has taken years of practice and awareness to balance myself, body and mind, in different environments and tough situations. The effects of this woman’s lack of regard and stabbing intent sat heavy in my gut for hours. Even writing about it brings the feeling back. Eventually I found my equilibrium and went on to have the peaceful sort of day I love and enjoy.
Yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend and relayed this story. She and I met 16 years ago in Reiki Level I training and became fast friends, taking our remaining classes together to become Masters. She reminded me of one of the symbols we learned: Raku. Reiki is based on using symbols while allowing the universal energy to flow through the practitioner and into the person/animal/situation needing healing or wholeness. A Reiki teacher uses Raku to separate her energy from the student after attuning the student to a new level.
Duh. What took me hours to accomplish on my own could have been done within minutes if I had used Raku to separate my energy and emotions from the woman-on-the-phone’s spite. I need to have this symbol on my cork board so I will always see it at work when I end a phone call. If something isn’t in front of my face, I tend to forget it. I trained hard to become a Reiki Master, but I’ve allowed some of that knowledge to fall into the cracks inside my skull. It’s time to dust off the Reiki symbols and see if there is a new and improved way to use them in my life. If I can rediscover a cool use for Raku, then surely more tricks await my creative spin.
What ways do you find effective to keep healthy, safe boundaries with those who think they can intrude into your emotional space? Reiki is one way. I’d love to hear about others.
Spring seems like it’s already here, not necessarily because of the weather (although it helps). But because my job has eased up. I don’t have to run on pure adrenaline, and my body has mostly recovered from that spike that got me through the winter busy season. My creative brain is wakening. I feel it perking at the oddest times, usually when I can’t sit down and write. The frustrating part about art—my muse and my schedule don’t often align. But when they do, it feels like magic.
Magic, did you say? I haven’t gotten back into my stories or fiction yet, but my monthly Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game has burst with renewed fun. Captain Lia is not a magic-user, but her two best friends and pirating buddies are. The D&D world is steeped in monsters and enchantment and sends me to a place where I can play with aspects of myself. It’s not always safe to try something new in real life, but a fantasy setting where harm really can’t occur is the perfect way for me to try on different hats or perspectives.
Consider the pirate stereotype…salty, villainous, greedy, most likely missing some teeth. However, my friends and I have created a way to play pirates that doesn’t go against our real-world principles. Lia leads a ship whose crew is considered family. She would die before allowing harm to befall anyone aboard the Skull fleet. She also won’t allow raids on villages; instead, we seem to give our bounty to those in need. Definitely not a pirate thing to do. I get to be a barbarian and a bad-ass in battle. It feels empowering to kill two monsters with one swing of my mighty sword. Historically, I’ve played magic users and always had to stay in the background during fights due to my delicate constitution. Now I get to play a physically strong character and stretch those muscles within myself.
Do you have a space where you can experiment with who you are and feel safe doing so? I’d love to hear about it.