Ask the Catbox, the Debut!  

Yay! My grand experiment worked! I put out a call for questions, requests and feedback about stuff folks want to see addressed in the blog, and a bunch of you reached out. Keep ‘em coming! I’m going to be making my way through them over the next couple of weeks and I’ll be linking to the blogs of folks who send questions, so don’t forget to mention where you’re writing.

So here’s the first of what I hope is a series of conversations with all you lovely humans here in the Catbox.

The Unexpected Trip writes:

“When you imagine the future, what do you see?…What happened that allowed you to move past the idea that only one version of the future is worthwhile? The passage of time…and what else?”

Sort of a two parter, really.

We’ll start with the mechanical question. How, exactly, does this happen? This acceptance? This peace with not-having? This not-being-batshit-allthefreakingtime?

My answer is: I don’t know.

I don’t know how it happens for you. I know how it happened for me, and I know that there are some basic common threads across experience that suggest that how it happened for me might be helpful for how it happens for you, but I want to be clear about the subjectiveness of this thing. Because otherwise, if I tell you “This Is The Way” and it’s not what works for you, then I’m just confirming the shitty global narrative you’ve been slogging through this whole time, that somehow you can’t get what you need because you’re doing something wrong. Or you are something wrong. If you just meditated enough, or took the right supplements, or got the right obscure shamanic vaginal massage protocol you’d be Mother Goose. You’re not thinking right, your body isn’t pure enough, you’re not praying properly, you’re not serving properly, bla bla bla all the way down through the centuries and millennia that have seen us subjugate to the patriarchal demand that we pay rent for our existence with the harvest of our bodies. So bugger that. I call bullshit.

With that said, here are some things that I found useful, that you may find useful, and if you don’t find them useful, please feel free to dismiss them without a shred of self-excoriation.

I had to start with The Bitterness.

I’ve written a lot about The Bitterness. And I know from your comments and from the conversations I’ve had with women in my practice that y’all know ALL about The Bitterness. The toxic simmering rage that sits right at the base of your belly where nothing will grow to fullness; the scraping, grinding bone-on-bone groan when you see the ripe bellies of your friends and relations; the thing that cleaves you away from the rest of humanity in awkward alien otherness and twists nightmare shapes out of the husk of your compassion.

No image of the future is possible from within the noxious quagmire of The Bitterness.

How can it be? Because after all and in the core of it all The Bitterness is a hatred of the self. You hate the body that will not be fruitful. You hate the face that grows pinched and furrowed with endless cycles of hope and devastation. You hate the choices you’ve made that you somehow manage to chop up and rearrange so that they neatly explain and describe the absence of a baby in your empty hated arms. Your hatred of yourself becomes your closest companion, a beloved and intimate Mean Girl who whispers judgement and scorn in your ear all day till it starts to sound like she’s talking about everyone else but you.

I reflexively flipped off a pregnant mannequin at Target yesterday. She’s still in here somewhere, I assure you.

But she’s quieter now. I can sort of patiently refuse to engage with her, put my arm around her bony, irascible shoulders and give her a squidge when she gets bitchy now. I can tell her I love her, that it’s ok, that she doesn’t have to be anything more or different or better for me to love her, that she doesn’t have to make other people shitty for me to see her as not shitty. And then she turns into this little ginger kid with big ears and zero impulse control, and I can see that she is confused and lonely and scared, scared, scared as hell. And I can reach down and slip my hands under her armpits and hoist her up onto my hip, press her poor helpless hurting body into mine, bounce her gently a few times and walk out of the store singing her lullabies.

And you know what? That kid has a future. I’m gonna see to it.

What I see when I look into that future is less important than my decision to ensure there is one. I’m not actually all that bothered with what it might look like. I am deeply, intoxicatingly in love with the present moment these days. It is an addiction. Right now, for instance, I am sitting in my writing chair in my sun dappled writing room which I just cleaned yesterday. On my lap is the pillow I usually rest my laptop on, except that at this present intoxicating moment it has been coopted by a warm snuggly wiener who has burrowed herself into my robe and caused me to have to move the laptop way over to the side, such that I am literally leaning half off the chair in order to type while accommodating her. Her breath comes in short sleepy huffs and her little body feels like a furry hot water bottle. This is the moment I’m in right now. Are you freaking kidding me? How did I get so lucky????


In practical terms, I see continued fulfilling work in my future, a marriage that is always growing and changing, watching my niece and nephew magically turn into adults while my sister and I get closer and closer, helping my parents deal with aging, raising wieners and hobbitses and cats, maybe buying a house, going to the gym with my awesome gym buddy, eating good food, watching awesome shows on Netflix, and continuing to figure out how one lives day to day and moment to moment in something like peace and acceptance. Frankly, that sounds like enough to be going fucking on with.

If you’re curious about the mechanics of “how” – how do you release The Bitterness, how do you choose love, etc – the way I did it was with meditation. I’ll keep this part fairly brief because it’s easy to start sounding like a cult member when you’re talking about this stuff. Meditation trains the brain to observe rather than engage with thoughts and feelings, and this allows you to make choices about how you respond to them. It’s really that simple. There are thousands of years of research to back this up, although it’s only in the last couple of decades that us dipshits over here in the West have decided to put science funding behind it and therefore begun to believe it works. But that’s where we are. There’s a ton of research proving that meditation changes the neural pathways of the brain and fosters empathy and compassion. It’s good shit.

A really nice compact bite sized training program for meditation is the Headspace app. It is of course the most microscopic nano-scratching of the surface of what mindfulness and meditation are and I strongly encourage you to follow the rabbit hole as far as you can, but it’s a good place to start.

Ok, I gotta go to an office kickball game, cause that’s the awesome shit that’s in my future today. Much love to you all, thanks for your feedback and keep it coming!

 

Advertisements

Shame Spiral: The Scenic Route.

It’s Sunday, and I just got back from the community meditation service at Portland Insight Meditation Center. I was tired and grumpy and whiny and the meditation sucked arse because I was either falling asleep or having mild panic attacks about money, both of which made me want to crawl out of my skin. The nice thing about insight meditation (also known as vipassana meditation for those who like to know the groovy Sanskrit names of things) is that you can’t really do it wrong – if you’re having an arse-sucking meditation full of tiredness and whiny-ness and Grumpy Eeyore crap attitude, rather than seeing it as a failure to get your ohm on you can view it as an opportunity to observe tiredness and whiny-ness and Grumpy Eeyore crap attitude. Which, as it turns out, is kind of interesting.

For instance, I observed a strong desire to either shimmy under the bench and take a nap or leave the center so that I could go look at my finances and worry about them in a more focused manner. In the grand scheme of things, the outlandish ridiculous childish thing (taking a nap under the bench in a public place because I am grumpy) would probably be more helpful and less destructive than the supposedly normal adult thing (staring at numbers and freaking out because they are small-ish) because while a nap would have the effect of reducing my grumpiness, no amount of palpitating about my finances is going to increase my bank account. In the end I did neither, and I walked out kind of chuckling to myself about what a po-faced weenie I can be sometimes. And that was, in its own weird way, a valuable insight.

A couple of weeks ago I had a similar opportunity to observe a seemingly intolerable emotional process and learn something from it, the tale of which I shall now recount.

To lay the foundation I must tell you that I have some body problems. Besides a zillion miscarriages and endometriosis and ruptured ovarian cysts and a whole host of other catastrophic ladypart issues I have bursitis in my hips and tendonitis in my right arm/shoulder, which can make it very difficult to sit upright without a chair back for very long. When I first started meditating at home I would lay on the floor because breathing could be difficult with all my core muscles wonking out to compensate for the effed up hips and shoulder. The first few Sundays at Portland Insight I’d sort of tucked myself into the back of the room and lain down while the guided meditation and subsequent lecture was going on, and no one had mentioned anything so I didn’t think anything of it. One Sunday I thought I’d get a little more involved and tried sitting up on some cushions in the center of the room like the pros do. I got a bunch of cushions and shoved them wherever things felt iffy and settled in. It very quickly became incredibly painful, but it was a great way to practice noticing sensations without clinging, right?

When the meditation was over I stayed where I was and propped the pillows under my head so I could lie down and rest my hips and back and shoulder, which were now kind of yelling at me. The director of the center started the lecture (about impermanence and present moment, good stuff) and I was enjoying it. Then out of the blue he looked right at me and asked, “Would you mind sitting up?” I was totally shocked and mortified and awkwardly started sitting up, and then he said “Unless you need it for your back, in which case stay down.”

I spluttered that I do indeed have back problems and was it ok if I stayed where I was, and he said again that it was fine and then noticed with a laugh that he had forgotten to take his shoes off (which you’re totally ‘posta do). He made a joke about how bare feet aren’t any more spiritual than shoes and if some people needed their shoes on that was ok too. That was it. That was the whole thing. I went back to lying down and he went back to his talk.

And I began to slowly implode with shame.

Like an avalanche, like a riptide it took me, so violently that I barely heard anything else for the next 15 minutes. People must think I’m rude. He must think I’m rude. I had no idea this was a rule – is it a rule? If so, why is it a rule? Is it some kind of respect thing, like I’m being disrespectful? How the hell was I supposed to know that? I felt so comfortable here and now maybe I can’t come back. Can you get kicked out of a meditation community for lying down during the Dharma talk? God, look at everyone else, sitting up with their straight backs and their strong core muscles and their nice clear minds, and I’m over here all broken and fucked up being disrespectful in some way I didn’t even know about. And EVERYONE is looking at me. CLEARLY. 

I had a sudden flashback to 3rd grade, when Mrs. Uyeda with the one scary permanently raised eyebrow would bring my math workbook up to the front of the class to show everyone the pages I hadn’t done. That burning, that sinking, that feeling of being trapped paralyzed in the chair with no good way out of that endless, torturous moment. That shame. Oh god, that shame.

And all the other kids around me are smart and can pay attention, they’re clean and loved and not dying of fear all the time. Their houses are safe and their parents are sober and help them with their math homework instead of yelling and nobody beats them or punches holes in doors when they try to get away. Their teeth aren’t ugly and gapped and their fingers aren’t bitten bloody and their insides aren’t rotting and corrupted with whatever this thing is inside of me that makes me so, so weird and bad and unlovable.

And in the meditation hall I could feel all this happening, could feel the stinging shameful tears starting behind my eyes and my breath going ragged with the effort of keeping it together as my brain catapulted me backward in time with the force of a sci-fi blockbuster. And I kept reminding myself that what I was feeling was totally ok because it was what I was feeling, and that it was transient, and that it didn’t define me because the past is not happening right now, in the present, in THIS present where I am safe and loved and loving and he said it was ok and anyway nobody is probably even fucking thinking about me anymore because I am not actually as important as all that, for fuck’s sake.

And I started to get a hold of it – or no, to NOT hold it, to just let it through and let it go. It was the end of the talk and he asked if anyone had any questions. A woman asked about how to stay mindful with her 2 year old. And I fell apart again.

As he spoke, answering the woman’s question beautifully, he got choked up for a moment talking about the incredible heartbreaking power of parents’ love for their children. I felt my belly ripped apart with the ache, the longing, the unbearable knowledge that I will never know that love. I will never hold my own baby and watch it grow and have my heart broken by it. All the old alienation returned, enthroned like a sainted idol in a feast day procession, flanked by the clean, safe, unbloodied children in my 3rd grade classroom and all the normal people with their normal bodies that do normal things sitting in normal positions all around the room. Everything I am not. Everything I am not. Everything I am not.

Holy shit, that shit is powerful.

I managed to stay in the room. I didn’t flee; I let tears and snot run down my face because there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to be as silent as possible because I didn’t want anyone to notice me and try to comfort me. The director noticed, I’m fairly sure of it, and he said a couple of things that suggested that he was trying to make space for whatever incomprehensible shit was going on with that new woman who was lying down and is now sitting up with tears and snot running down her face. I can’t remember what they were but I noticed them. I even managed to stay through the part where everybody stands up in a circle and holds hands and chants stuff, although that was mainly because by the time I’d made it back to the door it was already blocked by hand-holding people and it was either hold hands or bust through them running, and I thought the former would be far less disruptive. When it was over I walked to my car with my whole face flowing, drove home with my whole face flowing, and my whole face continued flowing as I went through my day trying to synthesize and learn from what had happened.

What I took from it was this:

Shame is one of the most powerful hallucinogens on Earth. It can literally warp your perception of reality and make you absolutely, unequivocally sure that you know what the people around you think or will think if the object of your shame becomes known. It is also incredibly narcissistic, casting you as the star of your very own diabolical horror movie because of course, you are so important that everyone else is going to expend their hard-earned time and energy thinking shitty thoughts about you. And we become wasteful ourselves – the incredible acrobatics we go through to mitigate shame, intellectualize it, avoid it, repress it, become rageful in defense against it, are all extravagantly unnecessary because shame, like all other emotions, is a transient state that does not define us. As real as it feels in the moment, it’s a delusion. In the end it’s all ok, because we are where we are and we’re allowed to be exquisitely kind and compassionate toward ourselves, even when we are covered in tears and snot because a total stranger asked us to change position.

Happy Sunday, y’all.
Postscript – Are any of my readers good draw-ers? I came out of the service today with a mental picture of Eeyore meditating, sitting cross-legged on a cushion made of thistles with his little front hooves resting on his knees and a grumpy yet resigned expression on his face. I totally need to have this image for my practice. I’ll send you awesome pictures of my weird looking dog in exchange. 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Part 2

(I’ve been trying to start this for the last half hour but my husband, who is listening to On the Media while doing the dishes, keeps lurching into the living room to loudly splutter his horror and opprobrium about the monstrous window-into-the-nation’s-rotting-soul that is Donald Trump. He’s been in Europe for 6 weeks and is just now catching up on how America is actually going to be over soon. Totally not relevant to the rest of the post but I thought you might enjoy a brief postcard snapshot from a Wednesday afternoon in the Schrodinger household. Wish you were here.)

It was a Saturday night when I came home from my sister’s house to the creepy frozen diorama of grief my own house had become. I sat on the couch wishing I could drink wine (they’d given me Metronidazole for the D&C and I’m pretty sure your stomach actually explodes if you drink alcohol for like 72 hours after taking it) and wondering what in the everloving shit to do with myself.

In the stillness, I could feel it bubbling up. The Bitterness. Cleaving me off from humanity like a butcher’s knife. I am alone. I am not like anyone else. Everyone else is normal and I’m not. Every woman of childbearing age in my life is a ticking time bomb that can go off any minute. All the pregnancy announcements I will have to endure after having a few blessed months of immunity from the splintering pain of seeing them in my Facebook feed. All the callous unthinking comments from people with children, all the blissful nursery-chimey diaper advertising, all the shows I will have to stop watching because the main character just got pregnant and I KNOW that they will not miscarry because they NEVER miscarry on TV. Because people having babies is what is normal. And I am not. 

And I didn’t want to feel it, didn’t want to grieve it, didn’t want to go back to that desolate toxic wasteland of hating the Normals and smothering in anger. I so very badly wanted to stay in my humanity. I felt myself gripping the sides of an emotional doorjamb, my fingers going numb from resisting the push. I don’t wanna go I don’t wanna go please don’t make me go…………..

Eventually I put myself to bed, because what the hell else are you going to do.

Down the street from my house there is a meditation community called Portland Insight. A friend had sent me a link to their website some years ago after some other miscarriage, and though I’d used the guided meditations as a resource for clients and listened to a few myself I’d never made it over there. I thought that I was really bad at meditating, so I preached its benefits while secretly being afraid to do it myself. Because quiet is scary. What might come up is scary. Being bored in your own head is scary. Right?

Quick backstory flashback:

In 2009, after a truly execrable patch of marital trauma and in a really generally broken and shitty place, I took a friend up on a recurring offer to go to church with her on a Sunday morning. I am an atheist, so that sounded weird. But she kept telling me that the music was amazing and that nobody would force me to believe anything or even ask about it, and that it was this incredible watershed emotional experience of human connection and celebration. And there is this very peculiar and magical flavor of despair and hopelessness that is so totally despairing and hopeless that it seems to transform into a kind of deadpan, invincible why-the-fuck-not-ism, a place so closed up and shut down that it somehow makes you open to whatever, and you wander into things you’d previously rejected out of hand. So I went with her that morning because I genuinely couldn’t think of anywhere else to put my body, and it opened up a loving and life-changing world that rebuilt and healed me in a way nothing else could have. I’m still an atheist, and it’s still not weird. You can read about it in the blog I kept over that period, if you’re into learning why that’s not weird.

On the Sunday morning after losing my final baby I awoke in that peculiar and magical why-the-fuck-not realm, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put my body, so I went to this meditation place. It was either that or start drinking at 9am. Always an option, but the Metronidazole thing made it a challenge.

I walked in weeping, hurting, twisted, sick, helpless, terrified of my own mind. I walked out weeping and hurting, still, but full of lightness and hope and a visceral understanding of how to grieve cleanly, with love and kindness.

I am new to this meditation thing, so my ability to explain to you what happened is limited. It was not metaphysical, it was not miraculous. It was very simply a shift in perception. Apparently anyone can do it. Here’s the real core of what did it for me:

The “sermon” at a meditation center is called a Dharma talk, and that morning the speaker told a Buddhist parable about two arrows. I am going to tell it badly but you can read more here. The basic idea is that when we are pierced by an arrow, it hurts. Because duh. That pain is inevitable. But then we get hit by another arrow that hurts twice as much. The second arrow is all the ways we try to avoid feeling the pain of the first arrow. We run from it, we try to control things around it, we pretend that controlling it will make it go away. We defend it with rage and hatred, we obsess about our obsession with not feeling it. We drink, we eat, we fuck, often in ways that make things a million times worse. We stay busy, we make noise in empty spaces to drown it out. The vast energies we expend trying not to feel the first arrow cause exponentially more pain than the injury itself. And if we can let all that shit go, the second arrow falls out and ceases to pain us. We are left with just our wound, which is inescapable and exquisite and beautifully human, just like us.

I can’t even tell you how many lights that switched on for me.

The same relief I felt in the ER ultrasound room came back to me, but this time full of a vibrant gratitude. I’m not even really sure gratitude for what, maybe just the fact that it was suddenly clear to me that I had a choice. I didn’t have a choice about the first arrow – that is a profound wound, a ragged trench that runs through the center of every cell in my body. It will never go away. The torn edges will heal and the empty space will fill in the way a gouge in the earth eventually fills in with windblown soil. But it will never go away. That part I don’t have a choice about. But the rest of it? The second arrow? That I can choose.

And if I can choose to cling to that second arrow, I can also choose to let it go.

Incidentally, please don’t send this to your friend who is still struggling with The Bitterness. Please don’t hope that she reads this and suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have to be an insufferable black blot on the social landscape. She is where she is, and she needs you to be ok with that. She can’t just Let It Go. She is doing the best she can. I did the best I could. The people who matter forgive me for my failures. The people who don’t are long gone.

You don’t get it until you get it. That Sunday morning, I finally got it.

This is what it looked like.

The children of the people who come to meditate on Sunday mornings get to go off to a different part of the facility and do, I don’t know, kid meditations or something. It’s like Sunday school with oms. When I first walked in and saw them all filing off to do their thing, the sight of children hurt me. The sight of children hurt me. I wondered if, amidst the bitterness and rage and resentment of not being able to have my own child, I would ever be able to fully love someone else’s if we adopted. I felt a gut-wrenching fear that I would live in acrid, loveless barrenness all the days of my life. All of that gripped me as I watched the kids go to the kid place.

After the Dharma talk all the children rushed back in and took their places in the circle. I watched them in their joy and their vital silliness and thought, “Crazy woman. How could you think you couldn’t love another’s child? They’re children. It’s what they’re here for.” 

It was the first time in 5 years I had seen children as something other than the representation of my failures, my losses, the ways in which I am alien and wrong. It was the first time in 5 years I had looked at a child and seen simply a child.

There’s more, but it’s evolving and coming to light day by day. And this is fucking long. And I have to go see clients. I’ll keep wrangling with this shit and keep talking about it as it grows.

Real quick, though? Thank you so much for the incredible welcome back to the blogosphere. I forgot how awesome this place can be.

Love you guys.

Fertility Privilege, Part 1

Hello, blogpeople. I am shortly going to lay down some heavy shit right here. It will entail a certain amount of academic nerdliness, through which I humbly entreat you to bear with me. I have a point, I promise. It will be in a subsequent post because it takes a long time to get there.

First, an update. If memory serves, I had fallen back into a world of hurt and awful the last time I wrote. That giant swirling miasma of hurt and awful got very big and unbearable, and I was briefly an asshole. I found myself being helplessly eaten alive by everything I thought I’d dealt with, all the grief and the flashbacks and the rage and the hopelessness and the helplessness, and it became venomous, and for the first time in this whole hell-ride of infertile misery of the past few years it shot up and out of my mouth and at someone else. I said shitty things that I should have kept to myself. You remember that cute little dinosaur that the bad guy finds when he’s trying to leave Jurassic Park, and he’s all “Hi little guy, have a piece of candy!” and then its neck fins fan out and its teeth get gnarly and hideous poison goo shoots out of its spit glands and fries the guy’s face off? Yeah. It was kind of like that.

And the whole time it was happening, I was sort of outside of my own body looking in, going, “Who the fuck is this horrifically bitter, miserable woman saying these cruel things?” Because you see, I am kind of the nicest person on the planet. Or I try to be. Sometimes I may have to say things that are difficult for someone to hear, but I have been known to spend weeks – weeks! – working on how to say it in such a way that the hearer will not be hurt or made angry or if they are, then I have a plan in place to try to ameliorate any rift that might result between us. My worst fear, literally my worst, is people being mad at me and not loving me anymore. Yes, I’m in therapy. Shut up.

But here is this woman with this poison flying out of her like ejecta from a venom volcano, and she appears to be me, because she is wearing my favorite boots. Some proof is incontrovertible.

The whole experience checked me like a kick to the solar plexus. I had to kind of go to ground for a little while and breathe, just breathe, and start to bleed off the poison. Because I realized that that’s what it was – poison. Rage, despair, grief. They are corrosive, especially if they are applied daily and weekly and monthly, as the years go by and your body betrays you, and all around you joy happens and you are not the one. Rage, despair, grief. They become the only connection between you and the baby you lost, or who would not spark at all. The baby that slipped out me into the toilet and all its brief-sparked kin – all that was left of them was the rage, despair and grief of their loss. It had become a friend, something I held close and nursed and protected. And it was killing me.

So I made a conscious decision to let it go.

When I work with children who have experienced trauma, I teach them about the breathing button. This is an absolutely for-true fact: there is a nerve in your spinal cord that, when you take deep belly breaths and inflate your abdominal cavity, gets activated and lowers your blood pressure. This is why we have been telling each other for millennia to “take a deep breath and calm down”. When I tell kids about this they freak out, and they tell their parents and their siblings and their friends about how you have a magic button inside your body that makes you calm down when you’re upset. It is kind of magic.

I spent a lot of time focused on my breathing button.

Because these things are tenacious. It’s a kind of PTSD. Rage, despair and grief – they stick to the insides of your psyche and cling like tar sand oil. It really does feel utterly uncontrollable, the same way PTSD is uncontrollable – waves of unbearable emotions crash your executive functioning systems and pull them offline, leaving you in a thoroughly animal state of fight or flight, hide or lash out. Rage, despair and grief. I became aware of just how many moments of my day they got triggered to spring: Baby section at grocery store. (Which is always right next to the tampon section – how fucking assaultive is THAT?) Major plot twists in roughly every show I watch. Seemingly weekly ultrasound-picture pregnancy announcements on Facebook. Most of my clients. Most of my family. People in the park. People on the street. People, just generally. Boing, boing, boing – rage, despair and grief sprung so frequently I stopped noticing it. It was just the water I swam in.

So I breathed. I breathed and I breathed and I breathed, and I listened to meditations, and I wept when weeping happened and laughed when laughing happened, and eventually I got to the point where I had enough compassion for myself that I could start filtering out the rage, despair and grief. Not that they went away – they don’t go away. This month is the month that baby, the toilet baby, would have been turning one year old. Don’t for a minute imagine that I’m not deeply, solemnly aware of it. I’m just choosing to breathe instead of die.

So this is where I am. Several people in my immediate social and occupational vicinities have announced their pregnancies recently, and I have felt some fleeting sorrow but then I’ve breathed and I’ve been ok. I feel clear-eyed and calm and oddly detached in an analytical sort of way.

Which is what led me to an epiphany about fertility privilege.

To be continued.