30 November 2006

The Stick

"If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun." ~ Katherine Hepburn

Well, I certainly didn't expect to be going through life with such a big stick up my butt. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised at how rigid I can be. I was always rigid, but I kept it a secret from myself. The biggest surprise is rule-related. I always took the position that I would follow all the rules...unless I thought they were stupid. I frequently thought things were stupid. Now, not so much. Well, okay, maybe just a little.

I expect everyone else to follow the rules, though. If I don't think the rule is worthy of being observed, it's okay with me if you get rebellious, too. Otherwise, rules are made to be followed. See? Major, major stick up my butt. In part, I think it's from being an only child. In part, I think it's from being an only child with a psychotic parent. Whatever the reason, I think I'd like it if I could just let go of this to some extent.

It's difficult to take that position (rules are made to be followed) when you think of yourself as a non-conformist. I tend to look like I'm conforming, but that's just because people can't see inside my head. I'm pointlessly subversive. Sometimes I just like to screw with things because other people are trying to require me to do things their way. (See above.) Sometimes I just like to screw with things because I can. I definitely usually look like I'm conforming, though.

Anal retentive. I have a big need to have things done a certain way. Maybe that's more obsessive-compulsive. I've defintely got some qualities that fit that bill. I alphabetized all of my books, after I put them in categories. I have a lot of books. It took me forever to figure out how I thought they should be categorized. I think I re-organized them several times. It drives me crazy if one of them is out of place. Actually, I need to start over because I've acquired a whole new category of books. I just haven't figured out where in the existing groups to put them.

Clinically speaking, I can get sidetracked into brain loops. I just made that up...oh how non-conformist of me! I can start thinking about how to solve a problem and get stuck there like a broken record. For those of you who even remember what those were. The really nutty thing is that obsessing never leads to an answer. I've known that for years. Leaving it alone and letting my intuitive abilities work on it is much more productive. Nonetheless, I get trapped from time to time.

So I guess if Santa is coming this year, I'd like to get rid of the stick. I'd like to stop getting caught up in obsessive thinking. I'd like to have Santa re-organize my books. The stick, though. That's the main thing.

29 November 2006

The Only Thing I Can Control

"To hold the same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been stupefied for a score of years, and take rank, not as a prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well birched and none the wiser." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

I'm not the person I expected to be. When I was a younger woman, in my twenties and thirties, I lived on the dark edge of disaster. I was despondent more often that not. I didn't have much confidence that I'd choose to be around long enough to make it to this age. I was angry. Actually, angry doesn't begin to describe it. I was enraged...at men, at a society that holds men as inherently more valuable than women. I was clear about the hypocrisy that seemed endemic to this culture. I could never understand how people could get up every day and choose to not confront the despair that seems to settle around us like a fog. Wake up and smell the fucking coffee, people. Stop sedating yourselves with the notion that Jesus will fix everything if we have faith. Stop sedating yourself with your drug of choice, whether it be superficial religiosity or a new car or something equally ridiculous. I can't tell you how tired I got of adults telling me that my life with my parents would improve if I would only turn to Jesus. It seemed to me to be an absurd misunderstanding of reality. Or my reality, anyway.

Much to my surprise, I turned out to be one of those people who constantly looks for something positive. In the worst possible circumstances, I'm looking hard to find something good. Sometimes I don't find it, but mostly I do. I still get angry. Sometimes I'm enraged, but I'm generally just amused. I don't allow people close enough to make me angry. The minute I meet someone, I'm sizing them up to determine how dangerous it might be to let them see whom I truly am. I'm very good at it. Once I establish the benchmark, we're good to go. I let you see just as much as I think you're capable of handling.

I'm surrounded by so much negativity in my work place that I've started to think of myself as Little Mary Sunshine. I can't begin to tell you how shocking that is. In my youth, when I came across people who were small-minded, vicious and perpetually angry (like at least one of my current co-workers), I could be a dangerous adversary. One of the advantages that comes with survivng a difficult childhood (don't you love it that I always use that word, "difficult" to desribe it?) is a keen eye for people's soft underbellies. I know immediately where to go to hurt you the most. When I was a young woman, I used that knowledge ruthlessly.

Now I just make a joke and then make an exit. I certainly could cut people down to size, but I choose to allow them to wallow around in their own negativity. Whatever makes you happy. You won't be doing it with me, though. Every day, we all have a choice. We can choose to focus on things that make us angry and unhappy or we can focus on things that make us smile. Personally, I've had more than my share of sorrow. Why anyone would choose to issue a permanent open invitation to misery is a mystery to me.

This 20 year old who lives inside me somewhere would have me believe I'm glossing over the suffering of the world. She's wrong. And let me just say that she does not cotton to being told she's wrong. Nonetheless, here we are. I see the suffering around me. I can embrace that suffering, but it does no one any good to take up residence there. I do what I can to make things better and try to maintain a positive state of mind.

Maybe it would be better to go back to the old days when I enthusiastically entered fully into the sufferings of others, verballly ripped fools to shreds, or dispensed with people altogether. That doesn't seem like a good place to be. Fools will be fools, no matter how many times you point it out to them. The same thing holds true for assholes. And to be honest, I've been a fool many times. I can't begin to number the many times I've behaved like an asshole. So, you know. Who am I to take people down a couple of notches? From time to time, I still choose to dispense with people, though. There's a point at which anyone can become more trouble than they're worth. When that time comes, I move on. And I don't come back.

The twenty year old curls her lip in derision. She thinks "don't worry, be happy" is a stupid way to live. Of course, back then I believed that most things in life were under my control. Or at least they would be when I left my parental home. There's actually very little in my life that I can control. I can choose an attitude towards the things that come my way. I choose to find the good things.

27 November 2006

Who Else Could I be?

"The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the pales light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether Ihave lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware." ~ Eugene Ionesco

Thanksgiving itself isn't really worthy of comment. I count the things and people for which I'm grateful first thing in the morning, every morning. It was an episode of "60 Minutes' that really grabbed my attention, shook the foundations of my life and made me ponder the meaning of memory.

The story was about the possibility of giving trauma victims a pill which would diminish the emotional charge associated with traumatic memory for those lucky ones of us who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Several scientists have noted the connection between trauma and adrenaline. Now, you'd think that would be obvious, wouldn't you? If an animal (in this instance, a human) is in a life-threatening situation and can't escape, can't diminish the potential for harm, adrenaline floods the body. Fight or flight. Adrenaline helps to impress the event into memory. In terms of evolution, it makes complete sense. Animals must know how to avoid similar dangers so that the species has a chance of continuing. Hence the inescapable flashbacks.

There was a time not all that long ago when my life was just a relentless stream of flashbacks and my unsuccessful attempts to move the mind away from them. I'd stop the memory, try to calm myself down and focus on something entirely different, something non-trauma related. It only lasted a moment or two and the brain would be back into flashback mode, reliving the same or a different trauma. I have quite a few to choose from, so my brain never had to work very hard to dredge up something. It was emotionally and physically exhausting. Sometimes it felt like I was lost in time. For instance, I was in my house with my husband and beloved four-legged family members, but my brain and body were in a completely different and terrifying time and space.

I'm well medicated, so I don't have continuous flashbacks anymore. I now have a lot of time when I'm completely present in the here and now. However, flashbacks are very tricky. They can arise without warning from the way light shines into a room, from just being in a bathroom, from picking up a stick in my yard, from a myriad of events or non-events. Whoa. Just thinking about those things is highly anxiety-provoking. It's good to keep the mind focused. Blank time in my brain invites flashbacks. People think I'm acutely productive and disciplined. What they don't consider is that the reasons why I'm always occupied have nothing to do with either of those two qualities. It's just self-preservation.

The pill I spoke of causes the traumatic memory to be more tenuous. From what I gather, the memory is still present, but it becomes a little vague. Obviously, this would work much better for people who've only had one traumatic event. Or maybe two. What about those of us whose lives are one long, continuous traumatic calamity? A professor concerned with the ethical application of scientific advances commented that we are who we are because of what we've lived through. He said that these learning experiences can make us better people. I think that's very true. I think the obverse is also true, but that's another blog entry altogether.

Who I am is directly informed by my experiences. I've had trauma, therefore I am. My non-traumatic memories are sketchy at best, probably because there are so few of them. I don't have any good memories, so the ones that aren't traumatic are just bad memories. If you take traumatic memories away, who am I? Am I just a blank slate? My intense engagement in my surroundings arise from trauma. My intuitive abilities are informed by trauma. My logical abilities spring from trauma. My compassion is deepened by trauma. My sense of humor, my ability to get back up every time something mows me down was forged in trauma. My ethical and moral compass were refined through trauma. If trauma is taken away, I still have those qualities that have developed over time, but would I even know how they came about? When I tried to remember things, would nothing be there?

When I was a young woman, I dreamed of an ordinary life. I always told people I just wished I could be living in the midwest, married to a salesman, content with defrosting my refrigerator (back in the old days, refrigerators did not defrost themselves). In many ways, that's still true. If living that kind of life could free me from the complexities of a difficult childhood, then I'm definitely purchasing a bus ticket to Ohio. I now know with certainty that which I guessed at in my youth. Ohio will not free me from the past. However, there may be a pill that serves up a little slice of Ohio for me. Would I take it? Probably not.

When I was a freshman in college, I took a Sociology class taught by a Chinese man whose accent made him barely intelligible. The question he posed to us (and it took me a while to figure out what the hell he was aking) the first day was, "If you could take a pill that would make you always happy, would you take it?" Of course that just leads me to ponder the meaning of the word "happy." Since I still can't define it, I always arrive back at the beginning. I am my memories. Who else could I possibly be?