What’s in your wallet?

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19 years ago, at 7 am in a near blizzard, I got in my 9 year old Subaru Loyale, and drove 50 miles to bankruptcy court. My lawyer, whom I had met with once, several months prior, was supposed to meet me there.

He was an hour late, citing the weather. He got no sympathy from me. Even the trustee was unimpressed. He pointed out to him that I had come farther, and that I had been on time. I missed my scheduled time because of him, so I had to wait until the end of the regular schedule for my hearing.

I think the trustee felt sorry for me that my guy was such a loser, but that didn’t stop him from levying a $37,000 judgment against me. I had to borrow the money to pay the judgment from my parents, who had to take out a second mortgage on their house to get it. It was 3/4 of the total amount I owed. So much for starting over.

I paid my parents $500 per month for the next 7 years to repay that debt. They wouldn’t let me pay interest. I had a good job, and after a few years I was able to get a secured credit card, so was able to start rebuilding my credit. In 2009, I was able to get a loan to buy a house, and I felt like I was in the clear.

Then my dad died and I moved in with mom. Dad had been ill for a long time, and by the time he died, the house was in severe disrepair. Those repairs, along with the steep property tax owed for the next few years, forced me into credit card debt once again. Given my history, I didn’t make that choice lightly, but neither mom nor I had any savings, so I had no other recourse.

I had built good credit over the years, though, so 3 years ago my credit union offered me a high limit, low interest credit card that I used to transfer all my debt from the other high interest cards.

This past Saturday I made the last payment on that card. As I write this, I have no credit card debt. In fact, the only debt I have now is the mortgage on my little house, cuz last fall I paid off the car I bought 5 years ago. I don’t really consider my mortgage a debt, per se, cuz if I wasn’t making a house payment, I’d be paying rent, so to me it seems like the same thing.

No debt. I can hardly believe that’s true. I feel free in a way I haven’t since I left high school. Student debt that took 12 years to pay off, credit card debt, car payments on 6 or 7 cars over the years, the bankruptcy judgment, more credit card debt; owing someone something has been a constant in my adult life.

Owing, or being in debt is a powerful metaphor. Not only do I believe in karmic debt manifesting in this life, but I think psychologically I always felt I had to pay my way here because I didn’t really belong. As a child and then young adult, I felt that there was nothing here for me; that my presence on the planet was a mistake, and that I had to make up for what it took to sustain me.

I don’t feel that way now, thank goodness, so I’m hoping that my new found freedom from debt is permanent. The tide has turned. The money that was going to debt payment is now going into savings. After 20 years at Acme Health Services, I have a nice pension fund building. I’m hoping to refinance my house soon, and in a couple of years, transfer it to a reverse mortgage or sell it.

So I’ve kind of backed in to a good financial situation. I’m not rich, and I’m probably not ever going to be unless Publisher’s Clearinghouse is involved, but I feel good about my financial future in a way I never have before, and that’s a very good thing. On that day 19 years ago, I never would have imagined this day would come.

I found my way through the blizzard, and I can see my way forward clearly. It took 58 years, but I made it. Hallelujah!

 

 

Signposts

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Winston Churchill has been a hero of mine for quite a while. To me, he embodies the word “resilience,” and that’s something that has meant a lot to me over the years. My goal throughout all of my life, through some pretty rough stuff, has simply been to keep going. No matter what.

I didn’t want to. There have been plenty of times, deep in the cold morass of the blackest depression, especially, that I’ve thought of giving up. In the middle of bitter disappointment, abject failure, burning rejection, aching loss, I asked myself, “Why?”

Why keep going? What is this all for? What will change?

I didn’t give up, though, and it turns out the answer to all those questions is: ME.

Life hasn’t changed – it’s still hard, and will always be so, but I’ve changed. Turns out I’ve always been resilient, though I didn’t think of myself that way. When I look back at my life, though, I see it. I kept getting up. I took some pretty hard blows, but I got up every time and went on. Bruised and bleeding, for sure, but I got back on my feet and I went on. Every. Time. Sometimes I had help, sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I was the one who had to find the strength to go forward and I did.

As I’ve gotten older I find that I get up faster and that I see those difficult times differently. That’s what’s changed. I see the benefit, the opportunity for growth, quicker than I used to, and while I probably still don’t welcome hardship, I am able to embrace it more fully and faster than I used to. For that I’m deeply grateful.

Last weekend brought me to my knees, literally and figuratively. It pressed all the buttons, hard. In thinking about it now, though, I realize a couple of important shifts.

First, I didn’t get angry. Amazing, cuz that’s my first reaction to most everything unpleasant, typically. I didn’t this time, though cuz I didn’t take it personally. I joked about being punished for taking time off, but it really was a joke, not something I truly believed. It was all just stuff that happened, and I got that right away.

Second, I didn’t make more of it than it was. I did what needed to be done, for myself and then later, for my mom, which is normal. I’ve always been good in a crisis. Afterward, though, I didn’t obsess about it for days and days, and that’s new. It was nasty, and not something I hope to go through again anytime soon, but it’s over. Life goes on.

Resilience.

Never give up. Never, never, never, never. We all have the capacity – that resilience. All creatures are resilient, but for humans it’s different, in that we have a choice. You have to make it over and over.

Everyone I know goes through really rough stuff, again andagain; really gnarly rotten stuff. We all have our own curriculum here in Earth school, so the obstacles are different for all of us, but there are always obstacles, no matter who you are, or how in control you think you are. There is no way to do it “right” so that everything goes well for you. There just isn’t. There’s no point to that. We don’t learn from easy.

We don’t get stronger. We don’t get better, unless we’re challenged. That’s another thing unique to humans. That’s just the way it is. Getting angry, or bitter, or blaming someone else, or numbing out in some way is not helpful. Those are not ways of going on; they are ways of getting stuck.

Stand up. Dig deep and find your own resilience. It’s in there. Shake off the past. It’s over. Look ahead. Check in with yourself right now. Figure out what you need to do to keep going and do that thing, whatever it is. Take care of yourself and soothe your wounds. Reach out if you need help.

Then go on. Take a step, and then another,  and before you know you’re on to the next thing. The other thing – the past – that’s a part of you now, part of your life resume. It’s not all of you, though. You got through that. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

There will be more, and you’ll do that, too. Cuz you just keep going. That’s all there is. There is no other way. No matter what. Through all of it – the highest highs and the lowest lows – all that this amazing human life has to offer.

Never give in – never, never, never, never. Thank you Mr. Churchill, for showing me the way.

All by myself

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A week ago I was just beginning a 4-day weekend and I was really looking forward to it!  I had taken Friday off, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I hate Valentine’s Day, and Acme Health Services was closed on Monday, President’s Day in the US, so at this time last week I was reveling in the thought of 4 whole days unencumbered by plans of any kind. Yippee!

Thursday night I started to feel ucky, but I chalked it up to fatigue following 3 grueling weeks at work trying to finish a project, and went to bed early.

The first thing I did upon waking Friday morning was expel the entire contents of my digestive system in grand fashion in a matter of moments. It was intense. I was one sick puppy. I hardly ever get sick, but there was no denying that this was not a passing thing, no matter how much I wished for that to be true. I spent all of that day and most of Saturday in bed, not even considering getting up or ever putting anything solid in my mouth again.

By Sunday I was pretty good, though, so I kind of hung out around the house, reading mostly, and being careful about what I ate. I still had Monday, so though I was bummed about the weekend so far, I wasn’t devastated. I figured it wasn’t a total loss…yet.

The first thing mom said to me early Monday morning was, “I’m going to throw up.” So much for “the last day.” It was a long day, but she seemed pretty stabilized by the time I was ready to go to bed that night, so I went upstairs and slept until I heard a loud crash downstairs. I rushed down to find mom laying on the floor in the den, passed out cold. She had gotten up to go to the bathroom, got dizzy, and down she went.

She wasn’t able to walk very well when she came to, but working together we managed to get her back in bed, and settled in again, but leaving her to manage the bathroom on her own again was not an option, so I settled in on a chair nearby and dozed. I got a couple of hours sleep, but I was exhausted and I didn’t know how mom would be that next day, so I emailed my supervisor to let her know I wouldn’t be in to work on Tuesday.

Mom is nothing if not resilient, though, and throughout the next day she did very well, even ate a couple of tiny meals, and slept through the night (making it to the bathroom without incident every time) and I was able to return to work yesterday. Today she’s close to 100%. Very impressive for almost 88.

At any rate, I had a lot of downtime on Sunday and Monday and I was participating in an online summit for people who are (Myers-Briggs Type) INFJ and INFP, so I was able to catch up on a lot of the speakers I had missed over the week long event, and more importantly, I had time to process all of the information. As a result, I realized some important things about why I struggle so much in this situation with mom.

I tested as an INFJ about a year ago, and reading about the personality type helped me understand a lot of things about myself in a new light. That’s fodder for another post some time. What was important about this weekend was that in listening to some of the conversations with the speakers (who were all INF – introvert – types) I was given a nudge about something I hadn’t considered before, and that was my mother’s personality type and why our differences made it difficult for me on a day-to-day basis to live with her again.

I have said before that if you spent years going around the globe interviewing every single person on the planet, you would not be able to find two people more opposite in every way than me and my mother. People laugh when I say that, and that’s what I intend, but it’s really true. I’ve always understood that, but I didn’t really fully understand why, or in what specific ways we were so different.

Having said that, we have always connected very well in some ways, also, and that’s made it possible to continue our karmic dance together throughout my life, and especially now. What’s been difficult these past few years, I realized this weekend, is that I haven’t been able to do for myself the things I need to do to be sane and happy, because I’ve been trying to keep her happy, and in doing that, I lose out.

What makes her happy is interacting with people. She HATES to be alone. So, for the past couple of years, since she’s not able to leave the house, I’m her only source of interaction. I’m gone at work all day, so I try to limit the amount of time I’m away from home in the evenings or on weekends, and when I’m home, we’re together. ALWAYS.

On the weekends, I have a few hours in the morning alone before she gets up, but that’s it. Herein lies the crux of my problem, and this is what I realized this weekend in a way I hadn’t fully grasped before; at least what the consequences of that situation are:

I am hardly ever ALONE.

I only really value two things in life: solitude and freedom. True since I was a little tiny person. I was an only child, and I reveled in it. I was hardly ever lonely. I played up in my room, I read, I wrote stories, I sang. 50 years later it’s still true. I love to be alone. The things I like to do are solitary pursuits. I lived alone for 37+ years. I like to be with people, and sometimes I was lonely, but I had friends I did things with often enough. Even if I had to be alone and didn’t want to be, though, it was worth it. I always chose solitude over society, freedom over stasis.

ALWAYS. And I always will.

Now I have almost no solitude. I have swapped what I need to be whole and healthy for what my mother needs to be whole and healthy. I did it most of my young life and I’m doing it again now.  No wonder I’m utterly exhausted and feeling hopeless most of the time. The first 5 years I lived with mom she was more independent and so was I. It’s really only the last couple of years that this is an issue.

I don’t mind the care-giving role. That’s not it. I thought it was, but in really feeling about it, it’s not. I am a natural caregiver. I have filled that role in my family all my life and in reality I’m fine with it. I like to be of use. But the “no solitude” thing is another sack of cats, and I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I don’t know if there is anything to be done. I think that train has left the station. Monday night made that pretty clear to me. It’s only going to get worse until she dies, and honestly, that could be years from now.

The most important thing I realized this weekend, though, was that this is my problem, not hers. It’s a choice I made at some point, and it’s not her fault that she’s wired differently than I am. It’s not her fault. She’s just living her life, taking care of herself in the best way she can. Asking for what she needs. It’s my choice to give that to her, and it’s not her fault, any more than it’s my fault that it’s hard for me. We just are who we are and who we are is not alike.

Okay, so now what?

Now I need to find a better way to make it alright for me. I have been trying to take care of myself – eating properly, exercise, meditation – but nothing seems like it’s enough. I keep stumbling, feeling like a failure, but now I know why, so I hope I’ll be able to walk a little straighter going forward. Now that I know exactly what the problem is, I can zero in on a solution, or at the very least accept that there is no solution, so I can stop feeling like I’m lacking all the time.

So the weekend was worthwhile, after all, though I would not have said that at any point before Wednesday. And honestly, I hope this weekend is better. Another “growth” weekend like the last one just might do me in!

 

What it’s like here

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Autobiography in Five Chapters

ONE

I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in
I am lost … I am hopeless
It isn’t my fault
It takes forever to find a way out

TWO

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I pretend I don’t see it
I fall in again
I can’t believe I’m in the same place
But it isn’t my fault
It still takes a long time to get out

THREE

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it is there
I still fall in … it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault
I get out immediately

FOUR

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it

FIVE

I walk down another street

© 1977 Portia Nelson


I love it when the universe sends me a love note. They don’t always get through – my “mailbox” isn’t always open, I’m sad to say – but when they do, they are appreciated. This time the love showed up in the form of this poem, which, at the time I heard it for the first time this week, snatched all the air from body in a most insistent way for a moment or two, and hasn’t given it all back yet. It made me laugh, and then it made me want to cry, cuz, man, ain’t it the truth?!

This is the autobiography of all of us. For each of us the streets and the holes are different, but we’re all out there everyday falling prey to the again-ness of life over and over and over and over, aren’t we? You drag yourself out of whatever hole – hell – you stumbled into, and then, right around the corner, there it is again. Different hole, maybe, but the same stinking pile of muck at the bottom of it.

Again.

Yep. That’s life. The poem ends, but the holes don’t, even on another street. The autobiography continues to be written for as long as you’re walking around, right? Many more than five chapters, I hope. Some of my holes have been patched. Some of the really big ones, I’m happy to say. But I’m always discovering new ones, or old ones on new streets.

Most recently I encountered one of the larger craters on my particular street – my birthday.  It comes around every year, and that’s a good thing, right? I’m so happy to be alive for another year. Truly. I never thought I’d live this long, so every year is another milestone reached. I couldn’t be more grateful for the life I have and for the life I’ve lived.

The hole’s still there, though, of course. In the bottom of that particular gaping pit labeled “Birthday” is a great big pile of steaming, stinking dung that I’ve plunged into every year for a long time. Even when I finally could get out, I still had the stench of it all over me for a while.

Adoption. Loss. Rejection. Abandonment. Muck. The anniversary of the pain of my entry into the world, for me, and for everyone involved. A month later joy for my adoptive parents – yes! But that day, there was only the sadness of a young women giving birth to her first child in a strange place – a baby she would never see or hold or care for – and the sadness and fear of a baby without a mother.

Ugly Black Sticky Stinky Muck.

Though I have no conscious memory of the day, that baby resides somewhere in me still, and she is hurt, and angry and so, so sad. When I was a kid and a young adult, I was sad only for myself, and I was down there in that hole alone, unable to share my pain with anyone else. As I got older and could better understand my birthmother’s experience of that day and the days after, I was sad for both of us.

Now it’s a part of my autobiography, but not the all-consuming story it was for so many years. I don’t fall in that hole very often anymore. In recent years I’ve stumbled over it a couple of times on the actual day, which is mostly the only time I think of those events anymore, but I haven’t fallen in. It’s not the months’ long slog through the depths trying to claw my way out that I experienced as a younger person. Thank goodness for that.

This year, I didn’t even stumble over the hole. I saw it was there. I stopped, said a little prayer of gratitude for both my birthmother and I, and then walked around. I realized that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It probably didn’t really matter for as long as I agonized over it, but that’s just the way it happened, and I forgive myself for that. This is my autobiography, and I’m writing it with my one-of-a-kind pen. If I could have done it differently I would have.

I wish her and myself well. Happy Birthday to both of us. We’ve survived. Our lives went on, chapters have been added, and our autobiographies are still being written. She’ll be 77 in August and now I’m 58. We made it to another street.

Wow.

I would like to meet her, but that’s probably not going to happen. We corresponded 10 years ago, or so, and she answered all my questions. That contact helped me make peace with the whole thing, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that kindness. I’m sure it cost her something. She doesn’t want to meet me, and though I wish she felt differently, I have to respect her choice. She doesn’t owe me anything. She gave me the greatest gift of all – life – and that’s enough.

So on to the next chapter. There will be more of all of it: streets, holes, chapters. A lot more, I hope. For all of us. Each of us writing our own autobiographies, describing for each other our own again-ness, sharing our stories of what it’s like here in these bodies on this planet at this time, in this moment. Right now. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.

Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday, Linda.

Many more.