Category Archives: Recovery

The blame game

I’ve noticed a common theme running through my life this week, woven through the books I’ve been reading and real-life events.  The theme of trying to assign blame for tragic events…a school bus accident (fiction), a teenager’s death from cancer (fiction), a shooting in Arizona (real life.) As humans, we have a need for someone to be at fault for things that happen. Because something inside us believes that if we know who’s at fault, we can figure out why it happened, and then we can figure out what we need to do to keep it from happening again. And then when we figure that all out, then no one we love – or anyone, for that matter (well, the good people anyway) – will have anything bad happen to them anymore.

But the fact is that not everything we want to know is knowable, and not everything we want to prevent is preventable.

There is risk that comes with living. Each morning when we walk out the door, we take a risk that we could be in the wrong place at the right time (or is it vice versa? I can never figure that out.)

I’ve heard the following causes this week for the shooting in Tucson: lax gun laws, lax state reporting of gun ownership, political rhetoric (aka vitriolic speech), parents who didn’t do enough, community college faculty and staff who didn’t do enough, state police who didn’t do enough. And it’s likely that all of those things were contributing factors to the events of last Saturday.

But there is no one cause. No one to blame. It’s complicated. And random. People suffer from mental illness and don’t get help, because they can’t afford it, are ashamed of it, or don’t recognize it in themselves. Parents do the best they can. The police do the best they can. Reporting agencies do the best they can. We all do the best we can.

Each of us makes choices every day. Hundreds or thousands of choices. As adults, we have the God-given right to make our own choices. We can drink, smoke, take drugs (or not take drugs), drive under the influence, drive over the speed limit, keep our vehicles in good working order or not. We can walk outside the crosswalk, wait longer than we should to investigate that cough/lump/headache, and put off until tomorrow the difficult conversations we should have today.

And we all have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. Other people have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. The part we don’t like is that we have to live with the consequences of the choices that other people make.  But that’s the way it works. You can’t have one without the other.

And the part that we really don’t like is that we can do everything exactly right and bad things will still happen.

It’s just the way it is.

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Filed under Current Events, Recovery

Becoming Real

I have a love-hate relationship with Holy Week and Easter. (Okay, hate is too strong. I have a difficult, complicated relationship with Holy Week and Easter.)   First, there’s all the hocus-pocus associated with Easter. (Christmas has a lot of hocus-pocus too, but the traditions of Christmas – giving, celebration, family, food) carry me through that one.  Then there’s the fact that for choir members, Holy Week is a long, grueling marathon which starts on Palm Sunday and doesn’t end until about noon on Easter Sunday.

But more and more, I’m able to see Holy Week and Easter in a new light, as not about physical dying and rebirth, but about dying to those things that keep us isolated and in pain, in darkness and suffering.

And instead, becoming Real.

I was reminded of this today as I heard again this passage from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit”, by Margery Williams.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As was pointed out in today’s sermon, the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, like the story of Easter, is a  Resurrection story. And a recovery story.  About having to go through the pain to find the healing, to go through the discomfort of learning to be honest so that I can be comfortable in my own skin. About being humble enough to recognize that my power is limited but God’s isn’t.  About recognizing that perfection isn’t the goal, but Realness is.

You don’t have to go to church on Easter to become Real. You don’t have to wave palms or wash feet. Those are helpful to me in my path to Realness, as they are a reminder of the journey from darkness to light, from isolation to inclusion and wholeness.  Through the pain to the healing.

But whatever your path to Realness, I wish you traveling mercies.

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Filed under On Being Episcopalian, Recovery

Inside out

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past year:

1. When I compare myself to someone else, I can only compare my insides to their outsides. And it’s not a valid comparison. Most people look waaaayyyy more together on the outside than they feel on the inside (myself included).

2. Hurt people hurt people.  People who say and do hurtful things usually learned it from someone else.

3. Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “I think I’ll be an asshole today.”  I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: most people are just doing the best they can.

4. Shame is a bitch of an emotion.  You can’t see someone else’s shame, because we all mask it with other things, like anger and frustration, because shame is so shameful that we’re even ashamed of being ashamed.  I think a lot of really bad behavior comes from shame, but it’s so hard to recognize it in other people.

5. It’s kind of stupid to worry about things that are going to happen in the future, because it never works out exactly the way you think it’s going to.  So all that dress rehearsal was just time wasted.

6. There’s nothing you can do to change the past, so you might as well learn what you can from it and then let it go (or at least try to just think about the good stuff.)

7. You might as well beat your head against a wall trying to get someone else to do something they really don’t want to do. This is true if they’re 3, or 43, or 93. You may have leverage, but you got no control.

8. Riding in a car with someone who’s just learning to drive is a really scary experience. 

 (Sorry, had to throw that one in there.)

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And then the cosmic forces of the universe laughed at me

I love karma…except when it bites me in the ass.

Yesterday, Tim received in the mail a traffic citation for making a right turn on red.  (Actually, I received it, as the van is registered in my name.) Complete with a photo of our vehicle making said turn. A $100 ticket.

And I was quietly fuming, as the last thing we need right now is a an extra $100 fee for anything.  So I made it clear to him that paying the ticket was his responsibility, as the mistake was his.

So imagine my surprise today, when I came out of my Saturday Al-anon meeting, listened to my voicemail messages, and found a message from the Oak Park Police Department, notifying me that my van was blocking someone’s driveway, and asking if I would please come and move it.  As I ran to the van, I saw the ticket on the windshield, and the cop parked across the street. As I got closer, I saw the garage door open, with two cars inside, both unable to move because I was blocking their exit.  (In my defense, the snow was piled so that I couldn’t see that it was a driveway and not a sidewalk, and there are so  many signs on the street it’s really difficult to tell from the signs where you can park and where you can’t.) The cop was really nice and said that he had to give me a ticket, which I graciously  accepted (I really did, I’m serious).  The $20 fee (which I thought would be much higher, given that the ticket for an expired meter is $30 in Oak Park) was nothing compared to the feeling of knowing that I had probably prevented this family from going to ballet class, or out to breakfast, or to do last-minute Christmas preparations, given that it’s December 20.  I consider myself lucky – I really deserved more than a $20 ticket for inconveniencing this family for an hour.

So there, Miss High and Mighty. What do you have to say for yourself now?

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The card’s not in the mail yet

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I’ve made a decision.  On the recommendation of my friend Betsy, I’m sending Valentine’s Day cards this year.  Said another way, I’m not sending Christmas cards. 

I love to receive Christmas cards. I love to see how my friends’ kids changed in a year’s time.  Who went through a growth spurt, who changed from toddler to little boy, who started out looking like Mom and now looks like Dad.  And I know that you have to give to receive.

But the holidays can be crazy and stressful (I always feel like for one month, Christmas adds a full-time job on top of the two full-time jobs and many part-time jobs I already have.) So it’s really important for me to focus on activities that feed my soul.  Things that bring me joy, things that are becoming traditions within our family, things that help me connect with the people I love, and things that help me connect with my Higher Power.  And far from feeding my sould, sending Christmas cards is, for me, one big soul-sucking adventure.  For one thing, there are just too many steps involved.  Step 1 – get the kids into nice clothes that sort of match. Step 2 – get the kids to pose for a picture, preferably in front of the tree.  Step 3 – select a photo and order the prints. Step 4 – buy the cards. Step 5 – write a Christmas letter (or even worse, write a message on each card).  Step 6 – put the address label and the return label on. Step 7 – put the stamps on.  Step 8 – go to the post office and mail the goddamn things.  I always feel like crying “uncle” around Step 5, but I can’t really stop there after I’ve put so much effort into it already.

There are so many other things I enjoy doing to prepare for Christmas, and some that I don’t but aren’t optional.  I love trimming the tree, I love baking cookies, I love singing in our annual Advent Lessons and Carols program at church. (Did I say “so many other things”? I meant “3”.)  I don’t love shopping and I detest wrapping, but I pretty much have to do those things or I’d be extremely unpopular in my house.

I can’t just eliminate sending cards altogether, or I fear I’ll be dropped from everyone’s Christmas card list within two years.  And in addition to those photos, I do enjoy that once-a-year catch-up that the Christmas cards bring from far-away friends who…now…all…happen…to…be…my…friends….on…Facebook…and…know…every…detail…

On second thought, never mind.  Bye-bye cards, Christmas or Valentine’s Day.  You served your purpose, but you’re now gone from my life forever.

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Filed under Family, Recovery