Opened my eyes to a brainful of worry and doubt this morning. So much so, I promptly closed them again. Not the way I planned to start my morning. Never a good sign. Rather than worry and be anxious I am going to write. Turn my mind and find a different path. What am I thankful for? It is often forgotten in the heaps of shit and finger pointing. Amongst the guilt and the anger. Never really looked at or even thought much about. It is really kind of sad, because there is so much I have to be thankful for. Here’s my reasons to be thankful. I’ll note it was extremely difficult to do this. It doesn’t come easy to sift through so much pain and loss.
Family- Even with all their issues and problems. All the years of chaos and difficulty. At the end of the day I have a family, far more than some people. Spending time in Africa allowed me to reflect on this. Entire villages reduced to children and elders from HIV. 8 year olds raising their siblings and caring for elderly. It was mind boggling, and just tore my heart. When I sit and bitch endlessly about my family it somehow misses the mark and never takes into account the fact that I have one. There are days I wish I didn’t. Today I’ll be thankful that I have people who love me and care greatly about me. It isn’t their fault they have such limitations. Products of their pasts, just as I am. Do I wish for better? sure. I always have and always will. There is no perfect. There only is. I love them all. Despite all the rage and anger, I deeply care for them. The anger just becoming a defense. Allowing me to gain space as all spins out of control. When their shortcomings sharpen into focus and I am failed yet again, it allows me to grasp the anger rather than direct it back to them. I lose the focus, and yet again they are off the hook. The blame becomes me, not them. Love does that. I could not focus it on them, not in their presence. Away from it, occasionally i just brush it. It is in the depths of despair, when everything has come apart, that the focus comes back. The lens of truth adjusts and i take in just how much went wrong. I do not think it was ever done purposely with the intent of harming me. No, i was collateral damage in an emotional warzone. I the midst of clashing disordered personalities desperate to survive. In that place, a child name Beth figured out survival skills. Not fire making and building shelter. no, she found and honed the skills of manipulation and withdrawal. To disappear in the blink of an eye. I am thankful I learned to survive. It may not be the most adaptive skills, but they allowed me to live. To navigate the warzone and reach adolescence. It wasn’t all bad. I have to be clear there. I watched and learned. From my father I gained a quick biting wit. A sense of humor, and a drive to lead rather than follow. He was no lemming, nor am I. There must always be questions, not blind agreement. He gave me that. It has been a gift that has served me my whole life. For better or worse I have his impatience. Now, years into my life it is quite humorous. I have found ways to temper it, but I am often so amazed at how alike we are. At it’s worst, those close to me will call me by his name as a reminder. I will check the obnoxious behavior and laugh at just how like him I am. He showed me to be a leader. To be bold, and strike ones own path. I have moments of this, though I struggle with it. It’s there in my genes, just not always accessable. I often check what runs thru my head. In that voice of criticism I hear him. Though I often doubt it, he gave be a fine mind. A tool sharp with intelligence and the ability to process. One that will do anything I set it to. I just need to focus. That was his gift.
He gave me the gift of being an athlete. A body primed and ready for anything I ask of it. Whether it be running, climbing, swimming. Anything. I wasn’t even a toddler when he took me into the vast pool. We would spend time each day. I took to water like a fish. There is no fear. He gave me that. They both did. Try anything once. It was an unspoken mantra in our home. To this day it is one of the lessons that remains. No matter what it is, I will try it. There is no way to know something, unless you give it a chance. I will take chances, and I will step out on the ledge. There is no looking back, or looking down. Seize the moment and learn from it. Grow as an individual from every experience, good or bad. Take chances, be true to yourself. Trust your instincts and believe in yourself. They gave me that.
I find time to be introspective. A trait much more from my mother. A need for quiet, away from the masses. To be closer to a hermit than a fool. Time is spent deep in thought. Complete with the darkness and worry. Not that my father doesn’t worry, he just never let it show. He was more of a problem solver in an open way. My mother taught me to keep my cards a little closer and figure it out on my own. I learned from her that emotions could control you. That the world wasn’t a rosy place. Abuse and pain was there. It wasn’t a safe place. Care had to be taken. Looking over your shoulder had a purpose. It was a good lesson, one I wished I had heeded. From her I gained a pair of hands that can do so much. They can speak for my head when it can’t put words together. They can create and form the most beautiful things. Never taught, or schooled they amaze me. That was her gift to me. I am grateful for that gift. Without if I am not quite sure where I’d be. I learned to find solace in my art. An escape so deep I could disappear for hours, sometimes days. She showed me that beauty was mine to create. The details added up to come together into exquisite pieces of me. My hands could show the world who I am and what I am about. They each taught me the value of art. To look in wonder at the history of it. Whether I loved it or hated a piece of art I learned to appreciate the work. To inhale art, as if I needed it to survive. It became a part of my soul.
Together my parents taught me to engage completely. To be passionate. (sometimes impulsive) whether it be in my art, in my love or in my beliefs. They each gave me that gift. To go with my gut and engage. If you do it, do it 100%, not half assed, not weakly. No, dive in. There is no sticking the toes in the shallow end of life. It is all the way. That is a double edged sword. It has times when it serves me well, while others it gets me burned. For better or worse, it is a gift. There is no wuss here. No, they built a fighter. Thank god for that. I have survived some of the most mind and soul rattling trauma and am still here. Thanks to them. I am blessed. For all the short comings, they have given me the gift of life, complete with a personality suited to get thru it.
Some of these gifts have been lost, or tempered along my life’s journey. The wild abandon of childhood replace with the worry and reality of adult life. Fear and neurosis sneaking in and settling in amongst life’s lessons. I will someday find a way back to that unabashed kid, and live life to it’s fullest. Passion and love yet again becoming pillars of existence. Doubt and fear to be lost in the rubble under my new found life.
Animals- In all their forms have contributed to my life. Whether it was a dog growing up, or a horse I care for currently, they all find a way to make my life better. I was very young when I learned to love and respect them. As a youngster I grew up with an English Bulldog named Puff. She patiently ignored my endless commands to SIT. She was priceless. Following me to the bus and sitting while I got on, only to be there when I returned home. I met animals of every shape and size. From my fathers’s vet practice watching spay and neuters at 5. or meeting whales. To be able to touch them and learn about them. One of the most vivid memories of my entire childhood was from Mystic Aquarium. It was after hours, my father was giving a presentation and one of the staff showed me the entire place. The lights were all dimmed, it was just us and these beautiful creatures. We walked above the tanks on the cat walks. I fed and touched many of them. It was an evening of wonder. True wonder. Only eclipsed by my time in Africa on the plains. The intimacy of the connection. The quiet and the incredible moments of watching and learning. It is so seared in my brain. I can recreate the images, the temperature, and the sounds. What a gift. Later in my childhood horses became a major part of my life. As I have written before, I feel they saved me. In so many ways they filled the needs I had. In a life of loneliness and seclusion they became my solace. I learned to create a bond. To teach them they could trust me. It was a key skill I struggled with in my life. I had no idea how to create positive relationships. The horses taught me this skill. I learned about responsibility and work. They can’t care for themselves, so it is the human that must meet all their needs. Cleaning the stalls, feeding them, caring for them when they are sick. I am forever thankful to have them in my life. These days they are a source of endless stress, but that is because I allowed it. It is no fault of theirs. Regardless of that, I still bury my tears in the necks of these horses. When all seems so far gone, they stand and bear witness to my suffering. Without moving an inch they stand, somehow understanding, Knowing I need something to hold and unleash a torrent of buried emotions. They always know, and they always stand quiet. There is no judgement, no anger, just acceptance. For that I am thankful. Animals also taught me about loss. The inevitability of grief. Time is forever moving forward. Illness and aging never slowing, never stopping. Death is as much a part of life as breathing. Loss comes out of the blue, without warning. We are powerless to chnge that. It does not matter how much we love, or how deeply we bond. No matter how hard we pray, or how much we wish it might be different. Often times it does not matter how hard we work to save them, or how much we spend. It is inevitable. We much accept, rather than deny. Mourn them, and deeply feel the pain of their loss, but to feel guilt or to deny their death does nothing. I have learned from these animals that acceptance is needed. Pain is part of the process. Sadness is part of life. If we allow animals, or people into our hearts we will eventually feel loss. The grief often bone crushing, deep enough to rip the breath from our chest. The more deeply we love and bond the more deeply we grieve. Animals have taught me to allow time for this process. The suddenness of death easily catches us unprepared. In all my years working with these animals I have learned to think and react accordingly. I no longer let pain or fear fog my ability to process and react. Emergencies have taught me to settle and focus. The more horrific the stronger the calculated response. At death’s door I do not bow my head and panic, no I find this deeply settled place. I do what needs to be done. Whether it be intervention and treatment, or allowing them to go. The gift of death is something I hold very deeply. I passionately refuse to accept allowing suffering. There is no place for it. No creature (man or beast) should ever be made to suffer, so as to fulfill some need of those surviving. I do not think there is anything in my life I feel so strongly about. It is something we see often in animals. The refusal to let them go. To endlessly fight with interventional procedures to prolong life. I guess if anything, one might say, I am too quick to let them go. I always err on the side of caution. If it is a question, I left them go. The gift of death, relief from suffering must be clear and decisive. I will always give them that. Sadly, with our system, human suffering cannot be alleviated quite so easily or quickly.
Treatment- It seems an odd thing to be thankful for, but when considering the history and the past, I live in an era where treatment of mental illness is mostly humane. That was not always the case. I am blessed to live now. To be free to live my life. Not behind bars, or chained in the dark. I have a team of therapists behind me every step of the way. Often showing me the way, when everything seems lost. Virgil has spent more than 17 years at my side. Taking an endless barrage of abuse during the start of our work together. She was able to see past that. How many people would have just given up? Most would have thrown in the towel and walked away. It is a hard enough job, without the anger, silence and resistance. But she didn’t. She stayed. Modeling for me something I lacked in my life and upbringing. She wasn’t going to be like so many others. No, she was committed to showing me a healthier caregiver model. Often times ridiculed and tormented by my family. The anger not just coming from a pissed of young adult in her office, but also a group of adults pissed off and threatened by her. That has continued. They have never once given her the credit she deserves. It is so very sad. I cannot imagine working so diligently and never getting the support. She has been there for me all this time. As my life shifted direction and I grew up. As my mental illness shifted and changed. With every crisis and difficult spell. I cannot count the number of times I sat there in her office on the brink of giving up. She always knew. She always stepped in, and helped me. Even if I didn’t agree. I had learned from all those years of difficulty that I could trust her. She wouldn’t let me down. If she said I needed to be in the hospital I went. I may have hated it, but I trusted her judgement. She has always worked hard to try to keep me stable. Often stepping aside and admitting she really wasn’t sure. Letting others review the case and make suggestions. To be able to confidently treat me for year, yet still be able to set ego aside and ask for help. I am thankful for that. For her to continue treating me after I deceived her and Beatrice. Keeping silent and plotting, never once letting them in that my life would be over shortly. To forgive me for stepping up on that chair, yet not reaching out to her in that final moment. I know that hurt her, yet she did not retaliate, like so many probably would have. She didn’t lash out at me. Our therapeutic relationship survived. With boundaries intact she has allowed me frequent contact, something most other therapist would not even consider. In the years of work she has allowed flexibility to give me the best chance at recovery. From long sessions, to phone sessions. In a world of inflexibility and rigid rules she worked around all that to give me a chance. It was what I needed. She gave me a chance. I am thankful for that. Thankful does not even cover it, I cannot put words on what it has meant to have a constant in my life all these years. Regardless of where I am at, from circling the drain, to the high flying mania, she is steadfast. We all need that in life. We all need a touchstone to come back to. something that allows us to center ourselves and find the ground. In life’s chaos losing sight of the important navigational landmarks becomes easy. I am so very blessed to have Virgil to be my instrument for finding the ground. I have avoided so very many crashes because of her. I am so very blessed. In more recent years I have found another important individual. Beatrice came into my life at a difficult point. The distance between Virgil and I was becoming to difficult deal with. Seeing her involved taking almost half a day away from work. I can’t remember how I found her, but it was so important. She too has become a constant. Steadfast and equally as stubborn as Virgil to remain there to support me, no matter what. A number of years back my behavior strained this bond. Just as Virgil remained, so did Beatrice. The harm I did would have sent most people running. Never wanting to repeat that experience. Not Beatrice, she didn’t run away. It was a long time before I came back to her, but she welcomed me back. She didn’t have to do that. Most would not have. She too has shown me I can trust those I allow in. They won’t all run away when it gets tough. I won’t be left alone and afraid. I have people to help me. It has been difficult breaking down those old walls. Painfully slow and difficult. She has been patient with me. Rarely pushing too hard and quick to apologize when she realizes she has. Her empathy often powerful enough for me to sense even before I settle into the couch. She cares deeply and completely, how often do we ever have that in our lives? With Virgil and Beatrice I can convince myself I have a chance. I can get through the worst of times, and the best of times. I am so thankful, words escape me. In a life filled with pain and difficulty the fates finally nodded in my favor when these two women came into my life.
So on this day when everything felt awful when I opened my eyes, this entry and shown me it isn’t all bad. In fact it is so much good….