Dark Days and Gratitude

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There have been quite a few dark days this last year. Personal days, worldwide days, man-made days, natural disaster days. No need to go into details.

I took a suggestion that I thought was a little hokey and started making gratitude lists. Hokey or not, I found it helped me avoid total paralysis. The problems remained, unsolved by me or anybody else, of course, but I wasn’t sitting in a corner shaking with fear. I was no longer enslaved by fear although it definitely remained.

At first, I was perfectionistic about it. I kept a long list and never entered the same thing twice. That way, I thought, I could reread it and remind myself of ALL the things I was grateful for. But perfectionism always makes me anxious and down on myself. “What is the matter with me? Why can’t I think of a thousand things to put on this list?” “What have I forgotten? Surely there is lots more. I have such a terrible memory. It’s not my fault, but it’s my fault I cannot improve it. I’m not even trying.” “Blah blah blah.”

Believe it or not, it took me several months to catch on to myself and to realize that there must be another way to go about being grateful. Finally, I figured out I could just note things I was grateful for in that particular moment. That sure took the pressure off!

There was an unexpected treasure hiding in those off-the-cuff lists. They showed what was really important to me. Like if I had a list of things I had Googled from the very beginning, I could see what my top hits were, where my energy was going, and how it had changed over time. RA in all its facets would be at the top and baby moose playing in garden sprinklers down near the bottom.

Top of the lists was “I am still alive.” I had thought I would be dead well before the age of thirty and I am intensely grateful I was wrong. Next were all the close relationships I have, how well we get along, how easily we bring up problems, and how willing we are to solve them, accept them, or compromise. My cat shows up regularly, too, as does financial security.

There are waves of entries about sensory pleasures. In the summer months, there is a lot about sunlight on my skin and cool breezes. In the winter, it’s the sound of rain on the roof and the way the air smells afterwards. And how the dead grass comes back to life day by day. Year-round there are entries about how nice it is to feel muscles contract, how luxurious stretching is, gratefulness for not falling down or walking into a wall. (I’ve lived most of my life out of my body, with no idea where it is in space and what it feels like unless it gets hurt.)

Today’s list:

I am grateful I have a bright, happy, curious four-year-old visiting.
I am grateful he likes me.
I am grateful his Mom took him to a science museum and I have some quiet time.
I am grateful the sun is out and the air is crisp and clean.
I am grateful the cushions on two chairs got recovered and look great.
I am grateful this blog post was fun to write.
I am grateful I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, for I surely would break them and there are enough broken things in my life already.
I am grateful for each person who reads my blog, especially those who get something out of it.

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Upcoming Holidays

December
12/31 New Year’s Eve
January
1/1 New Year’s Day
1/13 Satanic New Year
1/17 Feast of Fools/Old Twelfth Night/Satanic and demon revels
1/20 Full moon
February
2/2 S Candlemas/Imbolc
2/14 Valentine’s Day
2/19 Full moon

Dates important to Neo-Nazi groups
1/30 Hitler named Chancellor of Germany
(Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lamas, Halloween, solstices, equinoxes, and full moons. Christian and Jewish holidays are often desecrated.)

Lots of Problems to Share

Upcoming Holidays
September
9/29 Michaelmas (?)
October

10/5 Full Moon

10/13 Backwards Halloween

10/13 Friday the Thirteenth

10/22 – 10/29 Preparation for All Hallows’ Eve
10/31 Halloween/Samhain/All Hallows Eve

November
11/S Full Moon

11/3 Satanic Revels

11/23 Thanksgiving
Important dates in Nazi groups
10/16 Death of Rosenburg
10/19 Death of Goering

10/20 Hitler’s half-birthday

11/9 Kristallnacht

11/11 Veteran’s Day: Armistice, 1918

Lots of Problems to Share

Computer problems. My cat jumped on the keyboard and up came the screen asking for my computer password. I didn’t know it because my daughter had changed it and didn’t change it back. She didn’t remember it either. So I thought I would reboot it and see if the normal screen came up.

Turned the computer off, but no matter how long I held the on/off button, it didn’t start, the screen just stayed black. Checked all the plugs, blah blah. Called Apple tech service, who had me do all the things I had just done and then said it was hardware and I should bring it in.

Without my best buddy I had nothing to do except clean house, which is not much fun but it is sorely needed.

The next day I made my coffee as usual and sat sadly looking at the black screen. I nostalgically started playing with the keyboard, caressing the buttons that make up such a large part of my life. Guess what! The computer came to life and gave me my normal start page.

So I was wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t turn it on, it was that I couldn’t turn it off. Even when I unplugged it for a minute. Bizarre, huh? My energy field has always broken things and now it went and fixed something. I am baffled and grateful.

Eye problems. I went to Nashville where my daughter, son-in-law, and their two kids had rented a little house in the path of the eclipse’s totality. We did a bit of sightseeing and went to the Johnny Cash museum. On the day of the eclipse everything was perfect. A cloudless sky, lovely warm weather, a lawn to sit on, protective glasses. And my daughter had made several different pieces of equipment to look at the changing image of the eclipse through a pinhole. Way cool.

I knew how awesome (in the original sense of the word) totality is because I had seen other eclipses. But this time I saw a blurry ring of light, all fuzzy, a dark ring, and then another blurry ring with a dark center. Like a little donut inside a big one. Wearing glasses didn’t help, shutting one eye and then the other didn’t help. I was devastated.

Figured it had to be my cataracts and it was time for them to go. I made the first appointment to start the process.

I am thrilled at the thought of having 20/20 vision for the first time in my life, but terrified of having somebody slice open my eyeballs.

Temperature problems. For two days, San Francisco was officially a record 104 degrees. My apartment, on the top floor, was more like 112, 115. I drank a lot of water, and was fine, except I had zero energy. The cats, who normally sleep under the covers, were lying stretched out on their sides like lions. I tried to rub them down with a wet washcloth, but they didn’t like it. They ran away and found another place to flop.

Ant problems. There are little groups of ants here and there. Teeny ones. On my plants. In the bathroom. Underneath my coffee pot. No matter what I do, they are back in a couple of days. I hate killing them, but they don’t leave when I ask nicely. I hate the feeling of ants on my arm and I hate imagining them in my hair. I am very grateful they do not bite.

I think that’s enough problems for now.

Getting Better All the Time

Check “Ritual Calendar 2016” for upcoming holidays.

I woke up with the music of a Beatles’ song in my head. It took me a few hours to get some words, too. When I had snatches of the song, I looked up the lyrics.

Apparently the song is autobiographical. It tells of a guy who had a chip on his shoulder as a kid and was mean to his woman but fell in love with a new one and changed, thanks to her. His behavior got better all the time. Not something I can relate to; a damsel on a white horse came and saved him. Lucky guy!

So I just edited out the details and saw the song in terms of dealing with ritual abuse.

Anyway, Paul wrote,
“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)
A little better all the time”
And John added,
“It can’t get more worse)”

In the beginning, I thought remembering RA just couldn’t get more worse. It  really felt like it would, though. I actually believed I would die from the stress of remembering. Not by suicide, just that my body couldn’t take it and would stop; I would keel over from a heart attack or a massive stroke. Nobody knew about “feeling” flashbacks – past repressed feelings surfacing in the present – and so nobody could tell me what was going on. It would have helped a lot.

In the beginning, I couldn’t see changes because I wasn’t used to the process. They were small changes and came slowly. My therapist pointed out that I was taking baby steps, but I would get steadier with time, and my tiny steps would all add up. Guess what? He was right!

I slogged away year after year, and when I stopped to look back, I could see how far I had come. It was pretty amazing. Of course I would cycle back and feel really rotten again, over and over. It wasn’t that I was losing ground, it was that I was dealing with something at a deeper level. It took me a while to figure out that my healing process was spiral, not linear. Once I did, I no longer panicked when I entered that space. I wasn’t exactly joyful, but I knew what was going on, and trusted that there would be benefits.

Now something new and weird is happening. It’s a part of my process I have never seen before and I am very grateful for it.

I first noticed that I wasn’t a wreck before the spring equinox this year. Then I found that I was calm during Easter week and Beltane, which had been the worst day of the whole year for me. I wasn’t forgetting the holidays, I wasn’t forgetting or denying what happened to me. I wasn’t even minimizing. I was just reacting differently.

Recently I started noticing that this attitude was spreading to other difficult parts of my life. I had hated my birthday for years and told people close to me not to give me presents or cards. I didn’t tell anybody the date unless I absolutely had to, like at the pharmacy.

This year I acted more normally. I let my best friend take me out to dinner. I asked another friend to come celebrate with me (her birthday is a couple of weeks later than mine) by going indoor skydiving. And I messed up on Facebook and let my birthday be public. Aack! But I was really touched by good wishes from people in the survivor community that I knew well and people I hardly knew at all. I think that is the first time in my life that I have enjoyed my birthday, not just gritted my teeth and gotten through it.

Finally, I have always been camera phobic and did my best to avoid having my picture taken. Photos brought back such awful disgusting memories and I wasn’t willing to try desensitizing myself by having people take hundreds and hundred of pictures of me. I didn’t want to go through that much suffering, and, besides, I thought it was barbaric and wouldn’t work.

Recently I tried to relax a little, because I realized my kids had so few pictures of me. I had to admit it was getting better. And today I was on a conference call for an hour and a half and allowed the video to be on. Not only could they see me, I could see myself. Guess what? It was fine!! I can hardly believe it.

I did no conscious work on these issues. It just happened. It was like some switch inside allowed this calm and acceptance to spread out over many of my tender areas.

It reminds me of a light wind on water. You can see where the wind is blowing by the tiny ripples and you can see where it has left, or not yet arrived, by the calm, smooth surface. If the wind is stronger, you can tell where it is blowing harder by larger waves, often with white caps. It’s really wonderful to watch.

Take a look at the boat and the water at the top of the page. The water is my feelings, and the boat is me. Except that I would be under water, like a fish or mermaid.