Sunday, October 23, 2011

Humility, Serenity, and Barbarian Joy

October 23, 2011
"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real."
                                    --Thomas Merton

Humility.  Not my strong suit.  Because with humility comes its’ sister action: Yielding.  This was the subject of my AA meeting this morning.  And coincidentally enough, the guiding subject of my week.  But more on that later.
For me, in the past, humility always seemed too close, linguistically, to humiliation.  This was something I was particularly adept at—whether it was having my husband wake me up in the middle of the night because I peed the bed (and by extension, him) from my oh-so glamorous too many Riedel-filled glasses of wine; or having the police hover over my bed in the middle of the night because my husband had to dial 911 as I’d slashed up my arms and threatened suicide—one officer inspecting my arm with his penlight, another writing notes in the official casebook, and all I could think about were the neighbors and what they were thinking about with the squad car in our driveway; or the time in college, when drunk beyond drunk, I agreed to a one night stand with some dumb frat boy who was in my anthropology class, and the next day, in class, he ignored me—a study in survival of the dumbest and drunkest?; or any of the number of times Christopher has caught me in the act of purging, or pointed out the “leftover” that didn’t make it down the toilet in my sneaky, hasty, guilty flushes.

Humiliation.  No wonder I’d wanted to die so many times over.

But humility.  AA’s Step 7 promises that with true humility comes serenity with open heart, willingness, and yielding to a higher power comes peace.
As I write this, on my porch, in the fading, rare sunshine of a Northwestern Pennsylvania afternoon (all we’ve had for the past week has been rain, cold, and wind), I’m bombarded by the chaotic shrieks of my barbarian kids and their friends biking, zooming on scooters, and catapulting leaves in the driveway—anything but serene, but they are possessed with pure, exuberant joy.  My heart swells with envy.  When was the last time I felt that wild with being loose and free in body and happiness and play?  Truly, I don’t know, as these days, these years and years, I’ve been overwrought with self-consciousness, with the churning self-criticism, the over-thinking, and the constant hovering between wanting to damage myself, inflict pain, and give in to suicide.  Where in all that is there any room for barbarian joy?

But at the AA meetings’ opening, we went around the circle, reading the 7th Step.  Beside me, sat Scott and Renee (not their real names), recently engaged, both in their twenties.  Renee is a dual addict, sober 2 years, the mother of three young boys, on welfare, missing all of her teeth (would I have the humility to go out in public like that or would my pride, my vanity keep my inside, stuck to the bottle?), and an inspiration.  Scott, a veteran, recently back from a relapse, the product of a horrendously abusive childhood, and bipolar like me, by all appearances would seem like some, well, ex-meth head dirtbag.  But he is smart, and I mean, intelligent smart, not just street smart.

When it came time for Renee to read her few paragraphs, it soon became evident that she was barely literate, stumbling over words more than 5 or 6 letters long, but trying them out anyway.  Humility and courage and grace.  Look where true recovery can lead you.  Or Me. Set aside pride and vanity.  Renee could have been humiliated by such an attempt.  Instead, she giggled at her missteps.

And that WE I spoke about in my previous post?  Scott sat right beside her and at every hesitation, he quietly whispered the right pronunciation to her, coaching her through the words.  Cheering at every difficult word she managed to sound out on her own.  Love and support, two heart cells beating as one.

So how have I been practicing humility this week?

That yielding I mentioned?  I admitted to myself and to my psychiatrist and nutritionist that I had some concerns over my nutritional status as I haven’t been keeping to my eating plan as I said I was; i.e., I’ve been skipping meals.  There have been some symptoms of nutritional deficit besides the expected and evident weight loss: vitamin deficiency fueled acne and some chest pains perhaps related to plain old anxiety, but possibly related to electrolyte imbalance.  At night, I’ve been plagued by my heart pounding, chest tightening, and I don’t want my children to roll over in the morning and find me dead of a heart attack.  I don’t want to burden them in that way.  So, I humbled myself, told my doctors the truth, and asked for them to do bloodwork and order an EKG.  All of this will be done this week.  And, I’ve come clean with Christopher, too, in this regard—have stepped back onto an honest eating plan.  In just a few days, “miraculously,” my skin has cleared up.  Amazing what regular meals and a belly full of spinach can do!

But the more momentous turning point has been getting back in touch with Dr. B.  The real Dr. B.  The five-years therapist Dr. B..  When I was on my spiritual retreat last weekend, I brought along an old journal in which to take notes—a journal half-filled with entries from the previous few years, and so many of those entries contained almost verbatim conversations I’d had with Dr. B. in therapy sessions.  Important conversations, challenging, revealing conversations that reminded me how well he knew me, how intimately he knew my character defects, the ways in which I can lie and manipulate and dodge, the ways in which I was/am unwilling to yield to wise counsel.  A higher power.  And my higher power, generally speaking since I am not religious in any dogmatic way, tends to be Dr. B;,  he is wise, intelligent, summons his knowledge from a variety of sources, and ultimately, knows what is best for me in my recovery.
I just tend not to listen because I think I know better.

But I know now, I don’t know better.  At least when it comes to getting better. 
So rereading those journal entries, I realized I wouldn’t ever find a better therapist.  Thinking back on those months when everything fell apart—December, January, February—I also realized I didn’t remember how it fell apart.  Not in any real, clear way.  My narrative?  Dr. B. didn’t like the path that Psychiatrist/ECT Dr. B. had chosen.  HIS pride got in the way.  So he dumped me.  All I remembered was walking into Dr. B,’s office and him telling me he couldn’t work with me anymore.  All I remembered after that was feeling humiliated.  The BIG H.  Betrayed.  Ashamed. 

So, okay then.  FU.  I deleted Dr. B.’s number from my cell phone and thought, “I’ll show him.  I can do this recovery thing without him.  I can get better without him.  All I need is a few volts of electricity zapped through my brain—okay, maybe more than a few—and the past 39 years?  All better.”  This narrative allowed me to wipe my hands of any responsibility.  Shift responsibility.  No need for humility.  That little BIG H.
But after the retreat, I wanted to know, truly, how did all that end?  Because he was not the sort of man to act in that way.  He was kind and loving, a grace-filled, forgiveness-filled man, who would only sever ties with me if the mitigating factor was extraordinary.  So a few nights ago, I turned to Christopher and asked him what happened.

“Please,” I said.  “I need to know.”
His eyes widened, a look of disbelief.  “I never thought this day would come.  You’ve been so tied to the story that he betrayed you all these months.  I am so proud of you that you’ve come to this place, that you’re willing to consider the truth.  So here goes.  Do you remember our meeting together with Dr. B.?”

I shook my head.  Nothing.  Nada.
“We were in his office together.  You were crashing hard.  Totally manic.  Cutting yourself.  Your eating disorder on a rampage.  Suicidal.  We were losing you.  Dr. B. asked you if you could pledge safety to him.  You said, ‘No.’  So he wanted you to go to the hospital to go inpatient immediately.  You refused.  So he said he would have to 302 you (involuntary admission).  You were belligerent.  There was talk of police and an ambulance to escort you.  So you calmed down, said you’d let me drive you over.  On the way over, you kept saying you didn’t want to go to the hospital, that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the kids.  When we got there, Dr. B. (psychiatrist/ECT Dr. B.) came down to the ER with a resident and interviewed you.  He basically said he didn’t think you were in crisis, that you didn’t need to be admitted.  When he asked you if you could pledge safety to him, you said, ‘Yes, of course you could,’ because you didn’t want to be in the hospital.  You lied.  So that’s why Dr. B. had to stop seeing you.  Ethically, professionally, he couldn’t be caught in the middle anymore.  He couldn’t be responsible for what you might do.  You betrayed his trust.”

I took all this in.  Breathed a sigh of relief.  The truth made complete sense.  The past 8 months of anger—of feeling betrayed—disappeared.  What I felt, instead, was an enormous sense of empathy and compassion for Dr. B..  How hard it must have been for him to end therapy with me after 5 years, because after all, he had devoted all that time to believing he could help me recover, help me turn my life around, and what had I done?  In the space of a few months, had impulsively “hooked up” with a new Dr. B., like some ecstatic cult member, believed in his intransigent sermon that ECT was my sole cure, the answer to all the ills that had plagued me for all these years, that my beloved Dr. B. was, in essence, akin to a time-wasting charlatan.
But like all cult leaders on the run, Psyhciatrist/ECT Dr. B. has fled, left me flailing, left me to the aftershocks of ECT.  Yes, I admit, ECT has its lifesaving place.  A last resort option.  It kept me from throwing myself under a bus, from swallowing all the pills in my house.  But, as I’ve recounted here over and over, it has stolen much of what is precious to me.  An expensive emergency measure.
Readjusted memory.  Remembered my 7th Step.  With humility comes serenity, but humility requires courage, and courage means I must take a risk and open my heart, be vulnerable.

While I’d deleted Dr. B.’s number from my cell phone, my computer’s email list had perfect memory.  I hit COMPOSE, and sent him an honest letter, accepting responsibility for the crash and burn, for the lying, the manipulation, and the collusion with Psychiatrist/ECT Dr. B., and most importantly, asked if he’d be willing to consider working with me again, as I’d be “graduating” from my Partial Hospitalization program this Wednesday.  I spent 24 hours chewing my nails, pacing, wound up. 
And then my INBOX posted his response.  He was willing to meet for a mutual “interview” to see if it might be possible for us to work together again and see if it might be possible for him to help me.  We met on Friday.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to run away.  I wanted to hug him.  I wanted to beg for his forgiveness.  I wanted I wanted I wanted I wanted….I wanted him to simply say yes, he would take me back.  All was forgiven.

“Yes,” Dr. B. said, “I’ve forgiven you long ago. You can’t work in this business and hold grudges.  But I’ll need to take some time before I can decide whether to get into the thick of this with you again.  Because to be honest, I can’t work with you and not care deeply about you.  So I’ll need to think seriously and carefully about this.”
Strangely enough, I didn’t run, didn’t panic, didn’t shut down.  What I felt, instead, was what AA promises.  Serenity.  Peace.  I’d already received the answer I’d been seeking.  I’d been forgiven.  Dr. B. wouldn’t turn me away out of a lack of care, but because he cared.  Our work together had meant something to him, and to me.  Regardless of what happened in the future, whether it was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ we’d both had our hearts touched by each other.  And wasn’t that the purpose of this life together?  To risk loving and caring for another person?  To have the humility to ask for forgiveness in order to receive grace?

Grace.  There was a moment in our meeting when our eyes met, and it seemed to me that there was no need for words—ironic since what we were ostensibly doing was “talk therapy”—when really, our hearts were meeting.  And everything felt okay.  And everything felt still and quiet.  And it seemed as if his eyes were welling with tears.  I know mine were.  And there was pain in our looking into each other, over all that has happened in the past.  And there was also the need to want to say, it is love that binds us all together, in the petri dish, in the pasture.  We don’t forget what we have meant to each other.  Even if you forget books you have read, or words that you know, or how to drive to Big Lots.  You always remember love—the people you love; the people who love you.