Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Courage to Come Home

“The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility, and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before.  If you can live through it than you can live through anything.  You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.”

                                                                                                                --Eleanor Roosevelt

Someone should sound a Tibetan singing bowl because it’s been a long time since I’ve had a genuine crisis.  No five-alarm fires, no emergency response teams, not even an Epi-pen.  This period of relative peace and stability, while welcome, is uncomfortable as it feels unnatural.  I’ve been living for so long on high-alert status, waiting to implode or dissolve, living with a twitchy vigilance that refused all calls to put down my arms.  Take a deep breath and relax?  Pretend that I’m okay?  That I won’t derail at any moment?  That stability might in fact be more than a fantasy?
And yet, here I am, single-parenting again for a week while my husband is away for work, not just getting through it, like I might have once done—mood unstable, exhaustion dogging me, feeling flattened by the effects of barely managing, and castigating myself for being the universe’s worst mother—but thriving through it.  I’ve happily managed to get my son through one of his busiest and most important weeks of his life—he was in a college production of Medea; we all generally ate and slept well (snuggled up in bed together); we kept to a routine as it suited us and when it didn’t, we had pancakes for dinner; and I didn’t lose my shit as much as I used to when I was alone and in charge—I let things slip and slide.  My assessment this time around?  A pretty damn good mother.  Maybe even the best mother for my kids.

It takes courage to get through a week of single parenting.  For any parent on their own.  Much less a parent with Bipolar Disorder.  I can admit this now.  Before, I’d shrug.  Big deal.  It’s just a week, a few days, even a few hours.  What the hell do I have to worry about?  Feel overwhelmed by?  But when mania is running high or depression is drowning you, those hours alone and in charge might as well be years.  The voice of IT comes in, berating you for not being a good enough mother, telling you that your children would be better off with you dead, that you should save them from the scourge of yourself.
I am learning about courage from my son, who just might be one of the bravest people I know.  This Fall, he was on a soccer team and he was one of the younger, smaller, less advanced players.  He didn’t score any goals or make any big plays the entire season.  Nor was he Mister Sunnyside Up either.  He came home from many practices and games pretty down on himself, talking about how he was the worst player out there, how no one passed to him, how he would never score a goal.  And yet, despite what my daughter called his “self-esteem problem,” my son went on that field every week charged up; he refused to be intimidated by kids who were bigger or better than him, and he never stopped wondering, if maybe this wasn’t the game he might score a goal.

What does stability bring?  It has brought me two gifts this week that, had I been spinning in chaos, I don’t think would have come my way. 
Two days ago, I was contacted by Bipolar Hope Magazine—they want to interview me for an upcoming article on the pleasures and perils of traveling with Bipolar Disorder.  Obviously, as a frequent traveler across time zones, I can probably offer my useful two cents.  But what seems miraculous to me is the fact that I will be considered an “expert” in a publication with the words “Bipolar” and “Hope” together.  That I am now considered a voice of “Hope” for this disorder when not so very long ago I considered myself hopeless—indeed, I was even told I was hopeless.  And to be “out” in such a publication as one of the “Hopefuls” is for me an act of courage as it suggests that I am a believer—one who has a forward-moving future.   

And then just yesterday, I received a phone call from a woman in my 12-Step Recovery group asking me if I might be her guide through the 12-Steps.  A kind of quasi-sponsor as I’m not in town enough or available enough to be a full-blown sponsor.  This scares the ABSOLUTE SHIT out of me.  That she sees me as far enough along in recovery to help her in her recovery.  That she doesn’t see me as someone in crisis, someone headed in a downward spiral, but sees me as a beacon of hope, as someone who embodies courage.  Part of me wants to take back my “Yes.”  Because what if it all does go to shit again?  What if I fall apart again?  What if I fail her as I fail myself?  But this “Yes” takes courage, doesn’t it?
This “yes” is the “yes” I learned from my son this past weekend while he performed in his play.  It was amazing to me to watch him each night.  Of course, he’d spent the past several weeks rehearsing with the college cast, but still—he’s only eight years old and it was a real stage and the audience was packed.  Every night I’d drop him off at the dressing room with the other cast members and he would give me a quick kiss goodbye. 

“I’m fine!  I’m fine,” he insisted.  “Go!”
“Break a leg,” I said, and left, my heart swelling and aching.

I sat in my seat and watched the play, waiting for my son.  When he came on stage, he was so self-assured, so inspired, and without fear.  And I could see that he knew he had found his place in the world.
This is what I’m learning in recovery and through stability—to find self-assurance, inspiration, and to live without fear.  And as I’m finding it, I know I’m coming home.