19th Century Reality

“O my people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying. For I will show you lessons from our history, stories handed down to us from former generations.” (Psalms 78:1-4)

I tend to over-romanticize earlier times in history. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet, peaceful walk where no motorcars pollute the air, assault our ears with their constant rumble, and the threat of being struck down by one is non-existent. There’s something to be said for growing your own food, knowing where it came from, knowing what’s in it, and knowing how to preserve it for the winter months when nothing grows. There’s an art to cooking. Sadly, many in our society no longer take the time to learn that art. They’re too busy to slow cook anything; nuke for 3 minutes instead…and watch most, if not all, of the nutrition evaporate. And, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the craftsmanship that went into everything! Today’s styles, whether we’re talking clothing, or furnishings, or even architecture, are–in my not-so-humble opinion–bland. There’s no attempt at individuality. Everything is churned out in a factory so that every house, every sofa, every pair of jeans is often identical to the next. The only difference may be that this house is blue and its neighbor is yellow. So, I lament the loss of such craftsmanship.

However, yesterday afternoon, I spent some time reading some of the literature in the herb garden “office”. “Office” because it’s really the basement to another exhibit in the Village but it has been converted into a part-garden shed, part-gardening library and, yes, part-office. Some of what I read, I already knew but it was kind of sobering all the same:

Every family could expect to lose at least one child in infancy…mostly due to bacterial infections and viruses, of which infants have not developed immunity against and, of course, there’s no real hospital with today’s pre- and post-natal care.

Every family could also expect to lose at least one child before the age of 21 because one out of every five children never got the chance to grow up due to childhood diseases. I often criticize certain vaccinations–usually the flu vaccine, and I will continue to do so as Johns Hopkins Hospital just released a new study in regard (more about that at a later time)–but, while some of the ones we received as children may cause some unpleasant conditions and/or side effects, they also save lives. I, for one, would not want to contract tuberculosis–what was called “consumption” in the 1800’s. Consumption was one of the biggest killers in the 19th century.

Diseases like malaria and cholera took the lives of hundreds of people each summer. When was the last time we heard of anyone contracting cholera? There’s something to be said for public sanitation, too.

Women between 20 and 45, their childbearing years, were always at risk of losing their lives in the birthing process.

Menstrual pain, PMS and menopause were treated with patent medicines. These were primarily alcohol-based “remedies” prescribed by doctors to suppress certain symptoms. And, as anyone knows who has had alcoholism in their family, sometimes the effect is not calming but the basis for more irrational behavior.

One could practice medicine without a license, without even a formal education. The herbalist in me says this one isn’t so bad. No, I don’t want a surgeon cutting me open without ever having received formal training to do so but I don’t mind being able to tincture a few herbs together and being allowed to call it “medicine” instead of “remedy” or “supplement”. However, doctors of the 19th century were of two extremes. Some were merely learned herbalists who, rather than just the more benign plants like chamomile, mint and fennel that nearly everyone knew and trusted, employed harsher herbs. One such fellow, Samuel Thomson, believed the body must first be purged of all ill humors and then heated up because he believed that cold was the enemy. So he prescribed, almost exclusively, first, Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) to induce violent and copious vomiting and diarrhea (Lobelia inflata has since been proven to be quite toxic) and then followed it up with a heavy dose of Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum). He was incarcerated for murder when one of his patients died but then acquitted when nobody on the jury panel could readily identify Indian tobacco. The other side of medicine in the 1800’s used mineral-based remedies like calomel (Mercurous chloride), which had pretty much the same effect on the patient as Lobelia inflata. Bloodletting, purging and blistering were other orthodox methods of “healing”, methods that often sped a patient on their way by further weakening the victim. Lastly, though surgeons were often quite skillful, even in the 1800’s, the risk of infection was great and I, for one, would not like to endure such surgeries without the use of anesthetics.

Lastly, as a woman, the 1830’s hold less appeal, not enough to taint my joy in learning the skills and donning the beautiful outfits of the time, but because I’m simply far too independent to leave myself at the mercy–or lack thereof–of my closest male relative for my care. There were strict boundaries between women’s work and men’s. There was little to no industry for women at all (though the rapidly-growing textile industry was changing this). A widow living alone, even if she could figure out how to manage a plow on her own, hired out for the job instead; that just wasn’t woman’s work and one might appear “unseemly”. I face some of this same discrimination today as there are certain “stations” within the Village that women are strictly prohibited from learning: tinsmithing, pottery, coopering and blacksmithing are a few of them. These were men’s tasks and so, in an effort to stay true to the time period, modern women are pretty much denied these skills. (Funny how we bend that period correct rule in the Knight store where women “clerk” and for our Christmas by Candlelight program…but that’s another post for another day…) What’s that old expression? “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

May God bless you & keep you!

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

“He does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that Jehovah will take care of him. That is why he is not afraid, but can calmly face his foes.” (Psalm 112: 7, 8)

Growing up in an alcoholic home, change often meant something bad. Or at least I learned to associate it as such. Not the little changes that occur everyday but the big changes. The yet another move across country, either to Rhode Island or to Missouri, depending on where we were at the moment, meant beloved pets were sent to a shelter and the loss of sentimental items; a change for better financial circumstances meant more alcohol and more fighting; the sudden loss of a job also meant more fighting, creditors at the door…and possibly another major move.

As you can see, it was a vicious cycle. And it sent a message to an impressionable little girl that, even when things are looking up, expect the worse to quickly follow. It’s an anecdote for insecurity, wiping away whatever joy one might find in this life, and damaging to that little something called faith.

Yes, both good and bad exist in this world. And life is a never ending wave of ups and downs. All things balance under the sun. Hardships don’t last forever. And the good times will come to an end, too…only to swing back up again at a later time. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

It took me a long time to truly believe that passage.

And, of course, here I am on top of the world with this new position coming up…yet waiting for some ax to fall.

You see, there’s even more to the story than this. Things were promised to me repeatedly…only to be taken away just before they were supposed to happen. The trip to buy school clothes was cancelled at the last minute. The dance lessons had to be dropped. The babysitting money I earned was “borrowed” and never paid back. The piggy bank was raided without my knowledge. Sure, it did teach me a lot about handling disappointment. But, because this was a steady situation, it also taught me that I wasn’t worthy of anything better in life, that it was wrong to want, to strive for success. That no matter how hard I worked, the end result was always the same.

The saving grace was school. I worked hard, got good grades and, yes, there were rewards. This balanced some of the negativity coming from home and mitigated the apathy of such an existence. Is it any wonder that in my late-40’s I went back to college? Or that, in so doing, my confidence levels have steadily soared?

Of course, the New Age gurus who hang upon the every word of “The Secret” would say I’m attracting this negativity. Maybe I am. But, after having read said book, my first thought was one would drive one’s self around the bend trying to stay positive all the time. Despite everything I’ve just written, it’s just not logical–or possible–to be positive 24/7. And to deny, suppress, etc. the negative is a form of denial. It’s unhealthy. Instead of facing whatever negative thing or thought, and working through it, you’re suppressing it…where it does more damage in the long run.

Faith is the key.

I have hit at least one snag in this new change…maybe. But I’m striving to take it on faith. He brought me to it; He’ll lead me through it. To deny that there’s a potential snag looming, is to get broad-sided later with something bigger. Maybe that bigger something is His plan. But, while Jesus is referred to as the Good Shepherd, and we his flock of sheep, denial is not the answer.

Faith is.

And faith is telling me that, yes, we moved around a lot but, because we did, I have friends in Rhode Island, Missouri, and now Connecticut. If we hadn’t moved so much, I would not have my best friend, Mary, in my life…or countless other good friends. The promises made that were forever reneged? Finances didn’t always allow those promises to be kept…which has taught me the value of budgeting, thrift, living within one’s means and having some sort of an emergency fund.

So I guess I am incorporating “The Secret” in my life to some extent–I’m looking for that silver lining in every situation and focusing on the positives learned from it. The bad times hurt. But maybe they do for a reason–to make sure the lessons are painful enough to be remembered.

Either way, I’m taking it on faith…because while there is “a time to cry”, there is also “a time to laugh”. And this promise is for all of us…no matter our situation. He will never leave us.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Byrne, R. (2006). “The Secret” Oregon: Beyond Words Publishing.

Who’s Really in Charge Here Anyway?

“We ought not to insist on everyone following in our footsteps, nor to take upon ourselves to give instructions in spirituality when, perhaps, we do not even know what it is.” St. Teresa of Avila

I’ll admit it. “Charles in Charge” has nothing on me. I’m in control, or so I tell myself, and then hear the echo of what can only be God laughing as I tighten the reins…and chaos erupts.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I think I remember reading somewhere that 98% of us have at least a touch of it. Some of us have a bit more than a touch, unfortunately. Oh, it comes in handy at times. The alphabetized CD, DVD, VHS and book collections make finding whatever I’m looking for a snap. Because, really, who wants to waste time looking for something that may be right in front of your nose? I have bigger fish to fry, as they say. And, maybe it’s a bit extreme but my closet is color coded with all the yellow garments together, all the red, all the green, etc. Again, it makes finding that outfit easier. And I’m all about economizing my time. However, these little impulses and neuroses also tie me in knots and can make me a rather difficult person to live with.

Poor Mom.

This feeble attempt at perfectionism often manifests as criticism. I hear myself and cringe. Criticism was definitely NOT the intent but that’s what surely came across if I put myself in her shoes. And really, how important is it if the buttery popcorn bowl wasn’t rinsed first before it went into the sink? Or if the spoon rest is backwards on the stove? This latter “pet peeve” doesn’t get spoken; I simply turn it around again but then I think, as I’m doing it, does it MATTER???

And here is where the knots get tied because, as one voice is asking about the importance of such an act, another voice knows how much of a mental distraction it will be if I leave the spoon rest backwards…or the toilet paper feeding from under, rather than over.

Of course, I’ve never really sat down with Mom and tried to explain exactly what it’s like to live with OCD. Sadly, such a conversation tends to veer off into why mine is so intense in the first place: it’s a response to the molestation I grew up with. And that is a subject Mom would rather forget about altogether. As a child, I couldn’t control what was happening to me so I acted out by adopting these little “habits”. It gave me a false sense of security. And I was desperate to feel secure. Not only the abuse but also the alcoholism, the drunken accusations that told us all that we were “stupid” and couldn’t do anything “right” and to “look a little harder than you have to”. Like many children who grow up with some sort of substance abuse…as well as the abuse of their bodies, minds, and spirits, I turned all this negativity onto myself and shouldered all the blame. If I was a better student, he wouldn’t be so angry. If I kept my room neater, maybe he’d leave me alone. If I did all the chores around the house, all this chaos would stop.

Who was I kidding?

I’ve been tied up in knots since I was a very little girl. Is it any wonder that I’m still tying myself in knots? Unhealthy though it may be, it’s also a comfortable numb. It’s familiar. And, if I don’t grasp, and clutch, and sterilize my whole life, I start to relax…and then chastise myself for being “lazy”.

The paradox of all of this is that my property from the roadside looks like tobacco road. This is another coping mechanism from dealing with alcoholism. It keeps people away. But such a desire never cropped up until a few years ago when I had a live-in boyfriend…who was also an alcoholic. He seemed a nice enough guy when we met. And there was an instant rapport. This last one should have been a red flag…heck, it should have been flashing in neon red. Because that kind of comfort level so early on, well, they say a girl looks for her father when she dates…or, in this case, father figure. I was embarrassed. The sometimes-arrogant self, who would never allow herself to be caught in such a situation, got caught in it. How did this happen? How did I let this happen? And, worse, it took me forever to finally get out of it. The same mind control that I grew up, manifested again in this romantic partner. The same self-doubt and shame crept in. And I felt sorry for him. He, too, had grown up with abuse in the home. I knew what that was like. And, while I had had a network of family and friends behind me as I sought therapy and tried to claw my way into some sort of normalcy of life, he was still wallowing in the beaten-down misery he grew up with. He even threatened to beat me physically…and I still let him stay. It wasn’t until, in a drunken stupor, he cut down a beloved shade tree in the yard that I snapped and gave him the boot.

Tobacco road’s been growing ever since…because I’m mortified that I allowed myself to be caught up in this unhealthy situation. I fell down on my principles. Every stitch of therapy went out the windows. Though I have no actual proof, I even suspect he was abusive to one of my cats as Trooper’s behavior while he was here was almost unbearable. And it stopped almost immediately once this man was finally gone for good.

A little bit at a time. That’s what friends tell me as I tackle this overgrowth. It’s a little bit like that “One Day at a Time” motto advocated by both Alcoholics’ Anonymous and Al-Anon. A little bit at a time, one day at a time.

This homestead is healing me as well as it is healing the land. My OCD says I should be able to perfectly landscape the 3/4 of an acre I’ve set aside for fruits, vegetables and herbs in a weekend’s work; it’s not good enough otherwise. Reality says, as I am implementing Charles Dowding’s “No Dig Gardening” method to bring as low an impact to the earth as I can, that such an enormous undertaking simply cannot be done in one weekend…not to the scale I envision. And not by one single person…especially one on a part-time income.

No, the “No-Dig” method isn’t expensive. Quite the contrary. It uses flattened cardboard boxes laid out on the ground (something easily had for free from many of the local businesses who don’t mind not having to pay out to cart the cardboard away instead) and then composted waste, from both the kitchen, and the animals, layered on top of the cardboard to create a raised bed. I’ve been dismantling a broken section of stone wall that runs along the front of my property to outline the beds once they’re made and using old feed bags that I’ve cut open and laid flat for the walkways in between. As funds permit, I buy a bag or two of red mulch and lay it atop the bags. This is where the part-time income comes into the picture as I cannot purchase enough at one time to cover all of the walkways at once. And, as I am on a major interstate, as well as in the commercial district, it has to be “pretty”.

So, a little bit at a time, one day at a time.

And, when the OCD starts kicking up again and stresses perfection, I need only look outside to see the rhubarb growing tall and strong in the three-tiered pyramid I built for it and the strawberries; I need only look at the green beans poking their kidney-shaped heads out of the ground in one raised bed and the beautiful purple flower heads of the chives, and the lush expanse of marjoram in another to tell me that, yes, one day at a time is good enough. It doesn’t matter that it’s not “perfect”. Obviously, these plants don’t care a fig if it’s perfect or not; they’re still growing in imperfection.

As for the grass?

Mankind has ever strived to tame and “control” Nature. I refuse to use anything gas-powered, or any chemicals, to kill it off. Even with the raised beds, the weed and grass barriers being laid down, there’s still the occasional blade that pokes up even amongst those sections already landscaped. This is a reminder that, despite my valiant efforts to control and manipulate this landscape, much like the landscape of my life, there is Someone greater than I who is really in charge. Someone who takes those knots I’ve tied myself into, lays them out flat…and helps me to grow.

May God bless you & keep you!

Over It

“Get over it!”

I hear a lot of this whenever I talk about, or add a new blog post, that shares about my childhood. Oh, the fun and games that every child remembers is acceptable. But the darker, more sinister aspects of my childhood should be kept quiet…if only because it offends the delicate sensibilities of others.

I say, if it offends your delicate sensibilities, then good. Great, in fact! If I’m offending your delicate sensibilities, then I’m getting under your skin. I’m making you aware that 6.6 million referrals of child abuse/molestation are reported annually in the United States alone–many involving more than one child, and alcoholism affects 15.1 million adults over the age of 18 (Child Help; NIAAA, 2017). Quite often, the two are irrevocably linked. And these are just the incidents that were reported…because the delicate sensibilities of those closest to many of these lost children dictate that these children should suffer in silence, rather than exploit the family dysfunction. I say, to what purpose should I “get over it” unless both of those statistics change to a big, fat ZERO.

SPOILER ALERT!

I hate to burst a few bubbles but, I am “over it”. You see, if I wasn’t “over it”, I wouldn’t be able to blog, or talk, so candidly about my childhood experiences. 20+ years in therapy have led me to a much healthier place, mentally and emotionally. I know sometimes it may seem otherwise when there are so many “hang-ups” that still trip me from time to time. But, honestly, before therapy, I bottled everything so deeply inside that I couldn’t see the proverbial forest through the trees. And I guess this blog post is coming about as a means to change some misconceptions…about a lot of things.

First of all, therapy. Whenever I get tripped up by some sort of coping mechanism I adopted as a child, or by a wave of self-doubt, there are some who cast aspersions on that therapy…or the therapist who worked so closely with me. But therapy, while valuable, can never truly wipe away those “hang-ups”; my memories aren’t going to disappear. I’m not going to forget what happened. However, I no longer dwell upon it. It isn’t an all-consuming nightmare from which I cannot wake up anymore. Therapy has helped me to put those painful memories, well, not really on a back burner but, instead, I can look at them with some distance, take them out, study them, study their effects, and, like an onion, peel away another layer of hurt and dysfunction in manageable bites. This is important because, if I tried to deal with everything all at once, I would get overwhelmed and incapacitated by that overwhelming. The abuse that I endured growing up was spread out over several years; is it any wonder that the recovery from it would also take a number of years?

Another blessing of that therapy is that, while I am peeling away those layers, I also have tools to help lift me out of depression and anxiety, to boost my self-esteem when it wants to plummet, to deal with anger and even the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that became one of those coping mechanisms. I will probably always be afflicted with some trace of OCD. In fact, with Mom now living with me, I find myself falling back into some old obsessions. I’m guessing it’s because I am suddenly exposed to some of that learned behavior from dealing with active alcoholism again. I escaped life with an alcoholic when I was in my early-20’s; Mom lived with that same alcoholic for over 40 years. For at least half of those years, I was in that therapy, peeling those layers away; Mom was still in the midst of it, dealing with it. Yes, she did choose to do so but that doesn’t change the fact that she learned a few coping mechanisms of her own. I see it, hear the sometimes sarcasm, the passive-aggression, the lack of concern for her own well-being, the escapism, the manipulation, the desperate attempt to develop a new co-dependency with me. It saddens me. Because, overall, she’s a good woman who simply allowed herself to get caught in a bad situation…partly because she didn’t believe that she deserved better treatment, and partly because, underneath the alcoholism and abuse, she saw something–someone–that she loved despite the abuse…and she’s still struggling with the ill effects of that choice.

Of course, I will also concede that the OCD has become over-active again because some small part of me may still harbor some anger at Mom…for not acting when I first told her what was happening to me. I was eight years old. Today, she says she doesn’t remember me telling her. I’m not sure how one would forget such a conversation but, I am willing to concede that it may have been such a shock to her, that maybe some part of her did block it out. Because it was too much for her to deal with. It hurts too much to think that maybe she simply didn’t care enough to help me. Either way, acceptance is the only way to true forgiveness.

And therein lies another misconception: forgiveness. A lot of people look at forgiveness as giving in, giving up, as saying that whatever vile and/or hateful thing that has been committed is okay. No, it is never okay for a little child to be abused…in any way, shape or form. It’s not okay for any living creature–human or humane, child or adult to be abused. Forgiveness isn’t about the actions of the abuser. We’re not forgiving the act–or lack of action–but the person committing the act, or lack thereof.

“Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you; but if you refuse to forgive them, He will not forgive you.” (Matthew, 6:14-15)

Forgiveness isn’t truly about them anyway. Forgiveness is a gift for the one doing the forgiving, for the peace that settles over the soul once we finally let go of the grudge, the anger, the stubbornness that inhibits further healing from the transgression. Forgiveness releases the power the transgressor still wields over us to hurt us even more…because by hanging onto our anger, truly, the only person we hurt is ourselves.

So, what does all of this have to do with homesteading? I get asked that one A LOT. Because, really, that’s the whole reason I started this blog. I wanted it to be a daily accounting–or at least a weekly one–of my journey as a homesteader. However, as I technically started this blog back in 2010, but never really contributed to it on a regular basis until last August (2016), obviously, I didn’t have as much to say about my homesteading endeavors. Or maybe I just needed to get into a regular writing routine, which I have done, and see which direction it evolved. I’d like to think that these two separate journeys are somehow intertwined…above and beyond the fact that this modern-day homesteader is also the one still healing from the effects of childhood trauma.

In fact, there’s the link: a journey of healing from childhood abuse…and a journey to heal Mother Earth from the effects of Mankind’s abuse of her. What’s in our food? A lot of things that should not even be used in the same sentence as “food”: high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, dyes, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Where does it come from? A package? A can? From over 3000 miles away where a huge carbon footprint is created to transport it across country, across the globe, after lacing it with these artificial preservatives, and growing it with chemical pesticides and fertilizers…which kill us, kill the animals, the plants, kill the honey bees. What’s in our clothing? Nylon, synthetics–by-products of the petroleum industry. Athletic wear, especially, contains a lot of plastic. Plastic off-gases in our landfills. It gets dumped into our rivers and streams, our oceans, where tiny particles of it…and sometimes even larger pieces…get ingested by wildlife and aquatic life. I recently did a presentation regarding climate change. I found a photograph of a seal that had died from ingesting run-off from lawn fertilizers–such as Scotts or TruGreen. We’re killing our planet, ourselves. And, while one lone homesteader may not be able to make much of a dent in that carbon footprint, I can lead by example. And I can rest knowing that I’ve done the best I could to lessen my contribution to the abuse. That’s worth it to me.

As this homestead is also intended as an animal rescue and rehabilitation, a sanctuary to help heal animals of abuse and/or abandonment, here, too, is another journey of healing. I need a bigger homestead if I’m to achieve the level of success that I envision but, for now, I work with what I have and mitigate whatever suffering I can, one heart at a time.

For every new skill I learn as a homesteader, whether it is canning, preserving, a new gardening technique, a new fiber art mastered, for every new animal that I learn to care for and that thrives, I gain a new level of confidence that takes me even further away from those painful memories. And that’s a link that will endure forever.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Child Help, (2017). Statistics. Retrieved June 2, 2017 from: https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Statistics. Retrieved June 2, 2017 from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

A Blessing of Friendship

“There are ‘friends’ who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

I have an abundance of friends–good friends who are there for me through the good times and the bad…at least when I let them be. When that ol’ Devil, Pride, and his partner, Self-Doubt, don’t sit on my shoulder and shout through the megaphone to my ear.

Arrgh!

And double AaarrrrrrrgggghhhH!

Do you know how many times I have started and re-started this post? And I’m afraid I’m still going to botch it. I started this post as a way to publically thank some dear friends of mine for the help they gave me recently…help which, all of them would likely say, was no big deal. But, to me, it was a big deal. And, no, the simple “thank you” I offered at the time the help was given isn’t enough. I’m not enough. Or so I tell myself. Despite the 20-something years of therapy. Despite Farnoosh’s wonderful “Affirmations for Life” series…that I make a point to listen to each morning. No matter what, the internal tape recordings still play, chasing away whatever peace may finally settle into my soul.

This expression of gratitude is turning into another one of those affects of alcoholism blog posts instead. So be it. I’m tired of fighting it. And, if I botch it, oh well. At least I tried. With a little luck, maybe that nugget of gratitude will come through after all. Because it is heart-felt.

I grew up with alcoholism. I grew up in a family where, yes, people would help you if you asked…and even sometimes when you didn’t, but whenever there was a disagreement, or I grew angry or upset about unfair treatment, that help was thrown into my face. Ditto for any gifts given. I was disloyal because my opinion differed. Or maybe, just maybe, an ounce of self-esteem reared its head at the receipt of said gift, or pair of helping hands, and, for a moment, I dared to believe that I might be loved and appreciated “just because”. And I spoke up. How dare I? So I learned not to ask for help, became uncomfortable with receiving gifts, and stuffed my feelings all way around. Because it was better to slug it out alone than to deal with the unbridled guilt that followed. Because, apparently, through that “disloyalty”, I somehow did not appreciate the help or the gifts. It was as though any help given cancelled out the right to speak honestly about my feelings, or about the horrors that often took place behind our closed doors. And, with alcoholism–and the many forms of abuse that often accompany it–that’s exactly the point.

Being treated to an ice cream cone cancelled out the shouting and myriad crashing and banging from the drunken argument the night before. The block of notebook paper, the clothes purchased for the next school year, mitigated my right to be angry because the family cat was kicked across the room when she happened across my stepfather’s path as he trailed my mother, shouting at her for…something. The gifts brought back from the weekly eight to ten hour shopping spree should’ve been enough to ease the anger and downright panic that ensued as my 14 year-old self waited for someone to come home so my little brother could be taken to the hospital for the head wound that wouldn’t stop bleeding…and, when he finally got there, required 3-4 stitches. He also had a concussion. PS We never had a phone growing up and, though a neighbor called family members to see if the parental units could be located, an ambulance would not come to pick us up because there wasn’t a parent, or legal guardian, to authorize his admission into the ER (this was very early 1980’s).

Of course, gifts were also dangled before me like the carrot before the horse…at least when I was really young. As a very little girl (5, 6 years old), my stepfather would promise me trips to Rocky Point, or even Disneyland, if I would keep our “little secret” from Mommy. And Grandpa, who was a cop. By the time I reached 7 or 8 years’ old, I knew better…and no gift was truly worth what I was going through. Then he simply threatened to hurt my Mom to keep me quiet.

The help I gave to my family in return was never enough. It wasn’t enough that I cleaned the whole house top to bottom while the parental units were out shopping and visiting family nearly every weekend. It wasn’t enough that I also took care of my brother those weekends–often without choice because they would often be gone before I awakened. Any money given to me for birthdays was taken. Ditto any wages earned babysitting. When I finally graduated and started working, half my pay–whatever it was–was demanded, not a set room-and-board fee.

Needless to say, growing up my sense of self was in the proverbial toilet. And, sadly, that sense is still just dangling from the rim of the bowl.

And, yet, I’ve been blessed with such an abundance of good friends…great friends…best friends, that I am constantly wondering what I ever “did” to deserve them all. And therein lies the faulty thought patterns. I didn’t earn them by anything I did. Or said. Or gave…other than my own friendship in return. For me, that’s a wonder in itself. And enough to make me misty-eyed as I continue typing. I can “know” this on an intellectual level but there’s still that echo of a childhood that keeps looking for ways to earn, or re-pay, kindnesses and caring. It’s as if it is a sin past bearing to ever be down-on-your-luck, or in need, and have to ask for help. The simple “thank you” seems small compared to what is given, what is offered. And, though some part of me hopes I am giving something in return, the scale by which I measure says I am perpetually short-changing everyone. I.e. I’m not enough.

And, as I type this, I can hear Farnoosh’s bright and happy voice echoing, “I am more than enough!” so I guess the Affirmations for Life are having a positive effect after all…

I hope any friends reading this blog post aren’t offended, hurt or insulted by it. It is, perhaps, a feeble attempt to explain how things are when you grow up in such an environment. And that, yes, while outwardly I continue to struggle through this thing called under-employment, it is the internal struggles that often keep me truly down-and-out. I hope you understand that it’s more than just the lift up to the feed store for goat chow or to CVS last minute for Mom’s prescription meds; it’s more than the unexpected call as I was leaving Walmart to see if I would like a ride home instead of walking in the rain and the dark after work. It’s knowing that there are people out there who care. About me. People that I don’t often reach out to because I don’t want to become a burden or wear out my welcome…because such was reinforced over and again as a child. It’s the seed of hope that such seemingly minute acts of kindness can plant…and water…and nurture in the heart of someone–anyone–who has ever felt lonely and alone, abandoned, scared or isolated. And we all feel nudges of each from time to time. It’s that whole Wiccan rule: what you give out, comes back to you three times three.

And, so, with that thought in mind, I am asking the good Lord to bless all of you three times three the blessing you have all been to me. Not just in these recent acts of kindness and sharing, but for all the years that we have been friends. For the love and acceptance you have given so freely. And the love and acceptance I hope to share with all of you–and more–for all the days of my life.

Of His gifts, I have little doubt.

May God bless you & keep you!

A Part of the Whole

“As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” Romans 12:3-5

In this journey of healing and homesteading, it shouldn’t be any surprise to myself that I often measure my worth by what I have accomplished each day. I pressure myself constantly to do more, over-crowding my life until I squeeze all of the, well, life out of it. And I drive myself bananas trying to fit that 30 hour day into a 24 hour time frame. As I blogged about yesterday, growing up with an alcoholic in the home, unreasonable expectations were placed upon me.

In high school, and for several years after, my dream was to be a heavy metal rock star. I wanted to be on that stage, playing my guitar, being viewed as the best of the best. I was driven to find some worth in myself and, despite having a beloved grandfather as a mentor with my writing, that wasn’t an acceptable career in those days; a metal artist was so much cooler (sorry, Poppop…). And, in my more honest moments, I know part of the musical appeal was to get under my stepfather’s skin; my father plays guitar, too.

Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (though not a metal band), George Lynch of Dokken and, later, Lynch Mob fame, and Yngwie Malmsteen were my heros, my mentors, if you will. And I wanted to play just like them…especially George. I also sang lead. Queen of Metal, Doro, was the major influence there. I wanted to sound just like her but she’s a powerhouse as a vocalist. My own voice, by comparison, sounded weak to my ears. As mentioned yesterday, my stepfather often taunted me about my musical aspirations. However much I practiced, it was never enough. I should work harder, practice more…if I wanted to succeed…even as he directed from the easy chair. In those earlier days, if I read an article that George Lynch practiced 8 hours a day–and, of course, this jived with my stepfather’s “advice”–then I would suddenly be killing myself trying to squeeze those 8 hours of practice around 6-8 hours of work and another 7-8 hours of sleep…and mentally beating up on myself when I failed. My younger self did not take into account that each of these artists were performing for a living. They didn’t have to go to a “day” job (though I’m sure they all had one before they “made it”).

Sadly, that vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and pushing myself to do more, because I never do “enough”, has stayed with me through the years. I recently read that author, Nora Roberts, writes 8 hours a day, every single day of the week…including holidays and vacations. I don’t know how true this is but I do know I simply don’t have 8 hours a day to give to my craft, no matter how much I may wish it or enjoy it. The best I can do is 4 hours…and that’s only if homework and homestead work don’t take priority. I still try to get to the keyboard–or at least sit with a notebook and pen–every day. Again, that’s the best I can do. I do not have the luxury of staying at home all day, everyday. I haven’t gotten that proverbial foot in the door of the writing industry enough that I can afford to stay home (and maybe some would argue that’s what’s holding me back but I’m also partial to food and shelter…for me, for Mom and for my animals). That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to “find” 8 hours a day though. And, for anyone who has been following this blog since last August or September, you know I suddenly started setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. after reading an article that Dolly Parton does her best writing at that hour. That fell by the wayside fast as first Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then a bit of Chronic Epstein-Barr slapped me in the face. I work away from home evenings; I don’t get home early enough to support such an early rising. And that’s a fact. I’m now back to 5:30-6:00 a.m. And most of my writing time has been shifted to evenings, after all of my college homework and chores on the homestead are done, and the rest of the world is heading off to bed (fewer interruptions that way).

It’s the same with the homestead. In this case, my mentors are the folks at Path to Freedom. My homestead is nowhere near as developed as theirs; it’s certainly not a working farm yet. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a family working 1/5 of an acre. I have almost a full acre and, while Mom may plant a few vegetables, most of the work is mine. The Dervaes also started over 20 years ago; I’ve only just begun.

What all of this means is that the mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child and teen, I still perpetuate on myself today. I’m still not “enough”, not doing enough. And so, I see myself as less than those I might unwittingly put on the proverbial pedestal. Whenever I receive a compliment about my playing, my singing, my writing, or anything else I do, it always comes as a surprise and then a bit of discomfort that I am not deserving of the compliment. Such are the seeds of doubt planted by the alcoholic…and they are as perennial and as invasive as a blade of couch grass.

The truth of the matter is that my perception of self is actually quite skewered. I may not get up at 3:30 anymore, or write a full 8 hours each day, but I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA in a creative writing degree program. I have been published before; have had a couple of professors encourage me to try publishing some of what I’ve written for class, and I’ve managed to attract a following of over 500 people with this blog in less than a year’s time. Once, while practicing with the folk group at church for our Christmas program, I was admonished by the choir director to sing softer. Our objective was to sing the Baby Jesus to sleep…not wake the dead. So much for that “weak” voice. And, many years back, my second husband’s nephew gave me quite a compliment when his mother pooh-poohed my guitar playing and he exclaimed, “But you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!” And, of course, having grown up with alcoholism in the home, my mind immediately rejected the compliment.

“One evening I was taken by surprise when another member complimented me. I was very uncomfortable with this gesture of kindness, feeling inside that I didn’t deserve it. When I tried to talk her out of her kind words, she refused to take them back.” (Courage to Change, 1992, p. 130).

Ironically, it is a young adult fiction story that has helped me to accept and appreciate who I am. It is a novel by author, Karen Cushman, called “Catherine Called Birdy” in which a young woman in medieval times seeks to find her purpose in life by trying to be an artist, running away with a circus (or maybe it was a fair; been awhile) and various other projects. In the story, Catherine trails a Jewish family and the old grandmother finally gets her to open up about why she wants to join their traveling show. I’m going to paraphrase a bit but the old woman admonished her that when she got to the pearly gates of heaven, she wouldn’t be asked why she wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or someone else. She would be asked why she wasn’t Catherine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t play like George Lynch, sing like Doro, have a fully-working homestead like the Dervaes or write for 8 hours like Nora. I sing, play, write and homestead like me. Like that part of Christ’s body, as He intended.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Al-Anon Family Groups, (1992). “Courage to Change.” Al_Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, Virginia Beach, VA.

Cushman, K. (1994). “Catherine Called Birdy.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.

Learning Peace of Mind

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid…John 14:27

I’ve neglected my Al-Anon daily reader for awhile now…and it shows. Tonight I picked up “Courage to Change” and read today’s message. As always, it was exactly what I needed.

Today’s reading talks about how we often deny the gifts we have by wishing that things were different. Or by refusing to “accept something over which” we are “powerless” (Courage to Change, p. 129). No matter how many years I have spent in therapy, or whether or not I am currently exposed to active alcoholism, it always amazes me how quickly I can fall back on the learned behavior that I grew up with. There is a constant maintenance that never really goes away. If I ignore it, get lazy, whatever you wish to call it, that learned behavior creeps back in and takes over again. Maybe not as strongly, because there is a healing that came with the past maintenance, but it can certainly wreak some havoc…sort of like the weeds in my garden. If I don’t get out there each day and pull a few of them, they’re liable to take over.

And, really, with Mom now living on the homestead with me, it is more important than ever that I keep up that maintenance.

No, Mom seldom, if ever, drinks alcohol. She was married to an alcoholic for 40+ years. Granted, he went dry the last five years of his life. Quit cold turkey. But never attended an AA meeting or sought any professional help; he didn’t think he needed it. Mom learned a lot of coping behaviors in those 40+ years. And, living together, I find myself confronting some of them in myself, too.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for some time now. A lot of stress, mostly financial, but there is also some stress in simply learning how to live again with Mom. I’ve gone from being 50 years old to being treated like I’m 15. I know it is a Mom “thing” but it grates against the nerves at times. I also find I’m a bit territorial. When Mom moved in she offered to take over kitchen detail. On the one hand, I appreciate the offer, her willingness to help. On the other hand, I really miss my relaxing Sunday afternoons, cooking and baking for the whole week, freezing portions for later in the month, canning, preserving, and also making herbal tinctures and salves and such. I enjoyed planning out my meals before I did a grocery shopping and saving the money that such planning brought about. The simple solution would be to simply sit down with Mom and talk about it. But here is where the learned behavior comes in.

Mom will sit and listen to whatever I have to say. She will nod and agree with me, tell me to go ahead and start cooking, etc; defensively assure me that she’s not stopping me. A half hour later, she will be in the kitchen again. I’ve even gone so far as to half-jokingly tell her I was kicking her out of the kitchen, or firing her from KP duty (after the umpteenth meal of scrambled eggs, rubbery and tasteless on the inside, super-crispy-can-barely-cut-them-with-a-fork on the outside). It doesn’t matter. She’s learned to ignore such requests. Because my stepfather made requests and then changed his mind again as it suited him, which is typical of an alcoholic. Who could possibly keep up? She learned to agree with whatever he said to his face…even as she went about her own business later. She was very careful to agree while he was talking. Any opposition and, like many alcoholics, he would start yelling and screaming at her. He could also be violent. So she agreed. We all did. Because it was better than dealing with the temper tantrums.

As you can guess, we don’t communicate well. I learned to stuff everything. Actually, Mom did, too. We mutter under our breath instead…and then pretend we said something entirely different if, what we muttered, carries farther than we thought it would. A passive-aggressive approach because, living with an alcoholic, you really can’t voice your opinions, your feelings, express your wants or needs. Again, it’s the temper tantrums.

In Al-Anon, “The Serenity Prayer” is often recited:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonally happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

I cannot change what our past has been. But, by ignoring the myriad tools that I have been given, through both therapy and Al-Anon, I allow that past to taint the present and the future. I’ve even allowed it to affect my homestead.

Another learned behavior from living with active alcoholism is a skewered perception of what one can and cannot accomplish in an hour, a day, a week, etc. The alcoholic will ask for the impossible and then berate you when you fail. I remember when I was learning to play guitar, my stepfather used to make comments that everyone else he ever knew who played would always have the guitar in their hands. They practiced 6, 7, 8 hours a day…or more. He would then insinuate that maybe I didn’t really want to play, or that I didn’t really have any talent. Though I worked 30+ hours a week, and still managed to practice for 2-3 hours each night after work, in his eyes it wasn’t enough.

Today, no matter how much I do accomplish, it’s still never enough. I am a single woman working this land alone. I know exactly where I want to be but, because I’m not there yet, I often feel ashamed. Because it’s not a fully-working farm yet. Because, like healing from the effects of alcoholism–even someone else’s, homesteading is a journey. And, like healing, there is always room for improvement. I deny myself the gift of that journey.

And, by holding onto these learned behaviors, I also deny myself the gift of my mother, whom I am still blessed to have here on this earth. 40+ years of learned behavior will never likely ever be “unlearned”; this is where I learn to accept the things I cannot change. The only thing I can change is…myself. My own behavior. So I think “Courage to Change” is going to become a daily reader again…along with some regular meetings whenever I can either find a meeting within walking distance…or find the transportation to drive to the nearest one.

“While I am responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind. Just for today I will love myself enough to give up a struggle over something that is out of my hands.” (Courage to Change)

May God bless you & keep you!

Al-Anon Family Groups (1992). “Courage to Change”. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Virginia Beach, VA.