Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Codependence Cycles

I'm a product of having been marinated in family codependence and addiction.

I'm imprinted with it, ever affected by it, and that lens will be part of my perception forever.

That being said, I've spent a lot of time learning to be aware of it, getting to know how it colors my perception, my desires, my attractions, my knee-jerk responses, my fears, my insecurities, my sense of power, need for control, etc.

And of course, many of my relationships have existed somewhere on the spectrum of codependence, either asserting and living with too much distance or demanding and/or giving in to demands for too much unhealthy intimacy. Of course, true intimacy as Rilke reminds us is the optimum balance of independence and togetherness. Standing side by side, supportive but not asking for support, offering and taking without leaning, or maybe taking turns leaning from time to time.

But as a child of codependence, my hyper awareness of the cycles sometimes makes me paranoid. Perspicacity only takes you so far. Sometimes the cut and run response can be overwhelming. We're not taught how to stay when things are tough. We have no experience that someone in a downward spiral can make the choices that take them out of it. All I've ever seen is my father in crisis and then back in denial. Nothing in between. Even my mother, who claims to have done so much work on herself, seems not to know how to pull herself up short when surrounded by crazy and make different choices.

After reading an embarrassing amount of self-help books, one of the things I listen for are the old family voices that offer false proverbs and axioms in moments of fear. Last night, the shitty jewel was this old addiction standby: "To be in love is to be in craziness. If you want intimacy, you sign up for the other person's crazy. That's the way to truly be together."

And of course it's not true. And of course, it's more than just an addict's proverb. It's also the root of romaticism. Anyone see What Dreams May Come? Or read it? Buy it? They're soul mates. Everyone knows it. They both know it. But one goes crazy, and the other doesn't. He dies. She kills herself. He goes to heaven. She goes to purgatory. He goes to save her. But the only way to save her is to join her. Enter her crazy. When he does, she can see him and therefore see her own reality as false. (Spoiler alert: They make it to the other side.)

But here's my question: in moments of fear -- faced with a partner's crazy -- how do you strike the balance between holding their hand while they hurt and not being held hostage by their fear? It's terrifying. What comes up for me is, "What if I just don't know how to be there for another person in a healthy way? What if this is just an unhealthy relationship, and I'm giving in yet again? How can I trust my own reactions, much less those of a partner who's acting out of fear? But if I walk away, am I just abandoning someone I love, deepening his own traumas?"

It's haunting to hear a partner living out old fears. There's a palpable reality shift, and you can both hear it. Suddenly, one of you is not in the present. Suddenly, one of you is acting a role. There's the shimmering moment when you both can sense an opportunity for healing. Your partner can make a different choice and prove to himself that things can be different. You can demonstrate that this is not the past; you are not that ghost; things can be different. You talk through it, and suddenly, the room lightens. Your stomach unclenches. You are both in the present again, and you've chosen life and love. You've chosen health and wholeness. You're together. You're stronger. A fissure has seen light and moved to fuse.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Talking last night to friends about the balance of thought -- analytical, task-driven, haphazard, pin-ball kind of thought and dreamy, fleeting, intuitive, meditative kind of thought. There are some who claim the second kind, called tortoise thinking, is actually more productive and efficient than the stop-and-start rushing of the hare. Think: slow and steady wins the race.

In the same vein, having finished most of my responsibilities from school and teaching this summer, I find myself wondering how to structure my life in the months and years ahead. I sense a window of opportunity to do things differently. Do them differently every day as a matter of practice until the way I want to live is in fact the pattern of my life that doesn't take much effort to continue. Think: Newton's First Law -- bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.

What is it I want my life to be? What percentage of my year or my day should be given over to which things? In an ideal world, I would be teaching in a university setting 25-50% of my time, practicing as a planner/facilitator 25% of the time, and working creatively -- maybe teaching or maybe just writing the other 25%.

If that's the goal, how best to get there? Dividing my days doesn't seem to happen. I have friends who set aside time every day for each of their priorities: so much time for writing, so much time for conversation with friends, so much time for study, so much time for exercise -- and then everything else that life piles up on you.

With a 40-hour job at a desk, that doesn't seem to work for me. So for now, it's about splitting up my week. Yoga Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays for running and outside work. Thursdays for friends. Fridays for dates. Weekend for family, work, creativity.

Reading doesn't seem to happen, unless I can get less sleep.

If there is more than I want to fit in, how does that happen? Early mornings seem unrealistic. Late nights, nothing seems as healthful as going to bed.

I know that if I don't take measures now to structure my life the way I want it, twenty years will pass before I know it, and I'll be fat, lazy, and stupid. That's my fear, anyway.

Just sitting here, the impediments to a healthy life flood my mind:
  • Not having a bedroom and therefore no reading lamp by the bed
  • Not being able to get up early
  • Not having laundry done for running clothes
  • Rainy nights that make running seem ... less than fun
  • Not having access to gym or pool (ah, to be a student...)
  • The cyclical guilt of friends or reading (if I'm doing one, I feel bad about not doing the other, ad infinitum)
I know the solution is just to do it. But life just seems to keep happening. Enter the flip side of Newton's first law: An object that is not moving will not move until a force acts upon it. It's always harder to get the ball rolling than to keep it rolling.

Awareness is part of the battle. Desire another. Now: to act.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monsoon Season

We watch hate billow upward in the east
the way we analyze a coming storm,

reflexively picking up an umbrella
to shield ourselves from the worst wet,

ponder a sunnier day,
plan a night in

by our tv,

curse the momentary inconvenience
of water waves in flooded streets,

the ineptitude of other drivers
who grew up here, too,

but seem to know less than we do
about how to drive in rain,

blithely ignore
building evidence of climate change

the way I fool myself into thinking
my meanness to you

on certain days
is a passing phase

having nothing to do
with punishing you

for those little things
I imagine you've done to me

because I didn't hear you say
you're hurting, too,

slammed with life,

caught under the weight
of everyone's expectations

on your own.

Perhaps it is unfair
to expect sunshine

in Israel
when I can't count on myself

to be nice
to the man I love

on a hard day
that didn't end in bloodshed.

Maybe I should fear
the increasing intensity of storms

in a desert state
whether or not my neighbors learn better how to drive.

is causation

in a universe
where all is relative

and time
flows both ways.

Chaos creates order
when the tsunami crashes the butterfly's wings.

Responsibility reverses
time's tide.

It is the only thing
that can hold back the wave.

We can choose
not to let blood

the way I can bite my cutting tongue
in order to ask you

about your day
and listen to the rain

stop grief for a moment
at home.

In this way
I can expect the butterfly

to shuttle diplomacy
all the way

to the middle

-- August 1, 2006, Albuquerque, NM, USA