Archive for January, 2012

This may be it.

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Gramma has been in the hospital for longer than I’d thought she had any reason to, assuming she was going to be getting better and going home. I just got the call I’ve been expecting from my sister. She’d just gotten back to her own home from visiting Gramma, and wanted to fill me in on Gramma’s condition.

She’s hallucinating, and my sister says that she’s “Gramma” only maybe ten percent of the time. My sister has no idea what course of action to recommend. Pull my son from school for a couple days and make an immediate visit? Wait for the weekend and see what happens? Neither of us knows.

Gramma has been alone for so very long. Her beloved Danny died decades ago, and her own son neglected her and then rejected her. He’s had no contact with her since she told him that she knew what he’d done. She’s told me more than once that she often wakes up in the morning and wonders why, exactly, she’s waking up. What does God want?

I don’t know what I’m feeling; I keep veering all over the place. I pray that Gramma finds peace and rest, in whatever way she can. Maybe she will soon be reunited with her Danny. I hope she will be, and that she finds happiness again.

Learned helplessness

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

“Learned helplessness” is a behavior observed in animal experiments. When a dog in a cage is subjected to shocks but restrained so that it cannot escape, it eventually stops fighting. Even when the door is open, the dog just lies there, “taking” it.

It has been proposed that people who suffered sufficient degrees of abuse (especially women, and especially those subject to intimate terrorism) eventually manifest this same tendency. This is used to explain why “she doesn’t just leave him”.

However, others have observed women in these situations, and have contented that the women do not demonstrate this behavior. In fact, they do still “rebel” in various ways. It’s just that that ways aren’t particularly useful or effective. Therefore, the thinking goes, the women are not “helpless”; they are just… well, they’re something that makes the results pretty much their own fault. “Hysterical” or “immature” or “manipulative” or something.

I think each position has merit, but is too absolute.

Another metaphor for “learned helplessness” is the elephant who was trained in its early years not to fight the chain holding him to a stake in the ground. When the elephant is small, that stake is sufficient to hold him fast. If he fights, he only tires (and perhaps injures) himself. Fighting has no positive result, and potentially negative results.

Once the elephant is grown, he has more than enough strength to pull the stake from the ground, but he never tries. Instead, he may toss its head, trumpet, give his mahout a dirty look, or otherwise generally act cranky or resentful. He does “rebel”, but not in effective ways. He learned long ago not even to try. Pulling the stake doesn’t even occur to him as a valid option.

This, I think, is a better model of the ineffective patterns resulting from prolonged abuse, especially when it started in childhood. The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) generally includes the accusation of manipulativeness, but also condemns the sufferer for her ineffectiveness and clumsiness. The abused spouse is condemned for staying with her abuser, and her staying is used to accuse her of making it all up or blowing things out of proportion.

But the problem is simpler than that. She makes those dysfuntional decisions because she honestly can’t conceive of other options. She is ineffectual because she learned, long ago, that the effective means of rebellion were not options. Fighting for help (as a child) or leaving (as a spouse) simply never occurs to her.

“As We Understood God” Part 2

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

I spoke yesterday with a trusted friend who has worked through so many of the same issues as I face. I asked him about “the Third Step” which, for codependents, is:

We…made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

I told him that I was coming at this “turning over to God” thing from a background where that meant “do as you’re told, no matter how much you don’t like it”. This friend already knows that I have a background of being altogether (and often unknowingly) willing to do as I’m told. But this has almost never been to my benefit.

He pointed out that surely a loving Higher Power would not want me doing things that harm myself or others. I had to agree. So, he said, this suggests that part of submitting to God is the act of ceasing submitting to other people, especially those who direct me to do harm. Part of submitting is doing what is good (though this will often not be easy, fun, or comfortable) for myself.

I’m not sure I “get” this, entirely, but I think I can work with it. And that’s good enough for now.

“As We Understood God”

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Twelve Step programs are spiritual at their base. They don’t specify the god one should worship, and I’m not even sure that “worship” is the right word for the relationship these programs espouse.

I grew up with my mother telling me repeatedly, “God is going to get you for ruining my life!” Praying seemed only to guarantee that whatever I’d asked for came back to hurt me, or seemed specifically to be damaged or destroyed. The highest ideals (chosen by others for me) were submission and obedience. “Surrendering one’s life” to God meant doing whatever those in power told one to do, no matter how detrimental or even illegal.

Understandably, I have issues with the whole idea of surrendering my “will and life” to anyone or anything. Granted, I have a tendency to do this anyway, but I’ve rarely ever meant to.

But back when this was required, at least the expectations, some of them, were clear, because I was told what I was supposed to do (or think or feel or believe). I might not have done it, but I knew what “it” was.

How would that work with one’s “Higher Power”? What does it mean to “surrender control” in the Twelve-Step context? What would this Step look like in practice? Because it sounds to me like I’d just be sitting there with my thumbs up my @$$, waiting to hear voices. And I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what’s meant.

My mechanic

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

I was out walking today, and (finally!) remembered to stop in at my mechanic.

My windshield has had a crack since back in the summer. Even after five years of living in the Midwest, my brain still seems stuck in Arizona. It hadn’t occurred to me until recently that maybe a cracked windshield won’t hold up well to frequent scraping and chipping of frost and ice.

So I asked him if he could get that fixed for me. He could. While making arrangements for me to drop off the car, we had a lovely time chatting. He’s good at what he does and he’s always provided great service. But he’s also a really nice guy.

I hate having to get my car serviced, but he’s a perfect example of how surprising can be the people you end up being glad you met, despite the circumstances.

“We admitted we were powerless…”

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Part of any Twelve-Step program involves agreeing with the statement that one is “powerless” over whatever is the problem at hand, whether alcoholism, codependency, or something else. This presumed powerlessness may be presented within a “disease” framework, such as calling alcoholism an “allergy” or referring to codependency as “Borderline Personality Disorder”.

I objected to this “disease” characterisation because it seemed to “blame the victim”. My parents and spouse abused me, and the results are my fault?!? Sure, I’m damaged, but I’m hardly “diseased”! But I’ve rethought the issue.

Imagine a child who was born perfectly healthy. While he was still just an infant, he was “shaken” to the point of having his retinas detach. It doesn’t matter that the child did nothing wrong; the fact is, he’s blind, and always will be. He will always have “issues”; the effects of the damage will always be present.

And if he tries to live his life without taking that damage into account– well, that’d just be crazy, and his life could easily become unmanageable.

Similarly, my sisters and I never did anything to “deserve” what was done to us. But that doesn’t matter; the fact is, we’re damaged, and always will be. The effects of that damage will always be present.

I need to start taking account of that.