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“We never face death unless death unequivocally faces us.” -Christine Longacre

Freedom three

As many of my friends and readers know about me, power has been a significant, rigorous teacher in my life. I believe we are here to work on a particular life lesson or lessons during our lifetimes. For me, the struggle between trusting my own power and abdicating my power has been a recurring theme that shaped my sense of self and ultimately formed my emotional and spiritual well-being. Ignoring these teachings had catastrophic effects on my psyche which led to profound anxiety and depression. Much like playing the childhood game with my brother, “You’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder…” the symptoms shaped a more powerful me. Eventually, abdicating my power began to manifest very subtly in my physical body, where I could no longer ignore it.

Perhaps the source of this illness is arbitrary and abdication of power is not the pernicious cause I suspect, but, regardless, I am in the end-stage of a degenerative, neurological illness which has rendered me unable to move any muscle below my neck. Eating meals results in choking and aspirating which indicates the need for a feeding tube, or gastrostomy if one is to prolong life.

My first professional job was to set up a social service program in a children’s home for profoundly disabled children, facing the end of their lives. These children were given blended foods forced directly into their stomachs with a syringe. They could not taste the foods and also could not object. These were the choices of the medical establishment made in concert with the families in the 70s. I have chosen to not have a feeding tube. There is no right or wrong. In my opinion, the power to choose is not just a right, but necessary for the liberation of my soul. Autonomy has always been important to me; I found my power and my voice by exercising my own right to make my own choices.

Another potentially life-threatening symptom is weakness of my core muscles, resulting in shallow breathing and accelerated heart rate. I choose to live at 8000 feet altitude, despite the breathing difficulties. Again, my choice. It may not be the choice of others, but we live in a pluralistic society of diversity. It is important for me to honor other people’s choices as well as my own. Elimination is another bodily function I cannot perform on my own. Other people’s choices may include a colostomy. I choose to draw a line where others might make other choices for themselves. Isn’t that everybody is right?

My hometown is aesthetically beautiful and offers a caring, intimate community that will accommodate my specific needs, being housebound and bedridden. As a psychotherapist, my love of group dynamics can manifest in this caring, progressive community. I participate in or lead nine groups per month from my chair I call “command central.” Quality of life is more important to me than quantity. My family understands this about me and they are supportive. Ironically, when I was a competitive athlete with many blue ribbons, I never felt as powerful as I do now despite being unable to move a muscle.

A wave of options is moving through the country, state by state. In Colorado it is called the Colorado End-of-life Options Act which has been sensitively and thoughtfully crafted. Organizations that oppose this movement consider these options to be assisted suicide. In suicide, the person wants to die. Assisted suicide is illegal and will continue to be illegal. In my profession, I “talked people off the ledge,” which I was extremely successful doing; you just had to show them some hope. With a terminal illness, people want to live, but death is imminent. In order to qualify, the bill requires two different physicians to assess that the individual will likely die within six months. There is a fear that coercion could be a concern. If one physician suspects coercion or an inability for the person to make an informed decision for themselves, a referral is made to a licensed mental health professional for counseling. In my opinion, patients vulnerable to coercion by family members will unfortunately have that dynamic regardless of the increased options available. A hospice or care team, led by the physician should know the patient well enough to provide the necessary protocols to support the individual and family at this vulnerable time. The end-of-life option is for the purpose of lessening pain and suffering at the end of one’s life by prolonged, ineffective Herculean medical efforts.

I have seen families devastated and overwhelmed by the pressure to prolong their loved one’s life, but instead end up prolonging their pain and suffering which, in fact, diminishes their quality of life. These families have been devastated by the unnecessary medical treatments, literally torturing their loved ones while they take their last breaths in agony. I do not choose this for myself, my family or my loved ones.

From what I understand about the trajectory of my illness, my life will end with either suffocation from choking, sepsis from pressure sores or pneumonia. I have executed a DNR that precludes hospitalization for these circumstances, however each will involve tremendous suffering for myself or loved one. The Colorado End of life Options Act would provide comfort and empowerment during my final transition. No one is required to use this option, but everyone deserves the right. Support our politicians to vote yes on HB 16 – 024 and SB 16 – 1054 and let our last breath be  taken with love and peace.

 

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton

Mirror number twoI started writing this blog entry months ago. And then I stopped. I couldn’t write anymore, because I believed I could not do it justice. When I returned to the essay this morning, I realized the irony of what was blocking my expression: judgment! Then I remembered a clever Facebook post:

The Creative Process
1. This is awesome.
2. This is tricky.
3. This is shit.
4. I am shit.
5. This might be okay.

6. This is awesome.

Probably, our worst critic is ourselves. Self-judgment can be most obvious in the creative process. Creativity can be completely overridden by the often brutal self-doubting voice. If one wants to come to terms with this inner saboteur, our human minds provide much material for exploration through self-reflection. Michael Singer calls the inner critic the roommate in your head. This is the interminable voice that second guesses and narrates every move we make. What is equally harmful, but more insidious is when we judge others.

I have noticed that when I judge others I feel a numbing effect internally. Somehow, when I direct attention externally, I can temporarily avoid processing the friendly-fire of my own internal, constant self-evaluations. In that way, it is likely a defense mechanism; a defense mechanism that can become an obstacle to one’s own psychological and spiritual evolution. When I summon the courage to look closer, my judgment of others usually comes from a place of fear. When I explored the etiology of this fear, it feels primal, and has accrued from judgments sustained from others, often at an early, formidable age when I had inadequate defenses to cope with these projections.

A small child can perceive disapproval with the slightest provocation from parents merely reacting from their own self-judgments. I have noticed that these projections are often a product of others’ introjected projections that create a vicious cycle. Of course, these projections could not take hold if there weren’t an internal belief that affirmed that judgment. I believe it all starts with our own beliefs about ourselves that can amplify, and perhaps illuminate where self-awareness is possible. I used to use a silly example with my clients to demonstrate this in the hopes of increasing self-awareness. “If someone told you your hair was blue, would you take offense? Of course not, because your hair is brown. If you had bleached it blonde and it had an errant tinge of blue, you might let the judgment land and feel inferior.” There has to be a related internal belief about yourself that resonates with the external judgment, like a mirror’s reflection.

Fears cause judgment and judgment is triggered by fear. Perhaps our judgments of others serve as a primitive defense against feeling more fear and the resulting sense of separation fear incurs. Like an auraborus it is circular and a self-feeding process. if one doesn’t want to live in an unconscious, reactive place of fear which keeps self-love at bay, it is important to begin to dismantle these beliefs which can be a daunting task. Uncovering these insidious patterns can be complicated; our ego would rather maintain status quo. Change is extremely uncomfortable to the ego that wants to seemingly protect our parents from criticism or blame at all costs, despite the promise of liberation from our self-hatred and judgments that imprison us. This protection is a primitive defense to keep ourselves from feeling the natural reaction to the often unintended harm—profound grief, when feeling the grief is actually the antidote. After all, our parents are only human. As we evolve, we realize we are in a human curriculum; humans being raised by other humans. We are all here to evolve, whether we acknowledge that or not. Just because our parents were born before us does not mean they are more sophisticated spiritually. I believe if we are in this human curriculum we are incredibly courageous to have made the soul contracts with each other to do this Sacred Work.

It can be revealing to consider what our greatest judgments of others are. If you have heard the expressions: “There is nobody out there,” or “Wherever you go, there you are,” these phrases demonstrate our perception that what we perceive in the world gets reflected back by what we believe, internally. One can accept this understanding with gratitude once we move through the shame or guilt that keeps self-love from being the constant we live by, from living the love we are.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.” – Stephen Colbert1924-Ford-Model-T-PO

At my friends’ design, I began a five day personal retreat. Due to my physical constraints, I modified it to be solitary, and concurrent with my nine friends’. For me, beginning a new year is always joyful and auspicious. Consciously honoring the passage of another year is a feat I choose to highlight. During my first meditation I had some fond memories beginning in my latency years through adulthood and I wanted to share them.

Someone said to me the other day, “You have an engineer’s mind.” I never really thought about that, because psychology and spirituality are so central to my Being. However, mathematics was my best subject and I did very well in statistics, a subject that I notice was cringe-worthy to others in graduate school. I was the person in the family who frequently assembled washers and dryers and the toys for the children. Upon seeing a hammer at a friend’s house when he was around six years old, Jordan excitedly exclaimed, “You have a hammer like my mother’s!”

My family was a doing family. I haven’t identified with doing for quite a long time, given my physical circumstances, but I remembered my father collecting antique cars. He had a 1929 Model A Ford and a 1924 Model T Ford touring car. I remember around age eight filing the rust off of tiny parts of the engine that was splayed all over the garage floor at the lake where I grew up. Doesn’t everybody work on antique cars and learn mechanics by osmosis? I was horrified when my father acquired a 1950 Silver Dawn Rolls-Royce. My 16-year-old self found it ostentatious and refused to ride in it in daylight. It was actually pretty cool, as the turn signals raised out near the side doors and were lighted. The back seats had a glass desk that dropped down like tables on airplanes. The class tabletops were perfect for separating lines of cocaine, but that is for another blog entry (that will be very short, if you’re curious). My wheels ambulated a ten year old 1962 Willy’s Jeep, my first car. I could take the top and doors off and it was like my Barbie camper as a child. The problem was that it needed a ring job that was worth more than the car, so I had to carry a sixpack of oil around with me. The muffler occasionally fell off and I needed to get under it to clamp it back on, so I always needed tools. What do you mean, other 16 year olds didn’t have this avocation?

I guess we were a mechanical family. When people complain about automobile repairs, I notice that I know quite a bit about the parts, just not much about the inner workings of the engine. I learned to drive a stick shift in my younger older brother’s GTO. He was a good instructor teaching me about the friction point between the clutch and the acceleration and compression when braking, but his car was losing the clutch and if I let it grind at all, he was furious with me so I learned to drive a stick shift very quickly. For a while during college when visiting home, the Rolls-Royce became the party mobile. The transmission was on the column in an H design, very fun to drive. I guess I took for granted that other people didn’t know to be extremely careful when cranking a Model T to be sure you don’t dislocate your shoulder.

My older older brother sold Snap-On tools for a while, an excellent quality tool. He also worked on foreign cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I didn’t get to drive any of those, but I was an avid passenger. While down with the flu in college, I put a Harley-Davidson model motorcycle together in my spare time when not studying math. Perhaps that was preparation for purchasing a Honda 350 modified dirtbike to avoid hitchhiking.

Understanding my propensity for recklessness on my motorcycle, I sold it after six months. I tended to bungee cord my fashionable chunky high heels on the back of the bike and ride barefoot. I never told my children about this behavior until they were beyond the age of danger. I didn’t want to glamorize recklessness. I did however always wear a helmet with a face shield, which came in handy when riding a few hours down to Key West on the weekends from college. I was fortunate that the worst calamity with my motorcycle happened when I got off and forgot to put the kickstand down. I know, that’s why I sold it. I knew the statistics for fatalities in Dade County were high. Math.

During the late 90s, I learned to drive a vintage 1950 Ford tractor pulling a bush hog. A few years later I graduated to a new Kubota tractor. I soon learned to drive a two horse trailer with living quarters to take my horse to the veterinarian at the LSU vet school. I happily could drag the arenas on the horse farm with the harrow and mow the fields for hours at a time. Riding the tractor was almost more joyful than riding horses.

It surprises me when I know things that other girls don’t know. Growing up with brothers did have its advantages.