Aftermaths

MAJORTRUMPS.XXI.DeathOne of the most painful things about the death of a beloved is not how much difference it makes in one’s days afterwards, but how little. My sweet 14-year-old cat, Urdwill (a.k.a. Burd), was as much part of my day and night as any close family member might have been; but I still have to get up in the morning as usual; shower as usual; make my basic three daily meals as usual; go to my Twelve Step meeting, counseling sessions, and supermarket as usual. I spent part of this week repotting sweet peppers and tomatoes I am raising from seed; shmoozing with my landlord’s sweet American bulldog, Julie; accessing and returning my friend Lee’s car, all as usual. How, I ask myself, could I have gotten over my pet’s demise so quickly? “You never really loved him, that’s how,” the Accuser whispers.

Of course that is not true. The mourning that began with wails of grief has simply shifted, that’s all, downsized itself, gone largely underground. My rented room feels empty, now, without him. When I am out chatting with a friend I think, “Oh, I had better get home now, Burd will need his dinner,” then remember that Burd’s dinner is no longer my concern. When I come back to my landlord’s house and unlock the outer door, I automatically check the area around my feet to see if Urdwill is crouching there, ready to spring past me into the street. At night, whenever I would wake (and I wake up several times a night), Urdwill would be there, ready for affection, action, food; I sometimes nearly tripped over his black-furred body, invisible as it was in the darkened room. The relaxation of my hypervigilance concerning him—the relaxation issuing directly from his death—has been a relief. But it has also been a source of enormous feelings of guilt. How, I ask myself, could I be so heartless as to feel relief over Urdwill’s passing? “You never really loved him, that’s how,” the Accuser whispers again.

Such accusations would have no power to affect me were there not a long, old history behind them. In Ireland, where they had lived for six or seven years, my mother died of alcoholism in 1991, a year after my younger brother Jeffrey, her caretaker, died of AIDS. I hated my mother for having emotionally and sexually abused me, and I felt as liberated by her death as I had felt devastated by my brother’s. It took years before I could acknowledge my love for the part of her that was good and kind, and feel any  grief over her passing. “You could have saved her from drinking herself to death,” the Accusers whispered at the time, but this was a lie easier to shrug off; I knew by this time that alcoholism is a progressive illness, and that she had not been willing to do the 12 Step work that could have helped her find relief from it. The Accuser’s other whisper, “You could have saved Jeffrey from dying of AIDS by insisting he return to the USA for treatment,” was harder to shrug off. At the time in Ireland, so strong were the laws against birth control that one needed a doctor’s prescription even to buy condoms in Ireland; AIDS treatment was even more primitive and limited by public prejudice than it was in the US, where our present cocktail of meds had not yet become available.

In the end I have been forced to the conclusion that my brother, my mother, and my beloved cat Urdwill had their own paths to follow, their own stories, and their own Higher Powers. I have been asked by Spirit to accept that I, like they, am a student of Love rather than a master; and that no matter what the Accuser says, I could no more have rescued my little brother from AIDS than I could have cured my cat’s cancer. The only power I have is in the here and now: the power to choose Love right now, today. •

On Fear of the Dark

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I have always been afraid of the dark. When I was a boy in rural Connecticut, I used to lie awake at night, listening to our old house creak around me, watching shadows creep up the walls of my room and across the ceiling. I was afraid to go down into our cellar, where the washer, dryer, and Mother’s canned goods were kept, because there was a back room, seldom lit, that opened on a cavernous passageway so thick with darkness you could see no farther than a few yards into it.

If you have lived all your life in the city, you may not appreciate just how dark rural nights can be. Outdoors, night transformed our friendly open fields and woods into thick dense shadow, particularly when the moon was on the wane. Affable nocturnal cricket-chirp and brightly lathered starshine mitigated my outdoor night-fears somewhat, but I still feared the gaping open mouth of our barn, and watching horror movies on our black-and-white T.V. didn’t help matters. The shows that scared me were ludicrously tame by modern standards: Invaders From Mars, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, the British horror series Way Out, every episode of which ended in maniacal laughter. Nonetheless, afterwards, upstairs in my dark bed, I would clutch my stuffed animals and my mother’s rosary to me as though my life depended upon their protection.

Bathrooms, too, scared me at night, particularly bathrooms with the doors shut. So did bathtubs with the shower curtains drawn.

I know why, of course. In the dark, the familiar turns alien, just as when people the child depends upon for security and solace suddenly and without apparent warning show unexpectedly strange, severe, or malignant sides to their personalities. My alcoholic, emotionally disturbed mother’s sudden personality-shifts, my older brother Manfred’s sudden, sneering, verbal and physical attacks from nowhere, my parents’ unpredictable fights, all these terrors I projected onto the Enemy Out There Somewhere, unforeseeable in the dark.

I am 63 years old now, and I wish I could say I am no longer fearful of shadows. After all, I have spent a good part of my adulthood examining my own shadow material, as the psychologists call it, and I have had moments where visions of Divine Love have made all shadows flee away. But still they return. And one thing I know: I must learn to make friends with the dark if I am to someday face my inevitable death with equanimity. For as much as I preach that death is the doorway into Light, my inner child fears otherwise. And we ignore our inner children to our peril.

— Copyright 2014 Rand B. Lee.

 

 

On Casual Malice

A few days ago an act of casual, impulsive malice on my part caused a possibly irreparable rift between me and a dear, emotionally vulnerable friend. The impulse to hurt this person’s feelings did not come from the Devil; it came from a part of myself that I consistently refuse to acknowledge and give safe voice to, a part of me that some call the Shadow, others the Wounded Child, still others the Beast Within.

ImageAs an abuse and neglect survivor with PTSD, I prefer to think of myself as an abuse victim in recovery, not an abuser. And in general I do not go out of my way to hurt people. But my coping mechanism as a child in an alcoholic incestuous home was to be the Good Boy, which meant shoving under the surface all my unacceptable feelings and thoughts: jealousy of my mother’s preference for my baby brother; rage toward my father for his scary emotional aloofness and abandonment of me to the care of my pedophile mother; loathing of myself for my sensitivity, which my culture termed girlish—and bear in mind that in the gynephobic 1950’s, when I was a child, the worst thing one could say about a boy was that he acted like a girl. So as a child I became a compulsive eater, using sugar to shove my bad feelings down as deep as they would go. Later I became a compulsive self-castigator, criticizing my every thought and move, turning my anger upon myself because I could not feel safe expressing it toward those whom I felt had harmed me.

Needless to say, these tactics did not give me more than transitory relief from the storm inside me. It is a well-known metaphysical principle that if you wish to make a spell or sacred object more powerful, hide it out of sight. This is one of the reasons sacred objects are found buried all over the world, and sacred Paleolithic art, aimed at attracting game to the hunt and fertility to the community, was created in nearly inaccessible caves. Stuffing shadow with food or sex or overwork or gambling or alcohol or heroin or any other numbing substance or activity merely makes that shadow stronger, so that when it resurfaces, it does so with a power impossible to contain completely by an act of will alone.

I’ve done a lot of work with mentors and healers over the years. Through my Twelve Step programs I have opened successive chambers of my heart to Divine Love, and in my art therapy work with the Solace Crisis Intervention Clinic in Santa Fe I have taken major strides toward acknowledging the terror and pain of my inner self. But I can still be blindsided by my shadow, and in the case of my relationship to this dear friend, the unrequited sexual attraction I felt for my friend, my unconscious social and professional competition with my friend, and my growing emotional dependency upon my friend, changed to resentment when—and I am loath to admit this publicly—a series of tragedies in my friend’s family made my friend unavailable to me for much of the summer. So I posted several snarky and suggestive “jokes” on my friend’s webpage, despite the fact that my friend’s family (including a 12 year old niece) would have access to them; and I posted a comment on the webpage of a Meetup group my friend had organized suggesting edits to the website opening page that lessened recognition of my friend’s role as founder in the interest of “helping” the current facilitator of the group to achieve more public recognition (a recognition that worthy has never sought).

ImageIn deep grief and pain over the loss of beloved relatives, my friend—with uncharacteristic verbal and emotional violence—severed relationship with me. My friend had been under so much emotional pressure that finding my posts on the website was too much to bear with equanimity. So I, who hate to think that in me lies the potential to abuse others, have had to face the fact that under the right circumstances, my Shadow can arise and take control, suborning my empathy, muting my memory of shared kindnesses, and unleashing in me my repressed desires for revenge against my childhood caregivers. I have had to face the fact that, while I never intended to devastate my friend, I had intended to punish my friend a little bit for not meeting my infant needs—punish my friend just enough that my friend would pay more attention to me. I underestimated my friend’s emotional alertness and vulnerability.

Did I plan to hurt my friend, as my friend has accused me of doing? No. My posts were action of impulse, and I “forgot” or minimized the possible alienating effects of them as soon as I had made them. Am I responsible for the intensity of my friend’s grief and rage toward me? No. I had underestimated my friend’s vulnerability, and had had no inkling of the possibly far-reaching effects of my actions. But my shots, having been fired, cannot be taken back. They found their target. And the result has been disastrous.

However unintentioned the scope of the wound I have given my friend, and however intermixed with other wounds my friend carries from other betrayals and abuses, I have lost the privilege of our friendship. And I’m sorry. •