Accepting Unacceptable Behavior

Detaching from the Donald.

john-kasich-rips-trumps-unacceptable-behavior-1038x584Families in recovery are taught they don’t have to accept the addict/alcoholic’s unacceptable behavior. They learn that their lives have value beyond suffering and repairing the chaos the alcoholic/addict causes through their disease. “Detachment” is the tool used in recovery to separate oneself from the abusive behavior. Once the family member has detached, the addict/alcoholic is left to suffer the natural consequences of their actions, and sometimes they choose recovery for themselves as a result. Even if they don’t, the previously affected family member is living a healthier life without the constant chaos caused by the sick behavior of another.

What does detachment look like? Here’s an example: your drug addicted loved one steals from the other people in the house. You explain calmly that they are not allowed back in the house until the missing money is returned. Then you change the locks. You can still meet the family member outside of the house, give them rides, find them a rehab–whatever–but they can’t rummage around the home stealing your stuff.

This is hard enough in a family setting, when the abuser is a suffering alcoholic/drug addict whom you once loved or still love. But what do we do when the abuser is the president of our country?

I’m not making a joke here. Yesterday I hit my limit, and I can tell by the Twittersphere than so many others have too. Nevertheless, because we are not in a family setting, the average citizen has no power to put “natural consequences” in place for DJT. Only Congress does, and they will move slowly (if they do at all). Even individual Congress members, or entire Congressional blocs, have no power to check his abusive behavior.

Detachment, in this case, is impossible. We can avoid news, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, email, radio and overhearing other’s conversations, but his actions will affect us whether we pay attention or not. Our healthcare will change or disappear, our rights to birth control, travel, voting etc will be threatened or lost. Those of us who disagree with his agenda must continue to pay attention and engage, no matter how upsetting.

And many of us are. And many of us are suffering as a result. Those of us in medical fields have been talking amongst ourselves about the rise in stress-related disease. Not just mental health issues (anxiety and depression have spiked in the last five months), and not just the threatened loss of health coverage, but also things like chronic pain, digestive issues, sleep issues, migraines–all of these are exacerbated by emotional stress. There is also the issue of very real violence against groups targeted by DJT supporters inspired by his hate-speech. Women, people of color, the poor, and immigrants are being hit especially hard. And these groups make up the majority of Americans.

This situation in our country is currently similar to that of a child trapped in an alcoholic home. Just as the child is dependent on the alcoholic and has no power to leave, most of us depend upon a functioning and predictable government, and we can’t simply move to Canada.

To make matters worse, we are told by DJT supporters and certain news outlets and the entire Republican party that we are wrong, the news is fake, and we are hysterical snowflakes. This kind of gas lighting drives any sane person crazy. Our country is like the alcoholic household where the other parent or the siblings are in denial and tell the child that they are the crazy one, Dad is fine, stop making trouble, even as Dad is throttling family members and destroying household stability.

What are we to do?

The recovery model advises we find support in a group where people understand what we are going through. Meditation is helpful, so that we can soothe our own stress response. Use the Serenity Prayer: Accept the things you cannot change, but more importantly, for self-efficacy and sanity, CHANGE THE THINGS YOU CAN. Remember that this too shall pass. In 3 years and change, this will pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear DJT: It’s Time to Make Amends

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I was going to write to you about divesting, but it seems like you’ve already had a pretty bad couple of days. With the whole thing about the Women’s March vs your Inauguration…I know it hit you in your sore spot. You always have been sensitive about size. Fingers, polls, whatever…

After the pictures were viewed and the facts were altered, I heard a lot of anger coming from your camp.

You sounded kind of resentful.

Listen, I’ve been there. Resentful, hurting. Wondering why so many are attacking you. It was hard for me to realize my part in creating my own pain. But as they say, the truth will set you free. You probably noticed that on the wall of the CIA headquarters the other day, right?

Wiser heads than mine recommend that when you’re feeling resentful, it’s time to make amends.

You’re probably saying: What the what? Shouldn’t everyone be apologizing to me?

Turns out, we resent people because we harmed them and feel guilty about it now. And that guilt keeps us up at night, feeding our Twitter addictions, making us take calls from foreign leaders without consulting our advisors, which we all know isn’t healthy.

So Donald, it’s time for steps 8 &9.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Let me help you here: Seems to me that you should include the following on your amends list: Women, people of color, civil rights leaders, John Lewis, Meryl Streep, anyone who didn’t vote for you,  Democrats, LGBTQ people, people who care about women or LGBTQ people, Muslims, the media, Mexicans, or people who care about Muslims, the media, or Mexicans, scientists, people who care about science and/or believe in it, the cast of Hamilton, and most artists in any of the arts.

Step 9: Made direct amends wherever possible, except to when to do so would injure them or others. 

With this step, you’re luckier than most. You can just make a speech and everyone will hear it–you don’t have to write each of us a letter, or make a 9th step call. You can just say, “Hey, Americans? World? I’ve said some pretty hurtful things through the years and I realize now how wrong I was. I spoke and tweeted without thinking. I’m sorry. I promise to do better from now on. I promise to THINK before I speak: I will ask myself is it:

  • Thoughtful?
  • Honest?
  • Intelligent?
  • Necessary?
  • Kind?

And if it isn’t, I will keep that comment or tweet to myself.”

Now, that’s just the apology part. The true amends comes when you actually change your behavior. Which we all kinda hoped you’d do when you got into office. I don’t know why we thought that was going to be some kind of magic bullet–but we were trying to, as your supporters say, “Give you a chance.”

Well, here’s your chance: Be a president to everyone.

Everyone.

EVERYONE.

Not just white male billionaires, not just people who love you, not just people who roll over and say yes all the time. That wasn’t the job you signed up for: to be president for 26% of all eligible voters who voted for you. (Yes, look it up, it was really that low-sorry, another size thing.)

It’s time to put all that argumentative, petty stuff away. It’s time to be the bigger man and extend that hand in amends.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving vs Resentment

My mom calls Thanksgiving a “family day”. But like many American families, the family I’m hanging out with over the long weekend has members that suffer from addiction and alcohol abuse.

Some members have recovery, some don’t need it, some need it and refuse it. As a healthcare professional, I try to view substance abuse through the lens of disease. But as a family member, I find myself slipping into judgement. I find myself resenting how much slack I have to pick up for incapacitated members. How I have to keep my temper around their bad behavior. Even though I didn’t cause the situation, can’t control it, and can’t cure it, I have to manage myself and so much else because of it, instead of being able to relax.

The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, asks us “Would you add to the aggression?” I would really like to answer, “No.”  So I ask myself, “Would I be so resentful if they suffered from Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimers?” But despite all my training in the disease model of addiction, I still find myself snappish and tense and unpleasant when it comes to substance abuse.

So clearly it is my job to work through my resentments. After all, the users aren’t going to change on my account. So if I want peace in my life, I need to make it. First, I need to accept my feelings of resentment. Once I really sit with that uncomfortability, I can see  the grief and loneliness underneath the judgement. The sadness that I don’t have a relationship with X, because X has a relationship with alcohol instead. The loneliness that comes when I can’t connect with Y because Y is drunk or hungover.

Gratitude is supposed to be an antidote to resentments. I make gratitude lists in this tiny beautiful notebook that was given to me by a friend in a similar situation.  Thanksgiving is supposed to be all about gratitude. But this holiday I am struggling.

When I struggle emotionally, I retreat to intellectualization. I find it interesting how the universe provides endless versions of the same lesson. Right now the political situation mirrors my personal life. I am resentful about choices other people have made, and I have to do more work to ameliorate those choices that other people have made, and I resent that. But I can’t change this situation to suit me, so I must work with my discomfort and find a way to be okay anyhow.

I am grateful that my mother is alive and healthy and with my kids and me on this holiday weekend. I am grateful there was no traffic, no accidents, no car issues. I am grateful to have such luxury problems: I’m not running for the border in Syria while bombs are dropping, I have a home, I have too much food, I have clothes, a job, health…I have made so many gratitude lists it’s easy to rattle the blessings off without feeling them. But at least the exercise makes me realize my problems, in the scheme of things, are small. I’m whining because I’m not having a Norman Rockwell holiday. Well, who does?

But I can’t belittle my grief and loneliness either. They deserve a place at my holiday table because they are real, and if I simply say, “Nope, you’re just evidence of my spoiled First-World whining, out you go!” and show them the door, they creep back in anyhow. So I’ve got a lot of work to do. I haven’t figured it out. I can’t wrap this up with a homily.

How do you handle the holidays?

 

Twelve-Stepping the Election

 

 

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It’s been a few days since the election, and I’ve had a little time to crawl into my cave and lick my wounds. I’ve read a few blogs about how we will survive, and a few about how bad it really is.

Personally, it is likely that my family and I will be largely okay. We are protected by the facts that we live in one of the bluest states (though not the bluest area), surrounded by diversity (so we have protective camouflage). My husband and I are both employed in jobs that will not disappear no matter what trade deals do or do not happen, and my children will get a decent education no matter what happens because our state has its own very stringent standards.

We have the privileges of money in the bank, home ownership, education, employment, good health, and geography. Many others don’t. The mother of one of my clients (for those of you who don’t know–I am a private nurse for medically fragile children) was gutted. Devastated. I worked that case the morning after and the first thing she said was, “I don’t know what will happen with our insurance.”

Because for all the people who thought the Affordable Care Act was bad, there are many who thought it was pretty good. Not perfect, but workable, fixable. See, if you don’t have a chronic illness, or loved one with an expensive medical situation, you might not realize how important it was that lifetime caps were lifted under the ACA. In the past, before “Obamacare”, an insurance company could cancel your policy after you’d spent a million dollars. Well, it’s pretty easy to reach a million in the first few years of life if you’re one of the children I take care of. So to all you people who want to repeal and replace, what’s your plan for these kids?

I also worry deeply about the environment. We were making such strides with the Paris Accord, stopping Keystone XL, and preserving wild spaces. Now, we have a climate change denier coming in who is likely appointing a climate change denier to the EPA. So we don’t despair, our family spent yesterday donating money to causes we care about. Another privilege of ours is that we can do this. We can decide to charge a donation to our not-maxed-out credit card. It’s a little balm to the burn. Unfortunately, it will likely be the most vulnerable of us that are affected by environmental insults. Many of those red staters  who voted the man in will be flooded, drought stricken, or sickened by weakening of EPA air quality standards.

It’s hard to watch people make choices that are not in their own self-interest. But I see that all the time as a nurse. When I worked in the hospitals, I constantly detoxed addicts and alcoholics. They could be yellow and swollen with failing livers, and we’d work to bring them back from death, send them off to rehab, only to get them back a month or two later and detox them again.

But as they say, you can’t deny someone “the dignity of their own bottom”. You have to let them hit it hard enough that the lesson is learned. Hopefully you can keep them alive long enough that they get to learn the lesson. Sometimes they don’t.

It feels like America is hitting some kind of ugly, hate-filled, fear-inspired bottom. If you ever have had a loved one  destroy their life with addiction, you might recognize this awful feeling. It’s sickening to stand by and let it happen, but some Americans may have to bottom out before they realize it’s time change. Meanwhile, I have to accept where I’m powerless.

I am powerless to change the choices of others. Whatever their reasons. Regardless of how I feel about it.

And even though I can clearly see the train wreck that’s about to happen, I can’t step in front of the train and stop it. I have to stand to the side, gathering supplies, readying myself to pick up the broken pieces. Save who and what I can, starting with myself, and then spreading outward to those who want my help.

Helping and changing what I can is the way I will recover from this sickening situation.

So I’ve had to twelve-step the election. I’m using the wisdom of the recovery movement to get through. Keep it in the day, one day at a time. Don’t quit before the miracle. Have the courage to change the things I can, while letting go of the things I cannot change. All the while praying for the wisdom to know the difference.