Browsing the archives for the Love category

Four Candles for the Queen of the Universe

Change, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey

My friend, Debby, the Debutaunt – the self-proclaimed Queen of the Universe, passed away today.

Four Candles for the Queen of the Universe

Light the First Candle
The light of this first candle represents our grief. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

I got the news on twitter and sent condolences and then thinking of Deb, I looked over some of the photos I have of her. Grief then overwhelmed me as I realized the hole that she left in me – I guess part of me has been waiting for her Instant Message to joke about kicking cancer’s ass again and we would swap stories and laughs just like we used to do.

I tried to look over some photos and maybe send them to her sisters, but I couldn’t function at the computer at all. I was moved to honor her and I wanted to give something special to he sisters, but i was non-functional. So I stopped and called friends to connect and share my feelings to get through it all.

Light the Second Candle
The light of this second candle represents our courage – the courage to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, and to move forward in our lives

Deb is the bravest woman I have ever met, and her family is an amazing family. If you follow the link to her blog, you can start the story where I did in about July 2005. Meet a woman coping with life the best that she can when she finds she has Leukemia a couple months later. Read her stories of her courage as she found reason after reason for why she can do this – and watch as she fought with a katana-like will to get better.

Light the Third Candle
This third candle is a light to all of our memories of you. To the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other. The silly things you did, the caring and the joy you gave us.

So tonight I reached out to a friend and connected with another person on the phone – and also went to pick up my daughter. On the way home with my daughter it occurred to me how I could respect the depths of my feelings for the loss of Deb. So we stopped off for milkshakes and when we got home I got my son and daughter together at the kitchen table and we had milkshakes while I told them stories of how Deb became the Queen of the Universe (it says so right on her checks), and how she helped me when my daughter was in the hospital, and how crazy-funny her blog was.

I shared, too, how much of her blog I re-read when my father was diagnosed with Leukemia as well. Deb was sick again by this time, but her story had been written and shared. I sent gifts to team Zoe, her daughter’s Leukemia Society fundraiser, in my father’s name. Deb’s fight, and the grace with which her family showed rallying around her, helped me as this evil blood cancer took him away.

Light the Fourth Candle
This fourth candle is the light of our love. We cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. we thank you for the gift your life brought to each of us. We love you, always.

I pray that Zoe will remember always just how many lives her mom touched and made better because of her smile and her fierce battle to survive. There was such light in her smile and laugh, and we will remember her.

On the way home, I remembered a recent memorial service we attended for my father who flew away in October. In this service, they lit four candles and read a special celebration for each candle and what it meant. It was a beautiful way to honor and respect my father when this service was performed a couple weeks ago. My suit coat was still hanging in the car tonight and I found a copy of the service in my coat pocket.

So tonight, this is how I remember and celebrate the passing of the Queen of the Universe. Lighting each candle and speaking these words on behalf of all those inspired and touched by her. Her fight is over, and all of our lives are better for both the battle she fought and for the peace she now knows. May all those who have been touched by Deb – especially her family – find comfort in one another and in the love she has for them.

She touched so many people. I’m just one of them.

[Edited on 5/22/2009 to add the following from Deb’s Sister]

Speaking of friends… several of you have been asking about how you can help… if you knew Debby, you knew that she was always behind raising money or awareness for a few good causes. Here is a list:

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to

Contributions may be made to:
The Financial Advisory Group, Inc.
c/o David Jenkins
5599 San Felipe, Suite 900
Houston, TX 77056

Please make out the checks to “College America” and in the memo field write “FBO: Zoe Costello.”

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Learning to Let Go

Change, family, Life as it is, Love, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

How do you stop a runaway escalation in conflict between parent and teen? After bunches of mistakes, I’d have to offer the mere wisdom of letting go.

What Our Lives Used to Be Like

Once upon a time I wanted to protect my daughter from the forces that might harm her.

Spider Lily Redux

I fought against those forces. I fought the threats – some maybe only perceived – others tragic in their reality. Threats involving cyberbullying requiring trips to the E/R. And threats that included turning over to homicide detectives the IM transcripts between my daughter and the kids who murdered her friend.

I was up to such a fight. But it wasn’t just these things I had to fight. There was my daughter’s own resistance to my protection and a constantly escalating struggle. I listened to the network communication to keep her safe. She encrypted the communications. I placed filters on the computer in the network stack. She installed her own network stack. I installed a kernel-mode rootkit to completely own the operating system. She used live CD’s to bypass the operating system I installed completely.

What Happened

I remember the day that I learned that I could not forcibly keep her safe. Her mom had convinced me to start deadbolting the house and hiding the key. This was a huge act of desperation for me – I had survived a fire in the middle of the night as a child and so knowing how to escape was always on my mind. One morning I awakened and found the deadbolt was loose – she had gotten a screwdriver and used it to remove the deadbolt so she could sneak out. As I was considering hunting down all screwdrivers and locking them into a toolchest I realized that I could not win the battle.

I could not force her to be safe.

It was a tragic moment of realization. It was the end of an illusion to which I clung. It was the end of a bunch of mistakes and the beginning of becoming teachable.

Later a counselor drove it home for me. She asked a simple question, “If your daughter decided to kill herself, what could you do to stop it?” The answer is that I couldn’t. Not that I got that right away. Like I said, I clung to that illusion that somehow I could try hard enough and through valiant effort, I could save her. But I had to admit that she was smart enough and I was too limited – unable to watch over her every moment – and that if she devoted her intelligence and creativity in that direction I could not stop her.

And in fact, probably, nobody could.

How Things Are Now

Now, almost three years later, my daughter uses the Internet without filters of any sort. The keys to leave the house at night are no longer hidden. And the responsibility to live and thrive and grow is where it should be – it’s on my daughter’s shoulders. I’d love to say that letting go made everything perfect, but it didn’t – there were still several more crises to get through and I was frightened several times about the choices my daughter made.

But things are better. And while letting go doesn’t make everything perfect, it does make it survivable for me. It makes the responsibility for her life fall onto her shoulders and not mine. It doesn’t mean that I am not interested or that I don’t love her – I do, I do! But what she hears from me now is that I love her enough to respect her decisions and the consequences she chooses.

We have boundaries, and she knows that if her behavior goes past those limits, than she cannot stay here any longer. But it’s her choice and her call – my job is just to uphold and enforce those consequences.

And our relationship is better than it has been in a long time.

Why Letting Go Works

I doubt I understand all of how this has improved my life well enough to explain it, but I will still try. I think this is one of those lessons one has to learn from their own mistakes, but maybe I can point out a different course of action if you are caught in this painful place of escalating conflict.

Imagine a tug of war with a rope between the two of us and my pulling it to the side of safety and her pulling it to the side of freedom. The closer I get the flag on the rope to my position, the harder she will pull it to her side and the more out of control she gets – the closer she gets to what she sees as freedom, the more desperate my pulling becomes. When she was younger, we started this game, and it worked because I could overpower her and drag her to my side.

But as she has gotten older, smarter and more creative, my ability to simply overpower this system is eventually lost. And as I try to continue to do so, the more she pulls against me. So I pull harder, so she pulls harder. Can you see this dynamic in our battle over controlling the Internet?

“Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things that cannot be.”
–Anonymous

But there is another option. The rope stays somewhere in the middle – not quite where I want it and not quite where she wants it. She’s seen the pain of winning too much freedom and so as I stop fighting her and lay my side of the rope down – so too, did she. Eventually.

Those boundaries I mentioned? She knows that if she chooses too many freedoms, she can’t live here with me and they may get her into worse places than living in my home. The rope is where it was before – the state is still that teen state of having to be between unsafe freedom and restrictive safety. But now we are not fighting to keep it there.

In fact, by refusing to fight her, she has found the fight is really between her and herself. This is the battle we all face and that our children must face and learn to win. Before, the only option for her to master was in defeating me – now she has a chance to learn self-mastery.

Free to Become Her Daddy

So letting go does work. It’s terrifying and seems completely the wrong thing to do. But try harder and then harder again was not working so it was time to try to let go. Now that she doesn’t see me as her opponent in everything, I have become free to become her father a little more and a little deeper.

I’ll take it.

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10 Tips for Parenting through Self Injury

family, Love, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

It has been a couple of months since I wrote about my teen daughter’s cutting, and what it was like to be a parent surviving through self-injury. Now I see parents arrive here at MereWisdom.org from time to time with searches that break my heart – for I typed so many of the same things trying to find answers. For these visitors, I offer the following wisdom gained from making a million mistakes in responding to my daughter’s self harm.

Victoria in a New Place
For those looking for people who are getting through this, I would point you to my daughter’s site where she wrote to share some of her story of Survival of a Self Injurer. Worthy of note and celebration in this is that she now has nine months free of self-injury, one day at a time.

Caring for Myself and Family

1 – There is nothing I can do to save her or protect her completely – The belief that if I just try harder to protect her, to limit her choices, and keep her safe to get her through this without being able to harm herself further is, in the end, a lie. I had to accept my powerlessness to stop her from harming herself before I could stop dying inside from whether she has or has not self-injured today. It’s her behavior and only she can make different choices.

2 – I did not cause it – I struggled with my own guilt for a long time. A long, long time of second guessing myself, thinking that my own faults and failures ends up, really, only another form of the false beliefs in item one, above.

3 – Her Self-Injury is not the most important thing in my life – She is more important to me than what she does. My son is equally important to me, and can’t be ignored because of constant crises in her life. Self-injury can pull a family out of a normal orbit into a tight orbit only around the self injury. This reinforces the self-injury from my experience, and it harms everyone else now out of orbit.

4 – I needed help for myself and my family and not just my daughter – It’s her behavior, but it affects all of us. More importantly as the family increasingly becomes centered on the self-injury, the more the family systems break down and require conscious rebuilding. Normal systems and family behavior that act as balancing forces for our children and ourselves become reinforcing factors for out of control behavior instead. And as we broke down, it was invisible to us. Outside help is critical.

5 – Learn to live in Daytight Compartments – The notion of “One Day at a Time” is almost a cliche in dealing with these situations, but there is some truth to the idea that just for today I can endure and do the things that I could never do for the rest of my life. For me, the idea of daytight compartments, like watertight compartments on a ship, helped me get through tough times.

Responding to Self Injury

6 – Talk about it – One of the things I did right in this was insist from day one that we would not act ashamed about it and talk freely about self-injury. It is always ok to ask if injuries need immediate treatment, for example. It’s ok to talk about feelings – from my feelings about specific events to her feelings before or after cutting. It’s also ok to talk about other things besides self-injury – there is a whole life taking place at the same time.

7 – Set Boundaries on Behavior – I mentioned above that trying to control her behavior stems from a false belief that somehow I can do it for her. This is one of the broken systems that reinforces negative behavior, rather than balancing or opposing it. Natural consequences are much better. One of the first consequences we had was that all cuts had to be examined by a medical professional within 24 hours.

8 – Build a Team – My daughter’s recovery team became her school nurse, her family doctor, her psychologist and later a psychiatrist. Each of them got a copy of the Bill of Rights for People Who Self-Harm and it made a very real difference in the level of care she received.

9 – Stay the Parent – My daughter at one point was using her self-injury as a point of leverage to take control of the family. She would threaten to cut herself to get herself out of situations, and these tools helped get us past that point. She would threaten, and I would respond that I can’t stop her if she chooses self-injury but then medical care is required, and if self-injury was a part of any behavior contract, then those consequences would happen as well.

10 – Love her enough to respect her decisions – This is the hardest one, and a recent bit of learned wisdom. I think this is because the same need I have to protect her from harm is also in play to keep her from harm by way of her consequences of her actions. This is still an ongoing struggle for me as it is a great theory until I see behavior that is likely to cause problems for yars to come or legal issues and so on. In our case, it meant loving her enough to respect decisions even when the consequences included not living at home for a while, hospitalization, school settings that took her away from music, and so on.

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Love and the Vulnerable Heart

Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

In the mid-90’s I became convinced during a relationship crisis that while I knew the words of love, and I may know something about the touches of love, my behavior was still so unlovely that I had no clue what love was about. So I decided to become a student of Love, and this had many miraculous effects upon my life.

So when a friend admitted earlier this month that they had no idea what love was, I remembered getting to that same point and becoming teachable about love. And while it has been a while, and my life is much richer, and I have made many mistakes and therefor learned many lessons – I have never tried to articulate any of the things I have learned about love.

So this is the first in sharing these lessons of mine.

Rose

And the first thing I have learned about love is that it needs a vulnerable heart to work. Or rather, I have to be vulnerable if I am to love at all. If I try to protect myself against the pain and possible heartbreak of betrayal or apathy, then my heart becomes hardened and I cannot be moved as I can when I stay vulnerable.

There is a paradox here that is at work. But being vulnerable to being hurt may give us the wings we need to rise to a point where the hurt means something less devastating when it comes. I’m not saying less painful – in fact so far I find the pain is more acute when I don’t protect myself. But there is something about the healing that is different and doesn’t create the same hardened scar tissue.

I appreciate the paradox since I often spend my days finding vulnerabilities in systems and then doing whatever it takes to remove those same vulnerabilities. So workwise, I have always been taught that being vulnerable is bad.

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
–Madeleine L’Engle

Now, sometimes a vulnerability cannot be removed without breaking the system. For example, an unplugged computer in an empty and locked room is less vulnerable than one connected to the Internet. And it is equally unusable.

So we also have the idea of risk, and the ability to accept certain amounts of risk through an aware decision. If I plug that computer back into the wall, turn it on, and open the room, it becomes much more usable – and in some situations I may reduce the harm that can be done and then still accept the risk of certain amounts of vulnerability.

And in love, this is an important idea to me. For love to work, I have to accept the vulnerability that comes from opening myself to another and not guarding myself against harm by that same person. And what makes the Risk worthwhile is that the sort of vulnerable openness that comes from dropping our guard is an essential part of developing true intimacy with another person.

“I have been sick, really sick, on flights in the last few weeks. And, I have been amazed by the kindness of strangers. There is, indeed, something about vulnerability that helps us to connect with people — even when we’re holding one of those little bags from the seat pocket of an airplane.”
— Jan Denise

I mentioned earlier that when I came to this personal crisis, that I knew something of the words and touches of love but not much about the authentic behavior of love. For me, that sort of intimacy is both the thing I desire most and something I fear terribly because of how open to harm vulnerable I must become.

As I try to stay teachable on these things, I also keep looking for symptoms in my life of getting it right or wrong so I can make adjustments. And the biggest one that I see in my life about my willingness to become vulnerable, is that when I avoid the potential harm of the vulnerability of being authentic, then I start managing my image and how I look and seem to others. My perfectionism starts to rise up as well and so I get less done, I spend more time spinning details so you think of me as I would like, and so on. All of this stems from avoiding that vulnerability.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
–M. Scott Peck

Let me note this importance of vulnerability isn’t just about the love between lovers, but also between parents and children, and also between close friends. Some see it within the workplace as well as in dating.

In fact, it seems to also be true in terms of labors of love as well. It seems that the posts where I am open and write about the things deep inside – that is the posts where I am most vulnerable to how they might be received – these are the ones that can touch people the most, that generate the most thankful e-mails and messages in twitter. And I am not the only one seeing this in blogging.

This is the first thing I learned about love. Should I share more about this journey? Feel free to speak words of comfort in the comments….

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Being a Dad through Self-Injury

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

All I had to do was type that title, and I felt fear. So I will face those feelings and tell you that I am going to touch on my journey as a father of a child who self-injured herself repeatedly. Whether you call it cutting or self-mutilation or whatever, I am talking about when you find your child or teen is hurting themselves.

Play with Me

I was looking through some old notes and journals from years ago, and I found an entry from five years ago this month:

My daughter cut herself again Wednesday, getting suspended by her school for bringing the knife to school, and getting busted for the cutting. Lots of emotions around this including ones of guilt, or that it is my fault for being so fucked up emotionally.

But one impulse is the Warrior impulse. She is in danger, I must protect her. But there is no tangible entity for me to attack. The Warrior is frustrated. I want to turn it off, the emotions are painful. But this is a good impulse, it comes from the right part of me, and trying to deal with it without trying to crush it has been hard.

My punching bag got a big workout last night. A recent acquisition, done in part to give me a safe outlet for my emotions. And yet when I was done, I was just hanging onto the bag, praying, and I remember hugging the bag as if it was my higher power.

That was my world back then, and I have made many mistakes since then and I have learned many things, and so in hoping to help someone else going through this same situation, here are some of the things I have learned. I am unable to tell my daughter’s story, all I can do is tell my own as a parent.

It’s not a short story, so I will probably have to just list my mistakes and what I got right. We are talking about a story that started a half-dozen years ago at least and still continues today. It was a progressive problem moving from scratches to cuts to needing stitches to an incidents requiring a surgeon to put her back together.

Here’s a summary of some of my mistakes:

  • Treated it like it was all her problem instead of working on family system and my part in it
  • Thinking I caused it, that I could control it, or at least cure it
  • Let “her not cutting” become one of the biggest goals for myself
  • Accepted unacceptable and abusive behavior towards me under the foolish notion that I could endure it and at least she wasn’t cutting herself

Here’s some of what I did correctly:

  • Set consequences requiring medical attention each time as it allowed natural consequences to take place
  • Refused to be ashamed or treat any of this as a secret – keeping communication open
  • Attended parenting support classes for troubled teams
  • Created a “care team” of her doctor, school nurse, and psychologist – getting them talking to each other
  • Learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and i can’t cure it
  • Got my daughter into local “Alternate Peer Groups”
  • Let her suffer consequences; while loving her and holding her hand as much as possible

There’s a song that was a big part of this journey for both my daughter and myself and we would often listen to it together. In her longer runs of trying to turn away from this behavior, she would often walk around singing it to give herself courage. Here are some of the words (and here is a blip.fm playlist with it).

Hero (Red Pill Remix)
Superchick

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
Shes in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

This is one of those blog entries that was hard to write, but I kept thinking about where I was years ago and how alone and cut off I felt. I mean I had to be a failure as a dad to not protect my daughter, right? And now years later I can turn to the frightened father I was and say,

“You are not a failure for having a daughter go through this, and as long as you can keep loving her (no matter how much you hate what she does to herself), you are doing well. The only way you can fail is to stop caring.

But you do have to get some distance from it, you have to demonstrate self-care in the face of self-destruction. You have to enforce rules and let consequences be what they are – even if it hurts. If she chooses the consequences, you must respect her decision. But as long as you keep loving her, she will see you over there and it will help her.”

Yeah, that’s what I need to tell any dad going through this. I shared that image above of me holding onto my punching bag, like my higher power. Ultimately I had to let him take care of my daughter and trust in that care. Its something I am still working on every day.

My daughter called while I was writing this, and she encouraged me – even reminded me that I mentioned writing something for other parents long ago. She also told me that she has not self-injured for over six months now – one of the longest stretches of time she has ever put together day by day. I say that in part so you can help celebrate, and also in part because it’s a daily victory.

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