Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dealing with Things Directly

I called home one afternoon, while at my local watering hole, the hospital, to inform my roommate the doctor was behind on his patients and as a consequence, I was late. At this time, the doctor either admitted me for the night or I was late. I regularly called to prevent worry. This day, however, was different. She answered the phone in a New Jersey mob boss accent. Or a Midwestern, young girl version of a New Jersey mob boss accent. A few weeks prior, we purchased HBO and HBO on demand. Sex and the City was in its final few seasons, and of course, we needed to watch it live. Shows weren't as readily available as they are today, so this was very important. Jos, my roommate, home for the day on a well deserved break from her doctoral studies, chose to watch a few of the featured shows on HBO. As she answered every question in this hilarious accent, I hysterically laughed and then asked the reason behind the accent. She explained she happened to turn on an on demand episode of The Sopranos and was hooked. She continued to say things like, fuh-gedda-boud-dit, and use the f word in every other sentence with an emphasis on the f. After a day at the hospital, I loved and appreciated the humorous and theatrical impression. Jos informed me I must return home and watch an episode. When I finally arrived, I watched one episode and it grabbed me like a magnet.

I never thought I was a Sopranos type of girl. Violence in movies or film was just not my thing. At twenty, the summer before my accident, I saw Saving Private Ryan and almost left the theater while the opening scene brutally played out in front of me. So, the idea of a show about murder, rape, and brutal crime didn't spark much interest in me. But, I caved and sat through the episode on the edge of my wheelchair and turned to Jos, stunned and in awe. The Sopranos, while horrifically violent and filled with vile characters, carried an unparalleled weight of thematic presence, accompanied by a slew of brilliant writers, fantastic actors and actresses. We quickly morphed into avid Sopranos watchers. In fact, as Jos put it, Carrie Bradshaw and Tony Soprano became our third and fourth roommates. Our show nights, were a happy, bright time, amongst my many, dark days.

After a few years, Jos moved to Colorado and I to another building just down the road from our old apartment. My illness was at its worst. Survival was the only thing I knew. I spent my days at the hospital, where I underwent Hyperbaric Oxygen treatments, and the nights at home, struggling to stay alive. My diagnosis was unknown at this time and my doctors, incompetent. I administered heavy intravenous antibiotics, twice daily, through a PICC line, only to learn years later, they were the incorrect antibiotic, which is why the fevers and daily purging continued. Every morning, I took a shower, put on my special scrubs, the only thing safe to wear in the hyperbaric chamber, and drove to the hospital for treatment. There is a small flatscreen attached to the top of the chamber and the technician played the patient's choice of DVD. At first, I watched light hearted movies and shows. But after a few sessions grew tired of too much happy. I was ill, depressed, and dying. Light, happy movies only irritated me. It was so tiresome to watch perfectly healthy people live perfect and happy lives. And at this time, I grasped for anything with some ounce of meaning. I prayed constantly, tried to meditate regularly, but ultimately felt worse. I know this was because of the illness and not the methods, but still, I was angry and sad. I finally asked to watch The Sopranos during treatment. I needed to see something dark, something filled with as much punishment as I felt I received for whatever wrongdoing I felt I committed. I had trouble escaping this mindset. I felt my accident and illness were punishments for a previous mistake or sin. 

Yes, I do agree The Sopranos is an odd choice. I do agree the violence is too much sometimes. There are a few episodes during which I must reach for the remote control and fast forward for a few minutes. However, among the violence, and the brutality, and the hate, and the darkness, and the sin, and the suffering, and the selfishness, there lies hope. This anti-hero, Tony Soprano, endeared me and intrigued me. I watched, day after day, as he confessed to his psychiatrist and somehow thought his life deserved redemption. I finally started to think if Tony felt worthy of redemption, maybe I could feel this way too. He saw his violence and lewd behavior as an escape from his demons and despair and I needed an escape from my own demons and despair. I saw in his eyes, the same depression and angst I saw in my eyes. Yes, our eyes told very different stories, but I felt a bit of him inside of me. I felt the rage and the depression. I felt unlovable and broken. I know it is just a television show. I know Tony is just a character on this television show. But, the place I was in, the feelings I conjured on a daily basis, needed a hard hit of something, and this just happened to be it. One episode tells the story of his daughter, Meadow, and how and why she begs him not to clip, or kill, her soccer coach. Tony is enraged because he discovers this coach is molesting his daughter's teammate. She implores him to call the authorities instead of his usual approach, inflicting harm or death. In the end, Tony honors her wishes and arrives home later that evening, drunk, repeating the words, I didn't hurt nobody, Carm, I didn't hurt nobody. Carmela or Carm, as he calls her, sits with him as he sobs. He changed, if only for a minute, he changed his behavior and did something right.

I used many methods to overcome my battle with this nasty blood infection. I, honestly, think every one of them worked. Praying led me to an undiscovered and powerful faith and a forgiveness and love I never thought possible. Meditation calmed me and taught me to appreciate silence. And along the way and along the discovery of the plethora of available techniques to heal, I found visualization. There is, yet, another episode in the series where Tony's psychiatrist experiences a traumatic and brutal attack. The police, her son, and her husband are futile in their efforts to help her and fail to apprehend her attacker. She knows if she tells Tony he can squash her predator like an ant. She even has a dream and sees Tony in the form of a Rottweiler, as he devours her attacker. One aspect of visualization therapy involves a method of picturing a character of a movie, book, or film, attacking the infection or particular illness. I chose Tony, as the Rottweiler. As dark and brutal as this sounds, this is what depression and illness were like for me. They were an angry, dark, relentless quicksand, that sucked me in and forced me to grasp for breath and relief any way possible. And the Tony character and the Rottweiler were my relief and fighters. 

In addition to this visualization, I heard Tony say a few words that never, ever left me. I started my life as a paralyzed individual with what I like to call, a Pollyanna approach, to paralysis. I smiled and nodded and comforted everyone around me. I agreed with doctors and followed directions. I allowed nurses to make decisions for me and relied on the advice of the medical professionals that surrounded me. And then one day, in the middle of this tornado of devastation, and after the realization this approach was quickly taking my life, I heard a few words that changed me. I like to deal with things directly. Tony said these very words to his psychiatrist. In the moment I heard them, they resonated right away. I said them over and over to myself the entire treatment that day, as to not forget. I repeated the line the entire drive home and when I arrived back at my place, I wrote them on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall of my bedroom. I decided right then and there, no more Pollyanna, it was time for Tony Soprano. I adopted this new attitude and pressed forward and fixed many broken pieces. I fought my way to my current doctor and finally experienced healing.

I know this is unconventional and strange. I know it sounds vile and deplorable to trust a mob boss character's flaws and imperfections. But, I, too, felt this vile and deplorable. I felt I didn't deserve to live. I felt misunderstood and selfish. I wanted what everyone else had, I wanted to be well and I wasn't and begged for a reason. I quickly learned there wasn't an explanation behind the suffering, that part didn't matter. What mattered, was my response. And yes, I needed a little New Jersey mob boss attitude to fix the mess. But, I also learned, I needed a little God, a little Buddha, a little peace, and a little trust. Now, I use much more positive thinking and less of the Rottweiler. I visualize my wounds peacefully healing, filling in bit by bit, instead of a big, strong animal and man attacking the infection that caused them. The infection is gone now, I don't need the dog or the larger than life man as much, or at all. Although, when I need a new wheelchair and exhaust every peaceful, positive avenue to get it, I might jump into character and tap into my inner mob boss, but Tony and the Rottweiler are, mostly, a thing of the past for now. I don't forget their help and I certainly credit them as a large part of my healing.

This past Wednesday the actor, James Gandolfini, died of a massive heart attack. He played Tony Soprano. I cried. I cried because as a man, he is far to young to die, but mostly I cried because of the memories his passing conjured up inside of me. For a second, I worried it was a sign, my anti-hero, my Rottweiler, was dead. I worried it meant I might acquire an illness again and not be able to fight it. However, after the tears and the recognition of the fear, I discovered I was very, very wrong. James Gandolfini left behind Tony and that dog. I have the box set of the entire series of his show stored in a cabinet, next to my television. I can see them anytime I want. Also, it dawned on me this man, this actor, may have left behind a great work of art, a great story, a fantastic show, but what he didn't know he left behind, was a tiny piece of himself that helped a sick, hopeless, pathetic, and scared girl who felt alone and terrified and one day decided to use this grand, giant character as protection. He will always be remembered for this show, this masterpiece, but this tiny dot he left behind inside of me, will go largely unknown. 

And since I am positive now. Since I believe in the good and finally decided to trust in a better day and the proliferation of a bright and shining light, I see this is a lesson to learn. No matter how big of an impact I desire to leave behind, no matter how great I think my stamp must be to honor the gifts I have received along this dark and scary path of healing, it is the small moments, the small gestures, the small kindnesses, the small moments of love, that truly matter. I may never know their impact. I may never know whom I touch or what I heal, but it doesn't matter. What really counts, is that I try. James Gandolfini knew his character was large and impactful, but he didn't know the small ways it affected people, especially me. I only hope, one day, to pay this gift forward, no matter how small. Because it is the little things that count. It is the moments that resonate, when I least expect it, that count the most. And always giving of myself will pay it forward in the best way possible. Our lives are a gift to us, what we do with them is our gift to others. May we all rest in peace. 

Friday, June 14, 2013


For a long time, following my injury, I decided I didn't believe in God. I use this term, only because I grew up in the Episcopal church and God is what we called the higher power working in our world. I hesitate to over use this name because I now think it doesn't really have to have a hard and fast name. This doesn't mean I don't have faith in anything because I do. I just don't really have a name for it and I don't really think it needs a name. A few years ago, a friend asked if I really define myself as a Christian. I felt a bit offended, but also a bit perplexed because I kind of agreed.

As a young girl, I attended a Catholic elementary school, went to mass one day a week, said the stations of the cross at Lent, and then attended the Episcopal church services on Sundays. I never really questioned the existence of God. I eagerly raised my hand in Sunday school and recited the answers to many of the questions. St. Mary's grade school taught religion very well and I knew the Bible stories inside and out. In the second grade, I organized a prayer group for all of the non-Catholic students who were not receiving the sacrament of First Holy Communion. During my senior year of high school, I gave the youth sermon at my Episcopal church. I assumed my belief system was pretty solid.

However, I experienced a terrible, traumatic accident and this uprooted any foundation of belief I thought I built. I immediately thought this whole church and God thing was a joke and something people just do and believe to make themselves feel better. I couldn't imagine believing in something that caused so much suffering and hardship. Even though I struggled with these thoughts, I continued to volunteer and help out with various groups at the Episcopal church. I just saw the activities as an opportunity to serve and nothing more. When I was at my lowest moments, getting out and helping others always seemed to remedy the situation, until it didn't. I kept volunteering, almost making a full time job out of it. I hoped to find some relief to my pain in the service, but nothing changed. I just kept feeling worse and falling deeper and deeper into depression. My health deteriorated, my relationships crumbled, and I was left feeling utterly hopeless and alone. I opened my eyes to all of the suffering brewing and boiling over in this world and only felt more and more disconnected from God or anything like him.

It was quite some time before I awakened to the possibility of a higher power. All I could see was a sick girl who was ignored and thus forced herself to be heard. I purchased countless books and read until my eyes hurt. I tried anything and everything to heal my body, but soon realized my soul was the one in need of the true healing.

When I say I read everything, I mean everything. A few weeks ago I went to the bookstore to buy a friend a book. I knew what I wanted to purchase, but decided to peruse the shelves anyway. I started in the New Age section, then the Christian, Judaism, and Buddhism sections, and ended in the Self Help shelves. As I looked through all of the authors and their books, I felt a sense of warmth, a sense of connection. I actually thought, my friends, all of my friends. There they were, the entire history of my journey staring back at me. There were many books I still need to read, but the authors all very familiar and close to my heart. These are the people who brought my connection back, these spiritual advisers, these poets, these guides, and these teachers. I don't think one is better than another. All encourage a spiritual practice. All encourage prayer, meditation, and seeking. I read from all different authors and concluded everyone shares the same exact message from Einstein, to Buddha, to Jesus, to Mohammed, to God, to Rumi and Pantanjali. As I left with my gift for my dear friend, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be on this side of my journey, the side that allows me to pass on my friends to my friend. Gratitude for the part of me that sees the seeker in another. Gratitude for the part of me that trusts we are all the same and isn't afraid to share a piece of myself with another.

You see, this is what I have come to believe in, oneness. I don't know what it is called or if it has a particular name. All I know is that we are all one, sharing in one, never ending, always forgiving, loving relationship with each other and ourselves. I am everyone I come in contact with and they are me. We all want the same things and we all deserve the same things. The higher power is the love and the forgiveness that passes all understanding. It is the higher power we all possess and we all feel called to practice. When I feel out of sorts, judgemental, cruel, or unhappy, I am not acting from this true and honest place. I am reacting to my fear, my worry, my hurt, and most of all, my pain. I assume another doesn't feel these deficits I feel and so I want to be heard and do so through attack. But the thing is, we all feel hurt, we all feel pain. Finding this common thread is what heals.

I don't really define myself as anything anymore. I discovered this is limiting to my growth. Some say believing in everything is believing in nothing. I disagree. Believing in everything is believing in everyone. I welcome difference because I see the similarities, not the polarities. Tears are tears. A person's skin color, or sexuality, or name, or hair style, or body art, or body shape, or disability, or strength, or suffering, or income doesn't matter. Everyone cries and everyone laughs and mostly, everyone has the ability to love and begs to be loved. Now, when I struggle to feel a connection, I know it is because I need to forgive or to love, nothing more. Connection isn't found in dutiful service, it is found in seeing oneness. When I see my oneness, the soup I serve or the door I hold takes on an entirely different meaning. I see the person I serve and I see me, I see you, I see all of us. This is what matters to me now. I believe in oneness.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thank you

First of all, my heart filled with immense gratitude after I read your comments and emails. All of your words truly solidified my belief that we all live in a state of service. When we reach out and share our true and real feelings, the ripples of love, forgiveness, hope, and encouragement we provide are infinite.   Thank you for your stories and comments. I treasure all of them.

I started a new practice of trying to go to bed early and wake up early. I easily fall into a pattern where I stay up extremely late and watch Real Housewives. It is ridiculous and doesn't serve me very well. The problem is, I rhythmically flow with this new routine until Sunday arrives, then I stay up to watch Mad Men and the cycle starts again. Instead of stressing about this and throwing myself off for the entire week, I chose to make Sunday nights the one night I stay up late and indulge for a bit. I guess you could call it my cheat day. I honestly don't have an issue with my night owl personality, but I think it developed because of my previous inability to successfully sleep. When I was so sick and so depressed I never, ever slept. I watched the clock tick and heard the birds sing in the wee hours of the morning. Now, I sleep like a champ. I started sleeping again a few months ago and I want to give into sleep as much as possible. It is healing. One of my favorite authors and spiritual teachers, Gabrielle Bernstein,  has a fun phrase, sleep more and party less. Now that I am able, I try to allow my body to rest when it begs for it. So, I am cutting it short tonight and will be back in a few days for more. My new groove is developing slowly, but surely.

I am currently reading, A Course in Miracles. This book and workbook are filled with so many ideas and words that need to be read over and over again. It takes me days to get through a few pages. For this reason, I am not very far at all, but I came across something the other day I want to share. I put the words into practice, especially today, and my entire perspective shifted. There is a lot in this world I can not control and I fear. I can consume my mind with thoughts of difficulty and challenge. If I focus on these things, I can destroy my self confidence and energy to persevere. After reading these few short sentences, I decided to let go of the fear completely and replace it with love. I did it, entirely, for the first time today.

Perfect love casts out fear.
If fear exists,
Then there is not perfect love.
Only perfect love exists.
If there is fear, 
It produces a state that does not exist. 
- A Course in Miracles

This perfect love is not romantic or sentimental love, it is truly trusting we are powerful and loved and that we possess the ability to see ourselves in another and live a life of service. All of the events in our lives are born out of love and occur to deepen our own love for ourselves and our ability to expand and give this love to others. It isn't easy to grasp, it took me a few days, but my perspective and fear shifted. I wanted to share this with you because you shared so much love with me with. I hope it helps in some small way.

I will be back sooner than later. I am off to pray, meditate, and fall asleep without turning on Bravo. I will not turn on Bravo, I will not turn on Bravo...