Susan's  Blog

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December 29, 2018

Wait...What?

Lately it seems like I keep finding myself waiting for things. Let's face it, nobody likes waiting. I think it has become very difficult in our "modern" world to deal with waiting. I have never been known to be a patient person! I can't stand waiting in long lines, or in stalled traffic, or for pretty much anything, really. I'm part of the "I WANT IT, AND I WANT IT NOW" generation. And why not? Life is too short to stand around waiting for everything - isn't it? If I am in a line waiting, I see other people standing fairly patiently with that blank stare that tells me most adults deal with waiting by pretty much zoning out quietly. Are they thinking? Do they shut their brains down and go into screensaver mode like a computer? I have to have SOMETHING to entertain me if I am standing in a line. I once heard a comedian say that you know you are an adult when you have the ability to wait in line and remain standing on your feet (yes, I was one of those children you see lying on the floor of the grocery store!) Luckily, I figured out how to remain upright in a long line, but I still don't like it. It occurs to me that we humans spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for things. Waiting in traffic; waiting in lines for service; waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right; waiting for the perfect job (or at least a better one); waiting for change to come; waiting for things that may or may not ever happen. So what SHOULD we do while we wait for those things?

     Recently my husband, Adam has had the pleasure of dealing with a government office over the phone. When he couldn't get a reply by email, or in person, he was left with only one option, and that was to call via the old fashioned telephone. Have you ever had the lovely experience of waiting on hold for close to an hour, only to be redirected to another department, where you are again put on hold for a very, very long time. Then when that department picks up and you finally get to talk to someone, they say they are going to put you on a "brief hold" and then...they hang up on you! Well, Adam went round and round with this scenario for several weeks. I am glad to say, the situation finally got resolved, but all that time he spent trying to get someone to listen and "fix" a problem that he had no control over was very difficult on us both! And I started to think "what was THAT all about?" I guess the way I approach life now is with the idea that everything that enters into our lives comes with some purpose. I don't believe in "random" anymore. And as a person of faith, I pray (and pray...and pray) for that divine intervention that we all were told in Sunday School would rescue us if we had faith. Only, there seems to be a difference of opinion with God over just what this intervention will look like, and WHEN it will take place. And I can definitely tell you that more often than not, the "answer" you receive will be....WAIT.

    I have come to believe that there is some kind of universal law that works in opposition to our apparent need for resolution. We feel that if there is a problem, we cannot move forward in any direction until it is resolved. That is probably why it seems so painful and unfair to be stuck in a position in which we feel powerless. It's a very uncomfortable place to be. It's like in Monopoly, when you are just about to pass "GO" and you get sent to jail (go directly to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200). And in life, it will happen over and over again. So that is why I started really thinking about the whole concept of waiting. Is it a waste of time? If it is a very large and inevitable part of life, maybe it's actually IMPORTANT?! That thought was quite a shock! As much as I hate waiting for practically anything, maybe there IS something I should be doing with all that time. OK, so, I don't want to collapse on the cold grocery store linoleum, OR zone out and freeze like an old  Windows 98 computer screen. Is this state of waiting something that I should embrace?

     The short answer, of course, is "yes". Something transformative can happen in that waiting process if we let it. Sometimes we need to be able to see that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. That is a difficult thing to accept if your life is in turmoil. I lived for years with the uncertainty of my children's well being. It didn't end the way I thought it should. But in my grief, at times almost unbearable, I knew that I was left here on the earth for a purpose. And I believe there is purpose at the heart of every person. We may not realize just what that purpose will look like for a long time. But if we are waiting for that radical transformation to come, it may be like the endless telephone call...( your call is very important to us...blah, blah, blah). Instead, maybe while we wait for all of our problems to disappear, we should be truly engaged with the life we have NOW. I can remember a few occasions when I was waiting in a checkout line, and I ended up having conversations with other people in the line with me. Sometimes people have said the most hilarious things, or just the sweetest. Sometimes they have told me something sad and I realized they could use just a little encouragement. There have been times when I thought an idea or a cherished dream I had should be moving along faster (or going anywhere at all). But, I wish I hadn't let go of that dream because I was tired of waiting. 

    In the long run, I guess the waiting part might be just as important as the realization of our desires, because that is the time when we learn acceptance, patience, persistence, and humility. We are forced to be "in the moment", and perhaps we learn to "see" a little better. While we are waiting, we notice people and circumstances around us that we may not have seen otherwise. For me, the incredibly impatient person that I am, waiting has taught me to cherish each moment just a little more. I still sometimes feel like I am "wasting my time", but maybe that is because now I understand what a precious commodity time is. I don't think I would have ever gotten to that realization without a lot of time being in a holding pattern, waiting for what was yet to come. Now, I think I can live with peace and joy, even though I have no clue what tomorrow holds. And that will be where you will probably find me, in line for that next thing, whatever it is.

-Susan

"But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance"  Romans 8:25

January 16, 2019

Leaving a Mark

     I am a person who never thought I would get a tattoo. When I was growing up, tattoos were a mark worn by the rebels, the counter-culture people, the tough guys. They were associated with street brawlers, drunken sailors and biker gangs, who wore their tattoos as badges of honor, like a prize they earned for their chosen lifestyle. And, although I always had a certain rebellious side to me, I mostly walked the "straight and narrow" road. By the time my kids became teenagers, tattoos were getting pretty common place. And they couldn't wait to be old enough to get them. I still didn't really get the attraction. Although tattoo design had evolved into a real art form, I always figured that the skin covering the human body was perfect as it was, and there was no need to permanently deface it.

     Nowadays, everybody and their grandmother has at least one tattoo! Still, I figured I was too old to worry about such things. But when my son, Tom died, one of the first things I thought to do to honor his memory was to get a tattoo. He loved tattoos, and if his budget had permitted, he would have had many more than just the two he had. He actually had spent years drawing and redrawing designs that he intended to get done.

    Tom had a passion for all things Viking. He was mesmerized by their history, their myths, their culture, and their artwork. So, naturally, he wanted to have a Viking ship tattooed across his shoulder and arm that had elements of their icons - Fenrir, the powerful beastly wolf, and Huginn and Muninn, the two ravens of Odin whose names mean "thought" and "memory" and together signify great wisdom. I decided since Tom also loved crows and ravens, I would get a Viking raven design. Here it is:

I wear this beauty proudly, and it comforts me to feel that part of my son is physically connected to me and has become a permanent part of me. I really understand the attraction of tattoos now, especially when they are done with a meaning behind them. And I  plan to get the turtle design my son Chris drew on my other arm very soon!

     I think of tattoos as pretty serious and maybe almost sacred symbols now. I still don't understand why anyone would get just "anything" put permanently on their bodies. I have seen beautiful designs and incredible works of art, but unfortunately I've seen my share of silly or poorly executed, or tasteless, and let's just say it, DOWNRIGHT UGLY tatoos! I mean what are these people thinking? Just look up Gucci Mane's tattoo  (ice cream cone on his FACE!? - really?) It is possible to have tattoos removed, but it takes a lot of laser treatments and the skin will never be as it was before, so you would think one would take a lot of time to reflect before deciding on a permanent mark. But humans do strange, silly and thoughtless things. And they leave marks on themselves and on others that are far more serious than a tattoo.

 

     The word "stigma" is an old word originating from Greek that passed to Latin and then to English and essentially meant a "mark" made by a pointed instrument. The word evolved into a broader meaning that included marks made by means of burning with a hot iron, or puncturing. The wounds on the hands, feet, side, and brow of Jesus are referred to as "stigmata", which is just plural for the word stigma. In modern times, the word "stigma" generally still refers to a "mark", but not a physical one. It is a mark of shame and disgrace. It is a term to explain the contempt associated with a particular circumstance or person.

     We hear a lot about the word "stigma" lately, especially when there are conversations about mental health. There are public service ads and featured experts on news programs, and editorials and Facebook posts all about stigma, and how much it interferes  with our quest for getting mentally healthy. Yet STILL those of us who have been personally impacted by the loss of a loved one to something that stems from a mental health issue, such as suicide, or substance abuse and addiction must constantly contend with the lack of appropriate support and understanding from others BECAUSE of stigma - that mark that has branded anyone who struggles with mental health issues as being somehow morally defective.

     When something is not working the way it should be in the body, it is generally accepted to be a medical issue - nobody's fault. Yes, we all could probably eat healthier and get more exercise, but I hardly think that people who develop diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or cancer are made to feel that they have a character flaw. People's lifestyle choices can have an enormous effect on their physical health, yet I have never heard anyone say " Sally has cancer - well I guess she did it to herself!" I have heard the most incredibly insensitive things spoken about people who are struggling with addiction. And I do understand that sometimes people who are battling this beast can change into a person that is unrecognizable. Drugs change brains. That is a fundamental thing that people HAVE to understand, because if we don't start really getting this, the epidemic of drug abuse and overdose, and pain, suffering, and dying is going to grow, and grow until EVERYONE will have been personally affected by the loss of someone they love.

     My son, Tom was a beautiful person. I could give you names of at least a dozen people who would tell you how much he loved, how he gave, how he listened, and supported his friends. He made people laugh. He was passionate and intelligent and charming. He had integrity, and believed in doing the right thing, and in being a good person. When he was 14 he started having daily migraines. And for 2 years, we took him to doctor after doctor. He tried all of the traditional medications, and many off-label prescriptions. We had many trips to the ER and even a 3 night hospital stay to try to stop a migraine that would not end. He was only 16 at that time - he looked like a young man, but he was really still just a boy. And he was scared, and he was anxious, and he didn't want to live like that anymore. Eventually a headache specialist put him on a regimen that included different medications to be rotated, and one was something to be used only for the very worst pain, and only up to 2 or 3 times a week. That medicine was hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin). I don't know what was worse - the illness or the cure. Once Tom realized that opiates made his pain go away, and made him feel really good, that was all he seemed to think about.         

     The rest of the story is one that can be told by thousands of parents who watched their kids change right before their eyes. Tom was still the same good person inside, but he started to feel that what he was prescribed was not enough, and so he bought pain pills from other kids, and in high school they were easy to get. His tolerance grew - Drugs change brains. His doctor upped his dose, and eventually changed to Oxycodone (a stronger opiate). It took Tom a few years to admit that he had a serious problem managing his pain meds. He had me hold them for him, and hide them from him, and promise NOT to give them to him, only to beg for them later. If he really, really wanted them, he would search and find my hiding places, and take them, and sometimes lie about it - Drugs change brains. He tried quitting. He tried going to the methadone clinic, and he tried Suboxone, a medication that is supposed to help people with addiction to opiates to function without craving or withdrawals. It works for some people, but Tom still had a pain problem. Eventually he developed pain all over his body - Drugs change brains. Tom's anxiety over his situation became intolerable to him, and that line between physical and psychological pain became blurred ( should I say drugs change brains again? I think you get what I'm saying).

     Tom was on a waiting list for rehab when he died. I reveal all this very personal story to everyone because I am not ashamed of my son. And I won't allow the fact that he got addicted to pain pills to be seen as something that made him a bad person. He was not perfect - he was human. He made mistakes. He hung around with other people who did drugs, and he did them, too. He seemed to have a brain that was pre-wired for addiction. He was a good person - not a perfect person - but he didn't deserve to die like that. And I'm supposed to somehow feel ashamed of him and his story because of the STIGMA - that mark of shame with which our culture labels people with addiction - the same as the agonizing, horrific marks borne by Jesus on the cross?

     We as a country, as a community, as fellow human beings need to understand that there are many reasons people get addicted to drugs. Some people were first prescribed the drugs legitimately. Some were just kids, trying to fit in. Some are trying to feel normal because they have a mental illness like clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder, and they can't control the painful thoughts and emotions in their own heads. Some people are trying to numb themselves from the pain of past horrific trauma. If you don't understand this, you are living in a bubble. It's time for us all to open our eyes, because the next statistic  might be YOUR son or daughter, parent, spouse, friend, or co-worker. If we are to be caring, decent human beings then we have got to get really serious about fighting this war. It's going to take ALL of us. And the first step is going to be letting go of this thing we call stigma.