Monday, September 15, 2008

Exalted Daughter

From Sept. 5

My mom and I are staying in this midcentury modern house on a hillside overlooking an inlet. The deck is perfect and we’ve spent most of our time out there.

When we got to the house I rolled out my yoga mat on the deck and did about 40 minutes of a practice. During this time, my mom sat on an Adirondack chair with a glass of Chardonnay, smoking and making snarky comments about things people had written in the guest book. The quality of handwriting was low. Previous guest had no taste because they wrote that they liked the d├ęcor. She sure hoped the house’s owner didn’t come by with ice cream and wine for us like she apparently did with other guests, because that would be annoying.

Like that. Meanwhile, I continued my practice. I did my utmost to remain embodied while my mother bitched about the freezer not being turned on. I exhaled forcefully and moved my body into powerful poses to keep the flies of her discontent from landing on me. I was reminded of a cartoon by Ellen Forney (local cartoonist, illustrator, performer and yogini), in which a character stands next to her teacher, complaining about how commercial yoga has become. Meanwhile, her teacher does her poses and utters neutralizing rebuttals to the spewing student’s uncharitable arguments.

Well, that was me and my mom this evening. I flashed on how I would draw this scene, how comical it would look. And, after awhile, it was comical. I was in this fierce Exalted Warrior pose, and she was still complaining about something. I thought, wow, how can a person look at someone doing Exalted Warrior and not be awed into silence? It’s a pose of great beauty and strength. When I see someone do it, I get a hit of energy. (In yoga, we call this a shakti, or force, transfer. ) And then I wondered if she was able to enjoy anything at all, or even feel the shakti or any powerful force when it’s being zapped her way.

And then, finally, compassion. I continued my practice with great care for my joints and my muscles. In my standing poses, I gazed out at the majectic evergreens all around me. I did not follow the dramatic story line my mother was weaving. Instead, I felt empathy for her nervous heart. This is not to say that I didn’t wish she would shut up and get a life. It’s just that those sentiments petered out before gathering much flame.

This feels like progress.

On the Island with Mom

Earlier this summer, my mom called me and bitched that we never get any time together. “There’s always a kid on your lap,” she said. “They won’t let you talk on the phone. And then, every time you come to my house, you wander off and take a fuckin’ nap.”

“Well, I’m tired,” I said.

“Too bad,” she wailed. “Make some time for me.”

These moments for authentic relating between me and my mom only come about once every five years. So while there were a lot of things I could have said, like “I don’t visit often because you depress me ,” or “your house smells like a bar,” I decided to make this moment of genuine talk work to our advantage.

We made plans to go away for a weekend together. To a cabin in the woods. On an island. I questioned the intelligence of this over and over, but stayed with the plan because it felt right. I wanted to seize the chance to have a real conversation with my mom. I could sense that she really needed time away from her life. I wanted to make that happen for her. I also wanted to chance to change our pattern, which goes something like this: she reaches out in a rare moment of vulnerability, I try to rescue her. She professes a desire for a different kind of life, I encourage it, offer to pay for it, give her inspirational books, and believe it might actually happen.

Dysfunctional people and addicts are not known for their ability to manifest their true desires. In fact, they are not known for even being able to contact their true desires. They lost that skill a long time ago, or maybe never even got the chance to develop it. And, it must be said, self-reflection gets in the way of cocktail hour. So it is with my poor mother. After Part I of the pattern passes, inevitably, Part II arrives: the same old BS. And the daughter, who has been so devoted and giving (and superior and judgmental), despairs and hates her mother again and stops calling.

It’s a fine line to tread for someone who loves an addict or a very injured soul. How does one make space for a self-destructive loved-one without falling into what may be an old habit of Rescue and Reform? Anyone who has grown up in a dysfunctional/alcoholic family knows what a dead end that is. (Or if you haven’t figured that out yet, please give yourself a much-deserved gift and call your local Al-Anon chapter.)

So I told myself that I would not try to fix her this time. I have finally come to believe that I truly do not know what is best for her. I only know what’s best for me. I told myself that she and I would spend time together, but I would keep certain boundaries.

1. I would do what I wanted to do regardless of her level of sobriety or inability to get off her ass.
2. I would not tell her what to do with her life.
3. I would remember that she is in pain that I can’t begin to understand.
4. I would take care of myself.
5. I would expect nothing.

My report to you, Reader, is forthcoming.