Sunday, January 8, 2017

How Can I Free Myself?

I was arguing with John recently. It was one of those arguments with a repeating theme. The old argument was just updated, and with different details. And yes, there was me saying, “Why don’t you…?” and “You always…”

As much as I really wanted to enjoy my righteous rightness (and surely I was 82% right), I also felt the undeniable familiarity of this fight. That is one of the downsides of longer recovery—you can’t hide from yourself so well anymore—and knowing that your own part of it takes the satisfaction out of fighting in a flash.

So what was I going to do? Could I walk through a conflict that was challenging me, and where I really did have hurt feelings?

I used my recovery tools. I sent email to my sponsor; I called another sober woman, and I went to my bookshelf. I always go to books. I came to recovery by the grace of Robin Norwood’s books, and so for me bibliotherapy is a valued tool.

I started with our Big Book. I read Step three and about surrender. Oh. Yuck --but also yep! But just how could I move past my hurt feelings? How could I shift the energy from insisting on my rightness to somehow using this situation for growth?

I landed on the book called How Can I Forgive You? By Janis Abraham Spring, and there I
got relief. Dr. Spring writes about forgiving really hard stuff like infidelity and parental betrayal so I knew I could lean into her wisdom for this fuss I was in with John. Here’s what I read in Spring’s book:

Your freedom lies not in protesting the unfairness of the violation or in getting the offender to care. Your freedom –perhaps your only freedom—is in deciding how to survive and transcend the injury. Don’t underestimate this freedom: it’s enormous. With it comes the power to decide how you’re going to live the rest of your life. As you take the task of healing into your own hands, you empower yourself and have peace.”

Bingo! It was peace that I wanted…not to let John off the hook necessarily, but I wanted to get me off my own hook and out of my spinning head. It felt just like that wonderful paradox of AA and Alanon—being selfish enough to take the focus off of being right so I can give me back my own good life.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Ordinary Time in CancerLand

In the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar there is an acknowledgment of “Ordinary Time”. This is the time that falls between holidays; it is the times that is not Christmas or Easter or Good Friday or Advent.

It feels like that here in the land of love and cancer too. It’s not chemo or blood tests or attorney time. It’s not exhilaration or tragedy time.

This month is filled with grocery shopping, yoga classes, buying running shoes, parent meetings and girl friends. I am picking up library books, allergy medicine, dry cleaning and avocados.

Having been in CancerLand so long I have to stop and remind myself that this ordinary time is actually a kind of holiday. This time is the true luxury, the blessing and the most wanted gift.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Dark Street Shineth

Off we go trailing shopping lists and credit card receipts. Christmas is in one week. We may complain about our errands, and even about some of the folks on our list, but we do enjoy the festivity the holidays bring to our gray December days. It's no coincidence.


The holidays that celebrate light, Hanukah and Christmas, are aligned with the seasonal transit of the sun. It’s a leftover from earlier times when the religions of nature led all of the others. There was good reason, then as now, to run from the darkness. 

We know that ancient man feared that the sun had died.  It was his terror that the heat and light were gone. To coax the sun god back our ancient relatives created rituals.  The Druids lit bonfires. Now we celebrate with candles and lights in our windows. 

Spirituality is a way out of darkness and into hope and joy. The vehicle is mystery and a miracle, whether it’s oil that lasts eight days or the birth of a baby in a barn.

In the Northern Hemisphere this is a time when we face our vulnerability. Weather is the least of it. We all have moments of darkness: our grief, fears and regrets. The darkness we fear most, of course, is the grave. We still think we can outrun it. So some of us go to the Caribbean and some to sunlamps or light boxes; many pursue spirits, religious or distilled. Like our ancestors we too want the sun to come back and give us life again. So we go to the stores and burn up our credit cards; we sacrifice our savings as we gather at the mall where we may find what passes for community. 

But we still fear the dark. Much of what we do this time of year is about distraction. Not unlike whistling when we pass a graveyard, now we sing and shop and light candles and eat too much. And we complain. A lot. But maybe our railing against our holiday chores is itself a part of the solstice. Now when we are oppressed by darkness –when our primitive fears can be felt even through layers of advertising and anti-depressants-- we are drawn to the lights and to other people as our defense against the dark, just as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and fires.

We talk of holiday depression as if it’s somehow wrong or an aberration. But these holidays we’re celebrating, Hanukah and Christmas, are also about darkness. Sometimes we forget that. But it’s true: the flip side of each story is about the darkness at the edge of the light. 

The words of this Christmas carol could just as well be a Solstice song: Yet in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

We’re fighting something ancient, natural and necessary. Occasionally we need to feel the darkness—even symbolically--like we sometimes need a dark night or a wild storm.

So maybe there is another way to experience this day. On this, the darkest night, what if we allowed the darkness and went toward it, daring ourselves to sit still before we light the candles or the tree. What if we sat a moment seeing the tree in darkness--and breathed. That’s what solstice is about. We can enter the darkness and emerge transformed. We can stand it.

Tomorrow the sun will be at the most southern point of its transit. And what is coming is the longest night of the year. Starting Wednesday our days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy. On this night we are as ancient as ever.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas in CancerLand

Years ago it was cancer at Christmas. The first surgery. The news about chemo. Having hope at the holidays. I found that old blog post “Christmas Past” this week. I am surprised that we were able to be so be happy then while we were in the thick of it. And surprising to remember that we found serenity and sensuality even in those first few forays into
CancerLand.

Here is the old post from our first year in Cancerland:

“It’s all here. Love and carols, candlelight service at the United Methodist Church last night, sleeping late and making love through the morning, a sponge bath then washing his hair over the side of the tub—he cannot get the stitches wet for three more days—a walk in the neighborhood, opening gifts—books and music, and tickets and clothes for both of us. These are the things we have shared and talked about from the first day we met. Cashmere and satin and a collection of erotic poetry keep the love alive. We cook dinner together: Cornish game hens with smooth small breasts, artichokes to slide through our teeth, potatoes soaked with butter and garlic and chocolate mousse. Christmas together. We never thought we’d see this. But here it is. We have both cancer and Christmas and it is enough.”

This year’s Christmas is different: Adopt-a-Family gifts, cooking, wrapping, shopping Amazon last minute, the annual trip to buy my mother-in-law’s gift, texting the kids, realizing that the new family we made in that isolated first year has become the real family, and that we continue to love and be loved. For all of this we are so grateful.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Man, A Can, A Plan

I am NOT a good cook. Let’s get that straight. But I like to play with food and I LOVE cookbooks! I have tons of cookbooks, which always makes guests laugh when they see the shelf in our kitchen. But, for me it’s all about culture, language, history, and social psychology.
Tonight I made a meal from one of my favorite “weird” cookbooks. I have a whole category of weird cookbooks: The Beet Cookbook, The White Trash Cookbook, and today’s pick, a cookbook called: “A Man. A Can. A Plan.” 
This is a cookbook for men who can’t cook—bachelors of a certain era, divorced guys, etc. It’s written in very guy language—explains what utensils are—“grab one of those big spoons with holes in it”. And it’s made of that very thick, shiny cardboard, the kind of pages you
see in books for babies. But the cool part is that all of the the recipes are based on food that comes in cans. Yes, my dear friends who only eat organic or local or vegan will just die thinking about this book. So die. There is good food in this book—
Think Grandma. Think church supper.

Tonight’s yummy casserole was “Spaghetti Western”:
Two cans of Spaghetti O’s. One can black beans. Half pound ground round, two chopped scallions, 2T grated cheddar, 2T chili powder. Cook all in one pan. Six minutes tops.
Add nice salad: Baby spinach, Bibb leaves, a tomato, (sure, organic) salt & pepper, juice of half lemon and olive oil.
Dinner was ready in under ten minutes and it was delicious. And there are leftovers.One serving: 450 calories and 14 grams of protein. Which means I can have biscotti and ice-cream while we watch another episode of “To Serve Them All Our Days.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Conversations at Thanksgiving

This week we are preparing for Thanksgiving. There is a lot of shopping and cooking in the next few days --but there are also emotional preparations to be undertaken this week. Like many, you may be torn between the happy anticipation of a good meal and seeing family, but also the dread of family feuds that leave you wishing to hide in a corner of the living room. 

Along with the usual  “issues” that each family faces around the turkey table—the in-laws, sibling rivalries, and adolescents with attitude—we can stir in some raw feelings about national politics this year. It’s Thanksgiving in the REAL America and nobody’s very happy.

So many of us so want it to be the other Thanksgiving, the one we imagine that other
families have, but which really only happens in made-for-TV movies.  We think that our Thanksgiving is just not what it used to be-- But then again, it never was.

It seems that we can’t shake our romantic idea about that first one with the grateful Pilgrims and the wise Indians, but it’s safe to say that most of us wouldn’t have been comfortable at that dinner either. The truth is that the Pilgrims, with their cute buckled shoes, weren’t innocent refugees from persecution. Rather they were religious zealots and not exactly tolerant.

Here’s the history: After the Protestant Reformation and the split from Catholicism—creating the Church of England--there were many who felt the church still needed to be “purified” of Rome’s influence. Those were the Puritans. Among the Puritans were some folks who were even more extreme and who wanted complete separation. These were the Separatists--we know them as the Pilgrims. These were not folks who believed in freedom of religion. What the Pilgrims believed was that the Church of England was corrupt; that Catholics were the Devil’s spawn and that they were superior in knowing God’s truth. 

We still have some emotional resonance of those ancestors and their vibe is with us at Thanksgiving. So be prepared. 

Part of the problem is that religion permeates this day directly or indirectly; someone or something is being thanked for the good in our lives, but there are political tripwires from the stuffing all the way through to dessert. Most of us will be sharing a meal with folks who not only mix their potatoes with their peas but who mix politics with their religion:  Every current event, everything in the headlines—the election, terrorism, the Middle East—touches religion in some way. And that intersection of religion and current affairs will cut right through the dining room table on Thursday.

Even saying grace is tricky. When the blessing includes a prayer for peace someone at the table will be listening for what kind of peace? And for whom?

On Thursday we may be humming, “We gather together…” but in our heart of hearts we want to insist that OUR team should win, that OUR recipe for stuffing is the best, and that OUR candidate was right.

So if you find yourself dreading the doorbell, or if Uncle Harvey mentions the President when he says grace, you may want to retreat to the kid’s table or sit in the den to watch the game. But instead, give thanks that this holiday comes only once a year, and remember--- it’s all in the spirit of the day.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Racial Gap in Breast Cancer Care and Survival

In today's Albany Times Union newspaper, Claire Hughes writes about the racial gap in both cancer
Claire Hughes, Times Union
care and out comes.

"Zipcode predicts your health better than genetic code."

All of us in CancerLand can pay attention to this and be supporters and advocates.



Here's the link to the Times Union story:

ww.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Racial-disparities-persist-in-breast-cancer-10609663.php