For the past few years, I’ve focused on healing my relationship to money and of course the initial reason is never the reason. Money is a symptom of a self-love/care/esteem issues. It’s meant to flow – currency after all – and we experience problems individually and as a society when it doesn’t.
In the drill down, I expose what Julia Cameron might call a vein of gold. The rock formations of my protective mechanisms give way. The miner is a bit of wisdom that arrives from a friend: why other people do what they do is none of my business. At first I want to reject it, but these days I’m letting these things have a seat next to me. Quarantining will provide space for this if you let it.
With childhood trauma, one of the things I did to try to keep myself safe was to figure out why the adults around me were doing or saying the awful things they were doing or saying. If I could figure that out, then I might have a strategy to keep myself safe. It worked for a long time as a coping strategy. It’s great for writing and preparing as an actor. It’s also perfect training for codependency. A Frenchman once called me “Madame Psychologie.” It wasn’t a compliment.
It hit me in the shower yesterday as I was fighting the habit of deciding why a friend hasn’t been responding to calls, texts, or emails. The old scripts of combing through what I might have done to offend, what was going on in their life, what could they be thinking, etc. were running in full force. What if I stopped? What if the miner was right and the thoughts and actions of my friend were none of my business? What if I spent no time at all in this old familiar storytelling?
What the hell am I do going with all of this new free time?!
While this was going on, the answer to a question I hadn’t asked in years regarding a former friend’s behavior hit me: I’d triggered her in a massive way. I was so hurt by her rage, I couldn’t identify it for a long time after the friendship ended.
When I stopped asking, the answer was given to me. God has a funny sense of humor.
This kind of mining is one gift of the pause, of the time we all have now as we shelter in place. Time moves differently. There were at least a hundred days in March and there will be at least that in April. Or maybe April will feel like seconds. We don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know. Such as what others’ are thinking or why they do the things they do. I don’t know yet how this factors in my relationship with money, other than it’s time to listen in silence instead of spinning stories about the whys.
It feels like an antivirus has cleaned out a lot of my mental hard drive. Irony alert. As Richard Rohr says, “When we are willing to be transformed, we stop wasting time theorizing, projecting, denying, or avoiding our own ego resistance.”
I’ve been thinking about 9/11 and Covid-19 and the difference between the deaths of each of my parents. My father was gone within 24 hours from a heart attack and my mother had a long slow farewell until she died of congestive heart failure and stroke at 90 (my grandmother’s was even longer one at 101). My father was in another state and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I made the drive from L.A. to San Diego every month to see my mother, largely unaware of the lifelong effects of her abuse on me.
9/11 was traumatic and horrifying but there was no warning for the general public. Bam. A plane into a skyscraper, and another, and the Pentagon, and one down in a field. Shocking, horrible, then the eerie silence as all the planes were grounded. Cities full of stunned people. Now we have cities of quarantined people with a sense of dread: how bad will it get, where’s the next hot spot, will I get it, will a loved one, and will we survive. It’s already touched the families and friends of friends. As I write this I get a text that my son may have it.
Dread. That’s one of the controlling methods in an abusive household. Someone (and I’m sorry I didn’t make a note of who) on Twitter noted, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in a relationship with an abusive man, you are with this president. Mixed messages, denying reality, telling you something then denying it later. I grew up with that. It’s familiar. It’s going on in individual households, but it’s also playing out on the national stage. It’s alcoholic behavior and that of a “dry drunk” who exhibits the behavior without the actual booze.
When they start pulling up semi trailers to haul away the bodies, those tactics fail. There’s nothing like the human body to bring us back to reality. Dead or alive.
For your own well-being, listen to your body. Everything is stored there and it is the source of much wisdom and all your intuition. I know I’ve taken a dark turn, but these are dark times. We don’t need sugarcoating. We’ve had way too much of that. So take care of yourselves. Stay healthy. Raise hell with your reps for Covid testing and mail ballots and tell damned Jeff Bezos to accept EBT from all states for Amazon and wave the Prime fees for low-income users. Let’s come out of this a more compassionate society that cares for more than the bottom line.
All over the world, we are seeing what it’s like when people withdraw into their homes. Some are homeschooling and parenting, some working full or part time, some having to do both. Many have lost their jobs. Some are alone, some with roommates they may or may not know well, others with family. An unknown percentage are with abusers of one form or another. Globally, there’s a big step back and it’s affecting our mental health with many complaining about cabin fever and going stir-crazy. The good news is there are lots of resources online to help, from therapy to exercise. Obviously, it’s also affecting economies. I’m in the U.S. and we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.
You are seeing what a lot of us who have CPTSD, or are otherwise neurodiverse, have known most of our lives. When you have the stigma against mental health along with child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and other traumas, some of your brightest and most gifted citizens are sidelined. For some of us, it is through self-isolation from anxiety, a flight/flight/freeze response essentially stuck in the On position, and fear. I’ve been in DBSA rooms and seen people under-treated or unable to get adequate treatment. They are neurodiverse and they are also brilliant. We could use their gifts, their observations, and wisdom. Not to mention what Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday in his briefing: this is not who we are – we need to value every single life, regardless of whether they can contribute to a way deemed economically useful. Every single person has inherent value. Or they should in a compassionate and just society. As Americans, we are a ways off from that. We can talk a good game, but we don’t back it up with real care. Trillions was not a problem to bail out companies, but with regard to making a real difference to the neurodiverse, the damaged, the chronically ill, the disabled, it was seen as too much money. State disability payments are far too difficult to get for the neurodiverse. You have to have the fortitude to fight three, four, five times over. Judges, politicians, and many doctors lack understanding about the aftereffects of trauma, of the debilitating effects of depression, of what happens – including the structural changes in the young developing brain – when you are utterly demoralized as a child.
We have the opportunity to make real changes in ourselves and our communities. But we must get dark money out of politics and embrace the values of empathy and compassion, to live up to the values we espouse. As Ed Fong writes in How The Pandemic Will End, “One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic.” We’ve been given a timeout, a pause. We can come back better for it.
I’m calm. That might be annoying if you’re not during this pandemic. I’m trying to work out why I am and how that can help others who aren’t.
First, why am I calm? I grew up with a lot of abuse: incest, ridicule, public humiliation and so on, primarily from my mother. As a result, I have Complex PTSD and that means life-long hypervigilance. I’ve always been on high alert for danger around me, scanning the environment, other people, you name it. It’s exhausting, but it’s second nature. It also means I’ve been imagining worst-case scenarios all my life. I’m 63 = sixty years of thinking about what to do if everything goes to hell. Let me put it this way: THE ROAD was my go-to long before the book was written.
So what are some keys in addition to what’s already out there about limiting your news and social media exposure, structuring your days, getting fresh air, and building community online?
* Stay in your body. Use grounding exercises – there are thousands on YouTube. Some are more woo woo and some are more concrete ones if chakras and cords aren’t your thing. Watch Donna Eden’s energy work. Try her 5 min routine to start your morning and see if it makes a difference for you. The key to my trauma recovery was to learn to reinhabit my body after decades of dissociating. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.
* Stay present as much as possible. This is where mindfulness practice shines. When you eat, take your time, take extra time! Use all of your senses when preparing and enjoying your food from the sound of bubbling, maybe the sun through a window shining on your plate or candlelight, the smell, how many different tastes you can identify, the feel of different textures. Suggested reading or viewing: SALT FAT ACID HEAT
* Practice limiting negative self-talk and runaway thoughts. You can literally say STOP when you notice it happening or you can go the other direction and set a time for 3 or 5 minutes and let yourself fully indulge, but you must stop when the time goes off.
* Journal. Get out your worst fears, worries, irritations, frustration on paper. Balance it out with an equal or greater amount of gratitude.
* More gratitude. If you are sheltering in place with others, go around the table and say three things you’re grateful for at dinner every evening. You can only use food-clothing-shelter once, maybe the first day, then stretch yourself! If you’re alone, set it up online or by phone with friends. If for some reason that’s not an option, yell it out your window. I’m not kidding! There was a guy singing something at the top of his lungs – at first it sounded like a fight was starting up the street, but he was alone with headphones on. No judgment (cut down on the judge-y stuff while we’re at it) – do what works (at least six feet from the rest of us).
* If you do not love yourself, this is the time to learn how. If you have pain in your body, ask it what it is and why it’s there, then sit quietly and listen. There are lots of self-care lists out there. Pick on and do one a day. Repeat until the self-hatred loosens. Act as if until you can feel it for real. Do your shadow work: read Robert Johnson’s book. Do your Inner Child work. Change the stories you tell yourself about who you are and why you do what you do. If you’ve been blaming others for a long time, it’s going to be difficult. Do it anyway.
* Give to others as much as you can. Money is going to be tight for awhile. If you’re in a good position, donate to your local food bank or favorite charity. Send takeout or a grocery order or Amazon gift baskets to your local hospital for the health care workers. They cannot get out often to get fresh fruits and veggies and when they do (see the teary nurse on Twitter), markets may be sold out. If you cannot give money, give encouragement, give wisdom, give advice. You have an expertise so offer it up! If this continues for a long time, people are going to need advice on how to pivot, how to redo a resume, how to keep going, how to homeschool, how to garden, can fruits and veggies, cut their own hair, trim their pets’ nails, how to dance! and more.
That’s it for now. I’m running around after my 11-month-old grandson full-time during the week and he’s gone back to waking up during the night now and then. Will be back when I can. 😴
The message associated with this is “I’m here for you.” When you really take that in, then even in adulthood you will reference Mother as the place you can always come back to for refueling, comfort, or support. When the world beats you down, when your marriage falls apart, when your feelings are hurt, you can always turn to Mother.
If Mother is not consistently available, is self-absorbed or absorbed elsewhere, is erratic and unstable or unable to be emotionally present for the child, then we don’t experience her as home base. There is no Mother’s lap. This may show up in adulthood as difficulty establishing a sense of home.
There’s nothing easy about having a narcissist for a mother. Probably no picnic for her either. We never lived up to her expectations or filled the void inside of her.
There was no mother’s lap in our house. If she was sitting, she was knitting or doing other handwork that was not to be disturbed under any circumstances. The only sentient creature allowed in her lap was a miniature dachshund.
The last time my late brother saw her, he drove nine hours out of his way to visit, bringing his son along. After ten minutes of her not saying a word to them, he got up, took his son and left. When she was dying, I asked if she wanted me to call either of her sons. The answer was no. After decades with her children having no sense of a place for “refueling, comfort, or support” she knew they were unlikely to come in any case. We always think we need to point out others’ flaws and limitations. In almost every case, people know their failings very well.
It was lonely for her partners and children and lonely for her. No home base leads to wandering through cities, countries, relationships. For years, I found my sense of home either on sets or stages or on the road. I felt most myself while traveling. A sense of possibility opened up. Sets and stages provide a temporary sense of family, sometimes functional, sometimes not.
I was able to give my children the home base I did not have and in turn experienced a sense of reparenting. It is yet another piece of how to break toxic generational cycles. If you have or suspect you have Complex PTSD, please read Pete Walker’s book about it. Consider the innocence of your child self without the shame and blame around abuse and then embrace them and give yourself the sense of home you did not have growing up. As Walker says in one of his other books, The Tao of Fully Feeling, “Many survivors suffer intensely from a lack of love without knowing that it is lovelessness that causes them so much pain.”
Every child deserves to have this kind of joy:
That’s all for this series. I haven’t forgotten about my father’s role in all of this, but that is still in process. I am preparing to launch into a new phase in a new city as I finish up a book, so posting may be light for now. Thank you for your support, especially on Patreon. [books links above are affiliate links]
With separateness comes danger. In the best of circumstances, Mother is there providing protection. A very young child often senses Mother as all-powerful. She shatters the darkness, shoos away noisy children and barking dogs. If the mother consistently protects the child from intrusive and overwhelming stimuli, the child feels safe. Mother here is morphing from safe enclosure to Mama Bear.
How well Mother fulfills this role of protector cannot be reduced to only whether she provided protection but must also include how she provided it.
No one protected my mother from her stepfather’s assaults and she either didn’t know how or didn’t have the capacity to protect her own children. She was either immersed in some form of work or raging at us. There was no middle ground and I did not have a sense of safety. Her method of keeping me safe was constantly warning me about murderers that apparently congregated in front of our house nightly, ready to enter as soon as the lights were off and murder me in my bed.
The great tragedy of my mother’s life beyond the incest and emotional neglect – substantial enough – was that there were no remedies for her. There was no trauma therapy and it was a time when assaults against children were never mentioned.
The great puzzle is why the cycle gets perpetuated instead of interrupted. There are so many factors including environment, biochemistry, resilience, and more that mental health professionals are only beginning to understand. One factor has to be the way emotion is stored in the body and what happens when that is never addressed. There is discomfort that causes some to withdraw and others to lash out. There’s a proverb that says a crushed spirit dries up the bones and that was my mother’s fate. She lived with pain in the bones of her spine, especially later in life. Today, she’d be treated with somatic therapy, but she’s been gone ten years this month.
In many ways, I merely did the opposite of what I experienced growing up. No imaginary murderers, no scare tactics, no oversharing, age appropriate discussions, and so on. Knowing what it was like without protection, I protected my children and they always felt safe with me. That is one more part to breaking generational cycles.
Next week, the last in this series, Mother as Home Base.
This year, I’m including a piece from my co-author for Write To Be Heard, Aaron Gansky on his experience that day:
On September 11th, 2001, I was still in college. To save money, I lived at home with my parents, and commuted. I didn’t have class that day, so I took the opportunity to sleep in. But those plans changed when my father began banging on my door. “Get up. We’re under attack,” he said.
In the grogginess of my sleep, I had no idea what he meant. I thought someone was breaking in. My first thought was, “Let them take the TV. I’m sleeping.” But my father continued to call. “Get up. You have to see this.”
I didn’t realize at the time that the world would never be the same. It had been irrevocably changed, and we had been changed with it.
I came out of my room to see one of the two Twin Towers burning. I didn’t know much about them other than this: two months before, in July of 2001, my wife (then my girlfriend) had been in those towers training for her job at Morgan Stanley Dean Whitter. Her and several of her friends had enjoyed their time in the Big Apple, seeing the sites, taking in the unique culture, and studying hard in their classes.
When the second plane crashed, I called Naomi at work. “Are you watching this?”
“We’re watching it,” she said. “Not really believing it.”
Morgan Stanley’s headquarters were in the World Trade Centers. My wife and her friends were watching their friends die. It didn’t take long for her branch to close, and she immediately drove to my house, where we sat together, hand-in-hand, watching the horrific events unfold. The whole situation was surreal. We were watching a movie, we told ourselves. This was some elaborate marketing campaign, perhaps. Our minds simply refused to allow us to believe that something like this could happen.
As the news coverage showed men and women jumping from the windows, smoke billowing up around them, my wife began to tell me about the people she’d met in the towers. “There’s a man on the 74th floor who shines shoes. He was saving up to throw a party for his son’s first birthday later this month.”
I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say.
“There’s a cafeteria on the 82nd floor. The guy there makes the best Rueben sandwich. Nicest guy I’ve ever met. Always smiling.” After the inevitable silence, she asked. “What did they do to deserve this?”
And then the Pentagon.
And then Flight 93.
Years later, I’d talk with a friend of my mother’s named Cathy (whom I had been taught to call Ms. Cathy). Her husband, Mr. Bob, worked at the Pentagon. He was there on 9/11. She told me in very plain terms his experience. He’d been on eastern side, though. The side that wasn’t hit. Like everyone else, he’d been watching the news in his office. The explosion took him completely off guard. Thank God he was far enough away that he wasn’t harmed. He, like so many other first responders, immediately went into action. With no regard for his own personal safety, he ran toward the blazing inferno and ruins that was the remains of the western side of the pentagon. He gave no thought to the fact that he had a wife and children still at home. He knew only this: he had friends on that side of the building. Friends who needed him now in a way they’d never needed him before. She wouldn’t say how many people her husband pulled out of the pentagon that day. I don’t think either of them knew or counted. That was never the point. The point was to save lives. And that is exactly what he did.
In my house, sitting beside my soon to be wife, it’s hard to say that we were afraid. Afraid isn’t the right word. Our hearts broke for the people in the buildings, for the people on the ground running for cover as the towers fell and debris and black smoke and dust consumed the streets. Our hearts broke for those at home, watching the events unfold as they tried in desperation to reach their family and their friends in the buildings, even the children in the day care centers below the towers.
But our hearts also swelled with a certain pride as we watched heroes—every day heroes, without super powers—rushing into a building they knew would fall. These men and women were not in the towers when they were struck. They ran in to them, knowing they would not run out. This was not folly—it was bravery—the type of courage normal people see once in a lifetime if they’re truly lucky. Their sacrifices allowed countless people to escape the carnage before the towers fell.
And the families of those men and women rushing into a doomed building, watching the events unfold on their televisions, or just outside their windows.
We worried for them, but we were not afraid.
America was not afraid.
We were resolved. As resolved as those men and women rushing into the buildings. As resolved as those who were running out. As resolved as our soldiers in uniform who mobilized immediately to defend the country they’d sworn to protect.
Perhaps the most impactful moments were not the planes crashing into the towers, or the pentagon, or the fields of Philadelphia, or when our firefighters and police officers and military mobilized to action. They were the days after. The weeks after. The months after. The years after.
My favorite political cartoon of the era simply depicts the Republican Elephant and the Democratic Donkey rolling up their sleeves together. One says to the other, “To arms, old friend?” The other responds, “To arms.”
America has a history of letting our political, social, economic, and cultural differences divide us. But in the wake of 9/11, we were no longer Democrat or Republican. We were not gay or straight. We were not black or white.
We were Americans.
In the years that have passed, that unity has slowly bled away. We’ve slipped back into our old ways. We affix letters to our names to denote our political affiliations. We use social media as a means to attack those we disagree with. Today, political turmoil boils around us. The news covers our differences, and the violence that sometimes breaks out over such differences.
If we remember nothing else today, let us remember this:
We are Americans, and we are not afraid.
Whether we are running out of the building or into it, we are Americans.
Whether we are shining shoes, or selling stocks, we are Americans.
Whether we are teaching classes or students learning, we are Americans.
Whether we are black or white, straight or gay, republican or democrat, we are Americans.
Robert Halligan Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 15, 2001.
SHOPPING ACROSS THE POND
To a proud Englishman, America is a country of vexing
insufficiencies. Its supermarkets know not of H.P. (House of Parliament)
sauce and tins of steak and kidney pie. Marmite, sadly, remains a
Several times a year, London-born Robert Halligan, 59, a vice
president at Aon, an insurance brokerage firm, would cross the pond to
stock up on such indelicacies. He would cheer on his beloved Tottenham
Hotspurs, visit his sprawling family, including five adult children, and
drop by a specialty shop to add to the locomotive steam engine models
he had been collecting since his trainspotting boyhood. Every weekend he
brought the old country to his wife, Jerrie, and their son, Trevor, in
Basking Ridge, N.J., by cooking a lard-loving British breakfast (sloppy
bacon, fried bread, eggs splashed with grease) and Sunday lunch (roast,
two vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding).
Yet for someone who clung to his British identity, Mr. Halligan
flourished in America, where he moved with Jerri, his American wife. He
gardened here, played golf and danced beautifully. He was a kind,
solicitous grandfather of 10 with a knack for joke- telling. And here he
celebrated the holiday he loved even more than Christmas: as a citizen
of two countries, Robert Halligan adored Thanksgiving.
Ehtesham U. Raja of Clifton, NJ was 28 years old when he died in the World Trade Center. He’d
gone there for a conference and was in Windows on the World. He was a
1996 graduate of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied
Science at Columbia. He had his MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory. His nickname: Shamu, from his friends in Pakistan.
“He was a very kind, caring,
compassionate, loving, and intelligent person,” says his mother, Asmat
Fatima. “He was respected and admired by those who knew him. His talent
and sense of humor made him standout in any crowd. But it was his loving
and caring attitude that always made me proud.”
Raja, born in Lahore, Pakistan, worked for TCG Software in
Bloomfield, N.J. After graduating with a bachelor of science in
industrial engineering from Columbia University in New York City, he
worked as a security engineer at Citibank on Wall Street, then,
according to his Goizueta Business School application, he returned to
Pakistan to work for Citibank Lahore, take the GMAT, and apply to
“He was in the best years of his life,” says Fatima. “Everything
seems to be going in his favour. After years of dedication and hard work
he finally achieved this status. He had all the plans to pursue his
career in finance. He was full of hope for his future.”
Raja also enjoyed sports. He was a swimmer and played cricket, squash, soccer, tennis, and polo while at Columbia.
A memorial service was arranged by TCG Software. “They were proud to have him working for them,” his mother says.
“It is still very hard to believe that he is missing and lost
forever,” she continues. “I have to be emotionally strong as Ehtesham
has a younger brother, who is at a very impressionable age.
“[Ehtesham] knew life and lived life. His time was limited but in that time he touched so many people. . . . May peace be with him now and forever. He will stay in our hearts and memories forever.”