Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Productive Day!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The festival of Samhain is nearly here.  I shall be writing about that tomorrow.  This time within the cycle of the year took on a special meaning for me several years ago when I studied the background of my paternal ancestry.  It is a time to honor those who have gone before us and have crossed the veil to the other side of this strange, wonderful and constantly changing Cosmos.  I have to admit that lately my blog feels like a bit of a ghost town; daily viewership is very low the last week or so.  Am I becoming boring?  I am quite open to receiving input on what I share.

On Monday of this week I began an outpatient day treatment program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  The program customarily lasts between two to three weeks.  I have continued to feel better and better each day as a consequence of what is offered.  Today was an extremely productive and long day.  I had many insights and reflections.

One primary takeaway from the last three days has been my appreciation that there are plenty of people out there in the world who aren't necessarily "all there" when you meet them walking about in their physical bodies.  By that I mean to say that people who are preoccupied, disassociated, enmeshed in grief, sadness or depression and the like are not fully present to the world as they perceive it with the senses of their bodies.  They are thus not "all there".  This issue came up one day when we ascribed percentages to how present each of us were in the group room.  This unexpected activity helped me to appreciate how little attention we sometimes actually receive from the people in our lives including the people who mean a lot to us.  I appreciated how much I felt unseen when I was growing up.  Many times it felt as if I was starving for any attention whatsoever.

Disassociation is a very troublesome phenomenon.  I recognize that I can easily fall into this state when I feel stressed or anticipate a confrontation I would prefer not to have.  A feeling of being threatened can prompt a fight or flight response.  I have become more aware of how easily I can disassociate.  I sometimes find it perplexing how much I am still learning even now.

One of the members of my group is dealing with some rather severe sleep deprivation.  She is often so tired that it appears to be a struggle for her to stay awake throughout the day.  Today our therapist who facilitates the group expressed concern that continued sleep deprivation could put her at increased risk of sleep deprivation induced psychosis.  I didn't think much more of my fellow group member's sleep issue at that time earlier today.  But then this evening I had an insight that I hope to explore with my therapist more in a coming session.

When I was still a kid and growing up at home my father had more than one job for many years at a time.  For many years he held a nighttime job throwing newspapers on a newspaper route.  His route grew larger and larger as time passed until he was eventually throwing a route typical of what three or four people would do if all their houses were grouped together.  His route would prove especially challenging on weekends in which there were special advertising inserts due to upcoming holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I can still vividly recall the monumental challenge we both faced one weekend when the special advertisement section proved so bulky that the newspapers would not fit in the regular plastic bags; we did not finish on time that morning!

Towards the end of my father's time working this second job it seemed he was rarely able to get much sleep.  I'd say he lived on four or five hours of sleep a night at most.  This went on for many years.  And yet not until today did I make what might prove to be an important connection!  Many people cannot function well on so little sleep over extended periods of time.  And yet somehow my father managed to do so.  But today, as I put the pieces together and remembered this aspect of my childhood, I began to wonder if my father ever was near the border that separates functionality from psychosis.  Perhaps he never experienced even a fleeting bout of immense disorientation or temporary psychosis (if such a condition can actually be temporary!)  And yet even if he didn't experience such severe symptoms I cannot imagine that his relative lack of sleep didn't undermine his capacity to be present to some degree.  Indeed, I recall one of his favorite rhetorical questions he asked me was: "Have you ever been really tired?"  I didn't answer very often.  And when he would ask me I would feel a mixture of sympathy, guilt and irritation.  I sometimes felt this was one way he would remind me of how hard he worked to support me.  I knew this was true.  And yet I frequently wished he had had more time to spend with me in a direct way.

Last week I picked up a copy of Robert Bly's book Iron John.  In the book Bly speaks about the tremendous transformation that has occurred due to the radical changes that occurred as a result of industrialization.  Men and their sons spend much, much less time together in the industrialized West as compared to only a century ago.  Indeed, the immense transformation in how we spend our time and with whom has unleashed profound consequences for the development of boys into men.  And I would tend to concur with Bly that many of those consequences are not positive.

In thinking of my own paternal ancestry I can see that the transformation is also quite recent.  My father grew up in a small town and assisted his own father with agricultural endeavors; they cultivated much of their food rather than buy it in a store.  That was not my experience.  In only two generations the manner of living in relationship to the Earth radically changed.  And much was lost in those mere two generations.  I'm not sure what all I can reclaim that I have not already sought to do.

What I find especially distressing, even traumatic in a sense, is how the rapid mechanization of so much of our world eliminated not only whole realms of employment but also (some would say irreversibly) radically transformed the fabric of individual families as well as whole communities.  This goes on now in nations such as China and India as people leave countless small villages to seek work in cities.  I am compelled to ask what the human costs must be as this transformation continues.  Where is the human element when economists calculate the growth in a nation's GDP?  What good is growth, 'development'  and the rise of large urban environments if these phenomena ultimately lead to a decrease in individual and collective wellness?  This debate has gone on for some time and I expect it will continue to do so.   And yet it is already clear that economic globalization produces both 'winners' and 'losers'.

It may seem that I am taking a very macroscopic view in my writing on trauma and healing from it but I think it only fair, reasonable and wise to consider the broader milieu when writing on this issue.  What good is it to heal yourself if your community and nation of origin go down the path of eventual self-immolation?  Indeed, is such growth ultimately worth it?  Is massive alienation worth huge highways, vending machines, cold fluorescent lights glowing over lonely parking lots and agribusiness that undermines the lives of self-sufficient farmers?  Healing can be an immense task.

Today was a productive day for me in the sense that I learned more about myself.  This journey of self-discovery is an amazing process.  I realize how much unexpressed grief has undermined the quality of my life.  I see this issue very clearly now in comparison to how well I perceived its existence back in July when I began active therapy.  I am making immense progress.  Eventually I want to offer my larger self in support of a community I can feel myself to be a vital and energizing participant of.

Good night.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!