Thursday, November 25, 2010
Salvador Son slept through that fateful Saturday morning. His parents had argued before. Sleeping for 16 hours at a stretch, their arguments were just part of the background noise. But this time, when he awoke, the world was different.
Salvador knew a few basic things: he knew his body hurt, but he'd been observing the effects of the various treatments they had tried. He knew that while he had some very low times when he had wondered whether it was worth going on, he had found reasons that made living worth it. He knew that his mother had struggled with and made a difficult choice: no, two. He felt it was time for him to start making some choices, too. He couldn't stay in that basement forever. And he knew that he did NOT want to live his life the way his father did.
The morning after the big split, Salvador came out of Helen's basement and announced, "Mom, get your coat, we're going to go join a gym." He then proceeded to select a personal trainer. He was following through on the advice of Dr. Special!
Helen had to drive him to the gym, and that didn't hurt HER stress levels a bit. While he met with his personal trainer, she worked out herself. Working out gave her the motivation to also eat healthy. Helen had a couple of follow up appointments with Betty Balance to discuss what had happened, and she bubbled a bit: Salvador was indeed doing what Betty had said. He was figuring it out for himself.
Betty and Helen bid one another "good-bye". There wasn't much more Betty could do for Helen. Not that Helen didn't still have things to work through, but she had already made two major changes in her life, and had learned some skills to deal with what was to come.
Over the next year, working with that personal trainer, Salvador lost weight and became fit. The following Summer, he tackled learning to drive and got his license. Then his GED. He signed up at a community college and chose to study psychology. He joked with his mom that he chose that field because both his parents were "crazy".
How healthy did Salvador become? Healthy enough to reject the initial diagnosis: you don't get "better" from what they had labeled him. There were no signs of that any more. Healthy enough to pass the Army physical fitness test before going to basic training.
Looking back, Helen saw the whole thing as a miracle. She saw the hand of God working even when she was angry with God. She saw that God had worked in Salvador's life even when he said he didn't believe. Her heart was full of gratitude.
Even the epilogue for Harried Husband (now ex-husband) has some bright spots: once Salvador Son got some of his training behind him, he was able to talk his dad into getting some help. That story is still unfolding.
What about the mystery we started with? Was it ever solved? Who were the evil antagonists who were stealing Helen's health? Were they stopped forever, and jailed? Did they reform and stop punishing Helen?
Well, they still inhabit Helen's life... but there's a new voice in the mix: Helen herself has found an identity separate from Carrie Careerwoman, separate from Polly Perfectionist, separate from Debbie Denial. Helen has become more astute about recognizing the difference between her own thoughts and these so-called friends. She weighs what they say... and makes her own choices. She owns her decisions.
And that's about as good as it gets.
- the end -
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
"What is she thinking?" Harried Husband exploded, crumpling up the letter from Helen Heroine. In it, she had suggested that he wasn't welcome in the house in Hometown until he got some therapy himself. Then maybe they could go to couples counseling together!
This had to be the fault of that Betty Balance person! She was poisoning Helen's mind against him. He had to get Helen back in line... he was losing her.
Even before this latest event, Helen had been changing, and it unsettled Harried. He hadn't been happy when she started that whole weight loss thing ten years ago, but he liked her new shape. He was just disappointed that she had never done it for him! It was some thing about having to do it for herself, or it wouldn't work?
The worst of it was that Helen had left the church. When she told him over the phone he didn't want to hear it, in fact he asked her not to tell him if she had, but it slipped out somehow anyway. Helen, the one raised in the faith! If they didn't have that in common, what else was she going to change?
"She can't keep me away! I am her husband!" And he began to make plans for the trip back out. He made vague promises about counseling... he dabbled with visiting some Tibetan monks, but would not go to a traditional therapist. It was, after all, against the faith.
After several promises and timing issues, Harried showed up one night, unannounced, at the house in Hometown. Just let himself in with a key... no phone call ahead to say he'd even left Oldtown. Nine o'clock on a December evening, when Helen was about ready to retire for the night.
It was not a pretty sight... Harried had brought token items: a buddhist prayer bowl, a Tibetan flag, and he tried to tell Helen that they would do their own "do it yourself" counseling... but she couldn't force him to go to therapy. She admitted that he was right about that. By the end of the first weekend with him back in the house, she was in a puddle of tears on her home office floor after one of Harried's "do it yourself" sessions, unable to stop the sobbing.
At this point she knew. Helen knew that she would not be able to live up to what she had told Betty a year ago: "I don't believe in divorce." Helen had two choices: change back or move forward.
Helen talked with Salvador, to kind of warn him what might lay ahead. With the wisdom of his eighteen years Salvador said, "You know, mom, leaving Dad won't solve all your problems." She knew he was right, but the way she interacted with Harried, she also knew, would lead to self-destruction. She just didn't have the strength... and that was a huge disappointment to herself (not to mention her chum Polly Perfectionist)!
Helen dithered over the decision for a few months, making practical plans but leaving herself open to a change of heart... if she could only get through this visit and he would leave again, she'd have breathing room to THINK. What she really wanted was for Harried to do what SHE thought was best for him.
However, Harried really now feared he was losing Helen and was pulling out all his unconsciously manipulative methods that used to work. He didn't leave after six weeks as he used to do!
One morning in April, it came to an end. Helen said "no". Harried exploded in rage, charging her, grabbing her by the neck and backing her up against her kitchen counter. Helen had feared such a reaction, which was why she'd been careful in planning her escape. Things just escalated before she had put it into place.
Helen yelled Salvador's name. Salvador was sleeping in his lower level bedroom. But the name of his son stopped Harried in his tracks. This wasn't really who he was. Helen was so shaken that all she did was collect her purse, get her keys, and tell Harried that she would not return to the house until he was gone. If he did not leave, she would find and place of her own... it was over. This line could NEVER be crossed. And she drove away.
Harried agreed to leave, and despite one last attempt to manipulate Helen by threatening to harm himself... he did. Helen did not sleep well until she got the locks changed.
... to be continued... (Tomorrow: Salvador's miracle)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Salvador Son's request... no, demand... that Helen Heroine be a proper parent brought many things to mind. Greta Guilttrip told Helen she should have taken action long ago. Greta had lots of opinions!
Helen could only deal in the present, despite the weight Greta laid on her. Helen was a "project" person, she treated this no differently than she did her work projects: she threw herself into it with zeal. There was no thought to how much of her own energy and time would be expended.
She asked after the best practice specializing in Salvador's "label" in the city and found one that would treat an adolescent. And Helen then became a student of what the professionals had to tell her and her son.
Helen liked Dr. Special. He didn't pull punches. He frankly told Salvador son that while there was no "cure", Salvador could in fact make himself feel better. He prescribed physical therapy and recommended hiring a personal trainer and getting regular exercise. He handed Helen a referral for a talk therapist, to deal with the adjustment to Salvador's diagnosis.
Helen busily made the appointments for physical therapy and they gave that a try. The appointments were before Helen's already long work day. Helen set something up with the talk therapist, Betty Balance. Therapy, like medical treatment, was against Helen's religion. Helen decided to go to the first meeting alone.
Betty welcomed Helen to her office. Betty had been briefed by Dr. Special on the situation, but asked Helen to give her the description. What Helen ended up blurting out was essentially: "I don't know who needs therapy worse, the mother or the son!" And she went through half a box of tissues.
The next week Betty met with Salvador. When Harried came to town for the holidays, Helen and Harried went to talk to Betty Balance together. She was able to see how they interacted.
Harried left again, and Helen went back to see Betty. After these initial meetings, Betty gave Helen her thoughts: "Salvador is a bright kid. He will figure this out. I think the best thing I can do to help him is to help you."
Helen became the patient. Betty would ask a question or two. She would offer some service or information source about Salvador's condition, ideas to help it. But she also put the focus on one single issue: "What are you doing to manage your own stress?"
Helen sat up. Um... the automatic answer was supposed to be prayer, yeah. But seriously, church had become one more thing on her to-do list, and a demanding one at that. Betty did not judge, but commented, "Most people of faith find that helps them."
Helen continued her list of things that helped her manage stress. Helen realized that the list she had to offer was a list of things she USED to do... she wasn't doing ANY of them now! Betty suggested that Helen try to remember what it was like to be six years old, and give herself permission to act that way.
Over the next eight months or so, that's just what Helen did! She started doing things again: taking walks at noon. Getting outside more often. Eating a healthier diet. She rediscovered her public library and started reading things just for fun on her lunch break.
And Salvador? He wanted to drop the physical therapy, and Helen let him. He retreated into the lower level of the house, his own space, and played video games. He still didn't crack a school book. But he looked things up on line and read up on his diagnosed condition.
As Salvador came up with strategies to try (or as Betty would suggest them), Helen supported Salvador's choices. Among them were a chiropractor (tried, didn't help a whole lot) and a scheme to eliminate certain substances from his environment (seemed to help some, but not a whole lot, and hard to implement).
Betty gently probed Helen's feelings about Harried coming and going from her life. Betty helped Helen recognize a whole lot of other emotional elements going on in her life: anger, resentment, and a desire to control Harried's actions. Which of course, those of you healthy folks reading know is just crazy... you can't control the behavior of someone else!
Helen decided to leave the church when she realized two things: that she wasn't following its teachings, and that these things outside its teachings (doctors and therapy) were actually helpful to her! Betty was concerned that leaving this large part of Helen's life behind might cause a problem, but Helen felt free. She spent Sunday mornings walking the dog in a nearby park and felt as close to God as she ever had, maybe more. She worked her way through anger issues with God Himself, with the church, with her dad, with the way she was raised... finally able to admit that anger was there!
Helen felt good and did not want to lose this progress. When Harried started to discuss returning, it frightened Helen. She admitted to herself she wasn't sure she wanted him back. Especially if he didn't make a few changes to handle his own issues. Oh, yes, the desire to control was still there!
... to be continued ...
Monday, November 22, 2010
The doctor had asked Salvador Son why he wasn't going to school. Sitting in that doctor's office, Helen Heroine wanted to pick the mild-mannered man up by his white coat lapels and shake him. Her mind wanted to yell: "Can't you see how desperate I am? I wouldn't BE here if my son could function!" But of course, she didn't.
Helen's concerns about her own health flew right out the window in her concern for her child. Harried Husband was angry from a distance; he thought Helen just wasn't being a tough enough parent about the school issue. He got himself out to Hometown from Oldtown in short order to make things right.
He had no better success than had Helen. The next year was a matter of one test after another, trying to find the culprit. Harried was NOT going to accept the answer one doctor suggested: "depression". Helen had her doubts. They kept hunting.
To complicate matters, Helen's Dad went downhill. Helen's dad was a strong member of the faith, having converted in his youth. He did not believe in doctors. But he clearly was failing. Since Helen was the only one of the five siblings still with the faith, she was elected by her sisters and brother to "take care" of the situation with their dad.
Helen was torn between two worlds. She made decisions for her dad based on his beliefs. But she felt forced to make opposite decisions for her son, since the faith was failing him. This in turn made her wonder about the decisions she was making for her dad.
In October, her dad passed on. Harried felt he had to go back to the house in Oldtown. Harried and Helen made a tough decision. They didn't like having to do this, but they decided that Harried should take Salvador back and stay in Oldtown, in the hopes that Salvador would do better there.
Salvador was better for a few weeks but started to fail again as the time wore on. More doctors. More missing answers. At the end of ten months, they gave his condition a label. It was probably a label of last resort, Helen and Salvador agreed later, since the parents would not accept what was likely the real diagnosis!
The label gave Salvador the option for an Individualized Education Plan. But he really did not want to be "special ed". Helen signed him up for a remote education plan at the university high school in Hometown, explaining that he was going back and forth between two states. She and Harried then could say he was home schooling. The truth of the matter was, he never cracked a book.
Salvador, now 16, made a decision for himself. He decided he needed a parent to make some of these decisions for him! He chose Helen as that parent, and frankly told her so. He came back to Hometown to live with his mom after a year in Oldtown with his dad.
Helen had her marching orders... she had to step up to the plate and be a parent, a real parent, for Salvador.
... to be continued...
Sunday, November 21, 2010
"The world is a dangerous place. It will jump up and bite you." That was the major lesson Harried learned from his life.
Growing up, his mother delighted in reading out "awful" stories from the newspaper or sharing what she heard on the radio. Babies dropped out of tall buildings in "The City". That sort of thing.
His dad shared this world view, perhaps that was where Harried picked it up. His dad would not let his sons use the power mower, for example, even into their teens. It was too dangerous.
This belief was reinforced by the disappointments of his young life, that made a huge impact on his world view. The hurricane that flooded his family out of their home when he was ten contributed. The time he rehearsed with the church choir for a Christmas program, but then the people who had been giving him a ride to rehearsals didn't give him a ride to perform, and he was kicked out of the choir.
It was reinforced when he found himself surrounded by children who were a closed group, bonded over their religion, which was different from his, in the new neighborhood (where they moved after the flood). It was reinforced when the neighborhood started to change in color and that bonded group fled to the suburbs. By the time he was supposed to go to high school, his inner city school was a nightmare.
He stopped going to school, withdrawing from life. Eventually this resulted in a visit from the truant officer. Even his health failed him: he had terrible headaches, and pains in his legs that could not be explained. His parents took him to doctors, even to quacks when the regular doctors could not figure out what was wrong.
It was into this dismal life that hope arrived on the wings of a neighbor woman's faith. She believed that prayer alone could heal. Harried admired her, and began going to Sunday school, and studying the teachings of this faith. He found that this helped him to function in a way that nothing else had up until now. He went to night school to get his high school diploma, finding that he got on better with adults than he did with people his own age.
But life continued to reinforce the negatives. He had a low draft number, and he was on the train on his way to college when the "Greetings" letter arrived in the mail back home. As soon as he graduated it was off to Army training as a draftee.
In the Army, he learned that he wasn't able to keep up physically. His flat feet kept him at the rear of the pack, "with the fatties", as he later would describe it. In the jungles of Viet Nam, he sent his mother letters telling that he prayed each day to not have to shoot anyone. He was wounded, a rocket hitting the vehicle he was riding on. Had it veered the other way, it would have been his name on The Wall, rather than a buddy's.
After that horror, dumped by the Army after the war, he had trouble adjusting. His negative view of the world was now reinforced by the job market. Harried left a job after a year, anxious over his personal safety on the job.
It was at this point that Harried went to a church conference in Boston and met Helen. Helen's outlook on life was so different. Harried and Helen exchanged addresses at the end of the conference and began writing to one another... Helen's letters were full of everyday doings from the Midwest... everything from movies to school classes she was taking to carving pumpkins with her kid sisters. It seemed so wholesome and upbeat... always upbeat.
Over several years, Harried moved to the midwest, they exchanged visits in a long and unusual courtship. Eventually, with that faith being the thing they had most in common... they married. Harried moved to Helen's town, and they set up housekeeping. Only then did the real learning about one another begin.
... to be continued ...
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