This is what I wanted to tell you about today: some sober revelations I’ve been having. And they’re all about compassion – COMPASSION, for chrissakes! Not something I was very generously gifted with. I’m afraid I tend toward snark, not snuggle.
The only other time in my life I remember being extraordinarily compassionate and patient was during a time when my girls were circling the drain due to heroin addiction: one was in rehab in Pennsylvania and the other was in a holding center (jail) here in NY. My husband and I were in counseling at the time, too…. But anyway, I worked in a classroom with first graders and that year each one was a more adorable whack job than the next. One little girl was terrified of the automatic flush toilets and the teacher I worked with would ask me to walk her down to the bathroom and pantomime using the toilet so she could figure out how much time she had to get the hell out of the stall before the toilet flushed and she freaked out. I literally took an hour out of every school day, walking her to the bathroom and helping her work out her issues…. A little boy in our class was so tightly wound he’d freak out during recess and fret over his ‘unfinished work.’ Just beg to be allowed to work instead of have free time. I spent so much time comforting him and giving him pep talks and telling him everything would be ok – my endless patience knew no bounds. But I knew, even then, that I was giving these kids what I couldn’t give my own – a mother’s love and tangible help with their problems.
So, fast forward 7+ years. I’m almost 8 months sober, doing a little meditation and eliminating stress from my life as much as I can. So happy and relieved to be sober and free from the obsessive thoughts about booze and endless heinous mental chatter.
Which brings me to the compassion part of the program: this involves my mother. We have a pretty complicated relationship. Right now things are ok because she’s 84 and pretty harmless. Just don’t get her started on any politically-charged issue. The only thing she and I agree on is what time it is. And to complicate things, she attaches morality and “the next life” to everything she’s passionate about. So there’s that. We get along fine as long as we don’t venture into any areas of mutual disagreement. As far as she knows, everything’s peachy. What she doesn’t know is that I spent the better part of a year in therapy screaming into a pillow to expunge the rage I felt toward her, for things she’d done (and hadn’t done) when I was a kid.
I should tell you that she and my dad were married for well over 50 years. They lived together in the house I grew up in until he developed Alzheimer’s and had to go into a nursing home, where he passed away in 2009.
But last weekend, I woke up and felt the warm solidness of my husband by my side. I snuggled down and drifted back off for maybe 15 minutes. When I woke up again, I knew instinctively that his side of the bed was empty. And for whatever reason the thought occurred to me: what must it have been like, for my mother to know on the last day he was home with her, that she would never sleep in a bed with my dad again? The thought just broke my heart for her.
And another instance: I work with elementary school students (one-on-one and in small groups), helping them with their reading and math skills. One kid in particular is realllllly hard to like. His social skills aren’t great and he complains incessantly about various and sundry, real or imagined ailments. I did not look forward to stopping by his classroom to pick him up every day. But this little nugget of compassion has just swelled and almost completely blotted out my initial dislike for him. He comes from a crappy home. He has no mother in his life. There’s always drama between his dad and step-mom. Awful existence for this poor little guy. And I’ve turned the corner from tolerating him to really, really liking him.
I wonder if, once I stopped medicating my annoyances away, it enabled me to see them from a different perspective. It just took some time and distance.
I’m certainly no Mother Teresa – don’t get me wrong – but it’s kind of neat to see this new mindset evolving.