|Another portrait of Ben, this one was a faux crime scene.|
One afternoon seven years ago, in the middle of our brain surgery ordeal with Ben, Mark and I had the afternoon off. My mother-in-law, Joyce, urged us to go have a date while she stayed with Ben at the hospital. He was doing a bit better at that point, so we felt we could escape for a bit. It was hard to decide what we wanted to do on date nights in the best of times…that afternoon was a serious challenge. We finally chose a soak at a spa we liked on Piedmont Ave. and a movie. Woody Allen had made his comeback with Match Point at the time, so we decided to see that.
We were deep into our stay at Children’s Hospital then. Mark had been “sleeping” bedside nightly for close to 30 nights, I’m sure. But we still didn’t know when our time would end, we still had not exhaled.
The hot tub was good. We soaked, we chatted. And we were a little looser in the joints when we got to the movie theater.
I can’t remember if we’d read many reviews, but we liked Woody Allen so we thought, good choice. The movie is a thriller, tense, intense, full of foreshadowing and foreboding. Sounds distracting, right?
I hate that feeling of dark knowing. I can’t stand the train wreck coming. When I read a book with that kind of intensity, I often will skip ahead, read the scary part, and then go back and read through the whole awful scene, quickly. It’s a release, a way to deal with the high level of fear and expectation.
About half way through Match Point I was so incredibly uncomfortable, so anxious about the outcome, I could barely stay in my seat. But for some reason I did. Mark felt the same way. And yet we just sat there, paralyzed, unable to save ourselves from two hours of unneeded stress.
When we left the theater we shook our heads. What were we thinking? Really, could we have chosen a worse movie for two such war-weary parents to see on their one and only date during two months of hell? It was crazy. We came back to the hospital no better than when we had left it.
That afternoon popped into my head just now as I escaped upstairs to my office. Mark and Ben and I were watching Pulp Fiction on our big living room screen tonight. And I just couldn’t take it. It’s a cult classic, I know. Even though it’s been around for almost 20 years, I’ve never seen it. I haven’t avoided it, exactly, but I don’t go out of my way to see blood, gore and more. I wish I could have withstood the violence, only because we were watching together and it’s one of those movies everyone’s seen. I wanted to be a good sport, you know? However, after about an hour, through which I was distracting myself two-thirds of the time (on my iPhone or, literally, stuffing my fingers in my ears as hard as I could and squeezing my eyes shut just to get from one scene to the next),well, I finally threw in the towel and excused myself.
Ben, the sweetie, wanted to turn it off and watch something else. Really, how incredible is that? “I want us to watch together, Mom,” he said. But I insisted it was okay, it’s late, I’ll go upstairs and read.
The truth is I need a train wreck like I need another hole in my head. The truth is I need to be finding ways to relax as much as I possibly can. The truth is my breathing is so shallow these days I practically can’t find my breath anymore.
Even now, my heart is still racing.
Every time I think about next week my stomach lurches. I talk and talk and talk about what is happening and the anxiety doesn’t lessen, of course. In some ways it’s increasing just because every day that passes is one day closer.
I know that the worrying I’m doing now is not saving me from any worrying I will do then. I know that the worrying is not going to mean Ben feels less pain or I feel less distress. The worrying is just more pain and more distress and yet I can’t stop it.
In May, I took another course from Catherine Just (the wonderful Catherine Just) called the Deepening. One of the videos she shared with us was an interview she did with Rita Rivera Fox. The topic was connection, and what Rita said that really stayed with me was that when we feel discomfort (unhappiness, anger, etc.) rather than try to muffle it with food or a distraction, we can soothe it by greeting it and offering it our breath. “Oh, there you are, ah…” we say to it and then we breathe in and breathe out and…there’s a tension release, a pain release. I’ve done it so many times (not often enough) in the past few months and it’s really amazed me how well it works. When we feel pain our first instinct is to tense up, to hold our breath in, to deny the pain. But all that does is intensify it. Holding your muscles tight just makes that pain get bigger and harder. Greeting it, acknowledging it, connecting with it, and then breathing into it, lets it be free. And, then it transforms it.
I am connecting with my discomfort, oh yes. But I’m not breathing into it. I’m sitting in the dark, staring at it on the big screen, hearing the train coming down the tracks. I’m terrified.
I went to see Amy, my integrative health practitioner last week about my adrenals and my thyroid. Both have been giving me trouble for the past several years. It’s taking a long time to balance them, replenish them. No wonder, of course. That train really is screeching around the bend. It has been for eight years. Did I mention my heart is still pounding?
Amy told me that after this is over, and Ben is home, it’s going to be time then for me to put down all the things I need to do and should do and even some of the things I have to do. It’ll be time to put them down and then it'll be time for me to EXHALE. Exhale.
That felt so true. That felt like the truest thing I’ve heard in a long time. And I’m looking forward to that time.
Right now I’m going to go to bed (the movie just ended downstairs). And tomorrow I’m going to have a meet and greet session with my fears. It’s time for some release. And it's time for a practice exhale.