Finding Joy

I’ve been reading a book called “Every Day, Holy Day.” (That’s not an affiliate link or anything–I’m not set up for that here.) It’s a devotional that brings the Jewish practice of Mussar into your daily life.

Mussar is a form of spiritual discipline. Mussar actually translates to moral conduct or moral discipline. From the Mussar Institute:

Mussar is a path of contemplative practices and exercises that have evolved over the past thousand years to help an individual soul to pinpoint and then to break through the barriers that surround and obstruct the flow of inner light in our lives. Mussar is a treasury of techniques and understandings that offers immensely valuable guidance for the journey of our lives.

In “Every Day, Holy Day” this takes the form of 26 qualities, which are focused on for a week each, and then they repeat. Each day you get a very short paragraph with a thought on that week’s area of focus, a mantra to repeat, and a space for you to write something about that day’s lesson.

These are mostly what you’d think and the have a minimal impact on my day to day life, which is also what you would expect. But last week there was a reading on “joy” that made a big big impact on me and changed the way I think of things.

This is the reading for that day:

One day, people noticed Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, enjoying a private banquet. What was the occasion? He had been told that a man in a far-off land–whom he did not know–had won a great prize. So the Alter was full of joy for him. And so he made himself a party. 

It really made me think. We feel besieged right now. Well, not just right now, we’ve been feeling besieged as a people as the omnipresence of the news grows. It used to be murder in the next town barely got onto our radar unless there was something scandalous about it. Now, the famine in the South Sudan is right in front of our eyes. The bombings in Syria are, too. Pictures of dead babies trying to escape Syria are everywhere. It’s terrible. We’re not any more in danger than we were before (despite some current rhetoric, the statistics are clear that violent crime is and has been decreasing) but it FEELS like we’re in more danger than we were before. That’s a direct result of constant news coverage, instant Twitter updates from people everywhere and so on and so on.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing–I think it’s good that we know what’s happening. Those of us who are mostly in a safe place are in a position to use our voices and our resources to help those who are not, and knowledge of the problems is the first step towards solving the problems.

But that reading made me realize, it goes the other way, too. We internalize the danger and the trauma, but we can also internalize the joy. There are still joyous things happening. Like the Rabbi in the story, we can celebrate people who win awards. We can celebrate small successes–one of my friends recently performed a solo in her choir, and that’s joyous, too–and we can turn little things into celebrations. I have a friend who put cupcake stickers on daily pill box, so every morning when she takes her meds for her chronic illness she has a little feeling of happiness because she loves cupcakes.

We can feel vicarious joy ALL the time. Even when we can’t find something joyous in our own lives, we can find something joyous in the world to celebrate. People damaging Jewish cemeteries is terrible, but the Muslim community raising money to repair it and community members volunteering to clean it up is joyous. So often we focus on the sadness we see in our much more globalized world, but there’s nothing stopping us from focusing on the joy we can find in those connections.

Choose joy.

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Two Weeks Without Sugar

Last week, after 5 days without sugar I was down about two pounds. This week, after another nearly perfect week, I’m down another 2.6 pounds. I’m only 5 pounds from what I weighed before I stress ate for six weeks ahead of the baby’s surgery, and only twelve pounds more than my lowest weight since the weight gain, the week after the baby was born when I had no appetite.

The only thing I’ve had that’s off plan is the toast part of the avocado toast I had at a brunch yesterday, but there was literally nothing there I could eat on-plan so I was going to be imperfect anyway and avocado toast is incredibly delicious.

Moving away from weight to other things, I’m still basically not working, which is bad because I’m still hemorrhaging money getting the basic stuff I need for the trip I’m making tomorrow morning and the things the kids need for school. I’m not working this week either, because I have only about an hour here before I have to go puppy-sit for my friend and when I get back it will be just eating and finishing packing and heading to bed because my flight is at 5:45 tomorrow morning.

The other big news is that my oldest is having a mental breakdown from the pressure of living with a diagnosed narcissist who doesn’t care what she feels like as long as she’s making him look good. She’s been writing depressed poems and short stories and one of her friends saw one and immediately told a teacher, who turned her over to the counselor.

The counselor told both sets of parents that she needs real therapy. Interestingly, she has a therapist–I had to go back to court and fight tooth and nail for it, and he fought against it to the extent where the therapist agreed the middle ground was to see the kids every six months–which is just about now–for evaluation purposes and only increase their schedule of therapy if they need it. Now we see if she’s going to behave ethically and increase her therapy regimen because she’s been cutting herself and definitely needs help.

Her dad’s take: she’s looking for attention. My new baby is why. She doesn’t want to get the dramatically shorter haircut he and his wife were about to force upon her and so she’s making up a problem to avoid it.

Her stepmom’s take: the teacher who was informed by her friend and reported it to the counselor is a male, and therefore the entire relationship he has with her is inappropriate if she felt more comfortable talking to him instead of a female teacher.

We spent the weekend trying to give her love and space, trying to give her self-care tools, trying to undo the damage that he caused her when he accused her of faking it.

And I sent an email to the school trying to protect her teacher, because there’s no indication anywhere that he’s been inappropriate, and I don’t want to see him go down for this.

She sees the therapist tomorrow, on her dad’s time, and he’s going to take her. I don’t know what pressure he’s going to put on her before she sees the therapist, but I hope she can handle it. I won’t see her until next week, because I’m going out of town and so is she, she has an overnight school event that was scheduled in advance on the time I would normally have her.

I’m very worried about her. It’s all pretty terrifying. We’re almost certainly going to have more legal fights as a result of this, but for now the main thing is to stabilize her.

 

 

 

I Say We Cancel Thanksgiving

Right? I mean, we can all just make small turkey or turkey alternatives in our own homes and not have to deal with extended family members next year.

I’m not doing Thanksgiving anywhere but my own home next year. I have no idea how Christmas is going to work, but I at least know that much.

As you know if you’ve been reading the blog, I largely like my in-laws. There’s the one brother-in-law who is a terrible asshole. He’s mean, he’s whiny, he’s unpleasant, he’s a bad influence on the children. I detest him. But we all try to be nice because 1) he’s a member of the family and 2) he’s in recovery from a long term drug problem and we want him to stay on the wagon.

But, you know, asshole.

Also, my in-laws are not good at planning. They don’t make plans for Thanksgiving until the week of, ever. Christmas is much the same. I’m a planner, from a family of planners, and I find their inability to make plans incredibly frustrating.

So we go into the thing at a disadvantage. I’m still stressed about the baby’s surgery, he’s still teething like crazy and fussy, nothing is getting done and the house is messy and I’m falling behind on my work, which means the money isn’t working, which means Christmas is going to be a problem if I can’t get it together, so I spent Monday and Tuesday home with the kids and being snappy and unpleasant and I hated it and I couldn’t make myself stop.

The plan had been to go up Tuesday night after dinner, giving us access to the zoo that’s near the in-laws house and then have the husband come up Thursday morning, thus eliminating the need for us to find a pet sitter.

But Monday afternoon the in-laws said we could not come up on Tuesday. Because 1) they had been cleaning the house all day and they needed another day to finish and 2) my mother-in-law had her book club meeting until about 8pm on Tuesday.

I said, we won’t be there until at least 8pm, since we want to eat dinner at home first. And let’s be real, they weren’t going to be cleaning after 8pm. And two days is a hell of a long time to clean a house that only 2 adults live in, no pets, nothing at all. I’ve never seen that house not completely clean.

But nope. They did not want us there.

I could have gone up Wednesday morning, but that meant that I’d spend 3 hours in the car with 3 children, including a teething baby, then a zoo, then 30 minutes back to the in-laws house where I’d have 18 hours alone with three children who have been cooped up in a car and had their sleep and eating schedules messed up. It’s a recipe for disaster.

So instead I had to tell the kids we wouldn’t be able to go to the zoo after all.

Then the family started pushing the husband. Can you come up earlier? Can you come up on Wednesday? Can you stay until Friday night?

LIKE YOU CAN TOTALLY GET PEOPLE TO PET SIT TWO DAYS BEFORE A MAJOR HOLIDAY?

We called everyone we could think of and found one friend who was having Thanksgiving at home and were willing to do the pets in the morning, but not the evening.

Which meant we could go up Wednesday night and come back Thursday night, making our lives a little easier and give the family more time with the baby. This is a benefit to the adults and the in-laws, but the older kids are still getting screwed out of the zoo they were supposed to get.

We get up there, fighting through holiday traffic, and the brother in law is waiting for us. He starts in on us. Why weren’t you here earlier? Why can’t you stay through Friday?

The entire thing goes badly. The baby is fussy from teething and won’t even eat his baby food, just formula. He wouldn’t sleep in the playpen, waking up every hour or so. By morning we were all tired and cranky.

Around noon, the brother in law returns. The first thing he says to his mom, “Did you look up how to keep the turkey from getting dry like it was last year?” This is the way he is, in a nutshell.

By the time we’re sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner, he’s pushing us, why can’t you stay till morning? Why can’t you just tell your friends they HAVE to take care of the pets tonight too? Why can’t you just let the pets stay by themselves until tomorrow morning?

We say repeatedly that we’re not going to be assholes to our friends, that the pets can’t spend 24 hours alone, the poor dogs will be beside themselves with their need to go outside. We say, we have to leave no later than 7pm.

At 6:30pm he insists that we play Taboo with him. We say, we have 30 minutes, that’s it. And he said, we’ll just play to 15 points.

At 7:04 I glance at the score sheet and my team has 17 points. He sees me looking and covers the page.

Then he starts ramping up the intensity so his team can win. He starts telling each person on his team how many points they need each round to tie or beat us. Then he decides to start nit-picking my team on clues.

So when my oldest daughter (on his team) does those things the next round, I push back, calling her out for each of the same things he pulled out on me. And he says, you should let her get away with that, she’s your daughter. And I said, she’s old enough to play by the rules. And he said, we’re just trying to have fun here. And I said, I’m not having fun. We should have left 15 minutes ago, when we said we had to leave and when we’d actually won the game. And he said, well I’m sorry that I like to have fun. And I said, you’re the only one having fun! I hate playing games with you! and I tossed the timer onto the table and left the room.

They cleaned up the game, we packed the baby up and got the last few items together and got ready to leave. As we’re about to leave, he storms into the kitchen and starts screaming at me about needing to apologize to him before flouncing into the garage.

We pack the car up and start to get into the car, when he storms out onto the driveway, screaming and cussing, slamming himself into his car, roaring off down the street, screaming and cussing the entire time.

*sigh*

And now we know why his desires are always obeyed, why everyone bends over backwards to make sure he’s happy.

 

Everybody Needs to Calm Down Now

I know that we’re all freaking out about this election thing. And I feel safe in suggesting that most of us feel this way because Clinton won the popular vote by a healthy amount and basically every metropolitan area was blue, even in the reddest of states. (I’m looking at you, San Antonio. Good for you.)

But panic is not helpful. So please, take a moment, breathe through your trauma, and repeat after me: the world is not over.

Let’s all remember that Trump, despite the various truly batshit things he said during the course of the election, also made it clear that he’s planning to outsource as much of the actual work of being president that he can.

Probably that means we’ve effectively elected Mike Pence to the presidency. *shudder*

And don’t get me wrong, Pence is a terrible person in his own way (funerals for abortions?! “smoking doesn’t really cause cancer”?? WHAT ARE YOU DOING MIKE PENCE?!) but he’s a sane terrible person. Which means we aren’t likely looking at imminent nuclear missile deployment because the President of France neglected to give Trump a gold plated cup at dinner one night.

This is probably going to be a terrible, awful presidency. But not, probably, catastrophic for the entire future of the world.

Can we all just pause and ponder the fact that we’re in place right now where the lack of the end of all civilization is a relief? And not even a certain outcome?

Ok. Breathe. Are we all feeling less devastated? It’s been almost a week, the panic should be abating somewhat. You’ve all probably done some version of that talking myself down thing I just did.

NOW. Let’s talk about how we can all survive the next four years.

If you are a white Christian man in this country, probably you’re fine. Congratulations, you are still the only demographic that really matters. If you have empathy for the rest of us or if you are not a white Christian male, consider taking action to support others.

Pick an area of concern, and do something. Do any one thing. You don’t even have to do much. If we all do a little bit, the overall situation will improve dramatically.

General steps for ALL areas of concern. 

  1. Call and write your elected representatives at EVERY LEVEL (do you remember that disaster of an abortion law in Texas? That’s why state level elections matter) and tell them that you are not ok with any vote that you don’t agree with. This includes votes for supreme court justices.
  2. Actively fight bullies where you see them. If you’re on Twitter…they’re there. Slightly harder: push back against your nutty aunt when she posts ridiculous nonsense on Facebook.
  3. VOTE. VOTE IN THE MIDTERMS. VOTE FOR LOCAL AND STATEWIDE OFFICIALS. We spend 1.5 years thinking about presidential elections and then ignore the stuff that is actually destroying lives in our communities. It’s like spending the entire football game covering the receivers. Yes, that’s important, but that’s not enough to win the game. STAY ANGRY. STAY UPSET. VOTE.

Reproductive Rights: 

  1. Donate to Planned Parenthood or other reproductive health organizations. A group that does good work in Texas and came to national attention during that abortion law period is the Lilith Fund, which helps fund abortions for poor women.
  2. Buy Plan B, and donate it to groups that will give it to women in need. I foresee a lack of Plan B in the future.
  3. Sign up to be an escort at your local abortion provider.

Black Lives Matter/Police Accountability: 

(Note: this should go without saying, but we need the police and we need them to work effectively. This isn’t a call to destroy the police.)

  1. Join a BLM local group.
  2. Participate in a local BLM protest.
  3. Go to Campaign Zero, pick an area that has interest to you and do something on their proposed solutions list. Remember when this started and everyone was wringing their hands and saying, “But what can we DO?”–this is it.

LGBT and Gender Identity: 

  1. Contact ALL your elected officials. If you live in a state that’s considering a “religious freedom” law that is intended to give license to bigotry and oppression, go hard on this step.
  2. Join an organization that works for LGBT rights. Consider volunteering with or donating to The Trevor Project, or the LGBT Initiative.
  3. Look for local LGBT groups and events and participate with them. Local organizations are often the front lines in LGBT causes.

Immigration: 

  1. Donate to or volunteer with an organization that works to support paths to citizenship. This lawyer has a good list of organizations that work with/for immigrants.
  2. Volunteer to help teach English as a second language. Language barriers are a major issue for newcomers to this country.
  3. Help immigrants apply for citizenship. Think about the last time you had to work with the government, think about the pile of paperwork and nonsense it involved. Now imagine doing that without legal status or a fluent grasp on the language on the forms. *shudder* This list includes people that help with citizenship in various states. Googling for organizations in your state may give you a more targeted list.
  4. Volunteer at your local school district to work with the children of recent immigrants. These children often lack the same kind of educational support as children of native-born Americans.

Refugee:

  1. The list from step 1 of the immigration section is also good for refugees. I would like to put a special word of support in for the work done by HIAS.
  2. Volunteer to help with refugees that recently arrived in this country.
  3. Another list of organizations that work to help refugees.
  4. Volunteer to help teach English as a second language.
  5. Volunteer in your local school district to help refugee children assimilate and adjust to life in your community.

Religious Freedom: 

(A word of warning: Not all organizations that tout “religious freedom” as their goal are actually trying to do so. Many are trying to promote an explicitly Christian agenda in the laws at the expense of the rights of those of other beliefs.)

  1. The Council on American-Islam Relations has a section of their website dedicated to local groups that work to support local Islamic communities. They also have a link to other organizations that work to prevent violence against Muslims.
  2. The Anti-Defamation League was started to prevent antisemitism and has now grown to fight against hate of all kinds. You can donate to them or report a hate incident.
  3. The Southern Poverty Law Center documents and tracks hate groups across the country and works to fight these group. They take donations and arrange for action at local colleges and universities.
  4. The ACLU is always happy to take donations and they do good work to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.
  5. Consider contacting a local synagogue or mosque in your area and ask how you can help. Everywhere I have ever lived, we have had police protection at our synagogue during religious holidays and have given explicit instructions to the congregation and the children specifically about what to do if there is an attack on the synagogue during services. This is what life is like when you’re not a Christian in this country. I can’t speak for the Muslim experience but I can’t imagine that they are less security conscious than we are in the Jewish community.

Other lists of good organizations to support or volunteer with:

Everything

Immigration/Refugee

Stay strong. Take care of yourselves. I know it’s bad, but remember to practice basic self-care: Go drink a glass of water. Eat a real meal with actual food groups and vitamins. Walk around the block in the sunlight. Get some sleep. You would be AMAZED what those four things can do for your mental state.

 

 

Finding Peace

I’ve been busy, and for the last four days I’ve inexplicably woken up at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep (and I am SO TIRED as a result) but somehow in the midst of all this I figured something out.

I can’t make myself not be the person who spent 7 years in an abusive marriage. I can’t not have PTSD and wake up in terror with nightmares about what happened (at least one of those 4am wake ups came from a nightmare about it) and I can’t actually get away from the ex because of the kids we share. I can’t even adequately protect them unless and until they’re willing and able to testify about the abuse in his household, because he has a legal right to his children.

I can’t make the income change dramatically. I can’t wave a wand and make the bills go away. I can’t even replace the broken dining room table and chairs (we are literally down to ONE working dining room chair and everyone else is using desk chairs).

There’s a lot of inherent helplessness in the system, is my point. My own personal efficacy is limited.

But I figured out the way to get around it.

I’m reframing all of it. And it’s brought me so much peace this week.

If I hadn’t been in that abusive marriage, I would not be able to appreciate the husband as much as I do.

If I hadn’t been in that abusive marriage, I wouldn’t have the understanding of abuse and powerlessness that gives me the ability to empathize with anyone who is suffering.

If I hadn’t been in that abusive marriage, I wouldn’t have sought the therapy that I needed, really needed. Not just because of the marriage itself, but because I had a traumatic childhood, too. (People don’t just accidentally marry an abuser and stay there for almost a decade…)

I can even understand the people who say things like, “why did she stay, then?!” because they don’t have this background, they can’t possibly see it the way someone with this background will. I feel actively sorry for people who say that they cannot understand why someone would stay with an abuser or a cheater, because I see the blinders they’re wearing. It’s the same way you’d feel about someone who never learned math–they’re hamstrung by their lack of knowledge, but that’s not their fault.

If I was working full time, this baby would be in daycare. I would miss all his little smiles and achievements. I’ve worked in daycares, I know that they are not nearly as nurturing as being home with someone who loves them. I could pay off these bills, I could replace the dining room table and chairs, I could get my hair cut and buy the husband some decent work clothes. And those are all important things. But they aren’t as important as the baby’s happiness. They aren’t as important as my own happiness.

So instead of being stressed about the lack of actual flooring in the partially remodeled bathroom or the desk chairs at the dinner table, I’m seeing it as the price of our happiness. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

The hardest reframe is the suffering of the children who spend time in my ex’s home. The stories they tell–often of their half-brothers, who have no advocates–are chilling. Just last week, their stepmom bodyslammed the 4 year old to show him why he should not do the same to his 2 year old brother. That’s…I cannot…why? WHO DOES THAT? Those poor poor little children. I’ve reported the things they do to the boys but no one will investigate the abuse in that house, since the ex sued the department after they found him guilty of abusing ours in 2008.

But even that has a positive side, too. They come here, they get a vacation from the harshness and the misery of his home. They’re learning strength and resilience, and they’re learning how to express themselves clearly when they’re discussing things that are difficult and emotional. These are all valuable life skills, and many people don’t get them till they’re adults and the stakes are higher.

And the rest…it will pass. Every year the trauma eases slightly. It’s been 8 years now that I’ve been out of it, and the PTSD is still strong and still hampering my daily life, so I don’t think I’ll ever really be out of it, but I’m off the anxiety medication and very rarely need one of the short term anxiety medications. I do need the depression medication still, but I have hope that perhaps one day that can taper away, too. I’m better than I was.

The insurance cost will drop in January, by about a hundred a month. The husband is overdue for a raise. He’s trying to get a technical certification that will push him into a higher income range, which could happen as soon as summer.

Every year that the kids get bigger, they get stronger and tougher and more able to articulate their situation. It’s inevitable that in time they’ll be able to tell someone in authority what happens there, and then their time in that terrible place will drop considerably, perhaps even completely.

It’s not easy, but its possible. And it’s important to remember that these things, terrible as they are, come with advantages and benefits that people with a smoother life lack.

(WordPress keeps telling me to tell people to vote, which OBVIOUSLY. I’m not going to tell you how to vote but if you live in the US, you should definitely go vote. And seriously, ponder the consequences of your vote, let’s not end up like those people who voted for Brexit and were horrified when it passed, “I was just angry! I didn’t think it would happen!” Don’t vote angry. Learn from the Brits.)

Falling Off the Wagon

I had been doing a really good job on the “no sugar, no refined carbs” diet plan as recommended by my endocrinologist. And then Friday it all went to hell. I was unprepared for the sequence of events that threw me off the plan, which is good because I can troubleshoot this going forward.

Sequence of terribleness:

  1. One of my friends unexpectedly dropped by and outright refused my attempts to feed her, meaning I could not eat either. She left as I left to get the kids from school.
  2. I had to leave earlier than anticipated because the older child–who was meant to stay at school for an after school even that would last until nearly bedtime–called with agonizing ear pain and needing pain medicine. I said, if it’s that bad, let’s just take you to the doctor. And that messed up the afternoon.
  3. I had to return a few things to Walmart and get some things for the planned trip to the in-laws on Saturday, AND go to the Girl Shop store for supplies that we have run out of time to avoid purchasing.
  4. The husband ALSO didn’t get home until after dinner, eating out, as a result of the doctor/pharmacy/school run for the older kid, which made making a full dinner for just the remaining child seem ridiculous.
  5. The baby was fussy and vomiting all afternoon.

Result: as I was wandering all over the greater part of the metro area, I finally snapped in starvation and stopped for fast food, where instead of getting something remotely on plan I got fries and a shake in addition to my grilled chicken sandwich.

Then I gave up and ordered pizza for the younger child, and she and I split pizza and cheese bread.

Ultimate result: Up 4.2 pounds the next day. That’s an unbelievable jump, right? That’s bound to come down a bit eventually, but yesterday when the big one got much sicker and needed to go back to the urgent care center immediately, I stress ate. Donuts. Cheese fries. Biscuits.

I didn’t even weigh myself today. I don’t want to know what I did to myself. All I can do now is stay on plan for a few days and then weigh myself again and see if I could balance it.

Lesson learned: I need portable, travel friendly snacks that can hold me over when I’m starving and a better way to handle extreme stress that does not include cheese fries.

(But seriously, have you had cheese fries? SO GOOD.)

 

Habitica

I tried this app a couple of times before and couldn’t get into it. I don’t know if I was just not in good form then or if they’ve updated it but OH MY GOD, this is the best app in the history of apps.

It’s like a to-do list but I don’t really recommend it for to-do items. I’m still loving todoist for that. It’s more.like an adjunct for being better at life. It’s role playing games for habits.

You have three categories of tasks: habits, dailies, and to-dos. I’m not sure how everyone else is using these, but in my world, the stuff that I want to do every day SHOULD be habits. I don’t want to waste decision making power on whether or not to take the dogs for  a walk. I just want the walk to happen.

You get a character–you start as a warrior but can change classes at level 10–and you add your dailies, stuff you want to do every day. You can adjust it by difficulty and create sub-tasks. For example, I have a set of exercises from the physical therapist for my bursitis that I’m supposed to do every day and there are six of them. So my daily for physical therapy has six sub-items so I can check them off as I do them.

Each time you complete an item of any kind, you get gold and experience points. The experience points move you to the next level, and you can use the gold to buy things, like upgraded weapons and armor.

If you don’t complete your dailies, you lose health. You can buy a potion to give you health back or you can level up, which refills your health bar, but you have to watch it.

The habits have + and – marks, so you can positively reinforce a good habit and negatively reinforce a bad. The to-do lists are just to do items. There are guilds and challenges, so you can join, for example, a fitness guild and do a fitness challenge.

I have gotten so much done this week, using Habitica. I’m way, way more productive than usual. Even when I had a really bad day–minimal sleep, and the baby had to get shots and was fussy and miserable–I still pushed through to finish my tasks so I wouldn’t lose health.

I’m not being paid to promote Habitica–it’s a free app anyway–I just love it to death.