What a Wicked Game to Play

This past Saturday I went to a concert with my sisters.  We saw Chris Isaak at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  I’ve seen him in concert before, and he always puts on a great show.  Because I know he’s very comfortable with the audience, very funny and generally super-sparkly on stage, I wasn’t anticipating to get blindsided by anything.

When will I learn?

About midway through the show, he started to play Wicked Game.  That’s the one song of his pretty much everybody, even non-fans, knows.  Even with lyrics like “I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you,” I never really thought that song would be painful.  And then I looked up.

A couple, if I had to guess in their late fifties to early sixties, were slow-dancing to that song.  There were other couples dancing too, but this was the one that got to me. 

They held each other so tightly, these two.  They looked into each other’s eyes, and smiled.  I thought of the times Tony and I danced.  I thought of one time, in particular, early in our relationship.  His boss had been traveling and had brought him a CD.  I can’t remember the artist or the song, but I remember Tony putting it on in the morning before we left for work, and grabbing me and dancing me around the room.  I remember smiling so hard my face hurt afterwords.

Watching this couple I thought about what could have been mine, if things had been different.  If Tony had reached out for help instead of doing what he did.  If he hadn’t allowed his illness to consume him.  Twenty years from now we could have been holding each other like that and dancing on a summer night.  Instead, he is beneath the ground and I am here above it, missing him.

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I Went, I Saw, I Wept

The Wednesday of the week I spent in Boston, I went with my friend Jodi to see Tony’s sister and mother.  I was apprehensive – even though I’d done the writing exercise I talked about yesterday, I still felt nervous about seeing them.  What if seeing me unleashed anger or some kind of accusation that I could have prevented Tony from taking his own life?  What if seeing them was too hard for me and I couldn’t hold it together?  What if going to the cemetery was a mistake?

There was no anger.  There was sadness, yes, and I think a kind of relief of being able to look at each other and share our grief for Tony.  At the cemetery, I cried.  Seeing the date on the stone was more upsetting to me than seeing his name.

I didn’t bring anything to leave on his grave.  What could I leave?  I said that to Jodi, and she said, “Put a rock on it.”  That’s the Jewish tradition.  Tony wasn’t Jewish and neither am I, but he loved to pick up rocks on the beach and he liked to hold them in his hand while he was writing.  It felt right, so I did it; and then picked up another one to leave on his Aunt Concetta’s headstone.  She was a lovely lady with a spectacular sense of humor, and was always kind to me.  That felt right too.

Afterwards we went back and picked up Tony’s mom, and we all went out to dinner.  It is typical of her generosity that she insisted on paying for dinner.  That was my only meal all day, and somehow that was right too – that I shared it with my Tony’s family and my oldest and dearest friend.

It was painful, but it was right.  I’m glad I went.

The Best (Worst) Writing Assignment Ever

I’m alive!  I am still mucus-filled, albeit slightly less so than I was when I wrote my last entry.  I am going to blog about the trip to Boston, I promise, but today I want to talk about something that I did before that trip, something that helped me during the trip.

I’ve been very slowly working my way through a book called Self-Compassion, written by Dr. Kristen Neff.  It was recommended to me by my psychiatrist because I was have such a hard time letting go of my guilt over Tony’s death, my feelings that I should (least favorite word) have been able to prevent it.  It’s not a book to be read quickly, because each chapter includes a written exercise; and to put it mildly, they are difficult.

The one that has been the hardest for me so far is one where the assignment is to write a letter to yourself as your inner critic.  The goal is to not hold back at all, to put into writing the very worst things you say to yourself.  Then, after getting that down, you write a second letter to yourself, one that you would write to a dear friend.  The first time I did this exercise I did it about my weight, something I’ve struggled with my whole life.  It helped, because it made me realize that my inner voice is a TOTALLY WRETCHED SNAKE. 

Leading up to the trip, I was struggling hard with my guilt, and with fear that somehow Tony’s family blamed me for his death.  Mind you, this is in the absence of even the slightest inkling of anything other than love and support and even gratitude from Tony’s family.  There is no earthly, logical reason why I should have been feeling the way I was; but I was.  I was talking about this to my therapist, and I told her about the exercise I had done and suggested that I do the same exercise again, about my guilt. 

As soon as I said, I did a mental head-slap.  What was I thinking?  That exercise had been eye-opening, sure, but it had also been HORRIBLE.  This topic would be even worse, even harder.  Gah!  She told me I didn’t have to do it, to only do it if it would help me.  I assured her that I wouldn’t push myself.

Reader, I didn’t push myself, not until the day of my next session.  I came up with a million artful excuses about why I couldn’t do it, I just wasn’t in the mood, I was having a bad day already and JEEZ, why did I have to make it worse?  All the while knowing that it truly would help, but that it also would truly TRULY suck while I was doing it.

Finally I did it.  I took all of the awful, unkind, mean and terrible things I’d been saying to myself and wrote them down.  I just let it pour out, all of it.  Let me tell you something.  Calling my inner voice a snake is an understatement.  She is BAD.  She is an EVIL UGLY VOICE OF BADNESS.  She says things to me that I would never ,ever, ever say to another human being.  Not ever.  She is without sympathy, without mercy, without kindness.  Reading those words freed something inside of me.  I don’t mean to imply that I have completely vanquished the guilt I feel, but I will say this: it’s easier now.  I have gone back and read those words several times now.  I read them out loud to my therapist, along with my much kinder letter to myself.

Everyone’s different.  If you are struggling with guilt over something, or with low self-esteem in general, I can recommend this exercise in the same way I would recommend taking a teaspoonful of cod-liver oil or some other equally repugnant yet healthful remedy.  It might help.  It helped me.

Where the Heck Have I Been?

It just occurred to me that it’s been a really long time since I blogged.  I brought my computer on vacation but was too busy spending time with friends and family to blog.  I came home with the best of intentions of blogging all about my vacation and our EPIC day of kindness in Boston; but my body had other ideas.  I have been entirely given over to the simultaneous production and expulsion of mucus for the past ten days.  Rest assured that as soon as the militant mucus mutants have been eradicated, I will be back to blogging regularly.