We all have dragons to slay. More often than not, they are internal rather than external. We struggle between light and dark impulses, and between believing in magic or rejecting it. I was thinking about this the other day when my colleague persuaded me to accept the “Dragon Challenge” at the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”
You may be asking, what type of work do you do that you would wind up at a theme park? Actually, my work has nothing to do with Universal Studios or amusement parks. I lecture on mental health issues around the country. But we were in Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse, etc., so when in Rome….
I hadn’t been to an amusement park in 20+ years. Yikes! Is that possible? I don’t have kids and I’m not super fond of crowds, so it had been awhile since I’d been on a roller coaster.
For the record, I used to LOVE roller coasters. I was a dare devil and wanted everything to be faster and scarier. I’m not certain where that girl went. I now like to play my life relatively safe. Roller coasters can kill you.
As I walked around the park, I thought about JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. The woman has to be a billionaire with the revenue from her books, movies, the theme park, and related toys. I also recalled that Rowling was slaying her own dragons when she embarked on her adventure. She wrote that first draft with a newborn baby at her side, while on welfare, and as a new divorcee.
We got in line for the ride. As the harness was pressed down over me by the attendant, I had to make double sure I was locked in. Then we were off.
We must have been on the ride for a total of two minutes. I bullshit you not, roller coasters have changed in the last 20+ years. To enjoy them, you just have to say yourself, “Okay. I could seriously die on this thing. Whatever.” If you don’t believe me, just watch.
The Dragon Challenge scared the hell out of me and made me semi-sick afterwards. However, the ride was extraordinary and exhilarating.
Is that not life? And is it not our friends who carry us through it all?
Who or what are these dragons we’re slaying? Is it possible that the most dangerous eragons and dementors are ourselves? Are these the hardest spells to cast out? I don’t know, but as I screamed and clung to the handle bars of my seat, I know I released something. Doubt and shame and a sense of failure flew from my lungs.
I got off the ride and felt my legs on solid ground. I survived. I went through the ups and downs and did not die. It actually crossed my mind to get in line and go again. After all, it was pretty fun.
Thankfully, I didn’t. As humidity and whatever I put my body through caught up with me, I realized I needed to rest. I felt faint and mildly nauseous. I had to sit down on the floor in the candy store until the feeling passed, but then the sensation did.
Next up, we went to Jurrasic Park. There we had dinosaurs roar at us and threaten our lives.
We will always have dragons to slay. They are everywhere. But with courage, we can slay them. Sometimes there is no happy ending. Yet with the help of our fellow wizard comrades, we can embrace the journey and emerge valiant in our efforts – even if we have taken a tumble.
There is a diagnosis yet to be added to the DSM V. It’s Loneliness NOS or Loneliness Not Otherwise Specified. There is no pharmaceutical cure for it, yet if not treated, it can destroy the well being of us all.
The illness is hitting the culture epidemically: children, teens, adults, and seniors; singles and couples. At its worse it can drive someone to take his life publicly in the US Capitol building. At least that way someone will notice another’s despair, right there on national television. In fact, noticing and showing compassion to someone in extreme psychological pain is often the panacea to despair. An act of love can resuscitate the human spirit, bringing someone back from the brink of death but for the man who died over the weekend, he missed the opportunity for support.
This epidemic hits many of us. If it takes a village, where the hell is the village?
We are far from Eden. We can be sitting next to someone watching the game while he or she texts nonstop to someone else instead of sharing it with us. Somehow our presence isn’t enough. Communication methods have intensified and yet a sense of isolation and alienation have too. Unless entwined with a lover or a pet, the sense of intimacy may end as soon as we log off from the on-line community.
Even sex habits have changed. Like in the brilliant film “Her”, it is now common to have sex over the phone or on screen. But this is certainly no substitute for the real thing – skin upon skin, sweat upon sweat. At its best, sex can be the most profoundly intimate experience of our lives. Yet we can use sex in various forms to escape, only to find ourselves even more lonely afterwards.
But is any of this really all that new? Are we more lonely than we were before?
Loneliness is the burden of humanity whether in ancient or modern times. What then does it take for connection?
Union comes with effort, luck, and vulnerability. It comes with surrendering our expectations of being fed and when we are more open to giving than receiving. It comes when we are selfless and expect nothing in return. It comes when we cry but look towards someone else who is crying and perhaps hurting even more than us. We find it in those brief moments when we are seen and witnessed. When someone lovingly holds us while we sob. When we feel the sun or wind on our face. When a group of worshippers feel the Spirt or devoted rock fans feel deep pleasure at a concert. It is a wave taking you, propelling you forward, and it’s fingers flying across a key board. It is a kitten’s purr and a child’s smile. It is an elderly person relieved to have you hold his or her hand. It is putting one’s head on the earth or holding onto the trunk of a tree while saying, “I’m here. Take me.” It is saying, “I’m sorry. I screwed it up.” It is saying, “We are all one.”
It is the perception of separation that is so painful.
In reality, we are all one.
I never forgave my mother for her alcoholism. Through my childhood and adult years, I didn’t understand why she drank. I thought she was pathetic and weak. It was only after her suicide, when I was crying in a therapist’s office, that I realized I had never shown her any compassion for her illness.
It never dawned on me that my mother drank to escape a pain so intolerable that she simply couldn’t face it. I seemed to have a high threshold for emotional pain. Sobs could wreak havoc through my body like an emotional seizure, yet I could endure the intensity of emotional pain. I judged my mother for not being able to do the same. I basically had no respect for her.
My mother’s self-esteem was shattered. She was an emotional Humpty Dumpty. Just out of college, she married my father, a serial womanizer. Within months of their marriage, my father was having an affair. She then remarried a few years later to a much more suitable man who cherished her and treated her well, although he too ended up leaving her for another woman. I never blamed the man for leaving. I assumed my mom’s developing alcohol dependence drove him away. Yet now I wonder if it was the affair that triggered my mom’s drinking. Regardless, she couldn’t handle the perceived rejection. It had been hard enough to deal with my father’s betrayal; a second misfortune ruined her. Her own father had not instilled a strong belief in herself, so two failed marriages later, she felt unworthy as a woman.
I have no idea how or why my mom’s second marriage fell apart. Two people can be the wrong fit and/or can grow apart. People can have different perspectives about the relationship that are at odds. And sometimes people simply give up and bail. Regardless, my mother struggled to understand her second divorce.
I remember wanting to slap sense in my mother when I witnessed her weepy drunken monologues about how men were always leaving her. I wanted to scream, “So what! They left. Deal with it! You still have your life. Get a grip. Get it together! Who cares about them? YOU HAVE YOUR LIFE! YOUR WORTH ISN’T DETERMINED BY WHETHER YOU ARE SINGLE OR MARRIED!”
What I didn’t realize was that at age nine, I’d already made the decision that no man was ever going to hurt me. When Jimmy R., the sweetest boy in my fourth grade class gave me a porcelain unicorn as a gift, I politely told him, “Thank you, but no thank you.” I gave the gift back to him because I feared the implications. Would he expect me to go steady with him? Would I be obligated to do anything?” My mother and the boy’s sister were horrified, claiming I’d broken his heart with my callous rudeness.
But I’d been taking note how my father treated women and swore I would never be a victim. My father was beyond a serial womanizer. He was pathological, narcissistic, and a sex addict. Women were there to serve his ego, to boost his self-esteem, and to be used and discarded. However, because he was rich and charming, no matter who he hurt, there was always another woman right there in line waiting for him after a relationship ended, so he never had to feel any kind of loss, rejection, or loneliness.
The woman he treated the worst was me. He paraded me around, adoring me as his golden child. I could do no wrong except when I mirrored back to him who he was. For that, I was promptly cut out of his life. When I went off to college, he couldn’t forgive me the betrayal of leaving him to live my life. He raged at me, then stopped talking to me. Within weeks, our young, live in maid from Mexico, became his beloved. She became my replacement. The two had a child by the time I was a sophomore and for years, she supported my dad cleaning houses, after my dad became disbarred for drug use and lost everything: his career, his money, and his sanity.
The present is not the past but the past can certainly be triggered by the present. When there are overlays from previous relationships, it is a marvelous opportunity to heal. And healing can be a bitch. If you have to walk back into the pain and rejection of an early childhood experience, it can leave you feeling like you want to drink, or feeling like you want to die.
Dear Mother, I forgive you.
Reposting this blog entry from long ago. It seems fitting now. Kind of sums up a general feeling of late.
Last night I dreamt of horses grazing in a meadow.
Beautiful red, black and brown animals standing in Steinbeck’s pastures of heaven.
And I was on a quest to join them…
I had the afternoon free so in my dream I jumped into a vehicle and headed to find a ranch or venue where I could ride.
The first person I ran into said, “We have horses you can ride,” and then led me to a little ring where I was to ride a saddled pony in a circle. “No! No!” I said in dismay. “I want to be with the horses in the meadow over there,” and pointed to the rolling green hills and ascending mountains. “I want to gallop – not walk around a ring inside a barn.”
And so I left and resumed my quest to find all the pretty horses under the blue skies.
When my eyes opened in the middle of the night I remembered the beautiful animals and went back to sleep, eager to return to them and the wide open plains.
On horses Rilke wrote:
Tell me, Orpheus, what offering can I make
to you, who taught the creatures how to listen?
I remember a spring day in Russia;
it was evening, and a horse …
He came up from the village, a gray horse, alone.
With a hobble attached to one leg
he headed to the fields for the night.
How the thick mane beat against his neck
in rhythm with his high spirits
and his impeded, lurching gallop.
How all that was horse in him quickened.
He embraced the distances as if he could sing them,
as if your songs were completed in him.
His image is my offering.
Sonnets to Orpheus I, 20
When I was a little girl and saw Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” for the first time, I was horrified that the evil queen ordered the huntsman to kill Snow White and to bring her heart back in a jeweled box. “Why would she do that?” I thought terrified and bewildered simultaneously. “Run Snow White, run!” I called out to the screen, as if the cartoon heroine could hear me.
Children are extremely impressionable. I also remember Snow White wistfully singing in that God-awful, breathy voice:
Some day my prince will come
Some day we’ll meet again
And away to his castle we’ll go
To be happy forever I know…..
As a young girl, this is what gets drilled into your head. Someday, a man will pick you. He’ll get down on his knee, pull out a box, and say, “Will you marry me?” Then you will tear up, wrap your arms around his neck and exclaim, “yes!” For most females this happens at least once in their lives and while it might not lead to happily ever after, it still is quite the princess moment. After all, it’s the apex of your life, right? To be chosen?
But what if you’re not? What if you’re not chosen by a life partner, or even by your parents? What if you grow up never fully feeling cherished, or like you belong to anybody? Who then are you?
My favorite answer? You are a flower.
Because flowers don’t sit around waiting for someone to pick them. They are beautiful and magnificent in their own right. Some get picked and put into a bouquet; others remain outdoors turning in the direction of the sun. Yet these distinctions don’t change their essence for their worth is not determined by anything external. They are divine creations of the Creator. Nothing in the world changes that truth.
Ladies, your worth is determined the day you were born. It is sovereign. No one can give this to you or take it away. You are flowers meant to bloom in your own right. Bloom away!