Archive for January, 2017

posted by Amy on Jan 17

Everyone wants to be good, to be loving, and to be loved in return. We want happy families, happy marriages, and good lives. But some of us were born into families with limited repertoires for healthy attachment, conflict resolution, Basic Trust, and intimacy. Being vulnerable and authentic are not advisable, because anything real can be weaponized to injure and control. If you want to survive, you have to play a role. You have to present a false self. Your mission is to manage the other people’s moods. Your job is to keep up appearances. If you want any kind of recognition, affection, or acceptance from them, then you’d better play by the rules.

I was in a marriage that started out on very familiar ground. He treated me the way my parents, especially my more powerful parent, had treated me. Let me say upfront it could have been a wonderful marriage if we had been able to learn the lessons it presented us about where our weak spots were and what we needed to heal from and transform. There were a lot of good times. We were well matched in many ways. But both of us were playing roles we had learned in our families of origin. In my role it was my job: to keep him on an even keel, to take the blame when anything did not go as he preferred, to submit to his will, and not to ever show any anger or ask for any different behavior than what he was doing.

For many years I was perfectly happy to live by these rules. It seemed normal. I had been socialized for just such a role, and I was really good at it. He, for his part, did all the things he thought were required of a good husband and father. He had been harshly criticized and punished as a child, and his family was dismissive and disrespectful of women, so part of his role was to mete out verbal abuse to his wife and daughters, and to be dismissive, judgmental, and disrespectful of them. He once told a counselor he thought this was appropriate. My father didn’t respect my mother, and she didn’t respect herself. My marriage made perfect sense.

Until it didn’t.

Little by little, I began to wake up. I began to be dissatisfied with my role. I didn’t want to live inside a false self. I wanted to be safe to be my true self. I wanted my husband to be my ally, partner, companion, friend, advocate. I craved true intimacy. I wanted him to trust me. I wanted him to realize I’m a separate, independent human being and not an extension of him. I wanted him to believe that I was not his adversary, and that by standing up for myself I wasn’t rejecting him but instead trying to put our marriage onto sacred ground.

Around that time he started calling me “Sweetie.” He also said things like, “You’re still my trophy wife.” I’m sure he meant well. He was using the old rules about doing a good job playing our roles to try to shore up our crumbling marriage. But I couldn’t stand it, and I couldn’t figure out how to explain why I couldn’t stand it.

We were in counseling. The counselor asked if there were one thing I would like him to do differently. I said to him, “Don’t call me Sweetie. Say my name.” I think he took it personally that his good intentions behind coming up with a pet name for me were not appreciated. As a matter of fact, I didn’t receive it as affection at all. It seemed more like a threat. He was calling me Sweetie because he had finally noticed I’m not “sweet,” and I had quit trying to act sweet toward him. To me it sounded like a “change back” message. But I wanted to be Amy. I wanted to hear how he said it. I wanted validation that “Amy” was not reducible to the “wife-and-mother” he thought I was supposed to portray in the drama of his life. I think he did quit calling me Sweetie. But he didn’t start saying my name.

He remarried. It seems to be working well for them, and I’m glad. I have only ever wanted the best for him. And I really don’t know her. In over twenty years we’ve had maybe three in-person conversations, and they were not about anything substantive. I suspect “husband’s ex wife” is a stereotyped role in her mind, not requiring any actual data or input from the human being who happens to actually be her husband’s ex wife. At any rate that would be one explanation of her lack of interest in me.

posted by Amy on Jan 1

I’ve been getting various kinds of cancer treatment since June, 2011 after being diagnosed with what turned out to be advanced (or metastatic) breast cancer in April, 2011. The first confirmed cancer metastasis was in my liver. The liver lesions were resolved on the first round of treatment and have not recurred (knock on wood). I’ve had breast cancer metastases in one of my lumbar vertebrae since April, 2012 and in my lungs since April, 2013.

In late 2013 I started having a dry, nonproductive cough, and I noticed some problems breathing on exertion. Eventually the cough was diagnosed as “atypical GERD” (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and I embarked on an ever-escalating program of medications for that. At its worst, it was causing voice production problems (from acid slopping onto my larynx). For someone who preaches and sings (and talks a lot) that was annoying.

Then there was the cough I got from radiation pneumonitis. I had 12 rounds of radiation to one area of my right lung where the cancer had been causing pneumonia by blocking the ability of the downstream lung tissue to function properly. I felt really good for about two weeks after that ended (on October 3). The GERD even got better. Then I started coughing really hard and long–hard enough to gag. I sometimes coughed up various kinds of secretions. I was also having trouble swallowing. And I was very short of breath if I moved my body at all. Within two weeks of the onset of these symptoms I felt very sick.

That was early November. I started taking Prednisone for the pneumonitis, and it is helping. But by the last week of December a wandering pain in the right side of my face had gotten intense enough that I was taking Ibuprofen around the clock to dull it. Sometimes it felt like a toothache, sometimes like an ear ache, and sometimes it seemed to be in my jaw. I had a slightly sore throat. No fever, except for one night. I finally went to the doctor, and one of the questions he asked was whether I had been coughing. I told him I cough all the time, from the GERD, from the pneumonitis, and most likely from the cancer itself. He diagnosed a sinus infection and put me on antibiotics. He said that cancer, cancer treatment, and steroids can all suppress immunity, so it was no surprise that I got a sinus infection.

Come to think of it (now that the antibiotics have kicked in), there really was yet another kind of cough going on. I had the symptoms for several months, so the sinus cough undoubtedly overlapped the other kinds of coughing. And since the “wandering pain” had started “wandering” down into the part of my back along the rib cage where I first had pain when I got pneumonia in June, I would not be at all surprised if some of the inflammation in my lung was actually a low-grade bacterial infection.

But now I hardly cough at all. I can take a deep breath–or 10–without triggering a coughing fit. The scan in November showed that, except for the pneumonitis, there was a good treatment response to the radiation therapy. I am on a new chemotherapy for the cancer. The antibiotic is zapping the bacteria. And I feel pretty good.

I had “a cough” for several months (or years, depending on how you look at it), but it wasn’t just one cough. My body was trying to tell me something, but it took me awhile to get the message. It’s almost like one of those nesting Russian dolls. One kind of coughing had to be fixed before another one could be identified and addressed.

Maybe it’s the same for other kinds of bodily or psychological distress. Maybe symptoms overlap or get mixed together, perhaps masking true therapeutic effects or obscuring conditions that need treatment.

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