Candle Lighting, Ice-Skating & Honouring Thy Mother And Father

A painted chanukkiah on my window

A painted chanukkiah on my window

Tonight is the first night of Chanukkah (Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah..whatever.. you know.. the Jewish holiday.. חנוכה), and thus time to light the first candle. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukkah candles states that one should not only light them, but that one should publicise the miracle of Chanukkah, thus it is customary to place your chanukkiah on the windowsill so that it can be seen by people walking past. Now, I would love to do that, but unfortunately where I live there are no windowsills, so I can’t do that.

Wanting to still fulfil the commandment, I did the next best thing; I painted a chanukkiah on my window. This is something I get from my mother, who used to paint advent candles on our kitchen window every year, “lighting” another candle each Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas. So, choosing to publicise my chanukkiah in this way feels doubly good, because it can also be seen as a way of honouring my mother. And that matters to me, not only because it’s a commandment, but because it is so easy to, when thinking back to my childhood, focus on all the things that were less than ideal. As much as there were a lot of things that were not right, there were also many things that were really good. Happy memories, which need also be allowed space in my heart.

Another happy memory came to life for me a few weeks ago, when I – for the first time in ten years – went ice-skating. Prior to going, and in spite of having not skated for such a long time, I was thinking How hard can it be? Growing up in the very north of Sweden, I got my first skates when I was something like two and a half, and I’ve been skating reasonably regularly every winter all the way up until I moved to London ten years ago and took on the shape and size of a baby whale.

Baby whale attributes aside, I really didn’t think skating would be a problem. Bit like riding a bike, right? Wrong! I stepped onto the ice and for the first time ever I felt aware that there was a chance I could fall. I mean, I was properly scared. I was like Bambi on ice, only less graceful. It was like learning to walk again. And yet, as surprising as this was, there was something else that also hit me straight in the chest, and that was an utter sense of freedom, of happiness. I felt like a child again, like the kid I used to be, when things were good.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my last few sessions with A., exploring this, because I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt so free and happy. The closest thing to it is when I write or paint, but this was way more than that. It brought back the memory of going skating with my family as a kid. Either my mother or my father would take my brothers and I down to the rink, and it was the best thing ever. Often we’d go to one of the many outdoor rinks which most schools in my home town had at the time. These were rinks that hadn’t been Zambonied to perfection, rather, it wasn’t unusual for us to get to the rink and find it completely snow covered. So – as a family – we would have to clear the rink before we could even begin skating. It would be pitch dark all around us, even if it might not be late at all, only the floodlights at the rink cutting through the darkness, making me feel as if the only thing that existed was my family and I, and the sheer joy of speeding across the ice.

Happy memory trigger

My Beloved Skates
Happy Memory Trigger

Being back on the ice again brought all of this back to me. I remember how my father would have us do ten laps clockwise and then another ten counter-clockwise as a warm up, before we were allowed to free-skate, and how we kids would do it without questioning him, despite the fact that my father happens to be possibly the worst skater in the history of ever. It was, as I explained to A. in session, special – because – growing up I didn’t have very many rules given to me by my parents, and this, well, it allowed me to be the kid, rather than the responsible little person I had to be at most other times. Another ice-skating memory that came flooding back is from when I was really little, back when I was only just able to stand on the ice in my skates, and my mother would hold my hands to support me. It may seem like a very small thing, in the grander scheme of things, but – as I said to A. – it must be important, because I remember it. I have a million memories of worrying about my mother, feeling like I was the adult, and plenty others where the child/adult boundaries were blurred, to say the least, and this – in contrast – was a situation where my mother was unquestionably the adult, and all I had to do was to be a child, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t let me fall.

So, as I light my Chanukkah candles this year, at the very darkest time of the year, I am challenging myself to remember the brightest, happiest memories.

Happy Chanukkah!

xx

PS. Just in case you didn’t know, the Holiday armadillo – as introduced in Friends – is a myth. The Chanukkah GECKO, on the other hand, is clearly real. See photographic evidence below.

Chanukkah 5773 - Day 1 The ACTUAL chanukkiah

Chanukkah 5773 – Day 1
The ACTUAL chanukkiah
..and the very real Chanukkah gecko..

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Flashbacks, Rubik’s Cube & Replacement Therapy

Had a couple of pretty good days this week. A blessed change, let me tell you. Even managed to go into town one day to do a bit of shopping. Can’t even remember the last time I did that. Didn’t stay out for a particularly long time, only a bit over an hour, but it was still good.

I’m flying out to Sweden in a couple of days time. I’m a bit nervous about it, the actual flight. I really hope it will be a good day of fewer flashbacks. That said, I have come up with something that does help me cope with them when I’m out and about; repeatedly solving the Rubik’s cube.

I kind of discovered it by accident. The Rubik’s cube had until January of this year been one of those puzzles I had never been able to solve, but always felt I should be able to solve. Then in late December I came across a video of Justin Bieber solving it. In about a minute and a half. Justin. Bieber. That really was the drop for me. I mean, seriously, if Justin Bieber could do it, then surely so could I? Right? So I set about figuring out how to do it. In fact, I even set myself a goal of being able to master the cube in less than 2 minutes, by the time this break in therapy is over.

Took me four hours of straight and stubborn trial and error before I finally cracked it the very first time. After that it took me more than ten minutes to do it, start to finish, so I carried on working at it. Slowly I got faster. I learned a few shortcuts and solve-time went down even further. And still I kept at it. Until I felt confident I could out-cube young master Bieber any time of the day. I’m now down to a semi-respectable personal best of 51 seconds. [I say semi-respectable, but of course I’m nowhere near the current world record, set by Feliks Zemdegs, at 5.66 seconds] (Ed.: New world record set by Mats Valk at 5.55 seconds in March 2013).

In the process of doing this, I realised that I had been having significantly fewer flashbacks, and that those that I did have, were much shorter, because my brain was already kind of half-way out of them, focusing on solving the Rubik’s cube.

So, in the last several months, I’ve brought my cube with me pretty much everywhere, and it really does make things easier. Up until I discovered this I would usually just stay in, because the things I needed to do to come out of a flashback were things that were either self-soothing grounding techniques, which – while very effective and calming – look very odd from the outside, if you don’t know what I’m doing – or they were things that could be done fairly discretely, but were down-right unpleasant for me [like using smelling salts or sharply snapping a rubber band against my wrist].

Yes, I look like the biggest geek ever sitting on a bus or train solving my cube over and over, but at least it is something that both works and isn’t nasty. Also, you’d be surprised at how many people strike up conversations with you, when they see what you’re doing. It’s such an instantly recognisable and iconic toy, most people have something to say about it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that this little trick of mine will make the flight to Sweden a bit less difficult. My sister and nephew will be meeting me at the airport, so once I land, I should be OK.

I’m staying with my sister for a week, and my other sister is also coming over, so I’m really excited about this trip. I’ve not seen them since my birthday last year. Also, I am hoping that spending time with my sisters will help me out of this pretty serious dip I’ve found myself in.

I’m also going to stay at my father’s for a couple of days. Feel a bit nervous about that. I’ve not seen him in about two years. We do keep in touch through occasional phone calls, but I’ve not visited him in the last couple of years. I’m hoping seeing him will be OK. I think going to visit him is a lot less emotionally charged than going to see my mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in, where there are reminders of the abuse I experienced all over the place. My father’s place is very different, in that respect. At the same time, of course it’s not just the place that is the problem with going home; it’s also the inter-personal conflicts this family trauma has caused that I have to deal with. And that, of course, is the same regardless of where I see my family. So, we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.

Really missing therapy at the moment. Actually not just therapy, but A. It’s hard trying to find a good balance; to not switch all emotions off in order to protect myself, and at the same time not allowing myself to go too deep into my feelings and risk getting stuck and acting out. So, a therapy session or fifty would be pretty darn dandy right about now.

I’ve had about a million people asking if there isn’t anyone else I could see while A. is on maternity leave. The truth is, that if I really wanted to, of course I could find someone to see short term. In fact, I considered seeing our newly appointed social worker at shul, for a while. But, the thing is – I do have other people to talk to. I have my sisters, my friends, even the Samaritans. So, it’s not just talking I need. It’s something else, too. It’s that special space that therapy creates, and most importantly, it’s the therapeutic relationship I have formed with A. over the last three years. [Three years today, I just realised – Happy anniversary us!] It’s not something that can be easily emulated. And I think that, as hard-going as it is – not having therapy, not seeing A. – it would frustrate me to no end, trying to create something similar to what I get from therapy. Looking for something different feels much more productive.

Anyway, it’s getting late.

Thanks for staying up with me.

All the very best,

xx

For more posts tagged Rubik’s Cube, including one using the Rubik’s Cube to talk about identity, click here.

My Life Today

My Life Today

Fears And Desires – An Entry About Conflicting Emotions

Things ain’t going so great. You might have guessed. Just feels like no matter how hard I try I can’t find a way to keep my head above water long enough to find that final something to pull myself out of the water entirely and onto dry land.

I’m trying to be brave. [That is, by the way, very different to putting a brave face on it.] I’m trying to be brave in therapy. To do things that scares me, do things that make me feel. But it’s hard.

The other day, in therapy, I finally shared a drawing I made back in August, back when I was staying at Drayton Park. It’s a crayon cartoon picture drawn in a childlike style illustrating my relationship to my father growing up and the frustration I experienced [although at the time I was far too busy doing that thing of putting a brave face on it to recognise it as that], about feeling second priority to most anything, but particularly his work. With a slight twist of the caleidoscope it is easy to see how this is also an illustration of my own fears about how my relationship to A. might change once the baby is born, once she is back after her maternity leave. [The drawing was also, not incidentally, drawn in the days after A. told me she was pregnant].

Of course I’ve talked about this, about how worried I am about the long break in therapy and the changes that [I both feel and fear] will follow, but for all the carefully weighed words and cautiously constructed sentences and feeling statements I’ve put out there, in the therapeutic space we share, a picture can say more than a thousand words.. so, sharing my drawing – although I’ve desperately wanted to do it for months – felt very risky indeed, felt frightening beyond words, in fact.

Naturally, there are those bog standard feelings I have blogged about before; the jealousy because I’m not pregnant, the wish to be A.’s number one favourite client – no person – in the world etc etc etc, but beyond that is that extra layer, brought on by – at least in part – my own experience of feeling second to my father’s work. Of having his clients come up to me, saying [and this happened with surprising frequency] “You are so lucky to have HIM as your father!”, because they were his client and assumed his work self corresponded exactly with his family life self, finding myself smiling back at them all the while thinking You don’t know him, you think you do, but you don’t. And, of course, simultaneously wondering if maybe it is really I who don’t know him, because, after all, they probably spent more one on one time with him than I have throughout my entire life.

So, A. becoming a mother – as opposed to being a transferential/counter-transferential parent through her working relationship with me – brings out all manner of conflicting emotions.

In every single therapy I’ve ever been it’s always been a major issue, this acute awareness of the balancing act between work life and home life for the therapist, but with A. it’s been more intense than ever before, especially as she works from home and I feel über-aware of every single time I hear her husband walk through the door during my Tuesday evening session. Of being the one stopping him from being able to call out Honey, I’m home!

On the one hand I – like, I imagine, every person who has ever been deeply engaged in therapy – want to be special, want to be the only really important client, the centre of my therapist’s universe, yet, at the same time I absolutely and genuinely hate being the one to push A.’s family life to the side, to potentially make them feel second priority.. Yes, I realise that not everyone manages this balancing act as poorly as I sometimes felt my father did, and of course I know that not everyone will feel pushed out the way I did, and sure I know that it is actually A. [and hopefully her husband] who has made the choice to run her practice from her front room – but, as we all know, there can be a huge discrepancy between intellectual knowledge and emotional understanding, and A.’s pregnancy has definitely brought this to the forefront.

I genuinely have no idea how I will be able to cope with this internal struggle once A. is back to work, once the baby is really here. Considering how hard it’s been all along to deal with these feelings, I really don’t know if I can do it..

And that’s where my last session ended..

xx