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

Being Wrong & Self-Elected Madness

No one likes to be wrong, right? Wrong.
Right now I’m ecstatic to have been proven wrong. As it turns out snowballs do have a chance in hell; Sweden just knocked the Czech Republic out of the Ice-Hockey World Championships and claimed their place in the battle for gold on Sunday evening. Can’t wait! Go Tre Kronor!

Later tonight Finland and Russia go head to head over the other slot for the final. I’m rooting for Finland in this game. I probably shouldn’t, because Sweden-Finland games tend to be very hard on the old ticker. Lots of history there. But – the games are usually well worth watching. Maybe we should strike a deal with the Fins if they make it to the final; if they let us win the ice-hockey they can win the Eurovision Song Contest.

All this ice-hockey excitement aside, there is something to be said about sport on an international level. It boosts our national pride and strengthens our national identity: we get together and celebrate or commiserate. We’re united, a team. And in a world where we are becoming more and more detached, where even our next-door-neighbours are often faceless strangers, this is not to be underestimated.

Also, sport is an excellent opportunity to express emotions. To let both victorious jubilation and devastating disappointment out, to let it show on the outside, to not hold back. Complete and utter release. It’s good stuff!

So, to those of you who don’t see the point in playing or watching sport, it’s actually a pretty healthy thing to engage in. There’s even been books written about the psychology of it all. More than one, in fact. One which I particularly liked was Football Delirium by psychoanalyst Chris Oakley in which he argues that football offers us the possibility of manageable doses of self-elected madness. This guy gets sport. He is also self-electedly mad. In a good way.

Whether you’re into sport or not, I’d recommend it:

Anyway, soon be time for face-off in the second ice-hockey semi-final of the day, and I need to do some manic last minute pre-Shabbat prep. As much as I love ice-hockey, Shabbat comes first.

That’s just the way I roll.

Be good to yourselves,

xx

Snowball’s Chance In Hell

I’m one of those people who don’t often swear. Sure the odd “For eff’s sake!” might slip out, in general directed at myself for having been clumsy or having made a silly mistake of some sort. But, on the whole, I’m not really known for effing and blinding. In fact, at my old workplace my entire team would stand up and applaud whenever an actual profanity crossed my lips.

But..that’s the Everyday Me, in everyday situations.

Then there’s Ice-Hockey Me.
This is where all of a sudden, swept away by my passion for whichever team I happen to be rooting for in a game, I completely let go of my manners and some pretty shocking phrases get bandied around. There’s an audio-recording from a few years back of me watching a game between Canada and the Czech Republic where I can be heard suddenly shouting “Satans JÄVLA tjecker!!” [Google if you feel a translation necessary]. Being so completely and utterly out of character for me in any other situation, this phrase has naturally stuck with friends and family, and so these days, whenever the Czech Republic is playing they’ll be affectionately referred to as the “satans jävla tjeckerna”.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about ice-hockey that brings out this side of me. I like watching sports in general, but I rarely fire off such heated verbal bullets when watching figure skating or Formula 1. [Although, I do tend to shout a lot of “You idiot!”s at the telly when watching the latter – but that’s more often than not directed at the commentators who seem to be perpetually trailing three laps in their commentary.]

As the Ice-Hockey World Championships are on at the moment it’s really reminded me how much I love this sport. I love everything about it, the pace, the physicality, the fight for every puck. Indeed, one of my favourite sounds in the world is the sound of a player being tackled into the boards. It may seem cruel, but it is SUCH a great sound. It really is!

Tre Kronor, the name given to the Swedish national ice-hockey team, has a pretty fine record as far as the World Championships are concerned. In the 80 years the World Championships have been played, Tre Kronor has ended up with a gold, silver or bronze medal 39 times. Pretty remarkable when you consider the size and population of our little kingdom. It becomes even more impressive when you compare it to the other great hockey nations; Canada, USA and Russia/USSR, who’ve got millions more potential raw talents to pick from.

My tiny little home town has produced a number of very successful NHL players over the years, and although boasting is viewed as a serious offence where I’m from, that’s really not bad.

Needless to say ice-hockey is BIG back home. It’s our national sport, and so when Tre Kronor wins we go all out to celebrate. When we lose, well – let’s not go there..

This year Sweden has not done all that well. We’ve scraped through, and somehow made it through to the semi-finals, but to say we’ve done it in style would be a undeniable stretching of the truth. It’s been more skin-of-our-teeth stuff, really. I mean, we lost to Norway, for crying out loud!

That said, we are in the semi-finals, and so the hope of coming home with gold medals round our necks is still alive. We could still win.

Except……

……we’re playing the satans jävla tjeckerna……

Snowball’s chance in hell!
I’m just saying..

xx

PS. No, I don’t really hate Czechs. Of course I don’t. I’ve even watched ice-hockey with Czech friends. :)

Elections, Shame & Paper Cranes

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am usually very proud to be Swedish.
Not so tonight.

Today general elections were held in Sweden, and I feel utterly ashamed to say that it looks reasonably certain thatSverigedemokraterna [Sweden Democrats (SD)] will make the 4% threshold to enter Riksdagen [the Swedish parliament]. I’m guessing that to anyone not from Sweden this might not sound like much to be ashamed of. Sweden and Democracy – how bad can it be, right?

The answer is “VERY”. (SD) is the Swedish equivalent of the UK’s British National Party, and much like the BNP they win voters through sheer scare mongering, using, what they call “severely restricted immigration” as their main manifesto, and, again, much like the BNP, they prey on people’s fear of the unknown, to gain voters. They market themselves as not being a racist party, despite the fact that many of its members and frontline politicians have backgrounds in both neo-nazi and white power movements. An early SD campaign poster [not used in this year’s campaign] read “Bevara Sverige Svenskt!” – “Keep Sweden Swedish!”

So, in short: I feel absolutely disgusted with the outcome of this election.

It looks like Alliansen [the allied, ie the conservative parties] will be the ones to form the new government, but, sadly, it’s not at all impossible that they’ll need to work with (SD) to push new policies through.

As it currently stands Moderaterna [the Conservatives (M)] is set to be the biggest party, with Socialdemokraterna [Labour (S)] second. Miljöpartiet [the Green Party (MP)] is having their most successful election ever, coming in as the third largest party, surpassing Vänsterpartiet [the Left Party (V)], who have traditionally been the second largest party in the Red/Green block. At a guess, I’d say that a fair few voters have given their vote to (MP), in the hope that they, would agree to work with Alliansen, in order to shut (SD) out.

Now, I’ve never been one to root for any of the conservative parties, but, honestly – if the choice is for them to work either with (SD) or (MP) – I’d be happy for (MP) to take a step to the right, to make that happen.

To counteract my rather dejected mood, I’ll end this entry with something a bit more positive: Had a really good day today. Had soooo much fun at the Special Event we ran at work today. Such an experience. So rewarding. I feel honoured to be part of it.

Also had a blast at my J-Prep class this evening, learning lots and making decorations for the sukkah at my synagogue. Had a go at making apple, orange and lemon decorations, but failed miserably. Luckily there was also origami paper to make paper cranes, and, having taken part in a project to fold a thousand of them for the Sadako Sasaki peace monument in Hiroshima at age 11, this is something I feel a lot more at home with. In fact, I ended up running an impromptu crane folding tutorial with my fellow J-Preppers, and I really enjoyed it. Funnily enough, I’d actually done something quite similar earlier today at work, with a very different group of people.

All the best,

xx

This Little Voice In My Head – An Entry About Mixed Emotions

Few minutes to spare before I’m off. To Sweden.
I’m flying over for a few days to celebrate my sisters’ mum’s 60th birthday. I wasn’t going to go initially, seeing as I was over there in March. (My youngest sister and I travelled there as a surprise for the middle one). So, I had decided not to go. But a special, and very sweet, request came through from the birthday girl, and I decided on the spot that I was going to join them for this special day.

I am really really looking forward to seeing them all. Even though I saw my sisters in March I haven’t seen their mum or brother since Christmas, and I know it’ll be good for me to be around people who have a knack for making me feel better about myself.

Still, I do have somewhat mixed feelings about this trip. My mother called the other day. Our second conversation since April of last year, and I ended up telling her I’m flying over for G.’s birthday celebrations. I didn’t say it in order to hurt her, but because it seemed wrong to somehow conceal my going there. I know my mother finds it difficult to deal with my relationship to G., that it brings out all sorts of feelings in her, but it just seemed a really bad thing to do to not tell her. Especially since I had already told my dad, and even though they are long since separated, chances are that she hears it from him. And I didn’t want that. Letting her hear it through someone else would have been both cowardly and cruel.

Unfortunately, the side effect of having told her is that I now feel really bad about going. I mean, I’m still looking forward to seeing everyone, but the sheer joy I was feeling has, undoubtedly, been tainted by something else. Something not so pleasant. I could hear it in my mother’s voice when I told her; how hurt she was by it. How she feels like I’m favouring G. over her. That’s not actually the case, we just have a very different relationship, but I know that’s what my mother will be thinking.

Fast forward to my therapy sessions: I can see a very clear echo of this same thing happening there. As you know I had to stop seeing D., my previous counsellor, back in December last year, and I’ve only very recently been able to find a person who seems to suit me in a similar (but different) way. Only I’m really struggling to allow myself to engage properly. As much as I want to I can’t help but to feel that in talking to A., in allowing her to take over that really important part of my life, I am somehow being unfaithful to D. This is, of course, not the case, nor an idea D. would want me to entertain. I know that. But I can’t help it. Big time transference. I can see that. But, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

I think what I really need from D. (and consequently also from my mother, although I’m not sure I’ll be able to get either) is to hear, and to really feel, that it’s ok for me to move on. That she isn’t at all jealous of A. taking over, that, in fact, she is happy to hear of the progress I’m making. I think it’s necessary for me to be able to really take things further with A. Because as long as I keep hearing this voice, false as it is, telling me that I am being disloyal, I just can’t.

A. (or G., for that matter) telling me that it’s ok, that I have every right to move on, to do what I need to feel ok about myself, – well, it just doesn’t cut it. I’m way too pre-conditioned to tune in to that little voice at the back of my head telling me the opposite. It doesn’t matter that I can see exactly where that voice comes from, or how little sense it makes to listen to it, I just can’t drown it out.

So, there you go. Textbook example of transference in action.

Anyway, must rush. That plane won’t wait for me!

xx