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Tin Can Shot Full of Holes

#10 in my ongoing book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home”

After my Dad’s funeral, back I flew from Florida again to my  consulting gig near Washington DC, and to Dan the rebound affair, who seemed supportive.  I was so relieved to be away from the funeral pain, and being with Dan at his farm felt good.

tin can shooting cartoonImagine my surprise when within five days of my father’s death, Dan sat down to the nice dinner I’d prepared for him one night and asked me to leave.

“It’s just not happening for me,” he announced. “I want mah house back.  I’m just not comfortable with you.”  He had no feelings for me, he said.  Whu Nhu? After almost two years and endless hours of intensity, I had been completely blindsided.

Later on that night (much later, after the inevitable rematch), I asked if he could let me know what I’d done wrong, so I could at least learn something from all this.  All he could do was repeat “I was comfortable with Maureen (his ex).  But you get so excited when you talk that you wave your hands and it distracts me to where I can’t hear what you’re saying.  I’m just not comfortable with you.”

“I’m just not comfortable with you.”  At the time it seemed merely unjust, but make a mental note of that turn of phrase.  It will prove to be another clue to the big picture puzzle.

I left Dan’s farm and rented a room in an elderly widow’s home near the airport to work out my consulting contract for another three weeks, before I could escape back to California.

My Dad was dead — and still I couldn’t cry for him. But now I was crying buckets on the hour for Dan, a stranger I’d known only briefly over just short of two years.

Over the July 4, 2008 weekend I dutifully googled “Grief” on the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website (since taken over by SAMHSA).  I found this on page two, and in all these years, it’s by far the best way to confront grief I’ve ever seen, packed full of heavy truth in each short sentence:

“How will I know when I’m done grieving? Every person who experiences a death or other loss must complete a four step grieving process:
1. Accept the loss
2. Work through and feel the physical and emotional pain of grief
3. Adjust to living in a world without the person or item lost
4. Move on with life.

“The grieving process is over only when the person completes these four steps,” it concluded bluntly.  This short but dense RX has since been inexplicably removed from the NIMH website, but I’ve kept a folded shard of the printout all these years.  And it proved to be deadly accurate.

I posted “Accept the Loss” in Calibri 16 point font on my computer, my bathroom mirror, and taped it on my wallet (still there to this day), but I couldn’t begin to understand what it meant.  I was dead sure that the shattering loss I was feeling was heartbreak over Dan.
I felt guilty but little more for my Dad.

Right on cue as my personal life went down the tubes, it sure did look as if I were in good company and the whole American economy were simultaneously going down in a hand basket.

I was working 14 hour days on a punishing schedule for the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) info-tech proposal. I could remember when a Defense Department proposal was just that: a large technical document written for a major defense supplier, explaining why our satellite system or computer system was better than the competitors’.

Here, however, at times I was sure I was in the Twilight Zone, there was such disorganization bordering on panic.  This was a $2 billion project, to be built at hundreds of airports, ports and border crossings around the nation, and every large company in the U.S. was bidding. The company which retained me had thrown their entire budget for a year on this one proposal, bringing in consultants by the dozens — without setting up a reasoned structure.

TSA ChipmunkIt was mass chaos. We had computer gurus in turbans from Bombay, and Brits from London who would joke they were here to take back the colonies (to which I retorted “What’s left? There’s no industrial base…”). We had cost cutters from Lower Manhattan who didn’t care whether the equipment we were proposing to sell to Uncle Sam worked or not, if they could just structure the cheapest bid.

We hardly had time to leave our desks to eat and by the last two weeks they were trucking in catered breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Anonymous signs began to appear on doors spoofing the insanity.  Yes, I saved one and scanned it today (above).  Click on it, it’s a riot.

Through the din, every morning at 8 am there was a voice on the speaker phones throughout the building, the voice of the lady Proposal Manager, literally shouting orders to the massed troops.  One day I had to tear myself from my workstation long enough to go down to the basement super-bunker to interview some of the top brass leading the project.  There in what looked like a 5-foot wide loud yellow shirt was a woman who resembled nothing so much as Jabba the Hut, scratching her arms, chain smoking, and shrieking into the speaker phones. “Well, she’s won $10 billion worth of proposals, so whatever Lola wants,” one fellow muttered.

I really wasn’t very sure I wanted to be in this line of work anymore.  But what choice did I have – starve to death alone?
It was as if that Twilight Zone had engulfed my public and my private life in one nasty slurp.

I was leading a double existence, interviewing top executives by day, then crying into the cell phone to my friends in California on my short breaks, standing outside in the muggy Virginia heat.  It had all been a series of psychological champagne drunks I was on, I told them ruefully, to cover up my divorce, the fact that I had lost my 27-year marriage, my overseas projects, my music, and my whole life.

I couldn’t  “Accept the loss” of my entire life, or my divorce;  I couldn’t accept anything.  I just ran.  First I ran to Dan, then to California dancing, singing Country, sailing, and dating, then back to Dan, I told them.  Now I’ve lost the Dan umbilical cord to the East Coast and I belong nowhere.

So what do you do when the champagne factory shuts down? After everyone left the office at 11 pm I stayed on, churning out Dan doggerel well into the early morning.

I didn’t feel any anger at all while I was crying so hard during that summer of 2008; I don’t recall feeling anything like anger for another four years.  I just felt unloved, deadly lonely and miserable.

SONY DSCBut I still had an empty string bean can with a half dozen jagged wounds, from the day Dan posted it as a target at the far end of a back woods field as part of his efforts to teach me to shoot pistols.  Something inside me resonated oddly, to think that I had actually pumped this piece of metal full of lead.

I may not have been aware of any anger, but my reaction to that piece of junk and the poems told another story which didn’t come out until much later.

Tin Can Shot Full of Holes
(Apologies to Bob Seeger)
July 12, 2008

It’s sitting on the wall ledge above my closet door,
It sits and stares right at me;  I know what it’s staring for:
To think a serious woman like me would be concerned,
For such a pile of tin and rust, and might even get burned.
The more I think about it, the less I can control
A visceral reaction to that tin can shot full of holes.

I met a man in Mexico, he had an eagle eye,
He warned me not to go too far, he warned me not to die;
He warned me there was nothing alive behind his smile;
He smiled so warm right through me it almost seemed worthwhile.
I thought his smile might save him, as bright as burning coal,
But nothing could bring comfort to a tin can shot full of holes.

We went up on the mountain with little more to say,
I did my level best to focus on things far away,
We used tin cans as targets for pistol practice shots,
But never could be certain to hit any given spot.
With Dorothy, I’ve traveled over Oz from pole to pole,
But all I’ve come away with is a tin can shot full of holes.

I hate it when these poems just overflow my mind;
I’d rather more be sleeping and my work is far behind.
I see him in the shadows, I see him in the sun,
I see him on the grasslands, I see him on the run,
He’ll have to run forever, for he’s running from his soul;
My heart goes out in pity to the tin man shot full of holes.

Hit Bottom Yet?

By the time I flew back to California on July 18, 2008, tail between legs, I was in bad shape.  But think you’re hurting now, girl?  Ha.  It was just the beginning.

Now the Great 2008 Financial Crisis meltdown was in full swing, banks were crashing left and right across America, and my aerospace engineering and IT consulting market on the West Coast suddenly folded up like a Japanese duck pop.

“Japanese duck pop” is a semi-controversial term I’ve been accused of making up, but which I’m sure I learned from a Korean War Vet in some global timezone at some point in the 1990s.  Imagine a flock of ducks flying along, and one of them while zipping straight ahead at a good clip, sticks his head directly up his rear… until pop!  He simply disappears, in Incheon Landing slang.

An opera-going friend invited me to an elite dinner party in Newport Beach, where of course I did not use this sort of language.  One thing I know how to do is put up a glamorous front at an upscale dinner party.  The woman seated to my right asked my line of work. “You’re a writer? Fabulous,” she said.  “I run an investment fund; my clients invest a minimum of $5 million with me.  I want to publish a book on my investing method and I’d like you to be my ghost author. Come to my office on Monday.”

Soon I was in her impressive Newport Beach office, complete with fountains in the palm-swept courtyard, taking down her book in dictation twice a week, as she rattled it off the top of her head.  Soon we were talking international finance, and she was talking about taking me on to train me to help handle some of her millionaire investment clients.  Magic!  A new California Dream.

Until one day I sat down in her office – and the investment bank on Wall Street where she kept all her clients’ funds had just gone down in flames, bringing the markets with it.  Her cell phones were ringing, the computers were going haywire, her irate clients were pulling up in limos, and her husband and son were running in and out of the room with slips of paper and messages.

bear_stearns on fire 0808It was like trying to write a book on nuclear war, in the middle of a nuclear war.  There went another California Dream.  The Great 2008 Financial Crisis made an end to that book project, along with major investment banks.

It was also the end of my California defense career, because the Federal proposal consulting market in California suddenly died, never to be born again as of today.  All the technical writing jobs for aerospace engineering near Los Angeles International Airport which I had been eying suddenly were shipped back to the Washington DC Beltway from whence I’d just barely escaped with my life.

I’d put some cash away from all those contracts, but that career was gone, unless I wanted to move back to Washington, world capital of defense consulting, home of the rain, sleet, and the long shadow of Dan Heller.  I did not; I physically could not. I was sick to my gut at the thought of travel to the East Coast.

So I was stuck in my one-room in California, which was actually little more than a shack in a young couples’ back yard, with the clothes on my back, $30K in my ex’s debt still on my credit cards,  my hard-earned savings, and a stellar resume – curled up in a heap on my bed like a spider checking out for good.

Did I mention that I’d tried dating in California? I did meet several fellows.  One was Harvey the Vietnam vet, a sweet man who bore a striking resemblance to Tarzan (he was ripped).  Harvey had survived some horrible experiences in combat, though.  And now I was beginning to feel like I knew just what he had been through.

Summer 2008, I thought, surely was the the end of my world. Surely it could get no worse than this.  One of my journal entries at the height of the 2008 Presidential campaign gave some pretty amazing evidence on my state of mind:

The Helicopter
(Apologies to Senator McCain)
August 2, 2008

My friend Harvey fought in Vietnam as a combat photographer,
At 6’3″ he weighed over 220 pounds.
On one evacuation the GIs pushed him off the helicopter:
“Pansy photographer! We can’t take off with your weight!”
Harvey was captured by the Vietcong.  Eventually he escaped.

Sometimes I have that helicopter feeling:
That my parents threw me out of my house,
That my husband threw me out of my life,
That the economy threw me off of the bus.

I forsook my family and gave up everything for you,
But you threw me out of my life,
You threw me into the world completely unequipped,
To know that I was prey.

You threw me, without ever having been loved,
Into Superman’s arms,
He took me for a flight, and I thought “Oh, maybe this is love?”
But soon he was done — and he threw me off the helicopter
—————————–All
———————————————Over
—————————————————————–Again.

Bang!  You’re dead.  All over again.
I’m MIA — and no one even knows I’m missing,
Or will know whether I die or whether I live…
I’m MIA — and I can’t even run for President;
I don’t even have the dignity of a dog tag.

 

———————————
This is from Chapter 2 Part II of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder – How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.  Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

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No Tears for Dad

#9 in my ongoing book series; original post September 27, 2013

After my 27-year marriage fell apart, by late 2007 I was reduced to writing long poems for Dan the East Coast rebound affair, in a bizarre attempt to figure out how his mind worked, why he kept calling me, and how to inspire him to “get it.”

My notebooks repeated one theme for two years:  I was dead — but now I want to be alive.  I’d been left “home alone” by my ex for so many years I thought I was dead, as I said during my divorce.  I emailed friends often in the months to follow that Dan had brought a dead woman back to life.  One March 2008 poem ends: “If you someday chose to take a breath/ I’ll be there at your command/ You gave me life, I owe you life/ Call upon it if you can.”

BrousBlog11a Turtle Stayin' AliveI didn’t learn until four years later that the reptilian brain stem controls a lot of these functions, and this feeling of being dead has a technical tag: dissociation.
Whu Nhu?

But Dan’s every “come here” ended in a “go away,” so I couldn’t stay alive.  I’d been so happy to escape the marriage torture chamber, divorce, and start a fabulous new life, I just couldn’t understand why I felt so lousy. “Dan ruined California for me,” I decided, and launched into a new round of kayaking, sailing, dancing and dating on the West Coast to replace him.  Good luck in that mindset.

Periodically I’d fly back and forth across North America, making money, visiting Mr. Wrong, and going nowhere at 600 MPH.  Who needed meth, I was high as a kite on my own hyper-schedule.

After a late 2007 trip to visit Washington DC defense sector clients and Dan’s Maryland fortress, I flew back to LAX into the worst Southern California fire season of the decade.  The desert from the air showed flames and plumes of black smoke rising as far as the eye could see, as if the plane were “just taking the tram into Mordor.”  A descent into hell, literally and emotionally.

My California dream had become a nightmare.  As 2008 wore on, Dan the Anti-Christ of Anti-Attachment was eating an ever-larger hole in my soul.  I spent days near LAX writing billion-dollar proposals for radar systems and nights writing Dan doggerel, trying to fathom my obsession and work it out of my system.

But no matter how I tried to fix my present, it never hit me that all this emotional pain could be from way far back in my past.

Reality Check

Reality finally hit when my father died and I couldn’t cry.

In spring 2008 I saw an ad for a concert of my all-time favorite, Mozart’s final ”Requiem Mass,” at a community college in Huntington Beach, and moved to take back my music.  On May 15, 2008, I sang the “Requiem” with full chorus and orchestra, realizing my dream to be singing again and in sunny California with a new start.

The next morning my brother-in-law phoned from New York to say that my Dad in Florida had just had a heart attack, please catch the next plane to Miami Beach.  California?  New life?  A little joy?  Kiss the vision goodbye for the Nth time, honey.

BrousBlog11b Amadeus PosterBack in the air across the country, back to the dreary East Coast I flew, Mozart’s fearsome call of Judgment Day ringing in my ears.  Back to my “family of origin” as it is technically termed, back to my parents and my younger sister.  Back, back, back in time.

My father lay in the hospital dying.  He had an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth and could do little more than groan and wave penciled lists of things that needed doing in the general direction of my mother.  He had had a stroke and acute respiratory failure as well; his major systems had simply given out.

Dad worked long hours into the night and on Saturdays for 40 years for his family because, as the Broadway song from “Carousel” goes:  “She’s gotta be sheltered, and fed, and dressed, in the best that money can buy.”  Yet there was always something strange about his situation. When at age 4 or so I first noticed Dad, he was controlled access only.  He’d come home late, Mom would allow my sister and I each a quick hug, say “Daddy’s tired” (always the same words), seat him in a back room with dinner and the TV on, and close the door with us outside.  She’d joke, “They never knew his name was Ralph; they thought his name was Daddy’s Tired.”

BrousBlog11c Billy Bigelow SunsetIt felt as if Dad was always off into the sunset somewhere, like the movie finale of “Carousel” where Billy the Dad returns to heaven after one day on earth.  Dad would say, “I learned in a house full of women to keep the toilet seat down,” as if he did not belong.

A few Sundays a year Dad would take us to the carousel in the next town, which I awaited eagerly as my only time of any duration with him.  I had such longing to belong with the colored lights and pretty horses, and for Dad to see me and recognize me as part of that beautiful setting.  But Dad didn’t seem to notice me; he’d put me on his horse in front of him and focus on jumping for the gold ring.  The big scary outside moving horses seemed to go awfully high up when I was so little and when Dad jumped it terrified me, but he just laughed.  I wanted to hang onto Dad but he was jumping, so I hung onto the horse’s leather strap instead.

The next memory I have of Dad was in school after the Kennedy assassination, when for no reason anyone could grasp, I began crying uncontrollably and went on sobbing in my room for weeks.  Finally Dad came in and said, “That’s enough now, cut it out.”  Mom and he were displeased when I cried as a kid and that was the signal to be quiet.  It never occurred to either of us for him to ask what was really troubling me, or to hold me while I cried.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Dad grew up in a big house with showcases of silver, plastic slipcovers on the furniture, and tennis courts.  His father was a New York City merchant who commuted to Manhattan every day by Long Island Railroad.  After the 1929 crash, Grandpa lost everything, but still went to the station every morning and sat there all day to keep up appearances.  One day the kids at school told my Dad where Grandpa was, and Dad had to go to the station and tell Grandpa “Come on, Dad, let’s go home.”  My Dad never connected this to post-war times, but when I heard the story, it hit me that appearances had always been really important in our family.

Now I realized watching Dad in the hospital, waving lists of things to do, that he was still trying to keep up appearances, to maintain some sense that he had control over events — in a situation where that is notoriously impossible.  I was reminded of the lists later when my sister Linda and I stumbled over eerily similar boxes of objects Dad had stashed at home.  Large cartons of nail clippers, endless cases of pencils, crates of bills from decades past, an empire of things he spent years trying to control.  Lynn was bemused, but I remember feeling scared and wondering why.

I haven’t mentioned Mom much, in order to let you continue to look over my shoulder and see events exactly as I did – or to be blind to them, as I mostly was.  Let’s simply say for now that another reason it was difficult to communicate with Dad was that it always seemed I couldn’t really speak to him except through Mom.  It was still pretty much controlled access.

Mom had her moments; one afternoon she held Dad’s hand and sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” until we all were in such tears that emails to the cousins reverberated across the internet. You could hear them singing along with Bing Crosby all 1,200 miles from Long Island, New York to Miami Beach, Florida that night.

But Mom wasn’t glad to see me, as usual.  I felt sad I hadn’t visited them more in later years, but Mom never seemed to want me around and I didn’t have the courage to face her.

When I arrived at the hospital Dad was visibly upset – “Kathy?!” he cried, almost in terror.  I can still hear the alarm in his voice.  It hit me that my face made him realize he must be seriously ill, if I were there all the way from California, and despite Mom’s resistance.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

BrousBlog11d Generic CarouselI spent the rest of May 2008 in what felt like a giant nation-wide United Airlines staging of “Carousel,” jetting round and around, back and forth from the hospital in Florida to Washington DC, where I had a  contract this time to work on a $2 billion proposal to restructure the national information systems at the Transportation Security Agency.

I never connected the two at the time, but in retrospect I was in such emotional pain seeing my parents in Florida, pain so severe I couldn’t even become conscious of it, that my resolve to kick the Dan habit went right out the window.

As I said when I first left home in 2006: “I was in so much pain, I just walked out on Newport Beach and proceeded directly to medicate.”  Straight from the hospital to Dan I went and for a few weeks his brand of organic chemicals numbed me up right fine.

On June 3, 2008, Dad passed away.  Back to Florida I flew.  My sister the Wall Street lawyer seemed to have the funeral service as well scripted as a prosecution.  But in fact it was Mom who literally wrote scripts for everyone but me to read.  Linda’s two sons balked at reading the scripts; they said they loved Grandpa, and wanted to speak of him in their own words.

But finally they had to agree, since Mom was distressed and everyone had to “make Mom feel better.” (Actually that had been everyone’s obligation since at least the 1960s, especially mine.)

Something in me rebelled as I saw this train coming down the track, and when Lynn asked me to start the service, I said “No, I’m the eldest, I’ll go last.” For some reason I’ve never understood, everyone accepted that as fact immediately.

My two nephews each got up and read their scripts, but then extemporized as teens will do, Lord bless ’em.  Linda’s husband spoke, then Linda read a speech she’d had me type for her the night before about the greatest Dad on earth.  “Of course I can’t type,” she said.  “I knew I’d never be a typist so I refused to take typing in high school.”  (I type 98.6 words a minute so I wasn’t sure whether that made me chopped liver but I let it go.)  At the service, Mom didn’t want to speak; she sat impassively.

No one had any idea what I was going to do, least of all me, until the last moment.  I rose and said, “Everyone else has said all the wonderful things there are to say about my Dad.  I’d like to do something for my family here.”  And then I sang; it was “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the finale from “Carousel,” a long-time family favorite.  The hundred person audience in the posh Miami Beach retirement home all cried and then, almost forgetting it was a funeral, applauded the long high note at the end.

Everyone cried, that is, except me.  I sang that whole slow sustained song acapella (no piano,  no nothing), and my voice was entirely clear.  “I never thought you’d make that high note,” my sister whispered later, “But you nailed it.  How did you do that?” I was shocked, too; I had no answer, but it came easily, and with perfect confidence.

The emotional soprano who cries whenever music moves her, at the movies, or on so many other occasions, could not find tears for her own Dad.  Actually I had tried to cry for days.  Lynn and I both remarked how strange it was.  I was worried, too.  It did not seem right, but there it was: I somehow felt nothing.

My Dad had died, and I could not cry.

———————————
This is from Chapter 2 of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.  Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

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Enter the Dragon

#8 in my ongoing book series; original post September 20, 2013

OK, step away from the brain science; back to how my life fell apart with Attachment Disorder.  When we last looked at the end of my 27-year marriage, I’d stumbled into a rebound affair.  Dan* had a fake southern accent, I was from southern Long Island, and I was toast.  I had no idea how the real world works;  I thought he was looking for True Love.

In “Working Girl” (1988), Melanie Griffith’s character Tess is too nervous to make the corporate cocktail party in her boss’s $6,000 dress, so her friend Cyn passes her a few of the boss’s valiums. Tess then passes out in the cab. Eyeing the bottle later, Cyn quips in New York-ese: “Gee, shoulda checked the milligramage. Oh well, Live and Loin…”

That was me in late 2006 – shoulda checked the milligramage.

BrousBlog10a KB TractorBut Whu Nu, and who cared? After Dan came at me for weeks at the family swimming hole, I finally went to his Maryland farm for dinner.  After dinner, we looked at years of photos showing how he had built his house from scratch; in fact, he was so constructive that one thing led to another.

Before I knew it, all my emotional pain from 27 years of married neglect and abuse was being medicated into oblivion.

This went on for the next few weeks, as Dan pumped a flood of feel-good dopamine, oxytocin, and other mating chemicals through my bloodstream with enough intensity to knock a gal senseless.  I was like a Stradivarius manhandled by a ham- fisted tone-deaf bass drummer (that would be my ex) for 10 years, tossed into storage for 20 years — and then found by a master violinist.  It was a trip from nothing, to a whole lot of something.  To call me putty in Dan’s hands would have be a major understatement.

In his college days, Dan had been seduced by the wife of a French diplomat; this exotic lady taught him more things about a woman’s anatomy than Henry Gray ever dreamt possible.  If not George Washington University, then at least the CIA should have had him teaching post-grad courses in his area of expertise.  Surely there was some branch of our secret services in which he would have been an enormous asset.

Dan was systematic at ensuring my chemical addiction, but he wasn’t just shining shoes to please a client.  He took the abandoned delight of a kid in an ice cream store in what he did, and it showed, which naturally made me think he really cared for me.  “If you enjoy something, why wouldn’t you want to make it last as long as you can?” he would say, going into hour four at 2 am with no let up in intensity.

New York City Girl found herself literally on another planet, playing farm wife complete with apron, wood fires, and home-cooked meals.  (Even though sitting on the tractor, no matter how hard I tried to “go country,” I still resembled nothing so much as Martha Stewart…)

“Grandpa used to say: A woman should be chained to the bed — with a chain long enough to reach the kitchen,” Dan would drawl.  We’d go out back down by the lake where he’d give me shooting lessons so that I could one day join his frequent hunting trips which kept the basement freezers stocked with deer and fowl.  I got to where I made a killer venison chili.

Suddenly, I had an enthusiastic taker for all that country music I’d been logging mindlessly in my head for months. We’d ride around on the tractor or in his four-wheel drive singing “I Ain’t as Good as I Once Was” by Toby Keith at the top of our lungs (singing and dancing ensued, in fact, at the oddest hours and angles). Everything seemed to fall in place.

War on Bonding

BrousBlog10b Iguana no-face CropImagine my surprise when, after three months, Dan began to talk up my earlier plan to move to California.  One day, he announced out of the blue that it would be a mistake for a gal to hang around him too long.  “Why can’t women be like my guy friends? If I don’t call them for two weeks, they don’t care,” he said.  (“Doin’ them same gymnastics with the guys?”  I considered asking, but it seemed counter-productive at the time…)

“Women are too obsessed with relationships,” he went on. “Guys don’t care about that stuff. Relationships are for marriage, marriage is for having children, and I’m done with all that,” he said.

“Women who want to hang on to a guy need to get over it. Sex is for adults. Women who can’t have sex without getting attached to a guy need to grow up.”

Back to brain science, where one of the first things you learn is that our brain has three or four gross subdivisions, which behave very differently, as Dr. Bruce Perry’s Slide #1 showed last week.  First, in the womb, we develop the brain stem and cerebellum for pure survival, aka “Reptilian brain.” After we are born, the neurons of the Limbic brain aka “Mammalian brain” fire up, so we can manage emotional attachment to Mom.  Only much later, the neurons of the Cortex aka “Thinking Brain” finally come on line. [FN1]

Reptiles just don’t get attached; they don’t carry their young, they eat their young.  That’s because reptiles have no emotions, and that’s because they have no emotional limbic brain. The limbic brain first developed in mammals, who developed the ability to feel. They felt it was better to carry and care for their young. They developed the ability to feel attachment.  The lack of which is attachment disorder.

Dan was militant about not using his mammalian limbic brain – and of reptiles he was rather fond.  On one of our vacations in Mexico, I envied the iguana he found, it got so much TLC.  Dr. Stephen Porges explained in a recent interview how to detect such folks, but me in 2006?  Who Nhu?  [FN2]

To be fair, Dan had been through a seriously nasty divorce years before.  He never knew that his wife, whom he loved to distraction, was having babies with other men while he was hard at work at Reagan National airport, until their third child. He went ballistic, and vowed never again to become attached.  “Ah ripped out mah heart with a pick axe, now Ah’m heartless, and Ah likes it that way,” he’d drawl.  “Ah’m famous for being heartless, even at work.  She did me a favor:  she made me bulletproof.”

Dan had years ago declared nuclear war on attachment.  Now he tells me.

Instead, he bought 15 acres of wooded land in the Styx of rural Maryland, way out down a dirt road as far west as he could go. He cleared half of it for a farm, and built himself a fortress by hand, a large, airy, three-story building of wood and stone with a huge fireplace which could heat the entire house even in 20-degree weather.

After one particularly tender evening with me, he awoke next morning with a nightmare which had been repeatedly haunting him for a decade.  He saw his wife enter his new house with a crew of workmen, directing them to rip out of the walls all the custom made-wiring, conduits and pipes he had built so painstakingly by hand.

He could run, but could not hide, from the emotional pain of rejection and grief still lacerating deep into his soul.

As I said in blog #8, I was like the Singing Nun right out of a cloister on this ball field.  And now in my naivete, I was blown away with compassion for Dan’s tragedy – hook, line and sinker.

“Come Here Go Away

BrousBlog10c Girl+SyringeBy now, Dan had learned (one hopes unconsciously) that telling his heartrending tale with his big blue eyes full of hurt, was a surefire way to get a gal’s defenses down.  It brought out the mom in her, her co-dependent wish to rescue the underdog, and all her bonding hormones, in one fell swoop.  While she was in the grip of this mindless emoting, Dan could get away with murder.  Good gosh, it was crazy-making.

I was the No Eye Deer at the time, but it was a classic case of “Come Here Go Away.”  Dan used his tale of woe and his carefully induced chemical addiction campaign to have a gal bond like crazy glue.  But once she got involved, he would flip and say “Go Away.” [FN3]

Only way, way later did I realize that it all resembled nothing so much as the scene in the Bruce Lee film “Enter the Dragon,” in which Hahn the drug lord has built a factory for the white slave trade under his palatial Hong Kong chateau.

BrousBlog10d Girl+Bruce LeeStealing in to investigate, Lee’s character discovers rows of red cages, each holding a kidnapped young woman. Nurses in crisp white uniforms are systematically injecting heroin into their shoulders to addict them, so they never attempt escape.

Now, all those organic chemicals Dan pumped into me had me rowing in the same slave galley.

Far-fetched? Nope.  Helen Fisher, the anthropologist upon whose lab studies all the picky questionnaires on Match.com and Chemistry.com are based, has a book out on it. [FN4]  But I was of course clueless at the time.  Whu Nhu?

I was convinced (and I wasn’t the first gal or the last to buy it) that I could be the one to melt Dan’s heart and save him from his emotional prison. At first, I heard his stern, high-horse lectures about the moral superiority of acting like an adult and not getting clingy, with disbelief.

Then ruminating on it in the months to follow, I began
to wonder if perhaps this is how all men are, for what did I know of men? Certainly my ex had made even less of an effort to relate to me.  If I were to do the math, it’s possible Dan spent more time touching me in those first few months than my ex had in 30 years.  And it sure felt “right.”

As Dan repeated his lecture time and again, I began to wonder: what did I know, anyway, about relating in these matters like an adult, man or woman?  I knew the global foreign exchange markets and I knew how to build a nuclear reactor, but I was clueless on this playing field.

Perhaps he was correct? Perhaps maturity is being able to rule oneself entirely by one’s mind and not let one’s emotions run away with the stage coach?  Either way, what profit argument?  If I just kept showering him with love and compassion, wouldn’t his heart melt one day?

Not only had Dan declared war on bonding – he had sold war bonds to me.  I knew I had a problem with unruly emotions, so I bought his idea that if I didn’t understand him, it was my own emotional immaturity.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

So what is this lurid tale doing on a mental health website? Have my editors gone nuts?  Nope, but the rest of us might have issues.

BrousBlog10e Dragon Nurses As low-brow as my story is, it is a very common one and it may have happened to you a time or two.  Put it another way: who in their right mind would put up with Dan’s treatment for a month, let alone almost two years? Exactly.  Putting up with this is precisely “not being in my right mind.”  Something which is definitely not mental health is at the root of putting up with this.

OK, why?  Cry “psycho-babble” all you want, but this is exactly what happens to people who did not receive good secure attachment as kids.

And like I say, that’s up to 50% of Americans.  The sad fact is, with a population of over 300 million Americans, about 150 million women and men are putting up with something like this right now, and for years at a stretch.

After the “come here” came the “go away,” and I moved to California as planned in November 2006.  But Dan wasn’t done with me.  He kept calling and emailing; he knew I had Washington DC Beltway defense sector clients offering lucrative consulting gigs which could bring me to his door for a few months a year. I couldn’t say no to the East Coast contracts after what my ex had done to our finances, and I couldn’t say no to Dan and his perfectly legal and lethal natural organic drugs.

Thus it came to pass that the opium-like nightmare simply went on and on.  The rest of 2006, all of 2007, and half of 2008 were a blur of trans-continental red-eye flights, working 70 hour weeks for fat defense sector paychecks, making solo trips from LAX to rendezvous with Dan on the warm beaches of Mexico for tequila plus, and some very interesting long midnight coast-to-coast telephone calls.

This was a guy with a distance thing and an issue against getting close, all right.  A 3,000 mile distance thing.  The whole long, painful time I thought he must secretly “in his heart of hearts” want me back.  But reality was that the only reason he kept calling me was that I was safely (for him) moved in, 3,000 miles away.

*All names, except for mine, have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, and any resemblance they may have to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

————————————–

This is part four of Chapter One of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes

FN1 Lewis, Thomas MD; Amini, Fari MD; Lannon, Richard MD; “A General Theory of Love,” Random House, 2000;  See: www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/
FN2 Baer, Drake, Interview with Dr. Stephen Porges, “How To Know If You’re Working With Mammals or Reptiles (and Why It Matters To Your Creativity).” “Can you pick out the reptiles in your workplace? According to neurophysiologist Stephen Porges, if you want to be creative, you want to be on the lookout for the scaly types, and seek out the mammals instead. Porges explains how to detect each behavior and become a creative animal.” [Article features an embedded Porges slide show video] www.fastcocreate.com/1682363/how-to-know-if-youre-working-with-mammals-or-reptiles-and-why-it-matters-to-your-creativity
FN3 Earle, Ralph, PhD, “Come Here Go Away: Stop Running from the Love you Want,” Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1991
FN4 Fisher, Helen, PhD, “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love,” Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2004

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Surgeon General’s Warning: Rebound!

#7 in my ongoing book series; original post September 6, 2013

I never liked the sticky suburbs of Washington D.C.  My ex had moved us there from New York City years before.  As I was boxing up my three-bedroom Virginia ranch and my life during my divorce, I got a call from a girl friend in Southern California who was gravely ill. When her hair fell out, her husband served her with divorce papers (attachment was not his thing).

BrousBlog8a Newport Memorial Day StanDue to the treatments, she couldn’t remember what happened on a given day in court, so I flew out to help. On my first trip, all I saw was courtrooms and hospitals. On my second trip, I stepped out onto Newport Beach and the beauty of the area hit me hard between the eyes.

“Why not me?” I thought, looking at the ocean, the sailboats, the rows of green palms and red Spanish tile roofs sweeping into the bright blue distance.  Why should I move down the pike in the dreary Old Dominion, shoveling ice and snow to commute the rest of my life — when I could move across the country to a beautiful place like this?  Back to Virginia I flew, now boxing up a storm, with the song of a warm sun, a rolling ocean, and a new life in my heart.

Trouble is, divorce doesn’t come with the warning it ought to have from the Surgeon General’s office:  “Caution: Rebound Affairs Can be Hazardous to your Health.”  Why didn’t the counselors and lawyers at the women’s center tell us?  Why didn’t they tell us that 75% of divorced folks end up in a second divorce?

Why?  Because divorce hurts! It hurts a lot!  So the natural tendency in divorce is to medicate, and many people do medicate, until they learn the hard way to stop. Medicating includes alcohol, drugs, food, or other substance abuse, workaholism, sports, video games, internet fixations of all sorts — anything which changes the subject, anything to avoid facing up to the emotional pain of the loss of an entire life.

Take my sudden Country & Western music jag.  Hindsight stinks, but clearly I was having a profound emotional crisis, emotional pain at a level which I’d later recognize as “break-through grief.”  Suddenly, La Soprano Classique can’t bear classical music, but she’ll bang on the steering wheel to Toby Keith for hours on end?  A clinical case of medicating with music.

At the top of the medication list is the feel-good of a new romance.  But when that’s done on the rebound–
without a time-out to understand what went wrong in the first marriage, or to take concrete measures to heal from such a major wound — then both parties come to the table with a lot of buried hurt burning up their hearts.  Character discernment goes out the window, mis-matches are legion, and even the best people –- each in intolerable pain of their own — eventually project it wrongly onto their unwitting partner. As they lash out, eyes wide shut, it ends in another divorce, more hurt piled on hurt.

Who knew?  “Whu Nhu? He was the Prime Minister of Burma before U Thant,” was again my tag line.  I certainly did not know.  “Whaddaya call a blind doe? ‘No Eye Deer’,” was my other refrain.  I did not get the memo, because for one thing, there was no memo.  Another reason for this book, ‘cos a memo on divorce and the dangers of the rebound sure is needed.

I Thought I Was Dead

In July 2006 when I left home, I had been left “home alone” for dead for so long by my ex, that I thought I was dead.  Larry moved us from New York where we met and married, to Virginia, then left the house one morning, and never came home until past midnight.  For about 15 years.  There was no breaking bread together, no “How was your day?” emotional connection to soothe daily hurts, and for the last 15 years, no physical contact — and no children.

We didn’t have time for that stuff; how could I have kids on airplanes?  We were above all that, we had to save the world! So I furiously trotted the globe on business, organized conferences in Tokyo for diplomats from several nations in three languages, and devoured great music in another few languages.

When I turned 50, a perceptive friend actually asked me if I’d ever thought I’d live past 50, which if you think about it, is a shocking thing to ask a female gym rat as healthy as a horse. “No, I guess not” I blurted without self-editing, “Is it so obvious I’ve been burning at both ends?” I’d been lost in East Berlin in the rain on the wrong side of the Wall, and deep under the Korean DMZ in a miner’s rail bucket. I’d been to so many places on so many adventures that a co-worker asked, “Kathy, is there anything you haven’t done?”

BrousBlog8d Newport boat July 4aWell, er, it turns out there were still a few things, and by Murgatroyd I was going to do them all — and now, starting with a lot of Pacific Ocean water sports.  I really never thought I’d make it to 2010 alive, which encouraged a certain devil-may-care attitude.  (That’s me in red.)

Larry was so callous for so many years that by the time I left, my view finder was filled with nothing but the sheer relief that I was no longer banging my head against his wall of indifference.  Just to be breathing felt like a party.  Just to see the sun and the ocean and the odd palm tree, to be free of the constant adrenaline panic of deadlines, was a breath of air so fresh it made me want to dance, and so I did.

BrousBlog8c Kathy Kayaking Laguna w.hills #63I danced a lot of two-step and wailed to hard rock; I sang a lot of country; I raced sailboats; and ocean kayaked; and hiked; and dated up a semi-tropical storm.  I had no intention of not doing the right thing.  Fun appeared to be the only intensely rational thing to do.

Fact is, I’d taken such an emotional hit with the divorce that I was numb.  I had so much pain from all those decades of being left alone, that I didn’t even know I had pain. ( The technical term is dissociation.)

How was I to know I was serial-medicating a whole landslide of pain with all this partying? Whu Nhu?  I just thought:  “I’m no longer banging my head against the wall! Let’s go dancing instead.”  But reality was that I was in so much pain that I just walked out on Newport Beach and proceeded directly to medicate.

In particular, I thought, love is simple. “I married a bad man, he was mean to me. Now I’ll find a good man to love me,” I told myself.  Famous last words.

The Singing Nun

I knew the global financial markets, but after a 30-year hiatus from dating, I was like a nun out of a cloister on the ball field of romance. As I was boxing up a storm in Virginia, a statistical fluke hit; at least, I thought it was a fluke.  It was to be the first of many. I found myself picked up and dumped into a vat of the ultimate pain medication.

For almost 20 years, every Sunday in August I’d gone to my local pool where everyone knew me as Mrs. Larry. First Sunday in August 2006, while living in my best friend Sandy’s basement, I went to my pool, only to find it padlocked, due to be bulldozed for the construction of a furniture warehouse.

I was weeks from moving to California, and wanted a tan, so across the river I drove to the next pool in Maryland 20 minutes away. It was an innocent family spot where I’d never set foot in my life and in a few weeks would never set foot again; I’d be 3,000 miles gone.

So it was that three weeks out of my home, I was minding my own business in spades, secure in the glum knowledge that Larry found me completely unattractive and certain that no man would ever look at me again as long as I lived. It was 90 degrees in the humid shade and I was half asleep in the pool holding onto a ladder, when he hailed me: “Hey, ladder lady.”

I thought he wanted the ladder, so I swam away.

I was amazed when he appeared minutes later at my lounge chair, a wiry fellow with burning blue eyes, hitting on me like a ton of bricks (not that I knew the term “to hit” at the time). My jaw must have dropped a foot but he wasn’t looking at my jaw. Later he said, “When I saw you, the first thing I noticed was that you weren’t wearing a ring. The second thing was the bikini. I wanted to just eat you all up.”

He chatted awhile, and handed me his impressive business card, which indicated he managed billion-dollar equipment as head of air traffic control at Washington National Airport. “Come to my house for dinner,” he urged. “I’m moving to California,” I said point blank, “I’ll show you my car trunk full of boxes to prove it. It’s pointless.”

I had been with one man for 30 years (including before marriage) and hadn’t dated since college. I was like the Singing Nun out of a cloister, or a dead ringer for Wilma Flintstone with a bone in her hair, from a time capsule out of pre-history. To say I needed to learn about men was the understatement of the millennium (ok, it had been a short millennium so far).

My ex hadn’t touched me since forever and I was a top contender for Loneliest Gal in the Old Dominion. I was already road kill before this truck hit me; I was chum suitable to be tossed to the sharks. I had no tools to handle anything remotely approaching this.

Dan Heller*, for his part, had one heck of a tool box, and was not a man to be deterred. Three Sundays at the pool he came back at me, “Come to my house for dinner.” He had beautiful eyes, and knew how to use them. Finally he figured out that I was fascinated by construction projects and air travel after working on all those Third World development plans on the other side of the world. He guessed correctly that I wouldn’t be able resist a “back stage tour” of the airport.

BrousBlog8e Reagan Nat'l Control TowerThat next Wednesday at 5 p.m. I met him outside the airport office. We climbed into his official Jeep and roamed far and wide, examining the great soaring machines which move people and economic equipment all over the world from angles a mere passenger never sees. We toured the extensive supporting plant and fuel tank farms, acres of new construction, numerous hangars with aircraft of every variety, and I learned the difference between a taxiway and a runway.

The coup de grace was a ride to the top of the new Air Traffic Control Tower which was 99% complete but not yet in service. The control room at the top had a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view of the entire airfield, the great runways stretching to the horizons, the glorious landscapes for miles around, and a layer of fresh-smelling sawdust from final woodworking in progress. We were alone way up there at sunset, Dan was in his element, and I leave you to imagine the rest.

On the fourth Sunday, I folded.

Walking into Dan’s Maryland farm house for dinner, we entered a great room all of pine with a two story vaulted cathedral ceiling, an acoustic I was sure would be terrific for Mozart (if I could bear to sing it again). I sang a few bars; Dan looked bemused. There was a bay window with a sunset view of the lake, and a promising grand staircase. “Ah built this house with mah own two hands,” he drawled, having somehow acquired a killer Southern accent, and proceeded to show off his construction photos.

He was from southern New Jersey, I was from southern Long Island – and I was toast. I had no idea what goes on in the real world. I thought he was looking for True Love.

No, Virginia, there is no Santy Claus, and he sure wasn’t. He had a closet full of hunting rifles and camouflage, and he was looking for a deer to take. Once he had the carcass, he was going to lose interest in that deer real fast. But of course, Ms. No Eye Deer was blind to the obvious.

*All names, except for mine, have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, and any resemblance they may have to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

——————————-

This is part three of Chapter One of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

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