Bleeding Bowls and The Things We Can’t Fix

 

5943681577_de94f161c8_o.jpg
Photo credit: Mate Marschalko

“Said if the last thing that I do
Is to bring you down
I’ll bleed out for you
So I bear my skin
And I count my sins
And I close my eyes
And I take it in
And I’m bleeding out
I’m bleeding out for you…”

-Bleeding Out, Imagine Dragons

Things get passed down through families.  We pass down physical characteristics, heirlooms, social habits, prejudices, and so much more. Our families of origin determine so much of who we end up being, and influence in so many ways how we approach life.

Some of the things that people pass through their families make me laugh.  I had a discussion with some coworkers the other day about how mattresses can stay in a family for decades.  One of these friends told me she still had and used a mattress that was over 60 years old. (Granted, it was one of those mattresses you could rotate and flip over). I promptly grossed out everyone at the lunch table by musing about the sheer weight of skin flakes and mites that had accumulated in the mattress during that extensive time period.  But in all fairness, I had to have a talk with my own parents about 15 years ago regarding a 30 year old mattress they thought was still a viable bedding option.  I explained that mattresses were never meant to attain vintage status, and when they can no longer maintain their shape, it’s time to let them go. My parents very begrudgingly (and with a little resentment towards me) sent that particular mattress to the dump….but they kept their other 25 year old mattress.  You’d think I was asking them to toss out the family silver or something.

Another item that families have passed down in past centuries, which I find fascinating, is bleeding bowls. The practice of bloodletting is at least 3,000 years old, and only with in the last couple of hundred years has it really finally been understood as a bad idea except in a couple of instances – like polycythemia vera where there is an overproduction of red blood cells, or when iron levels in the blood need to be kept in balance, in the case of hemochromatosis.  Way back when, illness was understood to result from the imbalance of humors in the body (yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood) of which blood was believed to be the strongest.

The history of bloodletting is rather interesting, and there are some stories of well-known people who suffered from its deleterious effects, brought on by well meaning doctors. Fortunately, scientists like Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur helped change the mindset that diseases were caused by imbalances, with the advent of Germ Theory. Still, I think this idea of letting unhelpful and harmful things out of our bodies still has some truth to it…and the process of letting out those things is no less shocking and disquieting than draining out our own physical blood stores.

*************************************************************************************

Years back, when I had different theological and ontological perspectives on the cosmos, I believed wholeheartedly in generational curses – spiritual consequences that are passed down through families as the result of sinful acts or habits, which can take root and affect generation after generation until broken off in some miraculous way.  I don’t have this fatalistic view anymore, where our external actions tragically screw us over, but I certainly believe that, somehow, traits and phenomena get genetically coded and can be passed down through families.  And I’m not talking about genetically inherited diseases, like something springing out of a gene mutation that is propagated through offspring. Although….it would be really interesting if certain gene mutations could create very specific trauma responses…

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I’ve had panic attacks since I was about 7 or 8.  They are freaking dreadful….the worst fear I could ever imagine, and I can’t logic or rationalize my way out of them. They only happen at night, (thankfully now only every great once in a while) usually when I wake up to go to the bathroom and my mind is suddenly like, “Hey, Julie, this is a prime time to ponder the universe, God, and what eternity is!” And I quickly spiral into sheer terror, until I have the wherewithal to ground myself with some brilliant trauma technique given to me by my therapist best friend.

I’ve blogged about this phobia of eternity before:  it has a name (Apeirophobia), and is a legit THING, which makes me feel alot better about myself.  For years, I thought I was the only person in the world weird enough and neurotic enough to be afraid of existing forever.

But then, when I was already over 30, I found out that my mom had the exact same panic attacks about the exact same thing.  We got to talking one night and she described her apeirophobic fears, what triggered them, and what she experienced, and they were SPOT ON with my experiences. I was literally bowled over that this could be, because we had never discussed our panic attacks before.  Years after she passed, my dad told me more details about her panic attacks, that were again, exactly like mine.

How could my mom and I have the same panic attacks, based out of the same phobia, with the exact same trains of thought when there was nothing in our environments to create them, no one else we knew had these kinds of panic attacks, and she and I developed them independently from each other without talking about them? The only conclusion I can logically reach is that somehow they passed down from her to me. The whole process still blows my mind, and it has made me take very seriously the passing down of family patterns and dynamics through people that have absolutely nothing to do with environment or nurture (referencing the whole nature versus nurture debate).

*************************************************************************************

There’s that old saying that everyone has probably heard: Ignorance is bliss.  Sometimes I think this is absolutely true. Sometimes it’s really nice to not know what you don’t know…because then, you’re not bothered when you can’t fix something that you know is broken.

I blame alot of my mental struggles on Scott Peck…I read his book The Road Less Traveled over a decade ago and now there are things I just can’t unsee that on certain days I wish I could. Damn him, meant in the very nicest of ways. He was one of the first writers that revealed to me that I was in control of alot more of my life than I thought, that I could dig in and figure out some of the dynamics that seemed to be ruling me, and that I could make new choices and take a different path than the one I was currently on.

But this is where the problem lies in becoming more self-aware:  there are things, that no matter how freaking hard I try, I CANNOT fix!

I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve uncovered my childhood wounds, I’ve taken tests regarding Myers-Briggs, the DISC, the Four Color Personality, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, the Enneagram, and more.  I’ve gone to church and other faith communities for over thirty years. I’ve taken depression, anxiety, and ADHD inventories, and I’ve taken plenty of SSRIs, sleep meds, Xanax, and Adderall. I spent a weekend in Reston, VA laying in a brain scanner and had my hair gooped up with electrodes and ultrasound gel for an EEG just to try and better understand what my brain was up to. I took part in a horribly claustrophobic sleep study that just gave me a wicked migraine and a diagnosis of idiopathic non-cataplexic narcolepsy and not much else. I’ve read a billion self help books, I’ve questioned my beliefs and questioned my theology. I’ve talked to really brilliant and enlightened people.  I’ve meditated (although in all fairness I think I slept through at least a third of one of the 8 hour meditation retreats I went to).

And the result of all of this?  The same damn things that I used to struggle with are the things I still struggle with. Except now I’m so much more aware of the complexities and triggers behind them.  I’m very aware of my weaknesses, my faults, and my fears….and sometimes there is nothing worse than being aware of these things and feeling helpless to actually be able to fix them once and for all.

*************************************************************************************

Maybe I’m being a little over dramatic…I mean, I have changed alot over time.  I’m much braver and more open-minded, I’m alot quicker to apologize, and I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of healing from some of my worst childhood traumatic experiences. I’ve been able to forgive people for events and words that I thought I would never be able to offer that grace to.

What I am most afraid of are the broken places in me that might somehow get passed down to my kids or affect those around me who I love. I’ve already partnered with my kids’ dad to pass on a tendency for anxiety and ADHD. What if one of my kids also develops my phobia of eternity? I’m terrified just thinking of that possibility. What if my kids also have days so dark that they wished to God they could die, as I once did?  What if my kids internalize in themselves that they aren’t lovable and that they must perform so that others will accept them?

I wish, so badly, that all of these places in me that I can’t make right could have been bloodlet out of me before they were conceived and born…so that their lives don’t have to be colored and influenced both genetically and environmentally by the imperfect in their mom. I’m trying hard, but often unsuccessfully, to trust in the universe’s plan to have people grow up through the process of parenting…kids really get the shitty end of the deal here on alot of days, being parented by moms and dads who are still trying to find their own way.

*************************************************************************************

A friend of mine told me years ago, when my oldest was a baby, that we’ll be successful as parents if we introduce our kids to God and teach them how to contact a therapist. I guess I’m doing OK, then.  I’m trying hard to show them how magical and enchanted life is, and we’ve already logged plenty of therapy hours.

But my heart was torn this morning when I dropped one of my sons off at school, and while moving through the car rider lane, he expressed to me how frustrated he was that he’s been working on a particular struggle for three years and it hasn’t resolved yet.

Oh kid, I told him, I’m still working on some of the same things I was working on twenty years ago.

I’m not sure if he was relieved or horrified by that.

*************************************************************************************

I don’t know if other people are similar to me in this, but I’ve realized lately that I carry a belief that everything needs to be resolved and all loose ends tied up by the time we die…like, we have to end this one life with all the games pieces tidily placed back in the box.  Where did I get this idea? Probably from the linear worldview I grew up with that we are dealt this one hand at life and if we don’t get it right that’s our last chance.

The idea of reincarnation or multiple existences in different forms actually makes more sense to me these days, but my other belief sets haven’t kept up with the evolving pace of this one. I still tend to live through benchmarks and milestones – markers to let me know if I’m on track.  Which is stupid because I’ve learned that those benchmarks don’t mean jack squat in the grand scheme of things.  I mean, I graduated high school, went to college, got married, bought a house, had kids…bam, bam, bam…all like you’re supposed to per the American dream, and the process of ticking those things off wasn’t always that great.

I wonder how I would live out each day if I believed…like, really believed…that I had an infinite amount of time to engage with these things in me that I can’t fix. What if eternity, that seemingly terrifying construct, is really not about reaching a state of perfection and then sitting there bored as hell for eon after eon, but more about having endless grace-filled space to keep changing, evolving, and growing without any time constraints being put on us?

I think if I could get to this place, it would change everything. The stupid things that stress me out on a daily basis would be so inconsequential….like the messy house and pee on the bathroom floor, the fact that I did not inherit a handyperson gene, the fact that I can’t read my own handwriting two seconds after I write anything, the fact that I get so completely panicked during the holidays.

And then, the big things…the traumas that have influenced how I approach life, the people that I can’t seem to get over or can’t quite forgive, and the glaring faults I perceive within myself…they wouldn’t have to be fixed RIGHT NOW. I would have time and grace to work on myself and allow changes to occur at a relaxed and safe, rather than frantic and obligated pace. Maybe then, too, I could offer my own boys the time and grace they need to grow and change, without the need to be perfect right away.

What if letting go of the belief that everything has to be changed and fixed RIGHT NOW is one of the best ways to avoid propagating trauma and fear in my kids and those around me?  What if the whole point is not to radically bloodlet everything bad out of ourselves, but to learn to be comfortable with the imbalances and know that there is not some divine timer out there ticking away and threatening an imminent end of our game of life if we can’t get our shit together promptly?

What if we have more time and grace and space and love then we ever imagined?  This could change EVERYTHING.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s