Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Forgiveness

*This blog entry is dedicated to Holly wherever you may be.*

Forgiveness is not something I extend to others without being asked for it. Nor is it something that I "do" for the sake of my own well-being.

Until I was able to accept the premise of the basic humanity of all human beings on this earth, I was unable to forgive either my self or those people who came seeking my forgiveness. Nor was I able to ask forgiveness of those I had wronged by my actions.

Within my own way of being, forgiveness is conditional upon several things. The biggest thing is that the behavior that causes the injury has to stop. When I go to a human being seeking forgiveness and then repeat the action that I am seeking forgiveness for, I am making a mockery. Inherent to the admission of my wrong-doing is a promise that I will stop doing the wrong thing. Likewise, when someone seeks me out and asks for my forgiveness, my forgiveness is predicated upon the condition that they will quit doing the thing that they are asking forgiveness for.

I also don't do blanket forgiveness. I endorse the direct approach. When I cause injury to another human being, I don't expect to be forgiven without asking. Nor do I forgive others unless I am asked. I am not obligated to forgive anyone who is not seeking my forgiveness. Some people do not want it. In the same vein, I am responsible to seek out those from whom I want forgiveness. My rapist has never sought me out to ask for my forgiveness for his actions. Nor have I sought him out to ask for his forgiveness because I remained actively pissed off at him for a number of years. I don't know where he is today. My sincere hope is that he is rotting in a prison cell somewhere, cut off from his access to women.

The man who rammed my car into a house causing my traumatic brain injury did ask for my forgiveness in court before his sentencing to a year in county. As long as he remains a non-driver, I am willing to forgive the part of him that did not know any better. Once he starts a car and drives off, my forgiveness is instantly terminated. I am not in touch with this man so I have no way of knowing whether or not he made good on his promise to surrender his driver's license. I only hope he has for the sake of drivers everywhere.

My mother has never acknowledged her physical and emotional abuse of me as a child and teen. She may not ever. I am not obligated to forgive her. She continues to play her mind games. In the interest of my own health and well-being, I limit my time and involvement with her. I don't dwell on the past history that my mother and I have between us. (Therapy helped me heal from that). I do protect my self from further harm. On the other hand, my step-father did make his amends. He was in a hospital bed in I.C.U. and he thought he was going to die. He said he was sorry that things were difficult between us when I was younger. I forgave him. He didn't die then, but the forgiveness stuck. Our relationship for the remaining years of his life changed for the better.

And finally, I consider some things to be "too big" to forgive. Those things which fall under that category are extraordinary events such as rape, systemic abuse, and arson. I am not Superwoman. I am no saint. I am an average human being.

To wrap this up, there is one human being that I am no longer in touch with whose forgiveness I seek. Holly from Jersey City, if you happen upon this blog, I am sincerely sorry for getting the other summer day camp kids started on calling you "four-fingered Holly." That was mean. I knew better at the time but I did it anyways. I didn't have the guts to apologize when you bolted off the van that day and I didn't have the guts to stop doing it. I don't know where you are now or what you are doing. I have no way of finding you. Instead I write these words. It is to you that this blog entry is dedicated.

sapphoq healing t.b.i.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Growing Back

shout outs to Dr. Holub, Peter Kahrman and his Life Growth workshops, and Vitolo Rossini

Once again, last night I found myself explaining in layperson's term basic brain factoids to a friend. She proposed the tired misinformation that "the wires of the brain grow back-- and better than ever." I explained that if there is axon shearing, the axons cannot regenerate. When the axons are not sheared, the dendrites can re-connect but there are some difficulties inherent in the process.

Using my arms to represent the axons and fingers to represent the dendrites, I demonstrated that some of the 'wires' reconnect correctly, some reconnect in the wrong places, and a few grow back but do not reconnect at all. I told her about cognitive slowing-- traveling along dirt roads rather than on the expressways. I also told her that when dendrites do not reconnect, there is the resultant central nervous system tremor (something which I myself do have). Thus, one of the side effects of healing is the presence and worsening of a symptom (the tremor) which some of us did not have before. "Well, I'm optimistic," the friend said. "I'm hopeful."

I am also hopeful. Yet my hope lays in a different direction. I am enough of a realist to know that my own brain damage (the words "brain injury" is a nicer way to describe these profound life-altering changes in brain functioning) will not revert to its' former state of affairs and be good as new. My hope is to be able to deal with what is in an effective loving manner. Of course I keep exercising my brain daily in order to access as much improvement as I can. Yet I also continue to employ workarounds for those times when my damaged brain clamps down on my ability to function.

When well-meaning people say, "Oh but the brain rewires itself," I feel discounted. That is not their intention perhaps, but that is my first reaction. When people say, "Oh but I have [insert troublesome symptom] too," I feel that my own experience with brain damage is being trivialized. There is something within us all perhaps that wishes to normalize the traumatic. It is not a kindness to paint masterpieces of normalcy with the brush strokes of my pain. Because what happened within my brain and within the brains of all survivors of brain injury, is not within the realms of average mundane existence.

I have a fairly clear picture of where my brain damage is and the resultant challenges based on medical testing. I have the results of my M.R.I. in an oversized brown envelope at home. I also have the results of my neuropsych testing done at a brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation hospital. The M.R.I. films and the final report written by a neuropsych demonstrate in black and white the stark reality of my brain injury.

People in recovery from drug addiction (including the drug alcohol) often claim that they have brain damage in an off-handed way. Years ago, I too had also made this claim in my own ignorance. Indeed, what triggered last night's conversation was a dear friend joking about not having two brain cells left to rub together. I remember what my early recovery from the bondage of addiction was like. When comparing the state of my being then to the state of my being after my motor vehicle accident, I find a vast difference between my former unfounded claims and my present reality. Personally, I would prefer that people in recovery and others quit trying to join our ranks unless they have films and neuropsych reports to back their claims.

Brain damage is a profound alteration in functioning imposed by structural changes. The next time you run into a former co-worker at the mall who did not return to work after her accident and she tells you she has a brain injury now, please endeavor to cast aside your own denial instead of discounting the results of her professional testing. If a survivor of a traumatic brain injury shares his pain over recurring troublesome symptoms, please do not attempt to join our ranks with your claim that you "have that too." And people in recovery, please stop saying that you have damaged your brain unless you have medical evidence to back up your claims.

For myself, I strive to keep addressing my defensiveness and to provide basic brain education where possible in a caring and respectful way. Some of you may know of my involvement with the virtual world of Second Life (registered copyright of Linden Labs). I have a role model there, a young man who is himself a t.b.i. survivor. Vito also uses opportunities as they come up in his daily encounters to educate the masses. I've seen Vito in action. He has far more patience than I do when he encounters brain myths. Vito does not present as being defensive. Vito listens quietly and chooses his words carefully. His ending to every conversation is a bow and the words, "With respect."

sapphoq healing t.b.i.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


"This is the year that I will get un-stuck," I told myself at the beginning of 2009. And I am indeed getting un-stuck. Today I am celebrating 29 years of freedom from active drug addiction. [Yes, I got clean before my traumatic brain injury. Ironically, the man driving the vehicle which had run my car into the side of a house was high on marijuana].

Getting un-stuck for me has been and continues to be a process. I am healing from the pain of losing my career in human services as a direct result of my brain injury, very slowly letting go of my obsession with the decision of the agency that I was working for at the time not to take me back in any capacity, addressing my negativistic thoughts and judgment of others, and de-cluttering with pizazz.

Organization was never a strong suit for me. In the before days-- back when my brain was still a regular brain-- I was not a great housekeeper. Since my brain injury however, my difficulties with organization, sticking to any sort of cleaning schedule or chart, and being able to pare down my possessions accelerated. With gentle encouragement by my true friends, I have begun to be able to do the things that I need to do in order to keep my home livable. I find myself discarding stuff that I no longer need or want to hold on to and that feels good. Real good. I still have to take frequent breaks due to t.b.i.-induced fatigue. Now, after I rest, I get up again. "I am getting un-stuck," I tell myself. "After I clean this or sort though that, I will go to the local diner for coffee." And it is working.

When my dad moved up here for a few months last year, in spite of his dementia he was able to get me to clean. We cleaned for an hour every weekday morning before going out for breakfast. Keeping up with housework became infused with emotions. Once dad left, I lapsed backwards into apathy and disinterest.

At a recent t.b.i. support group, I decided to try to motivate myself with the same thing that worked when my dad was visiting. Clean some, then coffee (or something social). The charts (I can make beautiful charts) of what days to de-clutter and clean which parts of the house didn't work. Similar I suppose to my inability to read a crochet pattern for five years after my t.b.i. I could write down the directions and the steps, I could read (and did) a ton of books and websites (including the flylady stuff) about how to whip the household into shape, I could create my own crochet patterns. But I could not translate planning into doing nor symbols into crocheted cotton washcloths. I can follow a crochet pattern now but progress is halting. It is still easier for me to freelance. In finding a new rhythm, I am a creator and not a follower.

One thing that is easier now is throwing out stuff. I no longer remember much of why I acquired clothing, books, artwork, knick-knacks. The false chains of sentimentality lay no claim on me. Because I do not remember why I am holding on to this or that, I can ask myself if the item is something that I love or need. And so I toss stuff merrily into the waiting garbage bag or donation box. I am not bound to hold on to something for the rest of my life because some relative gave it to me. I know other clutterers, messies, and pack rats have real problems with being able to get rid of things (and I did too in the past) due to sentimentalism. I appreciate being able to breathe. De-cluttering is a joy for me today rather than a torment. I am de-cluttering one corner of one room at a time. Several rooms are now neat and I am maintaining them.

I have also returned to blogging. Writing is my first love. I have dreams-- serious dreams. As with the housework thing, I am finding my way through the twisted and broken neurons in my brain to a new rhythm. I am looking forward to more of this un-sticking process. It is a process, a journey into healing.

sapphoq healing t.b.i.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Taming My Inner Critic

Recently I decided to address what I have referred to in the past as my critical nature. My Inner Critic-- which is really my own thoughts inside my head-- won't shut up. In order to combat the vast flow of negativistic internal conversations about countless people I have decided that whenever I express to myself such thoughts, I immediately will follow it with something good about the person that I am criticizing. And the "something good" cannot be things like, "The sneakers she is wearing are way cool." The "something good" has to be meaningful rather than superficial.

The good news: It is working and working well.

Those of us who have survived brain injuries [just like anyone else who is actively engaged in a change process] are able to overcome those things inside ourselves that hold us back from being our true selves. This is truly something to celebrate!

sapphoq healing t.b.i.