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A Shared Life of Wrestling, Growth, and Discovery

Change, As the Fog Lifts

A version of this was my piece for my 2/22/17 Writing Group. Topic: Change

Someone has said, “To live is to change and to change is to live.”

I notice that some of the most significant changes in my life have been changes in perspective of something that has not really changed per se. Sometimes I experience these “unchanged” things in a way that I could call “vertical changes” in that while nothing has changed in fact, I perceive these “unchanged” things in a broader context from a higher vantage point.  Expressed another way, the change of perspective is as if a fog is lifting and what has been “unchanged” but hidden is suddenly revealed.

Such changes of perspective are often instantaneous, in “Ah Ha! Moments.” However, they usually come only after years of experiencing life from older more limited perspectives.  Therefore, much of the change I experience is the result of change in me that allows me to perceive and experience what up until then has been around me but beyond my capacity to perceive and experience.

That’s what I have to say about our topic of “change.”  Now to go beyond philosophy into practice.

Life incident, Take 1

Last Wednesday after a nice home-cooked dinner Pat noticed that her stomach bothered her and so she said she would lie down upstairs on the bed for a while. But after half an hour she came downstairs to grab a large red plastic bowl, we call it our “throw-up bowl,” and adjourned to the bathroom while I continued doing dishes. Suddenly she called for me. When I responded I found her on the floor of the bathroom, head over the red bowl. She had thrown up most of her supper, was weak and, more worrisome, seemed disoriented, not her usual “totally in control of herself” being. I did not know what to do. The only nurse in the house was here lying on the bathroom floor not knowing what was going on herself. So I asked, “Should I take you to the ER?” “No, I don’t think I could make it.” A moment later I asked, “Then should I call 911?” Her “no response” answer said YES.  And I did.

It was 8:30 PM when ambulance and three medics arrived. “Do you want to go to the hospital?” they asked. With Pat still on the floor and not fully coherent, I stepped in and said, “Yes.” So they put Pat on the stretcher and took her to the ambulance where they did a few tests while I stood in a quandary outside. Then I followed them to Bethesda North Hospital, catching up with Pat and the nurses in room 19 of the ER wing.

In room 19 I was fidgety, nervous, not at all sure what to do or say to Pat. Eventually I put my hand on Pat’s side, and later on her head. Was this touching her right? I did not know. Pat said she was cold, so I sought out a nurse to bring in warm blankets. Of course I had thought to bring my briefcase with computer just in case Pat had to be admitted instead of released, but I had left it in the car of course (It would appear too uncaring, tacky, and thoughtless to drag my briefcase into the ER with Pat lying there suffering). But just sitting there while Pat slept off and on was too anxiety producing, and eventually I succumbed, snuck out quickly to get my computer, and then sat bedside, working away on my computer while Pat continued drifting in and out.  Eventually the doctor came in, arranged an IV, and then returned again around 1:15 to release us. We got home around 2:00 and Pat slept well until morning. She was weak and recovering for the next two days.

Life Incident, Take 2

It’s Thursday evening, 24 hours after our ER adventure had begun, and Pat is lying on my lap while we are on the couch in front of the fireplace.  It has been a long and confusing day. I’m still not sure what to do. At some point Pat looks up and shares that through this 24-hour experience, although I was there physically, she felt so scared and lonely. “So scared and lonely?!” That of course hurt – I thought I had done a “good enough” job as caretaker.  But at the same time I could see her courage in naming her feelings, and I noticed that I could even welcome her sharing her fear and loneliness as a gift, a door opening that would take us deeper into her and my experience of this “life incident”.

I shared that I, too, was lonely through this experience, and probably scared too, though I did not realize it or name it that way. I had not known how to connect with Pat beyond just being there, first in the ER, and now at home. As we shared more deeply we could realize that our relationship has had a lot of loneliness in it. That realization was powerful. We saw that we were missing the “mammalian warmth of physical connection” with each other. We could talk, we could go to events, and we could share meals and sleep in the same bed, but not really connect at this primary and elemental level of body-to-body warmth and comfort.

I could see this “profound but unconscious loneliness” as a life pattern in me from birth onward. I did not seem to connect with Mom in a physical way as an infant. Growing up I had occupied myself with things and ideas, not knowing there was such a thing as “my body” that could relate to “other bodies.” Adults were authorities to be obeyed and pleased. Peers? Well I’d rather pursue my own interests. In school I was the good student. At work I was the good worker. Even at church I was teacher and leader, but not one you would play with at the church picnic. Socialization was not in my repertoire of connecting, only producing, helping, leading, or getting my various jobs done in a way that had the appearance of competence.  Yes, I would connect by appearing competent in anything I took on!

And then I could see that, living in the emotionally frozen state that I had been in much of my life, I did not allow this “mammalian warmth of connection” to be experienced even in my marriage. I realized also that I had experienced pieces, but only pieces, of what I had missed in my marriage in relationships with other women. But I also realized that none of these relationships with women had led to what I unconsciously longed for my entire life – connection and intimacy with a woman on all levels of my being: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

And here, too, this intimacy that I thought I longed for was not founded on experience but rather only on concepts that “sounded good” but, without my realizing it, were concepts only at this point in my life.  I had a lot of work ahead of me to build the experiential foundation needed to support experiencing such a broad array of life’s offerings. And I saw more clearly how profoundly agonizing my searching for a relationship that would match my concept of the relationship I sought without first having built this needed foundation of experience needed to fully enter into the experience I sought.

It was helpful to discuss and reveal all of this to Pat in deeper more honest ways over the next few days. And Pat shared deeply as well. So this took the ER experience and the mutual loneliness it revealed to a deeper level that was very helpful to experience with each other – and this all came about because Pat had had the courage to say that she had been scared and lonely! And that I took this as an invitation for exploration rather than as a criticism to cow under in shame.

Life Incident, Take 3

On Monday, less than a week after our ER experience the previous Wednesday, we had our couples Skype session with Sage and Anthony. We presented all of this recent experience to them. And in the Skype call we were held compassionately by Sage and Anthony. At one point midway through the session Anthony said he was beginning to feel more and more distant from me as I went on and on sharing about my experience of loneliness. Pat had tried to interrupt me at one point, and Anthony was now wondering how she was feeling as well.  So Pat shared that she, too, was disconnecting from me in my sharing.

I paused, and we just sat there for a while.  I did not know what to do or how to respond. Then together we saw how what I was sharing was being shared by a “person sent to the front line” to protect the “person in hiding” who was feeling very lonely, scared, and disconnected but too afraid to share from that vulnerable and profoundly lonely place. I could see that I had erected a shield, a wall, to protect the real one hidden in the darkness.

Could the hidden one come out of hiding, even a little? Well, maybe a little. In the session he did come out a little and went on to share more of his experience and his feelings while in the ER with Pat, but this time brought the affect of the story with him. He shared how his “touching Pat” was not coming out of a grounded mammalian embodied place but rather coming out of a confused mind trying to figure out what to do. He shared that he had had so much shame about having brought out the computer in the ER. But Anthony said that bringing out his computer was needed and natural – “He needed to connect to something, and his computer has served that role often. It’s OK. We can hold him just as he is.”

So as the session was coming to an end I could see that all of my feelings were quite natural for one who had not experienced the warmth of connection and had built a life to survive that missing foundational experience of connection. It led me to be able to realize that being human with human needs is not a sin. I could just be me. I could share how awkward I was in putting my hand on Pat’s head in the ER. I could share how disconnected and lonely, even scared, I was in the bathroom and in the ER. I was revealing and experiencing feelings that were hidden even from me. It seemed that feelings that I thought would be unspeakable to Pat were all OK to share, even more than OK – they were welcome. Whew!

By the end of the session I was a little more settled, certainly feeling more connected. And I could appreciate these and subsequent experiences that were made sharable in this session.

So all three “Takes” of this one incident in the ER were experiences of change – not change in incident per se but rather changes in me, changes in the ways I perceived and experienced the incident as the fog lifted and as I could come out from hiding and stand in the warmth of the light! In this perhaps I was gifted with the experience that, indeed, “To live is to change and to change is to live.”

Shared in love, Gary

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Gary Vollbracht