Breaking the Chain Starts With Us

It is said that, of all the senses, sense of smell links us most powerfully to memory. Smell is a chain taking us back, sometimes way back, uncomfortably back.

Like when I talked to a homeless person the other day at QFC ,who was living in a borrowed car without access to a hot bath or a dentist.

There’s always a kind of conversation taking place in a grocery store, a conversation engaging all the senses–Dungeness crab clacking claws onto a silver scale as the fishmonger weighs in on how to serve the thing (simply cracked, drawn through butter is best). Push your cart through the dairy department over to the deli where crispy fried chicken crackles out of the fryer. You can smell fried chicken all the way out to the parking lot. The sensual conversation continues with apples and kale and carrots and lemon. Sleepy Time tea perfumes the air, fresh ground coffee civilizes the senses. There’s another wonder: an entire aisle dedicated to ice cream. All of it white noise now.

I am in the candy aisle now, forced to take in the full effect of the person talking to me. I see a soul housed in a bald, thin, leather coat once-black-now-pebbled-charcoal, her breath forcing me back a couple of yards. A wild, familiar look haunts a green, accusing eye, too rough hands–these things take me back, right back to childhood.

And they tell me who I really am without all the trappings.

Sometimes I don’t like knowing who I am.

This mentally disordered person blames everyone else for her misfortune, something I, too, have been guilty of. But hey, I came by the justification method honestly, I learnt it from my mentally ill father.

  • “If they hadn’t been ___, I wouldn’t be ___,”  
  • “Those goll-darned___!”

Let’s all be the fast talker, fill in our own blanks. It could be anything. I’ve already filled in my own blaming blanks, too many times.

Then, I think, if I keep blaming I will end up like my parents or like this person I am in conversation with. So in effect, I’m no better than they. It’s true, I am they.

We are all they, aren’t we, really?

“They,” the other us, they are our teachers, aren’t they? This is an uncomfortable truth.

An encounter like this teaches me to fight the urge hardwired into my cells that says my life is everyone else’s fault. True, I was abused worse than the others but at some point I must take responsibility for my own choices now, no matter my beginnings.

It angers me that even mentally ill people have choices, to try and get help. Or not, which is what angers me, and why don’t they, when help may be found? This is a hard thing for me to say. 

I back up in the aisle, close my eyes and I am reminded of TV blurbs about homelessness and an animal hoarder which may trigger me for days, which I have learned to avoid like the plague.

And I wonder what this mentally disordered person fooled away in exchange for a lifestyle that hurts all of us. Because of my personal reference points I confess to you my initial cynicism, then some anger, too, with the homeless, with hoarders. Not outward anger–I’m too nice for that. I keep up the civilized veneer. I don’t let it show. 

I wonder how much land or money do they secretly still have? How selfish were they with family members who loved them once, love them still, families who, for a long time–years maybe–fought harder for their presence–whole or in part–than for anything else on earth for at least a sort of affair that says I love you back, and finally gave up because it hurt too much to try. Most of us will settle for the conversation which says I see you. But no, many make a choice to feed the hoarder inside, instead. I wonder about dis-integration, what made that happen, what choices were made and when.

And I wonder what degree of abuse and neglect played a part. As a result of neglect and abuse how many loved ones have the homeless and hoarders discarded, carelessly? I wonder at what point is the inverse true.

Then comes the guilt. My frame of reference is too small. As I process their blaming and excuses, my guilt turns to shame and I wonder how many of these souls suffered as little children.

  • Many mentally ill souls were the recipients of long time horrendous treatment in childhood.
  • Abuse can trigger those genetically susceptible to mental disorders. These kids have nowhere else to go but to stay and receive, receive, receive. They have to keep family secrets for the sake of the “family” so no one knows, no one witnesses. Some kids are resilient. Some are not.
  • Some grown up messed up kids have loving families and did not receive abuse or neglect.

Abuse leads to loss. Loss may be helped. That is, unless abuse leads to, as in my father’s case, a highly disordered individual. Narcissism almost always refuses help. Narcissism nearly always loses everyone completely.

So the chain tries its darndest to continue in those susceptible to mental illness.

A mother may say to a questioning child, “There’s simply no choice. You have to stay in this awful situation and pretend everything is fine.” But we do all have privilege of choice, though admittedly, some choices we make to flee an impossible situation may deliver terrible consequences. Maybe what she means to say, but considers herself far too impenetrable to state is, “I refuse to take action for you, my child, because I am afraid.” Add to a lack of courage more abuse and neglect and, my friend, you have immense loss. Familial, material, relational, societal.

This kind of loss costs all of us great heaps of everything.

So then, who will break the cycle? Why, of course, it has to be us.

  • Stop childhood abuse or get them away from it.
  • Stop withdrawing, which is the worst kind of abuse. 
  • Give our child a blanket for their bed, build a fire to keep them warm, read a story, hold them close when they are afraid of monkeys. Tell them they aren’t imagining the monkeys. 
  • We must see our children, every day stop our frenetic lives and take a few moments to see them and, by our witness, love them. 
  • Let’s not ask then, “What is wrong with you, for Pete’s sake?” Let’s not tell them “You are too sensitive,”  create a chaotic home then tell them “You’re the reason for the chaos.” 
  • Let’s not withhold.
  • Let’s not ignore.
  • Let’s not refuse to get help for own hurting ourselves. Let’s not be so arrogant as that. 

Let’s break the chain before we lose everything. In the recesses of our being we all are mere children, too, but we must reach for maturity at some point.

When my mother hoisted the responsibility of “breaking the chain” onto my shoulders she had no idea what results her prophecy would bring. Neither did I. She, the loss of me–though I am not so sure she noticed–me, my nearly complete loss of birth family, loss of everything except for one thing: I got to keep my soul.

Where was I. Oh, yes, the sense of smell.18-11_webster-029.

After my encounter with the homeless soul at the grocery I could not defuse the memory bomb so I called my life coach so she could help talk me off the ceiling, the place where the memory of smell took me. I am not averse in getting help from my life coach–a gift of a person who reminds me that I always come from choice. Once I reconnect to choice, she then reminds me to choose from a place of love rather than fear. 

After all of it, I am alright.

I do not, nor will I ever own an abundance of cats, nor will I ever own monkeys.

Just sayin’.


No Reindeer in January

It might be an intruder. I lay twisting, my heart pounding, in a cold sweat. After months of insomnia, at last I’d enjoyed a great sleep–with dreams, too. I looked across the room to the big red dog who lay a dark heap fixed, unperturbed. Maybe not an intruder, then.

My neighbors and I have been putting off taking down our outside Christmas lights, reluctant to let the season go quite yet, we had so much fun. In December neighbors were adding outside decorations to their Christmas wonderland daily, making the property as inviting and lit up, comforting and happy as Whoville. Strobe lights swept green, blue and red from their yard into my window, across the wall opposite the bed, and around again. I rather enjoy it. There goes flash of silver.

“Mia! Did you hear that?” A heavy clatter galloped across–the roof, I think.

The dog ignored me.

I called her again, but if a sentence doesn’t have treat or chicken or walk in it it doesn’t register. Must be a critter up there. The neighbors have four cats who like to get up to my roof via the great tree in the yard.

I flopped over with a pillow over my head. It can’t stay long, whatever it is. Doesn’t a nocturnal critter have something important to do, like, scrounge for food? A couple months ago an owl hung on the branch of the big tree and talked to whomever would listen, then I was sad when she went away. When the rooftop erupted again, like wild horses thundering afield, I wished for Miss Owl.

There is one word that will rouse Mia from a slumber: KITTYCAT. Actually, it’s two words, but to her, one, for the creature which holds more fascination for her than the others. She has asked me repeatedly for a KITTYCAT and I’d been to the Humane Society to interview KITTYCATS for the job. Did you know for ten bucks you can get a feral fixed KITTYCAT who will slink around the alley all night and you never have to let it in because it doesn’t want to come in because it doesn’t like you–it will never like you no matter how hard you try–but if you feed it it will still hang around? I wondered if a KITTYCAT like that would be enough for Mia. For sure, enough for me.

“Up! Let’s go see the KITTYCAT! Up she leaps first, before I drag out of bed. We can’t get to the door fast enough. Sometimes when a good sleep is interrupted I get mad. Only half afraid because I’m mad, I slung open the door to a whirl of light on the lawn and I looked up.

A raccoon! Deceptively adorable and unafraid. I stood there in my fuzzy white robe, the angel of righteousness and I sent fire and brimstone up to that raccoon. “Why you, you jerk! How dare y–”

Two more sets of eyes appeared, unblinking, as if I were the town drunk, a mere curiosity, something to gossip about later after I went away. I shook my fist. “You’ve got a lot of nerve,” I shouted. To clarify, normally, I prefer to do the polite thing and not wake my neighbors. Not waking my neighbors matters a great deal to me. I don’t want them to see me the crazy lady just now.

I got absolutely no response so I kept saying stoppit because saying something made me feel like I was getting somewhere with them. Then, with paws folded above their furry tummies, like Dali Lamas,  he perfectly adorable masked trinity sauntered closer, struck a reverent pose, and gazed out over the gutters at me and, evidently, decided not to answer my prayer. I grew madder. “Mia, KITTYCATS!” I pointed to the roof. “See?”

I felt like a mad woman, an apparition all lit up yelling in visions of strobe lights like a performer onstage, whilst flinging insults at an unanswering roof. Not caring, I took a step forward. The holy raccoons remained unmoved by my display. My pine tree gives off big fat pinecones so I picked up one and lobbed it. Missed. “It’s one thirty!” I yelled, “A.M!” As if raccoons cared about that kind of thing.

Unfortunately, the tree didn’t offer fallen sticks, but what I do have is a long blue foam yoga cylinder I use to relieve cramped muscles. It might be useful right now, so I ran into the house to retrieve it. When I came back outside the dog wasn’t staring up to the roof. Instead, she sniffed around the daisies that somehow manage to bloom in December. “Oh you. You’re a lotta help!” I said, disgusted. “I roast turkey for you. I make gravy with fish oil for you and this-this is how you thank me?” I hiss at her. “And let’s not even talk about the Denta Stix I give you after every meal.” I hoist the cylinder and bonk the living daylights out of the roof gutter. BONK. BONK, bonk bonk bonk

I was shocked that not so much as a twitch, not even a whisker moved or claw clicked. It seems I am no match against Mother Nature. It also seems I know little about raccoon behavior. The Great Stan Stanfield always said we need to let Mother Nature take her course. I didn’t believe for a second letting Mother Nature take her course included letting three (or possibly more) raccoons chase strobe lights back and forth across my rooftop all night long. No fear in those bandit eyes, neither interest nor disinterest. Certainly not pity. All blandness. I believed this behavior might be what the psychologists call the grey rock technique. My aim wasn’t great the first time, so I threw another pinecone. BINGO! I hit the big one. That oughta do it.


I continued throwing several more pinecones with the thought that surely this would be the one that moved them and, because the yells had been so effective I lobbed a few more of those, too.

I went back into the house last night defeated by blandness of the grey rock technique. I understand it works on difficult people. They stayed and played and played until three. I got up this morning, cut up roasted turkey, made gravy for the dog and went to work bleary-eyed. Tonight, I actually want them to come back because I have a few tricks up my sleeve, mainly the garden hose. It should work, as long as they don’t come down after me.

It’s just that, in January, water is so darned cold.