Surface Dive

Self-centeredness, self-pity. Traits, I’m told, of the alcoholic. Traits, I say, of humans. But in the context of addiction, the work is to learn to live sober and these are two of the things to pay honest attention to on the road to recovery.

Note – it might be prudent to explain my mother’s current condition. She is fairly healthy for 90, on two medications for her memory and one for high blood pressure. She can, with difficulty, get up and down the stairs on her own, can bathe and use the bathroom on her own. She dresses herself. She is no longer allowed to drive, which is causing her great angst. She remembers things from long ago but forgets what happened two minutes ago. I have called her within a few minutes of someone else calling her and she does not remember talking to that other person. She will often call me after I’ve spoken to her to ask if I just called and what we talked about. She repeats the same questions over and over during conversations and repeats the same sentences no matter how many times you call or how often you speak to her. She is irritable. She is at a point in this disease where it is not clear what she needs, but it is clear she should have even a few hours of daily company which is why we’ve hired someone.

I am going to start by indulging in self-centeredness. My mom’s Alzheimer’s might not be about me but that’s how I come at it. My behavior does not reflect this. My rage does. I call my mom regularly, stay on top of her caregiver, am working to get her Medicaid, helping to manage her finances. All this I do with my brother R. and sister-in-law M. and I try to focus not only on the fact that I am doing for this for them, but that being in this situation has brought me close to them in ways that previously did not exist. So mom, thank you .

Overriding all is rage. “Radical Compassion” by Tara Brach has been suggested reading for me. Once in a while I’ll actually purchase something suggested, most of the time I’ll read a couple pages before it finds its place, in alphabetical order, on the “Definitely Later” Shelf. The fact that I’ve purchased a title in book form instead of as a virtual download doesn’t give it much chance of being read. I read mostly fiction on my iPad as it is easier on my aging eyes and for the last two years it’s been difficult to get me to read anything beyond historical fiction dedicated to The Tudors and the centuries prior to their reign.

But I have begun to read “Radical Compassion,” which discusses meditation by the RAIN method. If you’re as disenchanted with meditation as I am, I’d suggest you give this book a shot. RAIN stands for Recognize – Allow – Investigate – Nurture. Since I’ve only read about 50 pages of the book, if you like what I say go ahead and get it for yourself to see what the whole thing is about because I sure don’t know. I plan on reading more, but I’ve begun to work with the first few steps which are much more interesting – as well as more painful – than my usual way of meditation which involves sitting quietly and focusing on my breath. Then when I notice I’m thinking, I label my thoughts, “thinking,” and bring my attention back to my breath, and so on. I admit to never having given that enough of a chance – I’ve done it for weeks at a time, then lost interest.

As for RAIN, I’ve gone through the first few steps, using my mom’s Alzheimer’s as a starting point. Recognizing, which means simply recognizing what I’m feeling. Allowing, letting my feelings be. No judging, ignoring, wishing them away. Investigate – this is the interesting part. Brach writes specific questions regarding this stage in case you’re having trouble. I left out the Nurture part for now. But I came up with a couple realizations and lots of self-centeredness.

It’s not just that I’m enraged that my mom has Alzheimer’s and that I am powerless over this. It’s realizing what’s expected of me and I want none of it. I am trapped in this. My mom needs help and Alzheimer’s does not get better. It’s progressive and unpredictable. It can take months or years to reach full progression. It is costly and having taken a look at her finances, she doesn’t have what she needs which is yet more angst as I find myself wanting to screech My dad did not deal with this and I certainly am not going to! She needs daily attention and we do not know when this will turn into hourly attention. To that end, my brother and I are working with a Senior Advisor to get additional insurance in place for her to be able to get her the help she needs. The goal is to keep her in her house. Which, I might add, does not have a bathroom on the main floor nor space to add one. She can get up and down the stairs for now, but for how long?

R and M have been going the extra mile. They live closer and will pick her up to take her places. My brother works in Brooklyn and will at times stop by after work to see how she’s doing. I’m in New Jersey. Not so far, but travel there is through the Highways of Hell (for any who gets it: Garden State, Route 280, NJ Turnpike, Staten Island Expressway, plus two bridges thrown in) and the early morning 50 minute drive invariably turns into at least 2-1/2 hours to get home.

Sitting quietly and “investigating” brought up only the tip of what I’m experiencing. I’ve already known I want no part of this, that when I sit and think about it, I feel the anxiety. I am ashamed that these feelings will be seen by my brother and M and they will hate me for it. I am afraid this is going to go on for a long time and I will not be able to keep this pretense up. I am angry about what’s to come – the act of going to her house and dealing the decades-old accumulation of boxes and paper and what looks to me like junk that’s held on to for the sake of holding on. It is hard to breathe in that house, the house I grew up in since third grade, the house I flew out of at 22 as soon as I was able. Still I feel whatever I am saying here is at surface level. Still I must do a deeper dive if I’m to come to a real understanding of what’s driving me. But the closest I’ve come to something new is the fact that I have depended upon my mother to be the one to the blame and without her, without that, who am I?

© 2022 Denise Smyth