When I received a letter from the Department of Corrections, informing me of the late March parole hearing for the man who raped and murdered my mother, I felt overwhelmed. It had been as much as I could do to maintain emotional equilibrium in the face of the election and then the illness and death of our wonderful German Shepherd Dog, Tajji. I knew the next hearing was schedule for 2017, but I did not expect to begin the year in dread of that ordeal. I know what these hearings have done to me in the past and how hard I have had to work on survival and recovery. Each hearing has not only opened old wounds but created new ones as more was revealed.
Almost immediately, I started noticing worrisome changes in my mental health. In the 30 years since my mother was killed, I’ve come to know the “warning signs” quite well. I no longer ignore them as I once did. I dare not “soldier on” or bury myself in work: that way lies madness. Thank goodness, I have never been tempted to use substances, legal or not, to escape. Instead, I run to anxiety as my drug of choice. This time I decided to take action on my own behalf before I got into serious trouble.
First I enlisted allies. At the top of that list is my family, both my daughters (one at home, one across the country) and husband, and my sister, with whom I’m very close but who lives in a different part of the state. I let them know I was having a hard time and that if I was distracted or irritable (or flaming irrational), to not take it personally because that meant I needed help. No matter what’s going on, extra hugs are always helpful! So it goes without saying that I am asking for – and receiving – more physical affection. I find my whole body relaxing into a hug and I often fall asleep while cuddling with my husband, I feel so safe and loved.
I decided to tackle my broken sleep first. My daughter and I had gotten into the habit of watching videos until it was bed time. We made a pact (and shook on it) to turn off the television early, to not begin a new episode of whatever program we were streaming after 9 pm. I was delighted at her enthusiasm for meditating with me. We got out our cushions and sat on the living room floor, facing one another. The first evening, we lasted only 5 minutes, but that was enough to produce a sound night’s sleep. Since then we’ve missed a night here and there, but have been continuing the practice for progressively longer times. I don’t need an hour; 10 or 15 minutes seem enough right now. Soon we realized that one of the cats was joining us, sitting in between us or on my lap, and purring. I found the purring added to my relaxation and mental calm.
Secondly, I began keeping a journal again with the specific purpose of using this method to sort through the various logistical decisions surrounding the parole hearing. Taking out the old spiral bound notebook was like meeting an old friend again. This practice had the effect of “corralling” stressful thoughts into a specific setting. Knowing I had a time and place to figure things out – and that I was not allowed to do so at other times and places! – is very helpful. I reminded myself that once I decided what order I wanted to do things in, it was necessary to only worry about the one at the top of the list. One thing at a time, breaking what seemed like an insurmountable load into small, manageable steps. Soon I had prioritized the decisions and tackled the first, most time-critical action. At this point, I had to take myself in hand and not go on to the next one but to allow myself a breather in which to regain my emotional balance.
Third, I have been reaching out to other people I trust, most of whom know the whole wretched story. This way, I have people to talk to with whom I don’t have to rehash history. I miss my best friend, who was an incredible source of support through very painful times, but since her passing I have gotten closer to other friends. As has happened before, I have been sometimes surprised and deeply touched by the kindness and wisdom of the people in my life.
Next up is to ask the Quaker meeting (of which my husband is a member, and I an attender) for a Clearness Committee. This is a small group of weighty Friends who sit with you not to offer advice but to support you in your discernment of a path. I’ve done this for the last two parole hearings and the experience of being “held in the Light” with such tenderness has sustained me.
I find myself missing the comfort of a dog, especially one as responsive and emotionally literate as Tajji. The cats have been extra cuddly since Tajji died, and Shakir, the one who meditates with my daughter and me, curls up beside me at night on the other side from my husband. But it’s too soon to get another dog, so I imagine Tajji wagging her tail at me and giving me a big doggie grin.
Photo by Cleo P. Sanda