December 7, 2010

When the Past Comes Back to Bite You

Last night was a very difficult night. The past came back to bite me, revealing to me how much old rage still sleeps deep within me. It began with an interaction with the frequent flyer branch of the airline that I always use, under the assumption that the more I use them, the more frequent flyer miles I pile up, which will allow me to fly somewhere for free one of these days. So I have become one of those flyers who has a lot of miles and sometimes gets bumped up to first class, because I have so many miles from flights bought in service to the Religious Society of Friends.

So, given our many miles, my sweetie and I decide to take a vacation. A real vacation! We manage to find 7 days in our mutual calendars where we can both go away without too much hassle for those left behind. We make the request for those dates with the resort in Mexico where we sometimes go – last time was three years ago. And we get online to buy our flights with our frequent flyer miles.

Trouble is, while we each have enough miles to buy our own tickets, we cannot buy them together. We try to transfer miles from his account to mine. That will cost us over $300! So, even though we both have the miles, and we are a couple traveling together, we must book separately. Meanwhile, the flight we have held for booking is for two travelers, and there is no way to change that without releasing the seats. And, as soon as I release the seats – voila! The cost of the flight we want goes up by a third!!

It seems a set up to me. Why in heaven's name would an airline not make it easy for couples to use their miles together when booking? Why would the cost of a flight go up within minutes of a search? And then it finally made sense to my na├»ve mind – they don't want us to use our frequent flyer miles. They want us to pay them money for our flights. And they want us to pay as much as possible. My almost filial loyalty to them, in other words, in the hopes of receiving a reward from them, is pointless because they will always, always try to find a way to withhold the reward.

I was filled with rage. It grew from my gut and radiated outward through my entire body. It made my muscles ache, my throat constrict, my head ache. I fired off two slightly irrational and wholly angry emails. I screamed at the computer. I wanted to hit things, although, I am proud to say, I did not. But, less proudly, I did not want to calm down. I wanted to be ANGRY and I wanted the airline to know how badly they had let me down. Me! A Loyal Customer!

I was not a good Quaker in those moments – or even in the hours that followed. In fact, I went to bed angry, full of boil. I slept fitfully, and woke in the morning with a disturbing dream.

My dream was a tortuous exercise in trying to get some basic human needs met: to get food when I was very hungry, and to find a restroom when I badly needed to pee. The dream was populated by people who have made me angry in my life: a coworker who used me and competed with me; a teacher who frequently criticized me; but most importantly, my parents who abused and neglected me. It was also populated by men who were strangers and who insisted on violating my physical privacy. All of these difficult characters kept showing up unexpectedly, surprising me and forcing me to cope with their intrusions. At no time in the dream was I successful in getting what I needed. At no time did I receive assistance, even when I asked for it. I desperately wanted someone to take care of me, but since no one was stepping forward to do so, I just wanted to escape. And I was stymied even in that because they kept showing up in my hideaways.

When I woke I was just as agitated as I was when I went to bed. I worried that I was being spiritually challenged to reconcile with my still-abusive family, most of whom I have had no contact with for more than 15 years. I knocked around for a bit, feeling miserable, tidying up the house in preparation for cleaning day. As I handled my drum, I remembered times when singing and drumming helped to shift misery. Music seems to harmonize my jangled energy. So I sat facing the beautiful wetlands that lie right outside our backyard, where the morning sun set the snow to sparkling, and birds swooped through my visual field with a brilliant blue sky as backdrop. And as I drummed, as I sang, as I gave myself over to being shifted, the Living Presence broke through my stubborn anger. It was as if I had been blowing up a bad, stinky balloon, one that was bigger than my own head. And it suddenly popped, revealing this beauty that had been there all the time, but which I couldn't view because of the bad, stinky balloon covering my face.

As the balloon popped, release came with quiet weeping. My body gradually felt soothed. My heart felt opened. My mind felt enlightened. I suddenly realized what the dream was telling me, something I have learned, relearned, and now am relearning again. Something that I thought I had completely healed, but which still inhabits my shadow, and which awakens once in awhile when called out by an event which echoes the original experience very closely.

Which is this: When I feel that kind of consuming rage, it is never all about the current situation. When I feel that level of being undone, of being "not myself," it is always about something that started early in my life, and which was repeatedly fed by similar experiences. In this case the old rage that erupted came from the early experience of being neglected and abused, and from the resulting belief that I was not loved, that I could not have what I needed, and that I would get no help to change that reality.

Which is, of course, patently untrue at this time in my life. I am loved. By my husband, by my children and grandchildren, by my close friends and even not-so-close friends. By the Living Presence. And, of course, I do have much of what I need. I have adequate money, a comfortable house, work that I love, good-enough health, and plenty of bathrooms! And, most patently untrue, I have received a ton of help along the way to get this life that I enjoy, from my husband, my friends, my former therapist, my spiritual directors, a few strangers, saints and sages, and the Inward Teacher.

So this morning, I have come rather painfully and dramatically to the rediscovered learning that I really cannot expect an airline – or any other commercial entity, for that matter – to stand in the place of the good parents I always wished for but didn't have. I realize that some folks reading this are scratching their heads, thinking "Duh!" But for this abuse survivor, who has been thriving rather well for awhile now, it was, yet again, a dramatic learning.