.... and it doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't still hurt.  but it does represent a softening of my heart and an intense desire to not fall victim to the pattern of emotional cut off.

as promised, here is an excerpt from my paragraph to my father in my family of origin paper ...

... Thank you for my childhood and the sense of adventure you instilled in me at such a young age.  I remember your playfulness, your laughter, your chaperoning my school field trips and scaring my friends to death with your ghost stories. There is a sense of creativity that runs deep within you and it is my heartline to you ...

... Thank you for being there as much as you could; I see now how much you had to overcome from your own childhood to create a family with my mom for as long as you did ...

we do what we can, with what we have.
this is what i can.
with what i have.
for right now, at least.
family systems theory.  the preferred way of viewing families and providing family therapy.

here's a whittled down, oversimplified, somewhat sloppy presentation of the basic tenants:

*  families have emotional patterns and dynamics that occur between members.  often, these dynamics have been passed down through generations.
*  families, and individual members, have a couple of different ways in responding to anxiety (stress).  they either respond from an emotional place (which is unthinking, fairly rigid and automatic) or an intellectual place (which is more fluid and requires purposeful thought and action).  (guess which one the guru who thought it up liked more?)
*  there's a balance for family members between emotional connectedness and individuality.  too much togetherness = emotional fusion.  not good.  too much individuality = emotional cut off.  not good.
*  therapists in the family therapy field don't become involved in the presenting "issue" (fidelity, a rebellious teen, low communication, etc.).  instead, they look at the emotional system - how do family members respond to each other?
*  family therapists must do their own work on their family of origin and examine the emotional processes in their own family because they can only take their clients to the points to which they, themselves, have arrived. no work on the therapist's part = getting stuck in therapy.

and now that i have explained bowenian theory in a few short bullet points (the attempt being a complete farce, dear hearts) ....

we spent all term working on our own family of origin.  we drew complicated family genograms that go far beyond birth and death dates (all kinds of squiggly lines denoting emotional fusion, cut off, abuse, conflict, etc.).    we wrote epically long papers. we entered into conversations with our families that entered into new, somewhat scary, territory.

my advanced professor (read:  year long counseling professor) is the most amazing woman.  i think i might want to be her when i grow up.  at any one given point, she has been able to hold where each of us in our class is placed for internship, what our professional backgrounds have been, what we have written in our weekly papers to her ... truly, amazing.  her bent on this process was that she sincerely wanted us to think about our families from a compassionate, empathetic place and to consider behaviors and relationships in context.  what is our family context? what parents were we born to?  what parents were they born to?

a chunk of our paper instructed us to thank our family members for gifts, strengths, values, etc.  even when we had a hard time seeing them.  especially if we had a hard time seeing them.

i didn't have a hard time seeing this one.

here is an excerpt from the paragraph to my mother.

... Thank you for your gift of strength -- for always encouraging me to reach higher and think "bigger" about my own life.  I have often been called a woman of "substance", and the authenticity and willingness to work diligently to achieve comes directly from you.  Thank you for your gentleness and sense of diplomacy.  I show people I care because of your unconditional love.

...You formed your family in the hopes of creating something new.  You did.  Don't ever discount your success in that. ...

...When I am at my most compassionate, I look just like you.  I sound just like you.  Sometimes, people on the other end of the phone think I am you.  It is a compliment of the highest order.

I am thinking about this a lot lately, especially as I think about my mom saying goodbye to her mom.  As I think about Shoes and I possibly having kids in the next few years. What I want to keep.  What I want to planfully and mindfully let go of.  What my own responsibility in my family interactions is.

I don't think about it all the time.  But it comes up.  And I think when I don't think about it anymore ...

that's probably when I should hang up my family therapist hat.

I am grateful to the things families have shown me this year in therapy. For married couples experiencing grief and loss in front of me.  For family constellations of parents and teens who sat before me together and calmly, and not so calmly, told me they were going to strangle each other.
I am grateful for the love.
And the fighting.
And the shouting.
And the forgiveness.
And the strength.

Families, really, are so very, very strong.

I am stronger because of,
and, at times, despite,
my own family.

Next post, an excerpt of the paragraph to my father ....
i've wrapped up my appointment to order my wedding invitations and have headed East to Central Oregon.

where the wild things are.
i haven't been that way in three years and now
it's time.

i've lost my last grandparent.

{just as a heads up, all of the posts i have ready to go for this week are very heavy on family, family meanings, family theories, etc.  lighter posts scheduled for the week of 4/2/12 if you'd like to tune back in then.}

growing up in the military, growing up in my military family, we weren't connected to the extended family.  we moved overseas when i was a few months old and stayed there until right before my 9th birthday.  i remember visiting the states once during that time.

when my mom, sister and i moved back from the philippines (i was 11, i think), and my father stayed to finish his time there, we moved in with my grandparents.  it was scary.  and different.  and i didn't really know who grandparents were supposed to be.

mine had some quirks.  grandma max was ill and spent most of his time in his easy chair, reading dusty, dog eared louis lamour paperbacks and sleeping.  grandma mary spent a lot of time cooking chipped beef on toast and cleaning.  chipped beef on toast, coincidentally, is truly awful, but she also made us butterscotch cookies and served us ice cream and let us watch a lot of nick at night.

while not necessarily warm and overly nurturing, they were mine, and i felt fiercely protective.

grandpa max passed away in the early 90s.

these past few years have been difficult for grandma mary.  as the alzheimer's slowly became more vicious and more focused on stealing her personhood, she lost the ability to remember us, lost the ability to speak cognizant words.  before the alzheimer's became a complete tyrant, after my 2007 divorce, i visited her in the nursing home and we looked through a stack of pictures together.  she came across a few of my wedding to my first husband and said, utterly and entirely confused, "lisa, that's you, but WHO is that man?"  i explained, but we kept having that conversation every time we came to another picture.  tired of having to explain his presence, i finally said, "huh.  i don't know grandma!" and she shook her head and moved on.  that answer seemed to satisfy her.  she didn't ask again.

and now she has passed.

the morning after she passed, i had my first wedding dress fitting appointment in lake oswego, and the owner of the shop clucked her tongue and said in her wonderful eastern european accent, "she is in a better place, now, darling.  a much better place."

normally, i give people who give pat answers like that a big, mean frownie face.  but in this case, anna was right.

grandma mary is finally free of the hostage taker that is alzheimer's.

and a generation has come to an end.

i wonder what mary would say about her life.  i wonder what she would say about growing up in her family, her marriage to max, her relationship with her children.  i wonder what regrets she had.  i wonder what memories she would have held on to.  i wonder what she was afraid of and what she loved.  frankly, i have no idea.  the sum of a human life is entirely too complicated.

but the fact that she is now at rest is not complicated at all.

Rest well, Mary.  It's my prayer that this part of your journey is better than you could have ever expected.

John  Day, Oregon.  2001.
and i'm not entirely sure i want the skill.

i've been writing up my first solo mental health assessments at internship, which essentially means i'm the lead clinician looking at the appropriate axis I mental health disorder.  we're a community outpatient mental health clinic, and insurance will only pay for treatment if there does, indeed, exist an axis I disorder.

i have a really hard time diagnosing children.  i know much of the dsm criteria for childhood disorders upside down and inside out - i use it every stinking day at my job in psychiatry research at ohsu.  it's not that.  it's a tricky process with minute details and differential considerations, but i don't get turned off emotionally by its trickiness.

rather, i have a hard time putting the onus of responsibility on kids because kids come from families and families interact.  and some of the kids i see are very, very young.  (some are 17, but some are 6.)

diagnoses mean different things to different people.  some parents are relieved to hear that a group of professionals agreed that the set of sxs their child is experiencing warrants a clinical name.  some parents accept the label for treatment purposes, but prefer to think of their child without the label.  as many different perspectives as there are stars in the sky.

and it goes back to power.  shoes and i have many, many conversations about the incredibly odd and almost unwanted power we have in certain situations.  shoes sent juveniles to kid prison.  he sent adults to adult prison. i've provided countless episodes of court testimony re: my professional opinions about parents' ability to parent their children.  now i'm the one giving people labels that tend to stick around for long periods of time.  it's an alternate universe.  you do the best you can with the training, graduate education, best of your common sense and qualifications the state gives you.

and in the end, you're still putting a label on another human being.  still saying, "this is what's wrong with you."

my group supervisor shared this excerpt from Alice Walker a few days ago.  it fits in many ways -- especially around my work with teens.  especially around my work with children who are brought into the clinic for "behavioral problems."   it fits better with who i am.  i return again and again to it.  i remind myself that the dx is a means to an end ... and the end is a loving, hopeful connection with a human being.

"In the Baemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered.  All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers around the accused individual.  Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person has done in his lifetime.  All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.  The tribal ceremony often lasts several days.  At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back in the tribe."

if i can just remember my passionate desire to work with people in remembering their own strengths, their giftings, their preferred ways of being ... maybe, maybe i can balance the therapeutic process with the task of diagnosing.
you know, where things kind of don't make sense, and are wild and beautiful and unruly and compassionate and, really, some very terrible things happen, too?

shoes and i sometimes play the bad language game.  the bad language game goes like this:  take turns saying junk language that drive you crazy.  shoes:  "literally" as in, "i literally died."  lisa:  "i seen".  shoes:  "yeah, no."  lisa:  "her and i went to the store".  then we digress into cliches that each of us have a habit of saying.  my favorite right now:  "if it's not one thing, it's another."

"if it's not one thing, it's another", is where we're at right now.  planning the wedding is taking some twists and turns (another cliche????) that we didn't forsee.   we're ok.  we're trying to support the rest of the family to be ok, too.

other things that have happened?

the end of my last winter term.  hallelujah.  i wrapped up the last of the projects for this term of my year long counseling class and turned in my last DSM assignment (i think you already know this, but that's the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.  11 heart breaking weeks of learning how to diagnose mental disorders, personality disorders, psychosocial stressors ... sigh).

during the last dsm class, the tv show "leverage" was filming at the chancellor's office a floor below the graduate school of social work.  fabulous vantage points out our big, beautiful gssw windows onto the porch where they were filming.  timothy hutton was right there.

i didn't know who timothy hutton was before that day.

there are a lot of tv shows filming in portland right now.

i digress.

right after i turned in my last DSM assignment, i made my first official solo diagnosis at the mental  health clinic.  talk about heart breaking.  this deserves a separate post in and of itself.

i have a fairly significant case of compassion fatigue i'm taking up in prayer right now.

also quite a few questions and lots of doubt in my individual supervision lately. but, i've also been told, in the past few days, that i'm an "excellent intern."  (yes.  but will i make an excellent therapist...)

lots of fabulous, inspiring, exciting wedding planning.  one of the things that saves me right now.  cheryl's dress fitting, elizabeth's dress finding and my first dress fitting is tomorrow!  elizabeth and cheryl are hard at work planning my bridal shower.  my dear friend, b., just said she was going to be planning a special evening at a local winery for a non-bachelorette, bachelorette party.   we're working on getting the catering for the rehearsal dinner set up.  i get to go choose shoes' wedding band over spring break.

now, in the little time i have before i need to get ready for an afternoon of juvenile justice presentations and a scholarship recipient dinner, i should clean my house.  restore order.  start to work on re-balancing my life.

'cause, you know.  it it's not one thing, it's another (she said, smiling sideways, with a sparkle in her eye.)

So I cheat.
No Portland specific picture this week, although this is in Portland.
It is all the books I've purchased for graduate school.
It goes up past my knee.
It does not include all the articles I've printed off.
Those are in five 3" binders.
It does not include all the books I've consulted for research papers.
One more term.
One more term.
One more term.
One more term.
One more term.

 A set of stairs I visit regularly at Doernbecher's Children Hospital.
{My life is a set of stairs going up ... going down.}
and then you're straddling a line, with half of you in and half of you out.  {family of origin posts are coming, but those take time ...}

today at the grocery store, the clerk asked me if i was going to school and i found myself saying, "i'm finishing my master's at portland state."  i never consciously made a decision to start saying "finishing".  it just came out, and appropriately so.  i only have one more academic class to take to call it a degree.  he said, "good luck."

and i walked away and promptly started (softly) crying.  not because it's sad.  not because i'm deliriously happy.  but because i'm so overwhelmed by the half in, half out life i'm living right now.  i've made some significant changes for next term: no more saturdays working at the lab;  only one more academic class;  no more helping lead the parent support group i've been leading;  in about six weeks, the job search will begin;  packing up the apartment into boxes will begin;  intense work on the wedding will begin.

half in class, half out.
half planning the wedding, half not.
half living in portland, but half of my brain is thinking about what it's like to live in pullman.

you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself about.
{i definitely feel turned about.}
that's what it's all about.
the magical moment when the term paper is printed off.
(two seconds before shoes texts to say, out of the blue, "print that sucka' out and turn it in, babe.")
and the sun is shining in portland. o happy day.
and my super amazing wedding shoes arrive in the mail.
and my sister in law to be sends an endearing email about her bridesmaids dress.  and her 9 month old.
and i think, "i'm genuinely done, but right now ... right now isn't so bad."
i have this daydream i continually enter into during class ...  i am with the fbi, sent on a mission to protect student safety undercover as being a student myself.  i wear a secret earpiece through which i hear commands from my fbi supervisor who in a van outside.  i am notified that the perpetrator is on the move and i have to get my class to safety.  i jump up, pull a gun out of my boot, flash my badge and tell my class to get down.

i only do class readings if they are directly attached to an assignment.

i skip staff meetings to work on my family of origin paper, but find myself instead responding to emails from the wedding dj who wants to know if she can play baby got back if it's requested during the reception because it is the most requested reception song.

i say, "i can't stand that class."

i find myself looking at my engagement ring and almost start crying because it represents such a sweet, sacrificial part of who shoes is.  (that's true, but it's a diversion.)

how to stay grounded in the here and now?
i just have no clue.

Portland Composts!  is getting old.  I will not miss this little container hanging out in my kitchen.
many therapy graduate students are doing what i've been doing for the past 11 weeks.

it's family of origin time.

thanks to Murray Bowen, we must sleuth our own families.  trace our ethnicities.  examine patterns of gender and socioeconomic class.  explore emotional cut off.  triangles.

undifferentiated family ego mass.

i get it, but at the same time, old murray was the same one who pushed the "you're schizophrenic so it must have something to do with how you were mothered."

yep.  same guy.

i'm not saying there's not value  in what we've been doing, though.  in the end, it makes sense.  exploring our own families helps make us aware of our own reactivity to certain dynamics in session and our own countertransference.  the thought is this:  we can only help clients in therapy to the point that we, ourselves, have arrived at in reconciling our own views about our families.

it's a little bizarre, asking all of these super personal questions to family members.  it's more than slightly interesting, getting 15 different responses to one question.

my paper is due wednesday.  i've easily given it 20 hours of work so far (interviewing, drawing the genogram, research, writing the paper), and will put in quite a few more before it's all said and done.  i'm exhausted.  i think we all are.

what i have found is heart breaking.  and perplexing.  and resilient.  and inspiring.

all of this, in the middle of some very, very difficult personal family situations this week.  i almost chucked all of my reference materials for this paper [they were in such a nice, tidy stack] at the wall -- such timing the universe has!   it resulted in shoes and i having an hour long conversation about what we wanted to teach our children about resolving conflict and confronting difficult emotions.  (the difficult situation, however, was not between shoes and i.  he's the receptacle, though, for all of my big thoughts.  lucky him.)

it's friday night.
it was a long day at community outpatient mental health.
it's time to work on the paper again.
so tired of this paper.

when the dust has settled, and spring break has sprung, and i've collected myself again, i look forward to sharing a few stories about forgiveness and love and tenderness.
i look forward to really having a chance to think about what this means for me.
(i'm supposed to do that in my paper, but, you know.  sometimes i'm a slow thinker.)