Saturday, December 19, 2009

Treading Water

Help.  I am drowning in the deep end of the pool.
I was thrown into the deep end of the pool by my father at the Disneyland Hotel when I was six years old. 

My father had a few too many martinis and decided it would a good time to teach me to how to swim in the deep end.  He picked me up over his head, screaming and kicking, and tossed me into the deep end of the pool.   I remember thrashing around in the water and feeling the powerlessness of sinking below the water.  I trod water long enough to grab hold of my big sister Donna and push her under so I could lift my head out of the water and breath.  She was under the water struggling to get free.  Finally my dad jumped in and helped us both.

I never wanted to learn how to swim thereafter. I assumed I could not swim based on this experience. I still don't swim well.  I used to cringe as my thirteen year old daughter made the mad dash towards the ocean at the beach. I no longer have a panic attack, or stand frantically at the water's edge screaming for her to come back.  She can swim and surf. Her father swims very well and like him, she loves the ocean and water.  She can take care of herself in the water. She keeps herself safe in the water.

Treading water is effortful but not fruitful. One tires easily treading water.  Treading water amounts to being stuck in the same place and trying your very hardest to move in any direction.  Treading water is very much like being depressed without any intervention.  To continue effortful activities without much change breeds hopelessness. Pretty soon I simply want to slip under the water and rest.

My husband is slipping under the water; he too finds himself in the deep end of an emotional pool. He is tired. He is sad, shut down, in grief, scared, ashamed and feeling like he is not a good person. He is so overwhelmed with the death of his mother and the unexpected tidal wave of unresolved childhood issues he is having considerable difficulty holding his own.  He yearns for a familiar psychic landscape, with predictable weather and comforting clime.  Instead he's entered a foreign land, without familiar landmarks and the known horizon behind heavy fog.  He is searching for the safe harbor at the surface of a stormy sea.

I am tired.  I don't swim well enough to rescue him.  I must save myself.  It is very difficult to save one's self versus saving the person you love.  It's not black or white.  It's both.  However, if I try to save him we both could perish.  Saving myself allows me  to model how to stop treading water and move towards the pool's edge and climb out.  Once safe I can toss him a life preserver and offer to help.  Helping a loved one when they are in need is equal to helping one's self. First I must take care of myself and then offer help to another. Being a partner is not always easy. Partnership is not always intuitive and it does require tolerance and acceptance of things I do not like or understand.  

Grate Bubble, #5779
(c)2009 James W. Murray All Rights Reserved
(click on image for full-sized version) 

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