Rebellion Farm, 2014 – South Carolina

I’ve shied away from picking annual WORDs because I usually poop out on them long before the year is through. Nevertheless, this year requires one and it is: CONTAINMENT.

An iron pot symbolizes CONTAINMENT, and for 2016, both the inside and the outside of the vessel matter.

The inside of the cauldron stands for a well-tended creative process. In the coming months, I want to stoke the fires of intention/desire/discipline and see some results. I will set deadlines. I will be accountable. I will lean into offered help.

The outside of the pot stands for well-defined personal boundaries, necessary to the process of excluding that which is toxic and debilitating. Some things cannot be excluded. But lots in my life can be.
IMG_2557And yes, now we are talking about my very difficult sister. I am the only person who relates to her on a nearly daily basis and it is one of the most taxing, draining, annoying, infuriating, challenging, and unwelcome responsibilities that I have ever shouldered. It has made me curse my dead parents and God. It has made me hate myself frequently. It has made me hate her frequently. The lessons are there, oh yes they are there, but I’m unwilling to keep paying the price that I’ve been paying to learn them (prime among the lessons: humility and compassion; the big price tags: my health and peace of mind).

For better boundaries, I seem unable to simply ‘create distance’ or ‘compartmentalize’.  So I’ve come up with: BRACKETING, DISTRACTION, BREATHING, and MEDICATION.

Maybe these are just ‘creating distance’ and ‘compartmentalizing’ by other names, but they feel different.

BRACKETING: the process of deliberately indulging in simple, pleasurable routines before and after contact, especially visits and the outrageously awful phone calls.  This can be self-care at its most basic, but no less potent for its simplicity — planning a hot bath with eucalyptus salts, having a homemade soup at the ready, asking K. to build a fire.  It’s not complicated and some of it I do already, but it needs to be more conscious. Some of the rewards could be bigger.  DISTRACTION: I can’t really cook while talking to my sister on the phone, or even run water. It offends her. But with a teeny bit of preparation, I could flip through picture books, hem a long hem, or knit. My repeated attempts to craft a mutually agreed upon, respectful way to terminate calls when they get loud and ugly has failed abominably. But the truth is, even some of the less-screechy calls tax my patience — the weird theories, the paranoia and conflict with neighbors, the objection to this celebrity’s forehead or that celebrity’s nostrils, her infatuation with Chuck Norris or Hop Along Cassidy, the hip pain, knee pain, insomnia, gastric upset….

BREATHING: for when we she is pushing my buttons (OFTEN) and I need (URGENTLY NEED) to remain silent. I am going to count to ten. Original, huh? One visit I gave myself ‘a time out’ and did the crossword puzzle for awhile. This seemed acceptable to her and it worked for me.

MEDICATION: hers and mine. Attend to timing. Lastly, I need to be careful about what I ask for. Because I am in this ’til death and because I wouldn’t feel good praying for my sister to drop dead, several times in the last few months I looked heavenward and begged, “Please God, take ONE of us!”

Then I had to have a biopsy.  After two unnerving weeks reading about Graves disease (which I have) and radioactive iodine treatment (which I’ve had) and learning of my increased odds for thyroid cancer, I decided to never again utter that plea. (The biopsy was clear).  This is an unusually personal post and quite at odds with the notion of CONTAINMENT. This kind of disclosure will never be the mainstay of this blog (although I’m not sure why). But I’ve found from reading other peoples’ blogs that occasional personal revelations draw me in and make the more craft-focused posts more meaningful. I hope this does the same.

It’s also my way of saying, fuck it. It’s a new year. I’m gonna take a few risks.

So, on that note: Happy New Year!!

30 thoughts on “Containment

  1. Anonymous

    Oh Dee. How hard it must be to continue forward with a sense of obligation and so much frustration. I think you’ve put some good techniques in place though. I especially like bracketing, AKA bribing! If I do this = I get this 🙂 I’m sorry you’ve had this hard stuff to carry and yes, perhaps the sharing of it will lighten the load a bit. If nothing else, I will send my love and hugs for the days ahead. Tuck it in your pocket and take it with you for extra patience and strength. (((hugs)))

  2. Mo Crow

    well you sure are between a rock and a hard place, hard to find the silver linings but good to hear the biopsy was clear and hey I loved Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale” is this one just as brilliant?

    1. deemallon

      This Helprin is as brilliant as Winter’s Tale (which I think I’ve read three times) with many of the same elements. As good as “A Soldier of the Great War” too.

  3. ravenandsparrow

    oh Dee. A family member in trouble can indeed be a heavy burden, one that cannot be refused. You are right to contain and compartmentalize as best you can. You might remember the caution given at the beginning of every flight….”put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others”. What ever constitutes your oxygen mask…put yourself first or your sister will truly be flying solo. I, too, have Graves disease. I think it is a manifestation of all of the words I have choked back in my life. I’m glad your biopsy was clear. Take care of yourself, allow things to go poorly if they must. You can only do what you can do. Best wishes for a new year in which you find a clear path through the forest. Love.

    1. Liz

      Dana’s advice makes much good sense … I second it with my best wishes for your peace, health and happiness in the year ahead.

    2. deemallon

      Dana – you packed a lot into that comment! I remind myself that this burden COULD be refused, and it helps that for almost ten years after my mother died (when the boys were little), I DID refuse and we did not speak or see each other for all of that time. So, it helps to know that I am making a choice.

      I think my idea of ‘bracketing’ is meant to be like the oxygen mask.

      And, yes, thyroid issues can signal withheld truth, words, or creativity — something everyone struggles with to some degree, I think, but one I certainly have had to work on. Interesting to know that you, too, know this intimately.

  4. maggros

    What great strength is found here! In you, Dee, and in your friends of this woven haven.
    “There is no way to peace, peace is the way”, A.J. Muste

    1. deemallon

      always the positive ‘take’, Maggie. I don’t feel strong, except maybe in my commitment. And yes, peace is the ultimate goal here. At least MORE peace.

  5. anaslua

    I can understand you so well – just keep writing about it – it helps. Nevertheless or just because: A happy New Year to you from your blog reader….

  6. B Harris

    Oh Dee, your wizardry at writing gives me a sharper sense of your predicament. My first thought — how about abandoning the need for mutuality re ending conversations that become ugly. Is it possible to respectfully sign off without conveying reactivity? Mutuality may be too high a bar



    1. deemallon

      good, good point B! Have you seen the movie “Locke”?! I want to re-watch because the main character responds to three different hysterical people on the telephone with such skill and non-reactivity… it was powerful to watch.

  7. B Harris

    Never saw Locke. let’s watch! Releasing the wish for mutuality in those limits seems to me like another layer of letting go and being with the way it is

    1. deemallon

      would love to watch again… you are right about adjusting expectations… and the truth is the rage that I feel at not being able to draw a line in the sand now and then (and retreat) is TERRIBLE for her, so why act like I’m trying to do what’s in her best interests by hanging in there?

  8. handstories

    Dear Dee, so glad your biopsy ws clear. & I understand some of this. I am tired for & with you. It sounds like you’ve got a clear head and some good ideas for protection. Yes, knowing you can say no helps, & doing it, even if only for a break, can strengthen. Take care of you.

    1. deemallon

      Thanks Cindy. I didn’t mention above that we hired another PCA who will go to my sisters two morning a week. It’s been a month and already some pressures have been alleviated.

  9. Michelle in NYC

    hi Dee….I am reminded of a story Ram Das tells (the former Richard Alper- When he was still a practicing therapist one of his clients woke him from a sound sleep in the middle of the night. She was hysterical, ranting and talking about suicide. When he could get her attention he said (something like)…’Where is the person who thought of phoning me, found the number and dialed it? Could you please put her on the phone because you are clearly crazy.’ He knew her well and this was not a frivolous response. She got very calm, and he told her he was going back to bed and she could phone him in the morning. I am also reminded of a very crazy friend for many many years. Admittedly he was on a lot of drugs and was very ill, but he would disappear for months and then suddenly pop up on the phone…usual routine was that he would start sane, and pretty quick escalate to ranting about this and that (not me)…but I couldn’t end the call no matter what reasonable attempt I made. Finally, I said “I’m going to hang up” and did. He rang several times but I never answered. Then one day I hung up and never picked up again. i monitor my calls. i’ve talked about this kind of difficult person with my en teachers and with a previous therapist. The consensus was that there are some people one is simply not meant to help. However, your situation is different in that she is your sister and you have decided that she is your responsibility. You can’t just hang up or disconnect permanently, can you? Good you got help two days a week. I don’t know the complexities but recall you talked of this before and said there were some that made it impossible for you to disconnect. There may be love to for all the rage you feel. There is surely compassion. Everyone here reminding you to take care of yourself first are echoing the first lesson of compassion training–that you need your own compassion practice established firmly before you can give it to any one else.

    Meanwhile big love to you. Your post is quite brilliant. It does help to write it out. It’s good therapy.

    1. deemallon

      Michelle! I don’t know how I missed your comment, but I did. The Ram Dass tale is brilliant – he took a risk, but did so with insight… AND managed to take care of himself in the process. There may be times in 2016 when I simply hang up the phone and steel myself to not picking up again until I feel calm. So far this year, I am employing intention and non-reaction and it is helping soooo much.

      I COULD decide not to be involved here but I know that it would not be a choice I would feel good about. And, there is a lot we enjoy about each other, too — that kinda got missed in the post.

  10. Doris

    Thank you Dee for this post. It gives me a lot to see how you try to handle this difficult situation. Even if my problems with my mother don´t seem to be so hard I touch my limits very often. What you call bracketing can help me a lot. I don´t look enought after myself and this wears me down. I admire your braveness to say how it is. Once more : thank you.

    1. deemallon

      Hi Doris. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Anyone caring for a dependent relative probably needs help with self care. Perhaps I’m kidding myself but I think caring for my mother would be easier because I owe her my life. My sister? Not so much.

      1. Doris

        Sure you are right but for me it is harder to commit that I´m worn down because I owe her something. Nevertheless it´s important to look after self care.


    many good offerings here and i feel like i don’t really have anything Useful to add,
    but i think what i have learned from Challenges is that so often i imagined that it was
    only me that could provide what is needed and when i felt myself going under with
    the weight of it, knew i was, and found, then Let, others do the work….it was Fine.
    She may not really Care that it’s someone else, that it’s not you. Having different
    faces to dump on has it’s own satisfaction. So i guess i would provide care givers
    as often as financially possible. Go when you can. Listen when you can. That
    she is warm, safe and fed is enough. What were Michelle’s words….:there are some
    people one is simply not meant to help”….to tweak that thought…not meant to help
    in All ways. Only some. and you would need to sort through that. Many years ago
    a woman i knew who taught me Tarot asked me “out of the blue”….”Is it at all possible that you have fulfilled your karmic obligation?” referring to a circumstance that i felt was
    drowning me…..i have Never forgotten her asking that because, no. it never had
    occured to me.
    the only other thing that rose up in my mind may seem too uhhh, well…too something
    and you might feel like throwing me against the wall, like Mo throws books, but i’ll
    tell you anyway. Found self listening to daughter a while ago who IS in an extremely
    difficult situation now, not of her own creation, BUT, the negativity in her was
    enormous and she went on and on and whatever i tried to offer was met with just
    more negativity. I felt like i couldn’t hang up, that i needed to at least just stay
    on the line listening but it was feeling suffocating after a while and i suddenly
    just began doing Metta for her…silently of course, May you be Safe, may you
    be happy, be healthy, May you live with Ease….all these things honest wishes for
    her, and as she went on, i did too and i found it released me from absorbing
    the anxiety and flood of helplessness she was feeling. I could not do anything FOR
    her, but i Could “excuse” my self by going into that place….that Metta…..
    It WORKED and i don’t know if it would work again, but my guess is that it will.
    So…for what it’s worth. And yes. i think being open and nakedly honest is freeing
    and also allows others to Know us as we are, where we are. To me, this is
    very valuable.
    May We be Safe, happy, healthy, May We live with Ease.

    1. deemallon

      Thanks for taking the time to offer your experience and insight grace. The practice of metta would be a profound “distraction” and one that doesn’t “take away” the way, say, looking at picture books might. It would be a tangible way to say to myself, too, that all her misery is her business, not mine, and that I can’t fix any of it. The idea of a karmic debt has occurred to me, especially because even tho she is my older sister, she feels very much like a child (one younger than either of my boys by a lot). That kind of speculation is not all that useful, I find, but a friend recently consulted someone who gave her a lot of clarity about a troubled relationship and I have thought I might give myself that – a reading. As a gift.

  12. saskia

    catching up as well, this is all wonderful, not what you have to deal with, but your sharing of it and the good advice offered.
    I have very little to add, except, try not to be so hard on yourself

    I can anly assume walking with Finn is as much fun as walking Django is, a healing and joyful experience

    1. deemallon

      Thanks, Saskia. Being hard on myself is a bad habit. And critical of others. Work to be done!! But you’re right. Finn provides many wonderful outdoor hours. And indoors, too. Snuggling by the fire with him and K as I type!


Leave a Reply