In Columns, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

audacity magazine“Synchronicity” means things that happen at the same time but have no clear relationship to each other. While I’d been working on this month’s column, I heard from Nathasha asking that “memories” be the general topic for the coming issue of Audacity.

What I’d been writing about was the way memories affect can affect me today. That’s synchronicity. No clear relationship, but more than coincidence.

February’s been a frustrating month. Four months have passed since my leg got broken.

It seemed like four years as I was going through that time. My doctor finally—three weeks ago—gave me the OK to toss the complicated knee brace and to get around without crutches as much as possible.

Earlier this month, we went down and visited a funky hot spring down in Oregon’s cow-boy country. Central Oregon is divided into cappuccino country and cowboy country: I like both. The pool at the hot spring was about 100 degrees. After dark, there were coyotes singing and thousands and thousands of stars.

I entered the pool very cautiously, but within five minutes I was walking from one end of the pool to the other, back and forth. My joints felt a little stiff, but fine. No pain in zero-gravity water. It was very therapeutic.

We came back to town after a couple of days and I was fired up to return to the pool where I fell and broke my leg. But my emotional reality stepped in—as it often does.

The first morning we planned on going, I “overslept.” I did that the second morning, too. I gave myself some serious pep talks. The physical therapist stopped by and encouraged me.

She also suggested I use the walker the first couple of visits. OK: even though my ego takes a hit whenever I use the walker, it did seem like a good idea—just for a little extra margin of security. We got that resolved.

And then my partner, Beth, got sick with sinusitis. It took a week to get into the doctor to make sure she didn’t have strep. Then it took another week to where she felt like doing anything. It was frustrating for her and for me.

So, now, she’s well.

I’m regularly walking around the house without even using a cane. On the second of March we’re going up to Anacortes, Washington to visit friends and go sightseeing, eat really fresh seafood and reminisce about the odd old days.

I’m looking forward to the trip. Each day of the week has plenty of stuff to do, too much to fit in visits to the pool.

But I have trouble believing in coincidences. Sure, I can psychoanalyze about myself from now until next Thursday without trying. In fact, I try not to, but I do.

It’s very easy for self-awareness to turn into self-abuse; R.D. Laing, a British psychoanalyst some years back said that certain personality types end up being downright mean to them-selves because they set impossibly high standards for their behaviors and thoughts.

Exactly. This becomes a pattern that’s very difficult to break. I can come close to being mean to myself.

These kinds of questions come barreling through my mind: Why am I resisting going back to the pool? Am I actually resisting, and, if I am, what am I afraid of? Why can’t I just go and do it?

Old memories: old childhood memories—again.

As a child, what I learned to do, and what I came to believe about myself and the world, are still semi-operating rules, waiting on stand-by, until I investigate, question, and change them.

If I don’t, every time I break one of those rules, I sabotage my self-esteem. Those old memories are like emotional crabgrass: they keep sprouting up.

I inherited impossibly high standards from my family, as they no doubt did during their own childhoods, as well and I still can get into criticizing myself for not meeting those standards. That can get to be a downward spiral pretty fast. The habit of constantly hammering myself for not meeting those standards, without gaining any “improvement,” creates a steady state of self-criticism and self-disgust. I’m so useless. I can’t do any-thing right…I’m never good enough. Yetta yetta.

And if I’m never good enough, all that anger and frustration fermenting in my soul is go-ing to find an outlet. There has to be a safety valve, because if there isn’t I’d explode, self-destruct. Other people function as the safety valve. I can get utterly outraged at what they do actually, at what I perceive them doing if I’m angry with myself.

And when I’m in that critical mode, I’m angry at myself. Then, not only am I, a failure, but so are they.

How this works is very logical. I certainly heard a lot of stuff about my faults and short-comings while I was a kid. A lot. Because a child is utterly dependent on her or his par-ents or caregivers, it’s really important for that child’s survival to do as much as possible to please these important adults.

I’m trying to be in a don’t-push-the-river mode. Whatever dynamics have been at work, they’ll pass. I’ll have a week of vacation, see old friends, and come back refreshed.

My internal conflicts about getting back to the pool will have eased off—the energy I spent dealing with them will have gone elsewhere. Then we’ll see what happens.
Progress, not perfection.

Editor’s note: Peter’s death was a huge loss for Audacity Magazine’s readers. He died several years ago. When his posts were published, the emails came flurrying in with praise. Thank you, Peter.