deborahjross: (Default)
It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I’m a dragon-slayer. I place myself squarely between my loved ones and anything that threatens them. It’s a longstanding family joke that the only time I used the physical aspect of 30+ years of Chinese martial arts was when I jumped between my preschool-aged daughter and a rampaging swan (and kicked the swan in the head). Now I’m in the position of the taken-care-of, the protected, not the protector.

This sea change came about as a result of a series of family conferences about the upcoming parole hearing. I mentioned earlier that I’ve learned to pay careful attention when people who love me express concern for my mental health. They have good reason to. At every parole hearing I’ve attended in person, I have been the family spokesperson. That meant staying focused and present, no matter what was happening. It meant putting my own needs and reactions on hold so that I could act. The first hearing took place in San Quentin State Penitentiary. I cannot begin to tell you what a not-nice place that is, even if you know you can walk out. Yet I was so focused on my responsibility to prevent the perpetrator from hurting anyone else, I never thought twice about attending or speaking, and it took a terrible toll on my health and sanity. My family and my close friends know what a dark time I went through and how hard I worked to recover. I have learned the hard way that just because I am capable of doing something scary and hard does not mean that I have to.

The last hearing took place in 2008, and neither my sister nor I attended it. We arrived at our decisions independently but in conversation; we each supported the other’s decision, recognizing that we don’t have to do make the same choice in order to support one another. A month before the hearing, the inmate – Sean DeRutte -- sent a letter to us via Victim Witness Services. When mine arrived, I asked my husband to look at it first. When he read it, he turned sheet white and said, “Don’t read this.” On the first page was a description of the sexual assault, containing details never before divulged.

In all the years since his incarceration, De Rutte never admitted to the sexual assault. Doubtless his attorney counseled him to not mention any crime for which he was not convicted (and this was a plea bargain, so he was not convicted of rape). However, the Parole Board Commissioners had previously made it clear that until he was able to express understanding and remorse, he was never going to be released. That he chose to inflict the details of a violent sexual assault on the daughters of his victim demonstrates he has no empathy for other people’s pain.

Once I stopped shaking and made some outreach calls, I tried to telephone my sister. I was too late in reaching her, for she had already opened and read her letter, and while in a public place, the post office. She was terribly distressed by it, as any person with a shred of sensitivity can imagine. I had my husband fax the letter to the District Attorney to use during the hearing. Apparently, even more shocking details came out then, so much so that the D.A. cautioned us to not read the transcript.

Fast forward 5 years to the current hearing, I contemplated whether or not to attend, resolved not to, and decided furthermore that since I have so far been spared these additional, appalling details of the assault, it would be in my best interest to continue to shield myself and to allow people who love me to help me.

Not knowing things doesn’t come easily to me. Most of my life I’ve used knowledge as a way of gaining control over my life. I found much truth in the saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” So to deliberately not open a file or a letter, to not search out facts that have great emotional importance in my life, feels cowardly and counterproductive. And yet that is also what seems healthiest for me to do now. I truly do not want to know any more about what my mother suffered in the last minutes of her life. It’s easier to remember that and respect the boundaries I’ve set for myself if I have help.Read more... )

This means, among other things, that not only am I not going to attend this hearing – at which time the letter and other aspects of the crime will undoubtedly be discussed – but I must guard myself carefully in the weeks to come. At the same time, I must remember that I am not alone. How does this translate into action? It means two things. First, it’s up to me to ask for help. This is both difficult and easy. Easy because it feels active, and I’ve found that taking empowering action lowers my anxiety. I’m doing something. At the same time, it’s hard to step away from the solo paladin, front-line role. I have a long-time habit of mistrusting any action that I haven’t done myself or personally observed when it comes to this area of my life. Now I must shift to relying on the judgment of others, to take their word on what is safe for me. I know they’ll make errors, but I hope these will be in the direction of protection I may not actually need and not in the other direction. If one of them misjudges the emotional pain something might cause me and as a result I don’t learn certain details of the assault or subsequent events, that is not a problem. It doesn’t endanger my safety.

For someone as information-centered as I have been, it’s a big deal to relinquish specific accuracy for the bigger picture. I am not a prosecuting attorney arguing the case, requiring that high degree of precision. I already know far more than is emotionally healthy for me. At one time, I believed that no information could be worse than what I imagined, but as I have learned more with each successive hearing, I see that is not true. Rather, the reverse. I have learned more than I ever wanted or needed to, and now it is time to close the door and say No more.

My gratitude to those loved ones who are willing to act as buffers for me is immense. I understand that the same details that might give me nightmares for years are horrific but not nearly as traumatizing for them. Nevertheless, it is sometimes a struggle to allow them to place themselves between me and the fire. I wrestle with stepping back and accepting their help. That part feels passive in the sense of not doing anything but is actually receptive. I think of how a gift enriches both the recipient and the giver, and how good it feels when I am able to help someone else. When I see that I am offering that same opportunity to my loved ones, I feel empowered rather than indebted. This isn’t charity, it’s compassion in action. And for that to happen, I have to hold open the space for others to act on my behalf.
deborahjross: (Default)
When I received a letter from the Department of Corrections, informing me of the late March parole hearing for the man who raped and murdered my mother, I felt overwhelmed. It had been as much as I could do to maintain emotional equilibrium in the face of the election and then the illness and death of our wonderful German Shepherd Dog, Tajji. I knew the next hearing was schedule for 2017, but I did not expect to begin the year in dread of that ordeal. I know what these hearings have done to me in the past and how hard I have had to work on survival and recovery. Each hearing has not only opened old wounds but created new ones as more was revealed.

Almost immediately, I started noticing worrisome changes in my mental health. In the 30 years since my mother was killed, I’ve come to know the “warning signs” quite well. I no longer ignore them as I once did. I dare not “soldier on” or bury myself in work: that way lies madness. Thank goodness, I have never been tempted to use substances, legal or not, to escape. Instead, I run to anxiety as my drug of choice. This time I decided to take action on my own behalf before I got into serious trouble.

First I enlisted allies. At the top of that list is my family, both my daughters (one at home, one across the country) and husband, and my sister, with whom I’m very close but who lives in a different part of the state. I let them know I was having a hard time and that if I was distracted or irritable (or flaming irrational), to not take it personally because that meant I needed help. No matter what’s going on, extra hugs are always helpful! So it goes without saying that I am asking for – and receiving – more physical affection. I find my whole body relaxing into a hug and I often fall asleep while cuddling with my husband, I feel so safe and loved.

I decided to tackle my broken sleep first. My daughter and I had gotten into the habit of watching videos until it was bed time. We made a pact (and shook on it) to turn off the television early, to not begin a new episode of whatever program we were streaming after 9 pm. I was delighted at her enthusiasm for meditating with me. We got out our cushions and sat on the living room floor, facing one another. The first evening, we lasted only 5 minutes, but that was enough to produce a sound night’s sleep. Since then we’ve missed a night here and there, but have been continuing the practice for progressively longer times. I don’t need an hour; 10 or 15 minutes seem enough right now. Soon we realized that one of the cats was joining us, sitting in between us or on my lap, and purring. I found the purring added to my relaxation and mental calm.

Secondly, I began keeping a journal again with the specific purpose of using this method to sort through the various logistical decisions surrounding the parole hearing. Taking out the old spiral bound notebook was like meeting an old friend again. This practice had the effect of “corralling” stressful thoughts into a specific setting. Knowing I had a time and place to figure things out – and that I was not allowed to do so at other times and places! – is very helpful. I reminded myself that once I decided what order I wanted to do things in, it was necessary to only worry about the one at the top of the list. One thing at a time, breaking what seemed like an insurmountable load into small, manageable steps. Soon I had prioritized the decisions and tackled the first, most time-critical action. At this point, I had to take myself in hand and not go on to the next one but to allow myself a breather in which to regain my emotional balance.

Third, I have been reaching out to other people I trust, most of whom know the whole wretched story. This way, I have people to talk to with whom I don’t have to rehash history. I miss my best friend, who was an incredible source of support through very painful times, but since her passing I have gotten closer to other friends. As has happened before, I have been sometimes surprised and deeply touched by the kindness and wisdom of the people in my life.

Next up is to ask the Quaker meeting (of which my husband is a member, and I an attender) for a Clearness Committee. This is a small group of weighty Friends who sit with you not to offer advice but to support you in your discernment of a path. I’ve done this for the last two parole hearings and the experience of being “held in the Light” with such tenderness has sustained me.

I find myself missing the comfort of a dog, especially one as responsive and emotionally literate as Tajji. The cats have been extra cuddly since Tajji died, and Shakir, the one who meditates with my daughter and me, curls up beside me at night on the other side from my husband. But it’s too soon to get another dog, so I imagine Tajji wagging her tail at me and giving me a big doggie grin.
deborahjross: (Default)
Priority stuff: work on emotional and physical health. I'm in the midst of a round of doctor visits, most of which are turning out well, and exercising more. Hope to sleep better and lose a bit of weight. The emotional stuff is tricky because I got slammed by a whole series of PTSD-triggering stresses last year and was so busy with the crises of the moment that I didn't attend carefully enough to my inner life. I know how to do this, I just didn't have a chance to catch my breath, so to speak, in 2014.


Writing goals/wishes/hopes depend on how well body and psyche are doing.

Write: Darkover book under contract, get back to parallel contract and on spec novels
Edit: Darkover anthology
Publish: 2 collections and an original sf/mystery novel through BVC

Learn how to use CreateSpace and publish the above in POD
Figure out how to put books up on Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, etc. Notice I put this last as they are the most intimidating.

I'd love to hear from you about what you hope for in 2015.

The photo of hiking in the Dolomites was taken by my dear friend Cleo Sanda, who died in a boating accident in 2013.
deborahjross: (dolomites)
... it's yoga day!

One of the unexpected benefits of turning 65 and signing up for Medicare and various supplemental policies (I have vision and dental insurance for the first time in way too many years) was a free gym membership. Although I have a choice of gyms, none of them is near enough to make it feasible to work out there; as in, 45 minute drive each way. However, the gym that I chose offers many yummy classes, including yoga. I've practiced yoga since 1999, but took formal classes for only the first 5 or 6 years. I do have an excuse: my favorite teacher left to become a massage therapist, the remaining classes were at a bad time for my writing day, and then the school closed.

Anyway, I have found a teacher I like just as much as my old favorite, so I have been taking classes again. It's hatha yoga with a lot of vinyasa flow. And oh my goodness, am I getting stronger. It usually takes me a bit to get solidly back into my body -- we writers spend far too much time floating around in our imaginations, don't we? -- but then I end up feeling calm and strong, my body humming with the intensity of the exercise.

One thing that's new to me is setting an intention or a dedication for each practice. What I want (besides a cure for cancer and world peace) is to release the post-traumatic stuff. It feels, even after all these years, like a steel net coiled around something deep inside. So that's my intention -- to let the yoga flow gently but inexorably uncoil that net, to dissolve it, to let it drain away. I expect this will be a slow process, the next level of recovery.

Blessings to all.
deborahjross: (hands)
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending a seminar put on by Murder Victim Families For Human Rights, and I got to meet other family members of victims and also families of those who have been convicted or executed. The most poignant, excruciating stories came from those who are both -- those who have lost loved ones to violence and to the death penalty. As horrific as my own story is, I cannot begin to imagine how painful that is. I stand in awe of the courage of those who have been able to walk through that agony to a place of compassion.

One of these people was Charity Lee. Her father was a 1980 murder victim; in 2007, her son murdered her daughter. She's set up a foundation in her daughter's name, ELLA, to prevent violence and to advocate for human rights through education, criminal justice reform, and victim advocacy. Recently, she added a blog.

She writes, I miss my kids. I miss them both. I do not care that one was murdered and that one is a murderer. All I know is they are not here and I miss them. I want them here, with me, and I want them now. I want to see them, touch them, hear them, smell them, and wrap them in my arms. I would move heaven and earth to decorate a Christmas tree with my children tonight. I would eat dirt for the rest of my days to bake cookies for Santa with them on Christmas Eve. I would crawl on my knees until I died if I could see their faces on Christmas morning one more time. But I cannot. Ella is dead. Paris is in jail. Neither of the ones I love are with me this holiday season.
So if you miss a loved one because they have been murdered, if you miss a loved one because they are a murderer, if you miss a loved one the government has murdered, if you miss a loved one unjustly imprisoned and you hate the damn holidays, hate them with good cause. Then use that pain to create something good. On the days it is impossible to create good feel free to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head, and try again another day because where there is huge pain there is also huge hope. Sometimes you just have to bury your head in the covers to find it again.

Either way…hang in there. It gets better. I make that promise to us both.

Stop what you're doing. Read the whole post. Open your heart.

If you "Like" it on FB, it opens a window and you can leave a comment. Let her know she's not alone. If you've got a few extra bucks, help her out in her work. If not, light a candle in the dark for us all.
deborahjross: (Default)
So this is a post about aches and pains. Mine. (Yours, too -- feel free to share.) Last Sunday, I went splat face-down on the sidewalk. My own damned fault, as I was wearing a pair of very, very full-cut pants that had already wrapped themselves around my legs once. I thought I'd fixed the problem by shortening them, silly me. Anyway, it was one of those falls that you just can't roll through. The good news is that I didn't hit my face. I thought I'd gotten away with only some abrasions on my palms and one shin. An hour later, my left wrist was aching. Two hours later, it was swollen and so painful I couldn't even move my fingers.

I was so good. (On the other hand, I really didn't have the option of just ignoring it.) The treatment for sprains is RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Plus quantities of naproxen. Plus ranitidine to keep the naproxen from eroding my stomach lining. As a result, the wrist is healing speedily -- I can type, but no piano yet, or putting weight on it. It'll be a while before I can do downward-facing dog again. And oh, my, did it turn pretty colors, no only on my palm (small hematoma) and around the swollen areas, but the entire back of my hand. We've gone from technicolor sunset to sullen undercast. As the wrist becomes more comfortable, I am aware of all the lesser injuries -- a sort muscle here, a slightly swollen joint there -- that were insignificant/unnoticeable compared to the greater injury, but now require TLC.

I think one of the gifts of being older is that I've been through injuries this bad, not so bad, worse, before. I know my own tendencies (ignore it whenever possible; return to normal activities too soon -- I am hardly unusual in either!) and what they cost me in prolonged recovery time if I indulge them. I know that my older body takes longer to heal than it did when I was a sproutling. I know it's okay to ask for help, and to use gadgets and things for comfort measures. Taking anti-inflammatory medicine or medicine for pain is not a sign of weakness.

It also reminds me of how much I use my hands, and how important are the things I do with them.
deborahjross: (Default)
Elsewhere, a friend who is wrestling with some very hard stuff made a reference to a relationship that became a casualty of said hard stuff. I recently had a chance to meet some other family members of murder victims (more about that when I'm ready to write about it) and one of the questions that came up was whether a significant other (spouse/lover/bestfriend) had been supportive. The question unleashed a flood of response. This is something we don't talk about much, how the people we count on sometimes walk out on us. It happened to me. I wasn't dealing with life-threatening illness, but I went absolutely nuts after the first parole hearing of the man who killed my mother. I ended up having to rebuild my life alone. It took me a long time to let go of feelings of anger and abandonment.

We as a culture have this image that it's noble and wonderful to stand by a loved one who's struggling with hard stuff. Although we don't say it aloud, the implication is that loyalty is a measure of love.

It isn't.

I've come to understand that the people who walk out, don't do so because they don't love us or they're weak or they haven't tried hard enough. They do love us and they hang in there as long as they can. The bottom line, though, is that no matter how empathetic they are, no matter how many books they read on whatever we are facing or how many counseling sessions we attend together, they are not living our lives. We all come to a place where we run out of emotional and physical resources, where we just can't see our way through, where there's nothing left to give and the darkness, the pain, the fear are unrelenting. We all crumble under such oppressive weight. The difference is that they can crawl back into "normal life" and we can't.

I believe that the ones who love us and leave us wish beyond words that they could take us with them.

Something breaks in us both, but they get to put their lives back together without our agony and we don't. But we can do it, anyway. The miracle is that even when they give up on us (or so it seems) and we give up on ourselves, something remains, something tenacious and faithful. Maybe it's a part of ourselves that we can experience only in extremis. Maybe it's something beyond or outside ourselves. Maybe it's a moment of kindness from an unexpected source.

It is the seed not only of survival and growth but of forgiveness. It is a whisper of hope for us all.
deborahjross: (crone with wreath)
Normally, I don't do a lot of mirrored posting, but I feel so strongly about this issue that I want to share my perspective with all my friends. So here's my personal essay on healing from a private grief in the midst of national remembrance.

At this time of year, I often feel out of step with the rest of the country, at least as portrayed by the media and demonstrated by election results. This year is different.

Like just about everyone else I know who's old enough to remember the events of 9/11, I have a vivid memory of how I learned about them. I was driving my younger daughter to high school and we were listening to the news on the car radio. We heard the announcer cry, "The second Tower is down!" and the rest of the story tumbled out. The way the events unfolded reminded me poignantly of John F. Kennedy's assassination. I was in high school in 1963, just about the same age my daughter was on September 11. Listening to the news broadcast with her, I experienced a parallel of my own youthful experience. Once again, the world became to be a dangerous and unpredictable place, but for me it was not the first time. I too responded with a feeling that the world has changed forever, but I also had the memory of having walked through this before -- and not just the Presidential assassination.

For me, Septembers will never be solely about 9/11. Twenty-five years ago this month, my mother was raped and beaten to death by a neighbor kid on drugs. It was a spectacularly brutal, headline-banner crime, but only part of a larger tragedy, for his own family had suffered the murder of his older brother by a serial killer some years before. My body knows when the anniversary is approaching, even when my thoughts are distracted. The shift in the quality of the light at summer's end reaches deep into my nervous system. The scar tissue on my heart aches. The ghosts of things that once held the power to drive me crazy stir in the darkness. My sleep becomes fragile, even though I no longer have nightmares. It's a hard time, an intensely personal time.

One thing I have learned over the years is that grief isn't fungible; you can't compare or exchange one person's experience with another's or say, This one's pain is two-thirds the intensity of that one's. Grief is grief; loss is loss. There's no benefit to anyone in comparisons. And no one else can do the hard emotional work of healing for us.

Around me and in the media, I see public displays of remembrance and more often than not, I feel reluctant to share mine. For one thing, I've lived with my story for over two decades and I've had extensive trauma therapy, but the person I tell it to is hearing it for the first time. "My god," they say, "how did you live through that?" At most times of the year, it's a gift to be able to sit with them, give them time to catch up, and to share a little of what I've learned about healing. But not this season. I need to have a time just for my own grief, a time that is just for my mother.

If someone says they lost a loved one in 9/11, or they had to pass the rubble every day on the way to work, or they were involved in some other way, they have no need to recite the circumstances. Because those events are known to the greater community, there is a sense of shared experience or at least an appreciation of the horror and grief of those directly affected. Individual losses occur in much smaller communities. I have come to believe that none of us can truly understand what another's loss is like. We are all individuals with our own histories, our own resources, our own lurking insanity. But we can say, "Even though I don't know what you're going through, my heart goes out to you." In my own life, I have found this deeply supportive.

I don't want to minimize or take away from the feelings of anyone affected by 9/11. We should be allies, for surely there is enough compassion, enough tears, enough fury, enough mending of hearts, to go around. Sorrows shared are divided, or so it is said. Until now, I have not found a way to both acknowledge the collective grief around me and to maintain the separate integrity of my own. What we share, in many variations, is the darkness and the long slow journey to the light. We share the craving for justice, the moments of irrational fury, the struggle against a world that seems capricious in its viciousness. We share the desperation to hold someone accountable, to inflict blame, to punish that person to the utmost in the hope that somehow it will make us stop hurting. That desire to lash out and make the perpetrator suffer is a universal human impulse, but I believe it is only one part of the initial reaction to a horrific tragedy. It is something we pass through on our way back to wholeness. Anger and adrenalin, with their energizing power, help us to get through the early stages. However, both are anesthetizing, numbing to both emotion and spirit. If we remain there, frozen, we cannot wrestle with the deeper issues of healing from trauma.

What has changed for me this year is that I have begun to work for the abolition of the death penalty. Speaking only for myself, I see strong parallels between a murder victim family seeking this form of revenge and the vilification of the Muslim community concurrent with the invasion of Iraq. Of course, justice is desirable. Criminal acts call for appropriate consequences. I would never say that it's okay for my mother's killer to walk the streets or that those responsible for the 9/11 attacks should not be prosecuted according to law. Setting aside the politics of that invasion and the problems with the application of capital punishment, however, my concern is with whether retaliative actions help or hinder the recovery of the survivors.

My own experience is that revenge does not. I want to emphasize that I do not speak for anyone else. We all have different experiences. For me, focusing on wishing harm to the one who had harmed my mother might well have kept me locked -- incarcerated -- in a state of bitterness and hatred. While I was in no way to blame for what happened, I still bear the responsibility for what I do with it. It's like the adult child of an alcoholic getting herself into therapy instead of whining helplessly, attributing all her problems to her upbringing.

I have to ask myself, What do I need? What do I want? One of my inspirations was a woman of astonishing kindness and grace, whose daughter and son-in-law were murdered and whose bodies she discovered. She told me that she faced a choice of whether or not to let herself be driven crazy by what she experienced. I think we all have that choice -- to succumb to the darkness of our anguish and righteous fury, or to walk through it, to move beyond it.

I remember the scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya finally tracks down Count Rugen, who begs for his life and offers anything. Inigo says, "I want my father back!" (and then kills him). I want my mother back, too. All those who lost loved ones and colleagues want them back. We know that's impossible, but what is possible is to get our own lives back. Our own selves. Our best selves.

My experience of healing is that I get myself back when I focus on re-engaging with life, on fully experiencing my feelings, on understanding what I have lost and what can never be replaced, but what can be restored. The more I stop looking to an external event (the execution of the murderer) to somehow make me feel better or "achieve closure," and instead focus on taking care of my insides -- my heart, my spirit, my body -- the better I fare.

So I've been talking about my own healing process and what I've learned. I've been meeting with other family members and with people who've been sentenced to death and then exonerated. I've been looking for ways to build bridges, to nourish tolerance and reconciliation, to create understanding. I make an ongoing conscious decision to not harbor hatred in my heart, but to fill it instead with what I want in my life.

Love. Compassion. Gratitude. Joy. Wonder. Peace.

I can think of no more fitting memorial for my mother . . . or for those who died on 9/11.
deborahjross: (hands)
I put up an intensely personal blog on how relationships sometimes don't survive tragedies on Book View Cafe.

One of the hardest parts of a personal crisis, whether it be a life-threatening illness, a death, or some other catastrophic situation, is that sometimes the relationships we value the most become casualties, the collateral damage of our tragedies. Not always, of course. It can happen that relationships–marriages, friendships, business partnerships-become stronger, more honest, more cooperative, more supportive, and more precious to all concerned. They become testimonies to the best part of our human nature.

Read more....
deborahjross: (Default)
it's good for you. A study done at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles reports:

Volunteers who received Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol in blood and saliva, and in arginine vasopressin, a hormone that can lead to increases in cortisol. They also had increases in the number of lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the immune system.

Volunteers who had the light massage experienced greater increases in oxytocin, a hormone associated with contentment, than the Swedish massage group, and bigger decreases in adrenal corticotropin hormone, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol.

This is a big deal if you're under stress or recovering from trauma/PTSD. Could it be that one of the reasons massage feels so good is that your body knows what it needs?

The study was published online in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
deborahjross: (Default)
Health is strange, and illness even more so. My own proclivity is to ignore the latter and hence deprive myself of the former. In the past, I have pretended I'm better than I am. Which works. Sort of. But only when you're young.

Something approximating sense kicked in this time and kept me resting resting resting. 2 weeks in bed, 3rd week up part of the day, now up all day, no longer coughing, getting back into shape, feeling strong and alert. I know perfectly well that if I'd cut the recovery time in half, as I once would have, I'd still be coughing and dragging, if I didn't have outright bronchitis.

Wrote 6 pages on WIP today. Very big GRIN.


deborahjross: (Default)
Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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