I am a girl who loves mountains, changing seasons, running, true backpacking, strong coffee, and knitting with high quality yarn.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Friday, September 21, 2007

Did you ask about personal issues?

Scene From a cafe by Stephen Varlamov

A hard working man,
Coming back from work,
Wearing uniform,
Having a cup of tea,
Planning to get a good job,
Dreaming of a career.

Two hard working men,
Wearing army clothing,
Each of them having a bagel with cream,
Planning how to impress the commander,
Dreaming of winning the war.

A happy man,
Taking all of his pets to the café
Wearing a pet shop uniform,
Chewing a donut,
Planning of getting a new pet,
Dreaming of owning a zoo.

A lady with cancer,
With no hair,
Wearing a stripped shirt,
Drinking a cup of coffee,
Planning how to cure her cancer,
Dreaming of being good health.

September 17th was quite a day. September 17th was 19th anniversary as Oleg and I had met back in Med School in Moscow, at a party, where he asked his friend to invite me after he saw me at a cafe. Seemed that we had fallen in love right on the spot and were married a little over a year later....long time ago it was. About 3 months ago, after much consideration and talking and trying Oleg and I had come to a mutual decision to separate. Some awkward time later we had become friends - finally, as weird as it sounds, we didn't do well as a couple, but found more peace when we don't "own" each other. Life is moving on...

September 17th was 14th anniversary as Alex and I came to this country. We followed Oleg 6 months after he left for a job in NYC, holding in hands round-way tickets. Now, half of my adult life later, I consider Portland, OR my home. Something I couldn't say about any place I've lived before. Something I haven't felt so deep about my whole life. I am utterly proud to be born and raised in Russia and very thankfull for all it had given to me, wouldn't want it any other way - but this is different. I am not an American. But this place I live in, a place itself, is my home. Every time I fly from another place and the plane circles Mt. Hood, I have tears and my heart tightens. I am home...who knew it would happen?

September 17th was a date we set for Alex to leave our home, yet again. The year he spent in Montana boarding school, dealing with drug addiction and behavioral problems, brought only short relief. As soon as he entered "normal" world, the Bad Dog reared its head, and Alex choose to feed it, feed it well. It went downhill much faster and much further than it did first time - as it happens in life. He was on a track to get to jail or die, and no conventional methods helped - neither they did before. So we did what we could by still having a power over a minor - we arranged for him to attend another boarding school, this time much stricter, military style. He is a "golden child" for our family, indeed...but nothing will deter us from trying to lend a hand of help, at least not while we still can. Once he reaches 18 and is released back in life again, it'll be up to him to find which dog is a good one and which is not - as well as make a conscious decision how much effort he would apply to feed either. From the last email from his school manager, he is adjusting well, neither sad nor shocked, and complying with the rules. May be he is one of those kids who need to be held hand of and guided through life? Then there aren't many choices for him...although they do exist.

I've been running some. Obviously, putting over 80 miles a week after 2 full weeks of lay off wasn't good for either my hip joint or my muscles in general, but I survived. Trails give me sanity. Running motion give me clarity. As long as I have this option, I will make it through. As long as I have my extended family of the community I entered some 4 years ago, I'll survive. And I hope you all know - anything you ever need, you can turn to me. Anything you think nobody else would understand - I will. Please don't hesitate to ask. I am counting on you for that - it gives me one more reason to be on this planet.

p.s. Craig, I had to do it:) I dug out that comment you left for Donald's series, and after reading it couldn't resist. If you have no time or intention to post it separately, I got some space, and here it seems as fitting as can be. Please kick me if I shouldn't have. At least this way I can easily find it to re-read:)
Donald -- Your recent series on “the dog you feed” was thoughtful and made me feel rather naive about past comments about how running makes runners more pure.
My experience with human beings tells me that there is a dark side in all of us. In my own profession I've seen way to many people that seemed to be spiritual do ungodly things. Sometimes they are as horrified as anyone else at how far they have journeyed from what they set out to be.
I remind myself on a regular basis that given a different set of circumstances that each of us is capable of things we couldn't presently imagine.
I have a close friend who journeyed down the same path as your friend. We are still close because I came to the conclusion that but for the grace of God that could have been me. To fail to acknowledge our potential for moral failure places us in a most vulnerable position of repeating what we deplore in others. So I have to say it could "be" me.
I think the wrong dog emerges when there is a lack of integration between the different aspects of a person's life. When we compartmentalize our life so that we are one person at work, a different person at home, someone else at a house of worship (and so many more I can’t name them here) we lose a sense of our authentic self.
When we fail to recognize how compromising who we are in one aspect of life impacts other aspects of our living, we attempt to function normally while harboring great contradictions within. Living with these contradictions leaves our lives fractured. We are not a whole person. If we are not whole, then we cannot be healthy.
If we get used to living in this fractured condition, one day we wake up and find that we’ve violated the values and ethics which once guided our life. Not only is it difficult for us to trace the steps that brought us to an unthinkable place in life, but others are also mystified as to how we made that journey.
It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s the product of little compromises willingly made in one area of life that are kept hidden from other areas. In some ways the greatest deception of all is the self-deception which violates our own sense of personal integrity. This self-deception leads to our practicing deceit in our relationships with others. When the wrong dog is fed we are being false to ourselves first and that leads to our being false with others.
That's why I think it's so important to understand how one area of life impacts all the others. A well integrated person is more likely to possess a healthy perspective on life which refuses to violate personal convictions. A compartmentalized life leads to an unhealthy fracturing of our personality where compromises that violate personal values and ethics are tolerated.
If this fracturing continues long enough (is tolerated) it escalates until a person finds themselves doing things they otherwise could not imagine. This discovery is often prompted by others who publicly expose the deceptions which have been perpetrated privately against innocent parties. This public exposure provides an inescapable dose of unexpected reality that sheds light on the depth of internal dysfunction.
Donald, these thoughts are based mostly on my personal observations of situations like the one with your friend. I haven’t done any real research. I just have a hunch this is how “the bad dog” emerges from a person we otherwise expected to be “a feeder of the good dog.”
My friend possessed much good within and his subsequent conduct has proven this. But he made and tolerated some bad decisions in one area of life thinking they would not affect the rest of his life. That was and always is a dangerous delusion.
Maybe it would be more precise to say that in my personal experience and observation running makes a positive contribution to other areas of my life. Thoughts while running are generally the most wholesome of the day. This brings clarity to life that helps me see how different aspects of life fit together to make me who I am.
I've concluded that running does contribute to my being a more integrated and healthy person. Otherwise it would be time to hang up the shoes. But you are right. It may not impact every runner in this way.
I wanted to comment over at your place but never found the time to do the topic justice. Then the moment seemed to be past. Even now there are several paragraphs forming in my mind.
Too bad we can't sit down over coffee and talk until the topic is exhausted. Or we are. At this point I am.
I really identified with your experience and thought your series of three posts was some of the best and most important writing I’ve read over at your place. They sparked a lot of thoughts on my end. Thanks for supplying the spark.


Donald said...

I sincerely hope Alex finds his way someday, and stays on the good path. Lord knows it's not easy, though. Good luck to your family.

wendy said...

Oh, honey....my baby brother (only 2 years younger than me, but still my baby) sounds a bit like Alex. It's taken 6 years, and he's not doing too bad these days. There is hope!

80 mile weeks, you are a crazy girl!

One of these days I'm going to have to actually run an ultra just so I can ask you for a finish line hug. =) You take care of yourself, too, you hear!

Backofpack said...

Stephen writes very well, that was an evocative piece.

A tough road ahead for Alex, and for his parents. Glad to hear you and Oleg have found friendship too. It's not easy to make the choices you've had to make recently - I can understand how that led to an 80 mile week.

I think of Alex often.

angie's pink fuzzy said...


I love the piece by Stephen.

I saw you called this week, I've been running from meeting to meeting to meeting - I'm hoping to call you this weekend while I'm up in Mesa - will you be around?

Yay for 80 miles :)

Jamie said...

Thinking good thoughts for you and your family and sincerely wishing the best.


psbowe said...

Oh I truly love that poem by Stephen.

Hang in there Olga. I'll good thoughts flowing your way for Alex. We've had our battles trying not to give up on my sis-in-law. Like you say, running helps.

Sarah said...

Olga, you have the biggest heart! : ) When you write that anyone can turn to you for anything, I know you truly mean it. Best wishes for Alex (and you and the whole family!) on this next journey. : )

Dmitri Chechuy said...

Olga, I wish all the best you and your family!
I have gone through a similar phase Alex is going through (at least as far as I can guess from your post). And I saw a lot of my close and not-so-close friends going through it – especially during our first 2 university years in Moscow. And all of us found a way out of it.
And Alex will surely find it too! What else can it be? - He’s got your genes after all!

Love2Run said...

Take care of your family Olga as much as they let you. We'll be thinking and praying for the best for you and yours. We really are there for you ;-)

rick said...

Bittersweet day. I hope it eventually works out for Alex. Young and lost, I hope he finds his way soon.

I kind of know what you mean about home and running. I live in a place I never thought I would like and I'm involved in a sport I never thought I would enjoy. Now I can't do without either.

Meghan said...


My heart goes out to you. Amidst the sufferings and the struggles that you and your family are having, you produce this eloquent, emotional, touching piece of writing. Thanks for opening up to us. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

Olga I love your soul and your sprit chica.We still need to take a walk and talk- Stay Russian baby!! Georgie,,,,

Thomas said...

Take care of the family, Olga, as good as you can and as good as they can. And don't forget to take care of yourself.

Bob Gentile said...

Hey Olga, Keep that running going to keep ur sanity ... Lean on us to get u through these times :-) Ur the best!

Bob Gentile said...

PS : I Love the poem by Stephen, great job Stephen !!!

DawnB said...

Olga, my heart goes out to you and your family may God blessings be with you all.

Anonymous said...

We're all behind you Olga, best wishes for your families well being. Oh and though you may be Russian born you're just as American as the next person in the ultrarunning family. We love you.

Sarah Elaine said...

Beautiful post, Olga. One of the things I admire most about you is how you can be honest and vulnerable and yet strong, hopeful and positive in the face of powerful challenges. Blessings to the family. Special hug for you.

Julie B said...

Oh Olga, I knew you were having problems with Alex again, but didn't know you were going through rough times with Oleg as well. I'm glad you guys came through as friends. It's been a tough year for you. You are a tough woman, you will ge through...one day at a time. So will Alex. He will find his way. Stephen's poem is beautiful. Take care of yourself, my friend, take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

I consider it the best kind of compliment that you would post my comment to Donald here. I pray for Alex and your family on a regular basis. If I can help you know how to reach me.

robtherunner said...

My prayers are always with you and your family. I went through the same thing as Alex and I think I ended up turning out alright. We all learn lessons in different ways and on a different timeline. At least you know he will be safe for now.

Gretchen said...

Olga I am so sorry to hear about so much turmoil in your life. You are dealing with some huge challenges all at the same time, and I can't even imagine how hard that must be. I am sending positive thoughts your way!
Thanks also for sending me to Donald's blog about the good dog and bad dog and posting Craig's comment. All very thought provoking. I also thought you had a good comment on Donald's blog regarding praising the deeds rather than the person. That is so important, because everyone makes both good and bad choices at times, but because we make a bad choice doesn't make us an inherently bad person. Challenges present themselves every day.
Anyway, hang in there Olga and do your best to take care of yourself and your family. Thanks for your posts.

bushwhacker said...

We all have our hidden sides and live in our own lonely little worlds. That is what being an individual is all about.
I would postulate that most out of character acts are brought about by circumstances then conscience decisions.
This is only my thoughts but it scares to think that there is a little sicopath in all of us.


Olga, I think you hinted at some of what was going on in previous posts, but, wow, you've been going through a lot. I'm sure that took some courage to be so open and honest. Hope you can continue to cope with the challenges. Thanks for referring us to Donald's blog, and Stephen's intense poem. We're all with you.

By the way, along the lines of what David said, remember that being an American does not require you to relinquish your identity as a Russian. Part of what defines this country (or at least the more tolerant parts) is our ability and willingness to include and embrace diversity. So if you feel this is your home, you are an American in most of our books.

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