Monthly Archives: January 2016

30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 5

Yes, I know I kind of cheated on Days 3 and 4 — they both ended up being things I needed to forgive myself for instead of one that was myself and one that was another person.  But what can I say, I’m struggling with a lot of guilt at the moment.

I will try to do better today.

Today’s challenge:  Something you hope to do in your life.

I understand that there are a multitude of ways I could answer this and that my answer to this question might change from day to day or hour to hour or minute to minute, based on what my heart is yearning for at that moment.  So, recognizing that, I am going to go with the first thing my heart said when I read this prompt.

I hope to grow old with James.

I hope that we are afforded the opportunity to see our children grow into healthy, happy, and productive adults.  I hope that we can turn grey and hard-of-hearing and stooped together.  I hope that we have the gift of loving each other through heartache and illness and, eventually, inevitably one of our deaths.  This may all sound very macabre, but I assure you that I am not writing from a place of sadness or hopelessness.  On the contrary, I see the possibility of old age with the man I love as an amazing blessing. And part of the reason for that is because I finally understand the idea of love getting better with time.

Just before Thanksgiving, I had dinner with my friends Annie and Helena. Helena had just started dating someone, but was feeling somewhat apprehensive about allowing herself to really enjoy it.  Her deep-seated fears stemming from her abusive marriage and brutal divorce were holding her back from sinking into and truly enjoying the fun of a new relationship.  Annie did her best to comfort and encourage Helena, reminding her that the early, heady days of romance are the best and sweetest times in a relationship.  Initially I agreed, but something about that didn’t feel quite right to me, so even after the conversation had progressed beyond that point, I interrupted and told my friends I needed to revisit that concept.

Because, this is the thing:  I can understand why the beginning of a relationship feels rife with uncertainty and fear for Helena.  I know why it’s hard for her to relax into the fun and just sit happily in the bath of warm and sexually-charged emotions that are so prevalent in those early days.  When you’ve been damaged — and I mean seriously injured emotionally in a relationship — it can be very difficult to relax and trust a new thing.  New things are dangerous and unknown and risky.  They are full of potential for harm, and it’s hard to believe that something wonderful might actually result from the crapshoot that is falling in love.

So, I get it.

My early days with James were fun, for sure.  Discovering each other and exploring all that you might be together is heady stuff.  But it was also a very insecure roller coaster ride fraught with fear and misunderstanding.  Even after we bought a house and moved in together in 2013, it was just plain hard.  I began to wonder if we’d ever reach a place of peace and understanding and unity.  It took a Hail Mary pass in the form of couples counseling to move us beyond that stuck place.

What struck me sitting at that table with Annie and Helena was that James and I are actually happier and more in love now than when we first fell in love 5 1/2 years go.  It’s true… our love has deepened and strengthened over time in ways that I have never experienced before.  For the first time in my life, I can genuinely imagine that being in love with James when we are both in our 70’s might actually be better than what we have now.  And that thought simply astounds me.

So these days I find myself day dreaming about the days when we are empty-nesters and free to create a life together that does not revolve around our six children.  Money will be tight (to put it mildly) as we struggle to put the five younger ones through college, but we are good at spending time together cheaply.  Then later, after the worst of the college expenses have passed, I can imagine us traveling a bit, exploring corners of the world together for as long as our physical bodies allow us.  And then there will be, hopefully, the days of very old age, in which you support and care for each other through the aches and pains and failings that accompany the passing of those final years.

Maybe these are strange things to dream of.  Maybe I am odd for being so excited already at the idea of grandchildren and downsizing our home. Maybe the dreams will change as life and its circumstances hurtle toward us.  But the essence of my dreams, the best part of my dreams, won’t change:  that James and I will still be in love and growing and evolving as individuals and a couple.  All the rest is just scenery and props.

That is my most sincere hope, and I pray with my deepest heart that I have the chance to experience it.

haven't happened yet

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge- Day 4

Today’s writing prompt:  Something you have to forgive someone for.

My brain over the last couple of days, contemplating this post:

Hmmmm.  I don’t want to talk about the horrible things people have done to me.  I’ve spent enough time writing on my blog about that stuff.  Then again, there’s plenty I haven’t written about:  What about the men who have been violent toward me?  What about some of the things my ex-husband did that I haven’t talked about?  What about the bosses who treated me so badly in my 20’s?  What about all the childhood wounds my mother inflicted that I haven’t mentioned?  Now that I think about it, there’s plenty of stuff there!  Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!

And then it occurred to me that the reasons those things were going to be easy was because I’ve already forgiven those trespasses (as we Catholics were raised to say).  To write about them would be an easy way out precisely because the forgiveness has already accomplished.  There is no vulnerability, no discomfort.  And I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of this challenge.  I think it’s supposed be a little hard, a little uncomfortable.

So it was back to the drawing board.  When I dug around in the darkest corners of my heart and poked and prodded at the growly resentments that lurked there, I realized that one hurt bit back the hardest, and therefore demanded to be the reluctant subject of this post.

Someday, somehow I need to forgive myself for decimating my children’s intact family.

To be honest, some days it seems like I’m almost there.  Like the morning I was driving Bryn to school last year and she voluntarily suggested that we are all happier now than we were before the divorce. Or the times when my oldest, Sabrina, tells me that she can totally understand why her dad and I just couldn’t make it together.  Those moments are blessings, salves to my aching soul, delicate threads of hope for all of us.

But then there are the other days.

Days when I wonder at what my girls might have been had I not made the decision to end our family as they knew it.  Days when I wonder at the long-term wounds I created with that decision.  Days when I wonder how much adult therapy it will take them to build healthy lives and relationships without carrying the detritus of our broken family with them.

Some of those days are burned into my memory – guilt branded onto the flesh of my soul.  Like the morning I watched 5-year-old Bryn haul her little wheelie suitcase down the stairs (“thump, thump, thump”), crying and asking why she had to switch houses every week.  Or the many times (so many times!) when Sabrina hugged me tightly and told me she didn’t want to go to her dad’s and why couldn’t she just stay with me? Or the Christmas when Bryn pointed out how unfair it was that they had to spend Christmas morning after opening their presents, packing up all their belongings to switch houses and have a second Christmas that afternoon.

But those moments, as heart-wrenching as they were, do not compare with the nightmares of possible damage that will manifest in their teen years and beyond.  The fear that they will act out their damaged souls through self-destructive behaviors that lead to pregnancy, addiction, or simply sacrificing their amazing potential in some other way — that fear haunts my nightmares in every possible form.

And those fears are looming ever larger lately.

Since last spring, my ex-husband, Bryce, and I have been struggling (so far unsuccessfully) to deal with Bryn’s growing tendency to lie and, on some occasions, to even steal money from family members.  Even as I type this, my whole body flushes with shame, because — let’s be brutally honest here — no matter how much we say it isn’t so, when someone so young goes off the rails, we lay the blame for the bad behavior with the parents, not with the child alone.  If she is wandering from the right path, it is surely because she was not provided with the proper guidance of how to stay on it.

Bryce and I have done all that we know to do:  we have tried to talk to her, we have sent her back to the therapist she saw and came to trust after our divorce, we have provided incentives for better behavior and punishments for the bad.  And still she struggles.

And every time she stumbles, I hate myself.

I understand that she might have had these problems even if we had stayed together.  Her therapist said as much to us during our separation when Bryn was 5.  But it doesn’t feel that way to me.  I am hyper-vigilant to any possibility that my decision seven years ago doomed my children to damage I cannot fix.  Bryn brings home straight A’s in advanced classes, is a successful competitive gymnast, and has nice, studious friends.  But as soon as there is the slightest suggestion that she is struggling beneath that well-adjusted facade, I panic.  And the self-loathing kicks in.

I knew before her therapist told us so that Bryn is acting out against some emotional trigger, seeking attention and trying to be heard, and I have my suspicions as to what that trigger is, but until Bryn is comfortable admitting it, I am unable to advocate on her behalf.  So instead I sob when I’m alone and wonder if she’d be crying out in this manner if her father and I had stayed together… if I had found the selflessness to allow her the luxury of an intact family during her childhood.

But I didn’t.  And life doesn’t give you do-overs.

These are the only times ever that I have come close to regretting my decision to divorce her dad.  I can’t help it.  I love my girls and can’t help but assume the responsibility for their pain.  I cannot see what that alternative future might have held, so I am confined to this future — that I created and imposed on the rest of my family.

I know that we forgive, not for the sake of the forgiven, but to achieve our own peace.  I would love to have that peace in my heart, but so far, I cannot say that I am close to it.  I don’t feel that I deserve it, and so I cling to the blame and resentment with an intensity that hits me from out of nowhere and strangles my heart Every. Single. Time.

Maybe someday I will forgive that desperate, sad, lonely me of 7 years ago.

Or, then again, depending on what the future holds, maybe I won’t.

forgiveness

 

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 3

On the third day of the 30 Days of Truth Challenge (Is anyone else hearing the tune for “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? No? Just me? Alrighty then…), we are prompted to write about:

Something you need to forgive yourself for.

Just one? Seriously? I think I had a pretty long list by the time I was 9, so this seems like a case of Pick-a-Card,-Any-Card.

It is certainly tempting to go for the low-hanging fruit – the fact that I left my husband and tore my family apart when my children were only 5 and 7. How easy it would be to wax lyrical about my children having to pack their entire lives into little Dora the Explorer wheelie bags and move back and forth every single Friday of their childhood. Yes, that is definitely an easy one with which to self-flagellate.

But I will resist that particular temptation. Other guilt-ridden siren songs playing in my head right now include: not living up to my full career potential after spending almost $200,000 on college and graduate degrees; distancing myself from my mentally ill and abusive mother (“but she’s your mother!”); and all the times I have unleashed my attachment issues all over some poor, unsuspecting friend or lover.

But alas, those will not have their day on the screen this time.   Because, frankly, I feel that they’ve had enough time on this blog as it is. So they can just shut the hell up.

Today, instead, I will seek self-forgiveness for the times I have not fully appreciated the people that I should have. The people who gave me more than they should have, cared more than was wise, and put up with me with more patience than I would have thought possible. And yet I failed to fully see them. To appreciate them. To make sure that they understood that I had not overlooked their kindnesses.

I am ashamed to admit that there are many.

First, there was the suburban street that formed a village around me and gently guided me to adulthood through a childhood that was strewn with familial loss, the kind of loneliness unique to only children, and a simmering anger that sunk downwards toward depression as the years ticked by. The men, women and older kids in my neighborhood cared for me when I was sick, snuck me treats when I wasn’t allowed them at home, gave me free rein to their pools and yards, and kept a dozen vigilant eyes on me when my single, working mother was otherwise distracted. And I have never properly thanked them. How could I? Are there any words?

And what about the kind strangers who befriended me when I lived in England, all on my own, at the age of 21? There were those professionals who offered me internships (known there as “attachments”) that ultimately changed my whole career trajectory and led to a job that provided some of the most precious (and unrepeatable) memories of my youth. These men and women generously used their contacts to place me in enviable positions in amazing proximity to legendary creativity and power. And I took it all in, accepting their graciousness as if it were my due. Then there were the people on the fringes, who stepped in and offered me a place at their Christmas dinner table, introduced me to the magic of Lemsip when I had my first English cold, and carried me home from the pub when I finally realized that I hadn’t been raised to drink pints of anything. Did I say thank you? I honestly don’t recall. I hope so, but I can’t assure you of that with any conviction.

Finally, what about the people who have offered me their friendship, only to be met with ambivalence and indifference? You know these friends; you more than likely have had one or two of your own. They are the people who aren’t exactly in your squad but desperately wish to be. They look up to you, admire all your best qualities and ignore your worst, and either pine to date you or be you. And you hardly notice them. In the vanity and stupidity of youth, you take and take the gift of their friendship, while tossing them an occasional bone of attention or gratitude, which they devour hungrily and you use to appease whatever guilt creeps into your consciousness. Eventually, they tire or give up or grow up and walk away. And you, sadly, hardly notice.

But these friends are true friends. They offered themselves without guile and with complete sincerity, hoping for nothing but friendship in return. What is real friendship but that kind of desire to give of ourselves and make a connection with another person? I have had several of these peripheral friends in the course of my life, and they have passed through without leaving much of a mark, except on my guilty conscience. I know, in the deepest, darkest parts of my heart, that I was a poor excuse for a friend to them, that I returned almost nothing that was given to me, and that I am terribly ashamed of myself.

Nearly all of these people have passed out of my life, some without leaving even a precise memory of their full name. Others have left this world, and I have grieved them more than they could have ever possibly expected. For a few, I have seized the opportunity to express as much gratitude as I can without making them or me completely uncomfortable. Was it enough? Definitely not.

Sometimes I try to absolve myself by recognizing that we all have treated people shabbily in some fashion or another, and that the best we can hope for is the maturity and growth to recognize it, correct it when possible, and dedicate ourselves to doing better next time.

Is that enough? Probably not.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll keep working on that forgiveness thing.

forgive yourself

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 2

So, after exposing our soft underbellies on Day 1 of the Challenge, Day 2 prompts us to write about “Something you love about yourself.” This is just plain easier than Day 1. Not because of vanity, but because focusing on what we like about ourselves means we get to operate from a place of power rather than a place of vulnerability. Plus, it’s incredibly valuable to show ourselves a little self-love once in a while. Makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

The thing I love about myself that I’m choosing to write about is not an accomplishment or a natural talent, but something that is still a work in progress: I love that I genuinely try to live authentically. I try, as much as possible, to say what I mean and put myself out there without wearing masks or performing roles or having to put someone else down in order to feel good about myself. I try to be conscious of those things and when I feel myself doing them, I try to step back, take a breath, and start again.

For so many years – maybe most of my life? – I lived in fear of being truly known. Deep down, I was terrified that if the people around me discovered who I really was, they would point, laugh, and reject me outright as unworthy, not valuable, and, ultimately unlovable. So I tried on different roles and masks. I assumed an air of reserve and haughtiness that caused many people to conclude that I was a snob. I hid behind my grades, my accomplishments, my career, my marriage, to create a persona that I thought people would like. I didn’t realize then that I was being disingenuous, honestly. I suppose it felt more like I was sparing people the pain of having to know or endure who I really was.

Not that I was a horrible person underneath. I sincerely cared about other people – very deeply – and was capable of a kind of fierce loyalty and unconditional love that I realize now is not always available. I didn’t use people or lie or cheat. I wasn’t racist or homophobic or judgmental. I was generous with my time, my feelings, and my love. So it wasn’t that there weren’t things about me to like; it was simply that I was subconsciously convinced that, underneath all of that, I was so broken and flawed, so much worse  than anyone else I knew, that if people truly knew me, they wouldn’t like, respect, or value me. Never mind love me.

But it was exhausting. If you’ve ever been the perfect wife or perfect mother or perfect girlfriend or perfect friend or perfect student or perfect daughter, you know this. And you know also that it is, at its heart, a very real lie. By withholding our true selves, we not only feed fear, create stress, and undermine our ability to contribute all our best parts, we deny people a chance to know our best parts in true intimacy.

Because, the thing is, the best parts of us are never the masks we wear or the roles we perform perfectly. What we call perfect is actually boring and forgettable and not at all relatable.  The moments of true perfection are in the mistakes, the flaws, the flashes of vulnerability we show each other. It is the times when someone does something unexpectedly kind, or reveals something about themselves that we can connect with, or offers some unobligated comfort or support – those are the moments when we can feel the walls between us collapsing and we can feel our human connection most deeply.  Those are the moments in which we create admiration and appreciation for another person.

None of those moments is possible without authenticity. I have come to realize that few people are genuinely bad. Most who behave badly are simply chronically and/or deeply disingenuous for any number of reasons. But at our core, I sincerely believe, almost all of us are good. And want to be even better.

Living an authentic life is scary. Every single time I expose myself, I risk rejection, laughter, and pain. Like most things, it gets easier with time, but I can’t say that it’s actually “easy” for me yet.  And I think that it’s so hard that we lie to ourselves about whether we are being authentic.  We are so used to our masks and our roles, we don’t even notice them anymore.  But simply stating that we’re being authentic is not the same as actually living authentically.  Would that it were that simple!

If you, like I did, are living life in a box of expectations and moving through your days out of obligation, if you are being your best (fill in the blank here) because you feel that you have to or you need to (rather than because it is simply your natural operating system), then you probably aren’t living authentically. If you refuse to post anything negative on social media, if you resist revealing your true feelings to people about parenting or your marriage, if you couldn’t admit the relief you felt after your mother/father/grandparent passed away following a long, bitter war with cancer, then you’re probably not living authentically. In short, if you’re showing people only the best, happy, positive and uplifting side of you, then you definitely aren’t living authentically.  Authenticity demands vulnerability and fears and flaws.

It is so tempting to put our best face forward. The idea that people will admire us and look up to us and want to be like us is an intoxicating incentive to cling to that mask and that role. It is tantalizing to think we might be the “It Girl,” the Carrie Bradshaw, or the Martha Stewart of our girl squad. And I’m here to admit that it might actually work… for a time. But eventually people realize that they can only get so close to you. They begin to suspect that you are hiding things, or, more surprising to me, that you are withholding intimacy because you are judging them and finding them lacking. No kidding. It happens.

My authenticity experiment since my divorce has not been without its lumps and bumps. I have confided to the wrong people. I have revealed more than I should. I have let some really bad people into my life. It’s honestly a case of two steps forward, one step back for me most of the time. But I know that I genuinely like myself better when I am behaving authentically. I can feel it. It isn’t sanctimonious or judgmental. It isn’t better or smarter or more talented. It is flawed and broken and honest and funny and compassionate and open and achingly real.

And whatever else it is or isn’t, at least it’s not perfect. And I love it.

authentic-self-soul-made-visible2

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 1

Hi.  Remember me?

Needless to say, it has been quite a while.  I fell off the writing wagon quite a while ago.  First, it was because I was so blissfully happy with James that we couldn’t get enough of each other, and every single spare minute was devoted to basking in that glow.  Then, it was because things started getting hard and I was so confused and overwhelmed, I didn’t even know how to write about it.  Then, finally, life got so busy and full that there didn’t seem to be enough time or energy to devote to writing.  It, along with my yoga practice, faded away and became a silent part of an earlier chapter in my life.

I now earn a living being creative.  I have a  3o-hour-per-week job doing marketing and communications, plus I do freelance writing and website development another 10 or so hours per week.  I no longer need a creative outlet.  I spend my days — all day, every day — being creative. In fact, all these creative outputs contributed to a bit of creativity fatigue that fed my ambivalence about blog writing.

But I missed my blog and the outlet it provided.  I have always missed it. I never felt that it was over or considered pulling it down.  This is the only writing that I do entirely for myself.  The memoir I wrote and revised for hours was ultimately for an audience.  As is the novel I’ve outlined and started.  This, and only this, is purely for me and you.  Not for a publisher or an agent or a client or a boss.  Just some words here, in my little corner of the internet, where we can connect and explore the mundane and profound.

Oh, have I missed it.

Many times I have written whole posts in my head but not quite found the time to put them to the screen.  However, inspired by Oh Jenni (once again), I am picking up my laptop and dedicating myself to getting back in the writing groove again.  The 30 Days of Truth Challenge is a great way to do it.  I’m a day behind Jenni, so this is just my Day 1.  I’m rusty, I know, but hopefully you’ll bear with me as I rediscover my groove and my voice. And don’t worry… I’ll be sure to bring you all up-to-date with the ever evolving soap opera that passes for my life.  But you might be disappointed; things are much quieter these days.

But I digress…

Day 1:  Something You Hate About Yourself.

Boy, whomever created this challenge didn’t start easy, did they?

I spent the day contemplating this question in the back of my mind and then the answer was suddenly so clear to me:  the thing I dislike most about myself (hate is frankly too strong a word) is that I don’t know.  I don’t have a solid, tangible sense of who I am.  My sense of self feels ephemeral, gossamer, translucent.  What I think of myself, how I think of myself, what I see of me, seems to come and go, fade in and out, with the kind of fluttering inconsistency of fog at sunrise or clouds sweeping a windy sky.

I understand and appreciate the psycho-babble that answers the question of why I am this way, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating or strange.  So much of the time, in between rare moments of  grounded certainty, I feel like I exist only as a mirror of other people’s ideas about me.  I fumble to sketch the basic outlines of who I am and end up with nothing but eraser marks and ripped paper.

I’m not talking about knowing what I believe in; that I know.  I know what my values are and what my feelings are.  What I do not know is what I am.  I know what people say about me — the good and the bad — but I have a terrible time discerning the truth within those accusations and accolades.  I don’t seem to have the ability to hear these things and simply know whether I agree with them or not.  I have observed people my whole life and seen how most people do this constantly and usually without much thought.   But not me. It takes endless hours of journaling to sift through what is their stuff, what are their projections, and what are more evidence-based critiques of me, and finally determine what I think about their thoughts of me.  Do I agree with them or do I think their assessment is just plain wrong?

Look, I know that too much belly-button gazing is often worse than too little, and I know that life is a long journey of self-discovery, but it seems to me that, having reached the other side of “middle age” at 47, I should have a better and more immediate grasp of my identity.

And truly, not having a grounded sense of who you are and (perhaps even more importantly) who you aren’t, makes it all too easy for other people to project onto you their own ideas of who you are.  It’s as if you are simply a green screen onto which they projec their images of who and what you are, without any resistance from you.  After all, if you aren’t sure whether you are bossy or incompetent or inspirational or kind, how do you know whether their projected images are true?  Or is truth merely relative in this context? Perhaps the old psychological theory about there being three “real” identities for each person — Me, Myself, and I — is actual and factual and the only real “truth” is that we there isn’t only one truth to be divined about who each of us is.

Has your head exploded yet?  Because mine is starting to hurt.

Anyway, I really, really, really dislike this about myself, and I am chronically envious of pretty much everyone else in the world, who don’t seem to struggle to figure out who and what they are.

It’s okay if none of this makes any sense to you.  That just means that you’re one of the people I envy.

See you tomorrow for Day 2.

I-ve-been-trying-to-figure-out-who-I-am-and-I-fina

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