Category Archives: healing

saying goodbye to parker

Earlier this year, I shared the story of my relationship with Parker — a young man I loved in my early 20’s who set the standard for me of what love could feel like and how it could affect me.  From that post, I received a few emails from curious readers, wondering whatever became of Parker and why we didn’t try again. True romantics, they wanted to believe in second chances, and urged me to see if I could make it happen with Parker.

But the thing is, we did get a second chance.  And while it didn’t result in a lifelong love, it did give us both closure and reassurance that what we’d experienced had been real and mutual. Which is nearly as good.

It happened this way….

It was almost 4 years after I’d last seen Parker, and I was in graduate school in Washington, DC.  Our mothers had inexplicably continued exchanging holiday cards, despite an almost palpable dislike of each other.  In the most recent holiday card and accompanying Our-Family-Is-Perfect-And-Happy! letter, I’d learned that Parker had moved to London and begun a new job.  No mention of marriage or a girlfriend. The omission sat with me for some months.

Then one Saturday, I found myself in my hair stylist’s chair, spilling the story of me and Parker.  As my narrative poured out, her clipping slowed down, eventually stopping when she stood behind me, looking at me in the mirror, with tears brimming in her eyes.  “That’s so beautiful…” she whispered. She spun my chair around and gripped my arms.

HS:   Listen to me!  You have to find this man!  This cannot be the end of the story!  You have to find out if there is more!  If there is, it will be the love of a lifetime — maybe you both just needed time to grow up.  And if it’s not, then you’ll have your final chapter. It won’t end with you getting on a bus in the pouring rain and never seeing him again.  Please, do this!  You have to do this!

I was stunned by her emphatic words, but also not.  I guess in some way I’d always known that Parker and I had to have another chapter, whatever the outcome would be.

So I wrote Parker a long letter.  I explained some things I couldn’t have explained before.  I filled him in on my life since our parting.  I told him what he’d meant to me and the ways in which he’d changed my life forever.  And I told him that I’d understand if he couldn’t or didn’t want to write back, or if his reflection on our relationship left him with different feelings or memories.  I just needed to say that I didn’t want him walking the earth, thinking ill of me or thinking that I thought anything but the best of him.

Mail to England at that time took about a week. Nine days later, I came home late from class to a voicemail message from him.

The next day, I called him back and we talked.  And then we called and talked some more.  And some more.  We discovered that our experience of our relationship had indeed been shared.  It had been a watershed for him, too.  Taught him things about himself and love.  Scared him to death and shook him up.  So, after talking for hours trans-Atlantically, within a week, he proposed that he should come to the States to see me…. to see what was still there between us.  I said yes, feeling as if I were a princess in a fairytale.  My friends swooned at the mere possibility of meeting my famous prince.

But then, one night, just before he was to book his flight, I asked him what his parents had to say about his visit to see me.  “Well, uh, I didn’t exactly tell them,” he replied haltingly.

And my stomach dropped.  My mouth went dry.  And the fairytale ended.

Parker’s parents had been the biggest impediment to our relationship when I was in England.  They liked me well enough to be best friends with his sister and to live at their house for a summer when I was doing an internship, but when my relationship with Parker went from platonic to romantic, they flipped out.  Nasty, heated arguments ensued, in which I was labeled with all variety of derogatory American stereotypes.  I was dumb.  I was easy.  I probably had any number of diseases.  I watched them tear him down and degrade our love into something cheap and sleazy and unworthy.  And I could do nothing but stand by and hope he was strong enough to withstand their assaults.

But he wasn’t.  In the end, the final straw was his mother’s coup de grace — she arranged a date for him with a young nurse, the daughter of an acquaintance.  And he, weary of battling her, agreed to go.  I was crushed. And that was the end of us.

With the passage of time, I came to realize that he had gone on the date hoping to show his mother that no matter how many, how young, or how English the dates were, they would not succeed in eliminating me from his heart, but at that time, I was simply too crushed to bear it.  I saw his action as evidence that his parents had won in their battle to rip us apart.  And I reviled what I saw as his cowardice in not standing up to them more strongly.

So, that night, all those years later, clutching the phone to my ear, and with tears coursing down my cheeks, I told Parker not to come visit me.  I could see that the biggest obstacle to our being together was not geography, but his parents’ persistent disapproval of our relationship.  And I saw, very clearly, that to start again would not be to turn over a new chapter, but to revisit an old and painful one.  He was silent, and then agreed.  I think we had one more conversation after that, which was sad but cordial. We offered sincere wishes for good fortune to the other, we apologized that things had never turned out differently, we swore that memories would not be forgotten.

Then we went our separate ways.

But that still wasn’t the end….

His mother continued with her Christmas cards and letters until a few years ago.  Through those I learned that Parker had fallen in love with a Canadian girl.  Shortly after that ended, there followed an American, whom he later married and moved to Chicago to be with.  After a child and a divorce, he stayed in Chicago, started his own company, and is now engaged to another American.  So, apparently, at some point, he decided to stand up to his parents and their ill-conceived ideas of American women.  For that, I am very, very proud of him.

I joined Facebook around the time my marriage was falling apart, as a way to reconnect with my emotional support network, which was mostly based on the East Coast.  Parker’s sister in England found me first, and we renewed our friendship.  Then he followed up with a friend request.  We exchanged a few short, friendly emails, which felt nice and right.  It’s good to see photos of him and his fiance and his son.  It’s good to read snippets about his professional successes.  We are nothing to each other but cherished memories, but that is exactly as it should be.  And I am grateful to be able to see that he is well and happy and successful.

Sometimes our fairytales don’t end the way a scriptwriter would have written them.

Sometimes they just end the way they should.

P.S. — This post is dedicated to Dan, who wrote a post that actually made me cry.  I wish him solace and a conclusion to his own tale.

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Filed under healing, love, relationships

breakups are harder on men? let’s revisit this one…

My last post, breakups are harder on men? who knew?, prompted some interesting comments, including one from French blogger Lady E, who raised some  points that I suspect would have been echoed by others had they taken the same time to comment.  Her comment was very thought-provoking to me, and enjoyably so.  I was about to reply, but decided instead to address her salient points in a post.

Here is her comment:

Biochemistry is all good and well, but extrapolating data from animals to humans who have an altogether different psychology, and have such a range of genetic make-ups (there is more variability within the male or female population than between any “average” male and female), not to mention the way more important experiences and cultures can be precarious, hence why when Glamour writers, who do like to select and misinterpret evidence, which backs up say their intuition : It’s not science. Not that it’s not interesting, because gut feelings, experience and personal wisdom are interesting and valid in their own way, but have virtually nothing to do with science.
Anyway, sorry, let me me get off my soap box, vasopressin playing a role in men’s sense of property, why not ?
But breakups being harder on men ? That would truly contradict my intuition that men land back on their feet way faster than women.

I understand the inherent dangers in extrapolating data from animals to humans, but I also know that a lot of respected biochemical psychology research is being produced in the States right now and subjected to the same scientific standards as other research, including being peer-reviewed and published (like the study quoted in Glamour, which was harvested from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior).  Not being a social scientist myself, I have only my natural skepticism and experiences to color my digestion of this research, and the startling aspect of it (to me, at least) is how the physiology of attraction or love or whatever can override the psychology.  In other words, our biochemistry is stronger at some times and in some regards than our psychology, causing us to do things and react in ways without any awareness of the “why.”

The science of brain chemistry is interesting to me not because I think it dictates how we behave, but because I think it influences us in ways of which we are completely unaware, regardless of intelligence, unless we know about it. Barring the scientifically-educated, most of us wander through our lives assuming it is free will that guides our choices, completely oblivious to why we like a particular person’s scent or body shape.  I first became opened to the idea of brain chemistry as it relates to human relationship behaviors, shortly after my separation, when I read The Female Brain, by Dr. Louann Brizendine, a UC Berkeley- and Yale-educated neurobiologist and medical doctor.  Her book, written in terms that every lay person can understand, amazed me and sparked a curiosity that has continued in the years since.  There is obviously much research to be done in this area, but I find it fascinating to watch it unfold.

Certainly, as with other aspects of biology (like heart health or female menstruation patterns), specific socio-geographic and cultural elements can strongly influence populations and change the nuances of the physiology.  Cultural differences likely play a strong role in modulating the influence of those chemicals in the brain.  It’s probably not without some degree of merit that we tend to stereotype Italians and Greeks as emotionally passionate, and Germans and Japanese as less so.  But, as is the case with all my posts, I’m writing from an American perspective, for an American audience, so it is the American experience that I am observing and on which I’m commenting.  I recognize that this is a limitation of my perspective.

But Lady E’s point that really arrested me (and one I’d expected to hear from more women, frankly) was made in the last line included here:

But breakups being harder on men ? That would truly contradict my intuition that men land back on their feet way faster than women.

This was exactly my sentiment when I first picked up the article, and I still feel it with some degree of persistence.  I think most women have shared the experience of watching an ex out gallivanting around with something in a mini-skirt, while we are still sitting at home, going through gallons of Haagen-Dazs and chick flicks.  And I think our impressions of that are not altogether wrong, but I think it’s worth asking why men seem to get over things faster, rather than assuming that they are simply cold-hearted jerks bent on turning our hearts into hamburger.  Here’s my hypothesis:  it’s because they aren’t necessarily in love when the breakup occurs.  In other words, I have a sneaking suspicion that men who are simply dating or messing around don’t have the experience of the woman becoming “home” to him, and therefore they aren’t going to suffer the breakup repercussions discussed in the Glamour article.  The article doesn’t explicitly lay this out, but when I read it, I assumed the study’s authors were considering only subjects who had been in committed, medium to long-term relationships.  It seems logical to me that there must be some duration of the relationship necessary to create the vasopressin-induced bonding that leads men to the breakup blues, but again, I’m just guessing here.  I also (again, perhaps wrongly) assumed that the male subjects were either broken up with or involved in a mutual break-up, and I think that this point would also greatly affect the man’s ability to “get over it.” Depending on the circumstances, most of us move on more easily when we’re the ones in control of the decision.  Finally, I think that the breakup studies likely did not include marriages or other long-term relationships in which one or both of the parties had grieved the relationship prior to the actual breakup.  Grieving the end before it occurs would surely diminish many of the effects of the subsequent breakup.

I think, however, that one more factor may be in play when Lady E and other women snort at the vasopressin/home concept, and that is this:  I have long thought that men take longer to get really, truly invested in a relationship.   And by longer, I’m not talking in terms of weeks or even months.  I’m talking years.  I’m not implying that men are cavalier about relationships, just musing that women seem to sink into a relationship sooner and reach their commitment equilibrium earlier on than men.  And maybe men sink more slowly as time goes on over many, many years.  In other words, I’m wondering if women are as in love and committed as they’re ever going to be fairly early on, whereas male commitment and bonding deepens over the years until it matches their mate’s.  I think that men who are recovering from the end of a really long-term marriage are just as shattered — if not more so — as their female counterparts, but men rebounding from a relationship of a year or two (or even less) seem to bounce back more easily than their exes.  I have absolutely no scientific proof of this theory as it is entirely anecdotal, but I won’t be surprised if the next round of scientific studies on the effect of brain chemistry on relationships bears me out.

Certainly there are so many variables at play in how relationships end and how we process that ending; it is part of the complexity of humanity that keeps us interesting.  And part of me hopes that science never fully unravels the mysteries…

And now, just for fun, some Google search results on this topic. Clearly more than one woman shares Lady E’s skepticism…

Do Men Go Through the Same Breakup Stages as Women?

Yahoo Question on “Ask”:  Attention Men! Do you cry for a break-up?

AnswerBag Question:  Do guys really feel hurt after breakups?

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Filed under dating, divorce, healing, men, relationships, sadness, single mom

heart of stones

Earlier this year, a young mother drove her small Subaru from the larger city down below, through the canyon and up the mountain to the little town where I work.  She parked her car in a dirt lot and climbed out into a night that was cold and dark.  The spring thaw had come astoundingly early, sending the snow from the mountainsides melting into the creeks and lakes, swelling them to unusually high levels, but the nights were still freezing.  The mother sat at edge of the creek for some time.  Then she filled her pockets with the heavy river rocks that line the creek bed and banks, and waded into the icy water.  Fed by the melting glaciers of the Continental Divide and rushing toward the reservoir 100 yards downstream, the creek water was cold enough to induce hypothermia in a submerged body within a minute.  The rocks did their job, and the young woman was dragged down, but not before she’d had a change of heart.  Clawing desperately at the steep embankment, she struggled to pull herself from the rushing water.  But ultimately she succumbed.  And in the early light of dawn, her body was discovered nearby, facedown in the water, by hikers who alerted town officials.

When the police chief informed my office later that morning, we all stood and stared at each other.  We are a very small group, working in a very small town, and no tragedy passes unnoticed.  This was particularly painful to absorb:  a young mother in her twenties, going through a divorce, leaving two small children behind in her death, so desperately sad that she chose a terrifying and permanent solution to her pain.

Perhaps the next day, perhaps the day after, a young man appeared at the site along the creek where the mother’s body had been recovered.  He sat on the shore, in the bitter cold, and cried.  Then he came back the next day, and the next, and the next after that.  Until we all in town came to expect his daily vigil.  Sometimes he was alone, other times he was with his parents or just his father.  Occasionally a friend accompanied him. His grief was public and overwhelming.  Residents reported that he often seemed to sit there all day long, crying.  The police were dispatched to help.  They determined that the young man was her estranged husband, father to her children, grieving a loss he could neither understand nor accept.

As the days passed, the young man continued his vigil, but also brought with him his wading boots.  Despite the chill, he waded into the creek and created a large heart — approximately 5′ tall x 4′ wide — in the creekbed where his wife’s body had last rested, using the same kind of stones that had sealed her fate.  He stacked the stones five or six high in order that they be seen above the top of the water.   The task and its completion seemed to offer him some solace, and his grief resolved itself into a quiet sadness.  But still he came.

In the weeks that followed, a small makeshift memorial grew on the edge of the creek, with a cross, laminated letters, photos, and personal touches.  Some locals added to it, others merely stopped by to offer a prayer or meditation in front of the heart of stones memorial.  A few residents complained to me that the memorial was “in poor taste” or “unseemly” or that it “made people uncomfortable.”  I listened to their complaints, then told the police chief and town manager that I did not plan to remove the memorial.  Death makes people uncomfortable, for sure, but I’m not sure how making that discomfort go away is my responsibility.

So, on my order, the memorial stands.  I have proposed a memorial policy that will allow the family to install a commemorative bench on the site.  I visited it today, for the first time, to document in photographs its existence for town records.  We are now in the waning days of summer in the mountains, with sunny, warm days surrendering to chilly nights.  The creek is at nearly its lowest ebb, and the heart of stones stands in strong relief to the shallow waters around it.

While I was standing there, a young man turned the corner from the parking lot and approached me, smiling tentatively.  I could tell by his attire that he had come a long ways to reach this spot.  I stepped aside and he walked to the edge of the creek, where he squatted.  His lips moved silently, as if in prayer, as he gazed at the heart of stones.  I turned away, offering him some privacy.  Then he stood, and I turned around.  He smiled at me, and his somber eyes said thank you.  He walked away and I was left alone again.

I did not know this woman, nor did I know anyone who knew her.  I don’t think I ever saw her husband or his family or their friends.  But her death affected me this spring.  It reminded me how much each life — and sometimes its end — touches so many people.  How can we possibly fully appreciate the ripple effect of our choices?  How do those choices permanently alter the direction of someone else’s life?  It’s impossible to know, isn’t it?

Everytime this spring that someone came into town hall to tell me that the man and his family were still there, I wondered about him.  Why did he keep coming?  Had he still loved her so much?  Was his grief based on regret… remorse… guilt?  What story had they shared?  What will he tell his two small daughters?

And what of that young mother, who made a choice she could not repeal — From wherever she was, could she see the pain her death had caused?  Was her soul at peace or was it anguished?  Had she had any idea how many people loved her — those ones who traveled so far to create a personal monument on a creekbed in a strange town?  What does she think of the beautifully poetic memorial crafted in her honor on the site of her last breath?  And what will become of her memory when, next year at the thaw, the force of the creek scatters her stone heart?

The answers to those questions don’t really matter, but they are the things I pondered occasionally as the winter gave way to spring and then spring to summer here in the Rocky Mountains.   I hope that her family finds peace soon, and that her soul does likewise.  I will not likely forget her anytime soon, this young woman I never met.  I wish so much that she had made different choices that cold March night, but I understand the world is unfolding around me just as it should, and that my lack of understanding does not make that any less true.

And I hope that someday, when I die in my comfy bed of natural causes as a very elderly woman, someone who loves me builds me a heart of stones in a beautiful creek somewhere.

Don’t you?

The Heart of Stones Memorial

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, marriage, relationships, sadness

the abyss that is depression

I began this post multiple times over the last couple of months.  The most progress I made on it prior to this weekend was a late night writing session following three vodka tonics, which sufficiently braced me to put letters to screen about a subject I find particularly painful and shameful.  I know this post is lengthy, but I believe this issue is deserving of the time and space, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Much of this year has found me facing a daily struggle within myself.  I was unable to write.  Unable to play my guitar.  Unable to enjoy many of the things that I used to enjoy.

Because I was severely depressed.

Those of you who have experienced depression are already nodding along sympathetically.  You know the heaviness of it, the hopelessness of it, the monotony of it.  You know how it robs you of any optimism or happiness.  You know how it makes you irritable, critical, and jealous of the good fortune of others.  You know the tears that appear out of nowhere and the endless sense of grinding through day after day.

Those of you who have not been intimately acquainted with this particular demon are likely wondering why I couldn’t just snap out of it — go do something fun!  Go dancing or to yoga or on a date!  Watch a bunch of funny movies, take a bubble bath, bake some banana bread!

But that’s the problem, and that’s why I decided to finally write this.  In the hope that someone would find an understanding they hadn’t had before… and that someone who might be suffering would realize they are not alone in their silent pain.

Let’s be very clear:  Depression is not sadness.  Oh no.  I wish that it were.  Sadness is painful and acute and sharp.  It is felt and experienced and then overcome.  It can be addressed with fun times and laughter with friends.  It can be overcome with sunshine and delicious food and lots of hugs.   Sadness is usually the result of something happening: a break-up, a death, a terrible day at work.  It can be cognitively processed and massaged away with good feelings and good times.  Sometimes it lasts moments, other times weeks, occasionally even months.  But it has a quality that tells you that it’s temporary.  And, more than anything, sadness makes sense.

Depression is not sadness.  It is dull and slow and heavy.  It feels like it will never go away; indeed, hopelessness is one of the keystones of depression.  Being depressed, even if you’re “functional” as I have always been, is like slogging through quicksand.  All day, every day.  Merely going about the most basic functions of a day until it’s time to sleep like the dead for as many hours as possible leaves a depressed person physically and emotionally exhausted.  The body feels achy and stiff and sore; the brain fuzzy and distracted; the soul empty and dead.

Depression is like an emotional cancer — it eats the very parts of you that could best defeat it.  There is no energy to do the things that might help you feel better.  And like an anorexic who looks in the mirror and truly sees a fat person, clinically depressed people are fundamentally unable to envision a better time, a time when the depression has lifted.  The underlying, cold fear is that life will always be this way, that you will succumb to the depression and dissipate over time, until you are a lonely, isolated shell of your former self.

I am well-acquainted with depression.  I first experienced depression as a teenager.  Like many young women, the onset of puberty ushered in an unsteady emotional time, and my life circumstances during my teens and early 20’s worsened the depressive episodes.  But they were still relatively short-lived.  The birth of my second daughter was followed by a vicious case of postpartum depression that necessitated, for the first time, the use of medication in order to defeat my demons.  But worst of all was an episode  toward the end of my marriage that was so long and dark that my doctor actually evaluated me for hospitalization.

Yes, depression is  a familiar enemy.  I can see it coming… creeping up on me like a figure emerging from the shadows.  Over the years, I have come to recognize the cocktail that is most dangerous for me:   one difficult, sad event (a break-up, a death, some enormous, temporary stressor) that I could otherwise manage as well as anyone else, coupled with an underlying emotional struggle of some magnitude that is already sapping my energy (ongoing difficulties at work, trouble in a relationship, health issues, etc).  The one-two punch, so to speak, knocks me far enough off-balance that the nasty ephemeral figure of depression is able to get a firm grasp on me.  With my depleted emotional reserves, I cannot fight him off, and I succumb.  And I can literally feel vertigo as I tumble into the black hole of the depression.

I have been more fortunate than many people, however, in that my depression has never been debilitating.  I have never not been able to get out of bed, or go to work, or care for my children.  I have never lost friends, or boyfriends, or jobs because of my depression.  I have always managed to function well enough to conceal — oftentimes from even my closest friends — the depths of my despair.

And I have also been fortunate to have had the kinds of friends and family who have propped me up and encouraged me and held me when I cried senselessly.  I suspect that those who lose their battle with depression to suicide feel so isolated by the disease infecting their soul that their friends and family cannot break through to reach them.  I have never gone that far into the dark, and I pray that I never will.

Due to its classification as a mental illness, depression still carries some stigma, and I will admit that I am even guilty of stigmatizing myself.  When I get depressed, I am ashamed of myself.  Ashamed that I didn’t see the monster coming, didn’t fight off his grasping, icy hands as they dragged me down.  Terrified that my friends and family will cease to regard me as a strong, accomplished woman.

But I also wholeheartedly believe that depression IS a mental illness, although perhaps a temporary one for most people.  It is irrational and sometimes disabling.  It alters your sense of what’s real and true and possible, and, if left untreated over time, it can destroy the best and brightest parts of even the most amazing person.

My exit from a depressive episode is typically prompted by some triggering event that serves as an emotional course adjustment.  Such an event, along with the help of therapy, medication, friends, and some proactive personal choices, enabled me to emerge from the black pit I was in for so much of this year.  But each visit to that place takes its toll.  I am tired and a little unsteady and still recovering, as you might be if recovering from a lengthy and debilitating physical illness.  But I am also peaceful and secure and genuinely feeling hopeful and empowered again.

Many mental illnesses have an upside (yes, you read that correctly).  Some of history’s greatest minds and artists likely suffered from bi-polar disorder and, during their manic phases, created some of the most original work and art known to man.  Similarly, I have discovered the silver lining of my depressive episodes:  I emerge from them with increased clarity.  It is like someone has wiped clean my third eye, allowing me to see perfectly clearly the people and situations before me so that I can chart a considered and thoughtful path based on rational reasoning and authentic intuition.  I am not sure that I can say that the benefit of this clarity is worth the suffering of depression, nor do I have any idea if others experience this after a depressive episode.  But I do, and I am grateful for it.

I fully recognize that I am not forced to write any of this.  I get to choose what of my life remains private and which persona I chose to share or create for my blog readers. And certainly, for those who do not know me personally, it could be fun to be the blogger with the answers — the easy, breezy, confident woman who saunters through life and work and relationships with nary a misstep or hesitation.  But that is not me.  And I don’t actually have any desire to be that woman because I suspect that that woman would neither relate to nor provide any real value to the wonderful souls who read the words I share.   Easy and perfect are not useful or instructive; it is only through our shared struggles and accomplishments that we experience our true humanity.

And so, if I have shared too much here… if I have alienated or disappointed some of you with this revelation, I am sorry that you have experienced this post in that manner, but I am not sorry for having shared.  Because I sincerely suspect that for every person who doesn’t understand, there is another who does and finds solace in being understood and acknowledged here.  And to those souls I say this:

If you are depressed right now, you are not alone.  Your current situation will not always be so.  Life will change, eventually and with certainty.  Hopelessness is a symptom of the disease, not a part of who you are.  Just do your best each day, in whatever small way feels like a victory, and be gentle with your struggling soul.  Seek help — tell friends, call your doctor, call a therapist.  Don’t allow the isolation to swallow you whole.  Don’t allow the depression to rob you of your life.  You are beautiful and you are loved and you have a future in front of you that you cannot imagine right now.

Please try your best to remember that the sun will come out again.  I promise it will.  It always does, if only we hang on long enough.

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Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

if I had known then what I know now…

Lately, for possibly the first time in my life, I am becoming familiar with Regret.  And she is not a pleasant companion.

I don’t mean the regret of “I wish I hadn’t said that!” or “I wish I had handled that situation a little differently.”  We all have those moments and hopefully we process and learn from them rather quickly. No, I am talking of regret deserving of capitalization.  Regret of major decisions that may have permanently altered the course of my life.

This week was full of small lightbulb moments, glimpses into what might have been, realizations (yet again) that each of us sits with the consequences of our choices.  With the benefit of many years’ removal, I saw some of my choices from an angle I’d never had the privilege of before.

I have always believed that regret is wasteful.  Reworking the past is a futile task and understanding of it can only go so far.  Certainly, introspection and comprehension of motivations and prejudices at play are useful and help us grow, but true regret — the wishing of a different path taken — has seemed to me to be another form of self-abuse and wallowing.

My birth mother and I do not enjoy many shared beliefs or values. We had a conversation about regret once and she scoffed at me.  “Regret,” she pronounced, “is the purest, most effective course correction device ever!  To avoid it is to run from your fear that, just maybe, you have truly screwed something up!”  When she assumes her “Of course I know everything more and better than you do” posture, I tend to immediately stiffen and reject her theories, as I did that day.  But I have been re-thinking her approach lately.

Part of my distaste for regret stems from my overall outlook on life and personal growth and development.  I have clungly steadily to the belief that one small change in my path could have altered me irrevocably, changing both the wonderful and the less so.  I saw every experience, every choice, as an opportunity to grow and learn, and I saw those opportunities as the bricks that formed me, laid one on top of the other, depending on each other for their mutual strength.  Pull one away and who I am — including all the parts that I love and value — would collapse.  There is solid comfort in the idea that your bad choices as well as your good led you to the things in your life that you cherish most.  Additionally, this belief system allows you to examine your choices and learn from them, without having to label them as mistakes and sacrifice self-esteem over things or decisions you can no longer amend.  And it is empowering to see ourselves as creatures of our own creation, in control and responsible for all of the texture of our lives.

This belief system was challenged several years ago when, during my separation, I read a book called The Post-Birthday World.  Its plot is essentially simple and the theme is not particularly original:  What happens if you pick a different path?  In the book, a woman agrees to go out with her husband’s best friend for his (the friend’s) birthday.  The husband is out of town, the friend has very few other friends, and even though the woman doesn’t particularly like the friend, her husband convinces her to be a sport and celebrate with the friend.  So she does, and in the course of the evening, after several drinks and much conversation, the friend leans over to kiss the woman.  At this point, the book splits into two stories — the one travels with the woman on the life she has after she kisses the man, the other takes us down the road if she were to pull away from him and decline.  The writer is not exceptionally talented and the story can drag in places, but what makes this book special is the answer it posits to the original question:  It doesn’t matter.  Throughout the remainder of the book the two stories diverge and then intersect again, back and forth, until finally, at the very, very end, the woman ends up in essentially the same place.  Two ways of getting there… basically the same destination.  And neither path was easier, really.  Both had challenges and pain and happiness and moments of light and darkness.  And they both led her to the same destination.

This end result left me uncomfortable. On the one hand, it confirmed my belief that regret is useless because we will all eventually get where we are supposed to be regardless, and no one path is “right.”  On the other hand, it meant that perhaps I could have chosen those other paths and still be just as happy or miserable as on my current path, whereas I had been assuming that by doing my best, I was creating a better life than the ones to be had down those paths.  If this was not true, why bother trying?  If we are simply going to stumble through life and ultimately reach the same destination no matter our choices, what do they matter?

First, my heart and mind railed against this — free will must matter! they screamed. We must have some control over our destiny!  And then I heard an equally strong (yet noticeably less manic) voice remind me that there is something comforting in the possibility that no one decision — no matter how great — ever throws us truly off course.  Risk can be taken without fear, because it doesn’t really matter; we’re not giving up a much better road for one less so.  It’s all basically the same in the end.  Perhaps had I made different choices at some of those forks in the road, I would still be exactly who I am today, the good and the bad.  Perhaps in a different location, perhaps with slightly different circumstances, but essentially the same woman.  The only thing that is certain is that I will never know.  And that is Regret’s seduction.  The “maybe.”  The tantalizing “what if.”  Perhaps I would be happier if I had done that or hadn’t done this.  Maybe I was short-sighted there or didn’t fully appreciate the value of that.

Oprah used to like to say “If I had known better, I’d have done better.”  So, perhaps with the benefit of experience and reflection, now I know better.  I am not sure what of my regrets can be altered, fixed, changed.  Perhaps none.  Perhaps some can be retrieved and salvaged over time and effort, but possibly not.  Reality is a hard and cold taskmaster, unmoved by sweet and inspiring platitudes that insist that anything is possible.  Under that harsh light, I must come to terms what is past and salvage what might yet be saved.  Regret might indeed be a useful teacher, but I’d like to learn her lessons and move on and away from her.  She feels like a black hole that could swallow and snuff out all hope and optimism if I share her company for too long.

So, hopefully my acquaintance with Regret will be brief.  I am cataloging the things I might change, considering where those roads might have led, wondering which of them might still be options.  But I suppose the main thing I will take away from this time is the sense of Regret as a course correction, as my birth mom said all those years ago.  I will spend just enough time with my regrets to understand why I wish I’d done differently, and then I will be mindful of those discoveries next time, and possibly take a different fork in the road, make a different choice, live a different life.

Or maybe not.  And maybe it doesn’t matter.

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Filed under dating, divorce, general musings, healing, love, personal growth, relationships, single mom

please welcome our newest member

Last week I went to a concert with a woman I have known for 5 years and not spent more than 5 minutes alone with.  She emailed me, pretty much out of the blue, and asked if I’d like to go to this concert with her.  Her daughter had told her how much I love music (I’m famous among my daughters’ friends for playing my music loud and often and encouraging sing-a-longs in the car), so she thought of me when she realized she had an extra ticket.

Hmmmm…..

Turns out that was only half the story.

On the evening that we sat on the lawn, dining on Noodles & Co. prior to the show, she confided that she and her husband had just separated two weeks ago.  She had been in full agreement on the separation, but he had now announced that he wanted a divorce, and fast.  She was adjusting and processing all this information and her situation.  A whole new life was in front of her and she had lots of questions.  So, of course, since I was pretty much the first of our acquaintance to go through this (and therefore a veteran, right?), she called me.

I looked at my new friend (whom I’ll call “Gwen”), and was struck by the gulf of experience that lay between us.  She was mildly frightened, tentatively hopeful, and completely unaware of the emotional war zone she was about to wade into.  Gwen is a very intelligent, compassionate woman with two children and an 18-year marriage coming to a close.  She is not patently naive nor foolish, but it is nearly impossibly to appreciate what awaits you in Divorceland before you enter it.

I listened as she explained how it had come about and what their circumstances are now.  I saw her fervent hope that somehow this would be civil and they could still be friends, and I heard her enormous reluctance to do anything whatsoever that might anger her soon-to-be-ex-husband and threaten that future possibility of friendship.  I gently shared some basic framework of the road ahead and reminded her that she cannot control him or his feelings, and to take care of herself.

I didn’t share the ugly details of how disappointing it is to see your former spouse morph into someone you neither know nor respect.  I didn’t tell her how painful it can be to watch your children acclimate to their new normal.  I didn’t dismay her with tales of dating woes. Because she didn’t need to hear all of that.  She’ll find out soon enough.  Perhaps hers will be the divorce that is truly and completely amicable.  Maybe her children won’t struggle and dating won’t take the wind out of her.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Regardless, her future was not to be altered by my words, and I didn’t want it determined by them, either.

She relayed to me how someone close to her had cynically told her how horrible her separation and divorce were going to be and how foolish she was for thinking it could be otherwise.  My heart went out to her and I assured her that her story would be hers and her husband’s alone.  Not mine, not her other friend’s, not anyone else’s mattered.  Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Yes, divorce sucks.  There’s not much good to recommend the whole process.  But this is where she is now and scaring her silly is only going to make her situation worse.  None of us make our best decisions out of fear, so the longer she can avoid that particular zone, the better off she is. The other side — when she finally gets there — will be much better than where she is now.  But, damn, is there a lot of muck between here and there.  It’s kind of like having a baby:  if you really knew the pain of labor without the joy of the newborn, you might not have gotten pregnant that first time.  And the hard fact is that Gwen is already pregnant with her divorce proceedings.  There’s no going back.  Better to just hold her hand and remind her to breathe through it.

As the sun set and the opening act warmed up the audience, we talked about what her life might be like when it was all over.  I made her laugh and kept her focused on the possibilities in front of her.  She told me how much better she was feeling, and I was glad. We talked about the importance of female friendships and the need for community when going through something life-changing like this.

In the week since then, we’ve exchanged a few emails and I have noticed things that take me back to when I was newly separated.  The plot is so much the same, even if the story is unique.

Sometimes I am still surprised to realize that I am divorced — “What?!  When did that happen?!” — but then I look around me and the events of the last 3 1/2 years come rushing up to my consciousness and I remember that at some point, I joined this club.  It’s a strange club.  No one ever wants to join, or imagines that they will be a member someday.  And yet here we are.  Moving forward, glancing back, pushing on.

And reminding each other to breathe.

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, relationships, sadness, single mom

the watershed

I spent the day today making my little corner of the world just a little prettier.  Lillies and impatiens in the planter on my deck (with a pink flamingo, just for fun).  Herbs and strawberry plants in big pots on my kitchen patio.  Fresh water in the bird bath and fresh food in the bird feeder.  Patio furniture scrubbed, paths swept, and tiny lawn mowed.  A new rosebush planted outside my bedroom window in honor of my aunt, with pink blooms that perfectly match the lipstick shade she wore every day of her adult life.

My girls and I finished our spring cleaning yesterday by tackling Sabrina’s closet, which had become so unwieldy, it was like a scene from a film where you open the door and everything rains down on your head.  No exaggeration.  But our little home is all neat and tidy and sparkling clean now, inside and out.

A few weeks ago, these chores would have rested heavily and uncomfortably on my shoulders.  I would have felt dismal and overburdened by them.  Indeed, only a few weeks ago, I was feeling that life was a somewhat monotonous repetition of obligations, chores, and responsibilities.   I awoke in the mornings despairing of another busy day of nothing to look forward to, and climbed into bed each evening feeling frustrated, sad, and lonely in my life.   I plodded through everything quietly and determinedly, weighted down by a silent melancholy and pessimism born of a fear that I would always feel that way.   I wrote my previous post — cat in the bag —  nearly 2 1/2 weeks ago, in the midst of struggling with those emotions.

And then, my only aunt died last week.

And that changed everything.

When I received the news on Monday night that she was in the hospital, in debilitating pain, and not expected to survive the week, I was devastated.  Her death Tuesday afternoon contained as much relief (in freeing her from her suffering) as it did grief.  The text informing me of her passing came from my young cousin, her grandson.  It reached me just as I was convening a very important meeting at work.  It said, simply, “Grandma went to heaven at 12:45 PM.  I love you.”    I’ve no clear memory of the subsequent two-hour meeting, although I’m told by colleagues that it went well.  Thank God for auto-pilot.

I spent most of Tuesday evening talking to my cousins and my mom, allowing them to hurl themselves into their grief and find some solace in our shared memories of my aunt.   Then later, an ex-boyfriend provided the same sounding board for me:  letting me remember all the best of my aunt and celebrate her life by sharing her with someone who’d never met her.  All last week, friends checked in and provided support and love in beautiful, small ways.

Last weekend, before receiving the news of my aunt, I’d enjoyed a four-day weekend and an amazing, soul-drenching visit from a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years.   My friend, “Kathryn,” is someone who truly sees life as a glass half-full.  Not in the annoying Don’t-Worry-Be-Happy! way that makes me want to smack some people, but in a quiet, consistent way that makes me ashamed of my own tendency to host pity parties.  Whether it’s a rocky divorce, a professional set-back, or a romantic relationship with some pretty daunting challenges, she tackles them all with a cheerfulness and gratitude toward her life that is inspiring.

We spent the whole weekend talking, eating, reconnecting and rediscovering all the things we have in common.  We played tourist and exchanged advice and walked my dog and just marinated in the comfort of female friendship.  It was wonderful.

When I dropped her at the airport, I was sad, but buoyed by our time together.  My head was spinning with all that had been said and I could feel something dormant in me re-awakening…   And then my mom called with the news of my aunt.

But rather than undermining those good feelings from Kathryn’s visit, my aunt’s death actually built upon them.  In fact, the cascade of tears that I cried for my aunt this past week washed away all the negativity and melancholy I’d been carrying around.  It is as if my grief broke through some emotional levee and allowed a torrent of frustration and sadness and fear unrelated to my aunt’s death to be carried away along with my grief over her passing.  To my great surprise, I have emerged from my utter sadness over losing her more contented and peaceful and optimistic than I have been in many, many months.

It is a watershed.

I have stopped looking backward.  I have accepted where I am at this moment and am embracing it with a joyful and hearty hug.  I am mindful and aware of all the small, perfect things in my life right now — the softness of my sheets, the sweetness of waking up to dogs licking my hands, the way the aspens are leafing out on my drive up the canyon each morning, the softly tanning skin of my daughters, the amazing people that are my friends.  Each of these things is perfect, and I had stopped seeing them.

The irony here is that my aunt was also a glass half-full kind of person.  She saw everyone and every situation in the most flattering light.  She genuinely believed and lived by the adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.   When life threw her a curve ball (and some of her curve balls were mind-blowingly unfair by any measure), she never asked “Why me?” but rather “Why not me?”  When offered sympathy, she would shrug and say “That’s life,” and typically recount some friend’s circumstance that was worse than her own to justify her sense of gratitude in the face of misfortune.  I’ll be honest, at times it was maddening to face her perpetual positivity, but this week I’ve remembered that she was the wiser of the two of us.  Cynicism and pessimism and anger and fear are greedy houseguests.  They leave no room or sustenance for contentment or optimism or happiness.  Being perpetually vigilant about what might next befall you or spending all your energy counting the ways that life is unfair will keep you busy, but not happy.  Definitely not happy.

Watershed moments are one of life’s small little miracles packaged as struggle or pain.  Sometimes they come in the form of job loss, or divorce, or hitting bottom with an addiction, or, as in my case, an actual death.  But regardless of the form they take, they have the capacity to shock us out of complacency or denial or fear and blow our world wide open. Sometimes the destruction is an opportunity to create something new and better; the watershed acts as a catalyst to gently resume the forward motion toward our dreams.  Other times we are incapable of seeing the opportunity before us, so busy we are staring at the closed door behind us.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Kathryn visited right before my aunt passed away.  I believe that life was slapping me out of my melancholy and frustration.  I believe that it provided me with two very strong, very stark reminders of all I was missing.  I believe that each of us makes a choice how to see the world around us, and that sometimes we get lost and can’t figure out how to get back to equanimity.  And I believe that when we’re lost, life will always show us the way, if we let it.

And I believe that my aunt would agree that my new rose bush is simply perfect.

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Filed under general musings, happy endings, healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

cat in the bag

When I was growing up, my mom and I would occasionally visit the cousins I thought of as our Dirt Poor Cousins.  This nomenclature came about not because I was mean-spirited, but because, at one point, they literally had a dirt floor in their little home.  There were a lot of kids, they all looked alike, and I was fascinated by their life.  Jimmer was the one closest in age to me.  I’m sure his name was actually some variation of James, but they all had hillbilly names and, until we ran into each other at college, I never heard him referred to as anything other than “Jimmer.”

(You’re beginning to get the picture, aren’t you?  And for those of you who know me, no, these were not my West Virginia cousins.  They were worse.  Trust me.)

Anyway.

I liked playing with Jimmer because his games were always fun and imaginative.  We’d scamper around the woods and the barn, pretending to be settlers, Indians, wild animals.  We’d pick strawberries, jump in the “swimming hole,” and chase frogs.  The kind of good, clean fun that you see on The Andy Griffith Show.  But there was one game that I didn’t like.  Jimmer called it “Cat in the Bag.”  In this game, he and his siblings would capture the ornery barn cat, toss it into one of the canvas feed bags, and tie a quick knot.  Predictably, the cat would screech and howl and thrash around inside the bag, as everyone laughed and I yelled at Jimmer to release him. “Aw, he deserves it!” Jimmer would counter.  “He’s a mean old cuss!” True enough, but it was hard for me to tell whether he got tossed in the bag because he was a mean old cuss or if he was a mean old cuss because he got tossed in the bag.

The barn cat would fight mightily against the bag, claws bared, scratching and heaving itself against the bag, until eventually it exhausted itself, and then it would lie quietly.  Jimmer would untie the bag and release the cat, usually receiving a good clawing for his trouble.

I hadn’t thought of that old barn cat in a long time, but the memory of it resurfaced the other day.  Because there are times in my life when I am like that old barn cat in the bag.  I heave and hurl myself against the constraints of my life, howling at the unfairness or sadness or sameness of my life, until eventually I tire and sink into it.  My life, like the bag, resists but doesn’t fight back.  It simply holds me, contains me, preventing both escape and mortal harm.

In the times I visited them, the barn cat never seemed to figure out that battling the bag was futile.  It never once escaped the bag.  It never once was released until it quieted and relaxed.  And it never once seemed to realize that the faster it surrendered, the faster it would be released from the bag.

I am, I think, at least smarter than that barn cat.  But perhaps not by much.

Because I am only now learning that when I have those feelings, those moments of thrashing around and screaming silently, the only way out of them is to surrender.  To sink quietly and calmly and peacefully into them.  To allow myself those emotions, being mindful of them so as not to inadvertently scratch anyone else with my bared claws and sharp teeth.  To simply sit quietly and observe myself and the circumstances around me and allow that time to pass, holding faith that the bag will eventually open. Only after I have sunk into the moment and the feelings does the sweet release appear.

Having this knowledge is one thing; putting words to screen is easier than putting them into action.  Sinking into it is hard.  Acceptance is grudging.  Acknowledging a lack of control is bitter.  But it is the only way.  We have to let go and relax and wait for some mystical hand to unknot the bag and let the sun shine on our face again.

It is the only way out of the bag.   An ornery barn cat taught me that.

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Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

elevator wisdom

My mother has a boyfriend.  It seems odd to say that of a 73-year-old woman, but what else do you call a man she’s dated for the last 10 years, but isn’t married to and doesn’t live with?  So, “boyfriend” it is.

But really, he’s a member of our family.  I’ll call him “Ted.”  Ted is a wonderful man:  kind, generous to a fault, patient, gentle, but also a “guy’s guy” who has slowed down athletically only because time has insisted upon it.  Ted is like a father to me and a grandfather to my children, and my ex-husband admitted that he was sad to lose Ted in the divorce.  I’d have been, too, if I were him.

Every year, my girls and I vacation in Cancun for a week with Ted and my mom.  It is Ted’s gift to my family, and we all look forward to all year long.  Coming from a land-locked state, my girls have grown up with those white sands and turquoise waters as their beach, and I have relished the giving them that experience.

Ted and I had an instant rapport.  We have some obvious commonalities — similar education, being an only child, same sense of humor — but, more importantly, we just seem to “get” each other.  There is an understanding there that has bound us together for many years now, facing my mother’s health crises, my divorce, his daughter’s addictions.  Despite our difference in age, we give each other advice, and respect it more than either of us does from most people.

One day when we were in Cancun a year and a half ago, I was struggling.  I’d awoken that morning from difficult dreams highlighting the hard choices I’d made recently with regard to my marriage, my children, my work… I felt lost and wondered if I was rushing headlong to disaster.

We were all sitting by the pool late that morning, when Ted announced that he was returning to his villa to retrieve his sun hat.  I took the opportunity to accompany him inside and check my email at my own villa.  As we stepped into the elevator, Ted turned to me, looked me squarely in the eye, and began speaking as if he were resuming a conversation we’d just paused in.  He said this:

Here’s the thing.  My dad wasn’t the smartest guy about some things, but every once in a while, he was pretty wise.  And he used to tell me that once a choice is made, there’s no going back, only forward.  Any choice can seem like a bad one in hindsight, and any choice can seem like a good one.  It depends on how you’re determined to see it.  The trick, he’d say, is to stop thinking of it as a choice once it’s made.  The guessing, the thinking, the analyzing, all that is over.  The choice isn’t a choice anymore; it’s a decision.  Treat it like a foregone conclusion or a mandate from God or however you have to think of it, but don’t look back, only forward.  Seek the opportunities hidden in it and remain open to the possibilities.  Second-guessing will only slow you down, and you’ll especially need the forward momentum if it really was a bad choice.  No matter.  It’s done.  Just look ahead and keep moving.  Okay, here’s my place.  See you down at the pool.

And then he exited the elevator, and I was left, mouth agape, wondering how in the world he’d known what I was struggling with that morning.

Ted was right, of course, and I’ve thought about his words often in the time since.  It’s so easy to play the “what if” game with the benefit of additional information and experience and wisdom, but where does it get us really?  Reflection from a distance can be useful, definitely, but not when it stalls our progress.  Not when it mires us in self-doubt and uncertainty that is likely borne more of fear and insecurity than of a truly rationale evaluation of our earlier decision.  If a decision was truly wrong, we usually know it immediately and can correct our course in that short timeframe.  Revisiting an old decision is usually nothing more than a way to give power to our fears.  Most of us make good decisions, for us, for that moment.  They may not take us where we’d thought they would, but they probably take us where we need to be.

Ted’s advice was exactly what I needed to hit my internal reset button and push past the moribund wallowing in which I was engaging.  Relinquishing the weight of self-doubt and second-guessing frees up so much energy and stamina and clarity to identify and tackle the good stuff that might be just around the corner.

Plus, it gives me time to try and figure out how Ted managed to frame and solve my emotional crisis in the span of a 5-floor elevator ride…..

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Filed under dating, divorce, healing, love, personal growth, relationships, sadness, single mom

who said that? oh wait, that was me.

You’re so mean when you talk
about yourself, you are wrong.
Change the voices in your head.
Make them like you, instead.
— P!nk

I’ve been doing some reading lately about the power of negative self-talk.  We all know that when we run ourselves down in our own minds, it hurts our self-esteem and creates an environment for the manifestation of the negative outcomes we fear.  We know that it’s important to recognize and eradicate the self-bashing before we can really live our full potential.

Some of this is relatively easy to identify.  It’s the same stuff that’s haunted us for years, and I think of it as the low-hanging fruit because it’s the easiest to spot.  They’re the big, fat lies about ourselves that can dramatically alter who we become and who we are.  That we’re selfish or a bad parent or ugly or stupid.  That we’re never good enough or a bother to the people around us or a disappointment.  These kinds of negative self-talk are the making of clinical depression, suicide, and addiction.  They’re not easy to work through and past, and the longer we let them ferment, the more bitter and sour they — and we — become.  This is the stuff that life coaches and therapists tackle with a full arsenal of psychological weapons, and it’s the stuff that makes your dearest friends roll their eyes because it’s ridiculous and they can’t believe that you give it any power in your life.

But then there’s the other stuff.  The little stuff that hides in the corners.  The stuff that has been repeated so many times that it becomes accepted truth — not just by you, but by everyone around you.  These little, contemptuous criticisms that invade your psyche and convince you that you can’t do something, aren’t good at something, or don’t possess something.  It seems that this kind of self-criticism usually starts with someone else — a parent, a spouse, a bully on the playground — who declares something about us with such frequency or authority or conviction that we integrate it into our own self-belief set and repeat it to ourselves and others, perpetuating what began as a myth and evolves into a self-fulfilled truth.

Sound familiar?

Many years ago I hired and mentored a young woman who could only be described as “butch.”  In fact, when I first met her, I wondered about her sexual orientation because her physical appearance so strongly suggested that she was a lesbian, but my “gay-dar” said otherwise.  As we got to know each other, it turned out that she was the middle girl with two brothers.  Growing up on a ranch, her mother had always dismissed her as “a tomboy.”  And that became her truth.  Not because she choose it or loved it, but because she believed it and self-identified with it.  She was 30-years-old before she began experimenting with her feminine side and deciding what of it felt truly right to her and what didn’t.  The fact that she wasn’t pretty, wasn’t feminine, and wasn’t soft in anyway had become a truth for her.  An uncomfortable, itchy, cumbersome truth, but a truth nonetheless.  Later, when she really emerged from the box of labels that she’d lived in for so long, her life opened up in a myriad of other ways.  So, even a label that wasn’t negative per se, became so when it was applied to her and allowed to confine her sense of identity.

These  seemingly-less malicious blasphemies we tell ourselves and others about us gnaw at the edges of our self-esteem and deprive us of the joy of experiencing some of life’s smaller pleasures.  That we aren’t good at sports or can’t carry a tune or don’t have any sense of fashion.  That we’re too sensitive or not funny or a bad driver.  None of these is going to, on their own, send us to the corner for a good cry, but when we’re casting about for reasons that make us unlovable, a nice long list of these reasons will suffice when a bigger one isn’t around to offer the weight.  And the real harm of these so-called “harmless” criticisms is that they are small enough to frequently fly under the therapy radar, never receiving attention or facing protest, just gathering power as the years pass and they become part of our self-identity.

One example that I read recently — that certainly resonated with me — was the belief that one is a “bad cook.”  The author cited this example as a common form of negative self-talk.  The idea here is that we self-identify as a “bad cook,” based on the fact that perhaps we are not as good as we would like to be, but that is not precisely the same as being “bad” at something.  I sat with that a bit.  Chewed on it.  Thought about it.  I finally had to admit, with more than a small amount of surprise, that I’m not actually a bad cook.  In fact, I’m probably as good as or better a cook than most people I know.  The real truth is that I don’t particularly enjoy it, but that’s an entirely different thing from being bad at something.  I don’t particularly enjoy golf , either, but I’ve never declared that I’m bad at it.  Hmmm…

Next, the author asked us to try to remember the origin of the negative label or thought.  Who said it?  In what context?  If someone said something negative or nasty about a friend, we would certainly consider the source and the context, but we’re pretty quick to just accept the bad stuff about ourselves.  But isn’t that just backward-ass?  If we go back to my cooking example, I realized that my belief in my inability to cook was based on three things:  1) my ex-husband’s lack of enthusiasm for my cooking, 2) my mother’s insistence that I am a bad cook, and 3) the fact that I have nearly always had a knack for dating men who can really cook.

Okay.

Time to break those down:  I now understand my ex-husband’s lack of enthusiasm as part of his general reluctance to offer me compliments or credit, lest our power dynamic (with him firmly and permanently ensconced above me) be disrupted.  Okay.  Good.  Got it.  My mom is actually easier.  She doesn’t like the food I cook because the things I’m good at cooking aren’t the kinds of things she likes to eat (in fairness, I feel the same way about most of her cooking). So, it’s not really about my cooking.  It’s about what she likes to eat.  And as for the last part, if I’m staring truth in the face, the men that I’ve dated have been excellent cooks — at a few, select dishes.  They weren’t Jamie Oliver in the kitchen, throwing together amazing concoction after amazing concoction.  No, they were very good at a particular meal or a particular kind of food.  And they had such supreme confidence in their cooking skills that I — again! — drank the Truth Kool-Aid.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I can think of lots of things about myself that I have repeated and defended and clung to over the years that aren’t actually true.  I held them as true for a long time, just because someone else once said them and I accepted their truth.

I have always secretly, grudgingly admired those people who seemed completely unaware that they couldn’t carry a tune or had terrible decorating taste or a painful sense of humor.  I would watch them move along, oblivious to what was obvious to everyone around them, and I would think that they were lucky to live in a world in which they were so awesome.  I used to imagine that no one had ever told them the “truth,” but now I realize it’s more likely that they simply chose not to believe it.

One of my mantras to my daughters has always been “Just because they said it, it doesn’t make it true.”  We spend a lot of time talking about what that means and how it applies in various situations.  They look to me as a wise guru, guiding them in these discussions. Little do they know, that the master is also the student, and that sometimes the harshest, most brutal critic that we need to ignore is the one in our own head.

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