Category Archives: personal growth

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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Filed under 30 Days of Truth Challenge, personal growth

a list of things that didn’t kill me

I work in a library now, and one of the great things about it is that I am surrounded by books. I am a bookworm like some people are foodies.  My boyfriend James can spend literally hours perusing a grocery store, handling the meat, sniffing the spices, eyeing the seafood.  I am the same about books.  So, sometimes, when I am muddling through a creative block or need a walk to clear my head, I will wander the shelves and lose myself in the books.

I have already developed favorites — book covers or titles or authors’ names that intrigue me for one reason or another.  Books that serve as a time machine, transporting me back to my childhood, or some poignant period of my adolescence, or, occasionally, the period immediately after my divorce during which I read rapidly as an escape.

But the book that is my current favorite, the one that I revisit frequently in my mind, although I have not yet even opened it, the one that intrigues me so much that I do not dare read it because I already know that it could not possibly live up to my expectations is one titled “A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me.”

I suppose it’s not profound, but the idea of a list of things that didn’t kill us is fascinating to me.  I wonder at how easily that list would capture our individual trials and triumphs, moments of bravery, incredible losses, and bottomless grief.  The first day I walked past that book, I couldn’t help but wonder at what might be on my own list.  A few particularly painful episodes immediately sprang to mind, and in the short walk back to my desk, I contemplated how amazing it was that I had, indeed, endured and survived such things. Me. Just me.  A normal, unremarkable person with a pretty normal, unremarkable life.

And now, it has become my own little ritual.  Every time I pass the book on the shelf, I mentally add another thing to my list.  At some point, obviously, I will have exhausted my list, and that is okay, but right now I am enjoying my little validation game.

So what about you?  If you had to create an actual list of things that didn’t kill you, what would be on it? What parts of yourself would it reveal that maybe you have stopped appreciating?  What hardships have you overcome and internalized to the point of almost forgetting about them and how dramatically they changed you?  What horrible moments have helped define and mold you into the stronger, more capable person you are now?  How many of these moments fortified your character, solidified your integrity, and taught you some immeasurable lesson?  What would be missing from your life if these experiences had never crossed your path?  Who would you be without them?  How are you better for them?

So, humor me and take a minute.  Think about it.

What changed you forever? What did you think you couldn’t survive but did? What didn’t kill you?

A list of things that didn't kill me

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Filed under healing, personal growth

boobs

One of my favorite bloggers, The Edmonton Tourist, published a post recently about how desperately so many women (she and I included) have struggled at times to be someone’s physical ideal.

Raised in North America and fed a steady diet of fashion magazine models, MTV video stars, and movie queens, I think we women fail to even realize a lot of the time how much we measure ourselves against certain criteria, and typically find ourselves lacking. I think we’re aware of it in a big picture sense; but the insidious little moments when those doubts whisper in the back of our brains are probably far more common than we notice. Sure, I think it gets better with age – most of my female peers are relatively content with their appearance – but certain aspects of our bodies remain or become trigger points of insecurity. We all know the usual culprits: thighs, tummies, butts, and, with age, wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby arms. But really, the list goes on and is super-dependent on our individual bodies and how we perceive them.

The men that we are with – particularly the ones granted the privilege of seeing us naked – are incredibly powerful determiners of our self-image. And it’s taken me a pathetically long time to realize that men have almost no idea how easily an off-hand compliment or put-down can completely alter our sense of what is beautiful about our bodies. It’s almost frightening how much control we cede to them in this regard,and how perpetually clueless they are of this power.

When I was younger, I took every male comment of this kind as an absolute. If a guy said my legs were hot, I assumed all men would think so. It wasn’t just his personal opinion; I extrapolated and assumed that I simply had empirically hot legs. But the same was true with negative comments. It wasn’t just one guy who thought I was “too pale.” No, my fair skin was basically ugly and something all future men would have to look past if they were to be attracted to me.

Then I grew up (or, rather, grew older…), and it finally dawned on me that the same things that one man might not like about me, might be another man’s favorite. Let’s visit my pale skin, for example. My skin is pale, yes. It does not tan. I will never look like a summer goddess in a swimsuit. But, it is also silky soft, even on my arms and legs, as more than one partner has commented on. So, one man’s “ick” factor might be another’s quiet fetish.

But what’s interesting to me is how persistently (and subconsciously!) I held on to certain ideals about female bodies, even armed with this perspective granted by maturity. It seems I am still coming face-to-face with my own pre-conceived notions. For instance, I am relatively tall – 5’7” – and have always seen that as an asset. All my female friends who are short want to be taller, my daughter Bryn, who is short, wants to be taller, my mother always wanted to be taller. But James, being only about 5’9” himself, has always preferred petite women – small and tiny, which I am not. It’s strange to confront the idea that something I’d always banked on as a physical asset might not be so in every relationship. Here was something I’d never even questioned, and yet it, like all other aspects of physical beauty, was in the eye of the beholder apparently. Does my height bother James? No, I don’t think so. But is it his perfect ideal? No, it’s not.

Then there are the flagrant, incorrect assumptions based on gossamer-thin evidence that we make about what our man might prefer. Maybe these assumptions are founded on off-the-cuff comments about actresses, old girlfriends, or even women on the street. A couple of comments about other women’s “great legs” and we may – without even realizing it – assume we’re with a guy who places a high priority on long, shapely legs. And so we file that away and critically examine whether our legs stand up to that ideal.

In the best relationships, of course, these ideals don’t really matter or affect the relationship in any identifiable way, but I would argue that they usually creep in and get in the way without us even noticing.

And this is where boobs come into my story.

One of the first things I noticed about James when we started dating was that he’s a Boob Guy. In my experience, most guys are particularly fond of a certain part of women’s bodies – he might be an Ass Man, a Leg Man, a Boob Guy… you get the idea. Before getting a real glimpse of the woman’s personality, he is likely to notice and appreciate some part of her physicality. Seems like it’s just male nature, and, frankly, I think women are pretty much the same way, except that we don’t talk about it all the time. I, for example, am an unabashed Chest and Arms Girl. Legs? Eh. Six-pack? Whatever. But give me a man with a broad shoulders, great pecs, and strong biceps, and I melt. Sad, but true.

So, anyway, James is a Boob Guy, and unashameably so. It’s like he can’t help it. He’s never rude or creepy about it, but I’m certain that his particular idea of Heaven involves lots of well-endowed girls in bikini tops. And, as best I can tell, he’s always been this way. There is a long line of relatively large-chested (some made by God, others by man) women in his past, and as soon as I realized this, the little worm of insecurity started wiggling in my brain.

Because I am not big-busted. I am a solid B-cup. Aside from the years when I was nursing my babies, I have never been any bigger. There’s nothing wrong with my breasts but there’s nothing amazing about them, either. Were a musician to wax poetic about my attributes, my breasts would likely fall into the Fine-but-Forgettable category. I’ve never particularly thought much about them. They’re there. They’re fine. They functioned as needed for my babies. But I’ve never used them socially or capitalized on them the way women more physically gifted than I seem to.

And then I ended up with a Boob Guy. After many months together, I realized that I was avoiding walking around bra-less or naked on top in James’ presence. When we were in bed, I would pull the sheet to cover myself without thinking. In fact, if I thought about it all, it was only to be grateful that he was so strongly attracted to me despite my breasts being not the best he’d seen.

But I was wrong.

One night, as I lay naked in his arms and we watched television, James commented – so casually that it took my breath away – that I had the most perfect breasts. Sincerely shocked, I looked at him to see if he was being facetious, but he wasn’t. In fact, continuing in the same tone, he very matter-of-factly enumerated what he loved about them. I was so stunned, I don’t think I even responded. Perfect breasts? Me???

The Moral of the Story should be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out for you: Men are more complicated than we give them credit for much of the time. What attracts and holds them is most definitely not as simple as the latest Cosmopolitan would like us to believe. There is truly no empirical ideal of female beauty, THANK GOD for that. Seriously. A man’s ability to appreciate and admire so many different aspects and manifestations of female beauty is a blessing and a wonderful treasure that we should never discount or ignore.

So, whatever part of your body you’re scared of showing off, or whatever piece of yourself you’ve been covering up in front of your guy, STOP. You never know what he’s thinking or how many parts of you make him totally, crazy hot. The fun is in the finding out.

So go find out. Right now. What are you waiting for?

cleavage

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Filed under personal growth, relationships, single mom

moving on and glancing back…

When the moving trucks were loaded, my car packed to the gills, and James’ pick-up truck literally overflowing with the possessions of our two houses, I prepared to the leave the home where I’d healed for 4 years since my separation. I stood in the foyer, key in hand, and allowed the feelings to flow. My mind wandered through various memories and emotions, sifting through them, noticing them and letting them go. I heard James’ voice, “Feeling a little sad?” “No,” I answered honestly. I was amazed, empowered, and excited, but not sad. No, not sad.

I stood remembering how many times I had cowered in that house – moments of sheer terror that I would not be able to do “it” – make the mortgage payment, recover from a broken heart, co-parent with a man who initially wouldn’t look me in the eye anymore, build a new life without having the slightest idea how one went about such a thing. So many “it”s that I went ahead and did. Sometimes I danced through the obstacles with aplomb, but more often I stumbled along semi-blindly, praying furiously for help from whatever source might be listening. But I did it. Over and over and over again, I did it.

One of the many casualties of my marriage was my faith in myself. Prior to meeting and marrying my husband, I had attacked the world with a kind of naïve confidence. I didn’t take a whole lot of foolish risks, but I evaluated risks without concern for my own ability to properly address the variety of obstacles I anticipated. I moved alone to a foreign country. I lived in a ghetto and pretended to carry a weapon in my pocket as I traversed to and from the local bus-stop each day. I came home to the States, got a job, and moved to a city I’d hardly ever visited. I applied to law schools without any knowledge of the process or guidance from mentors. I secured student loans and an apartment and launched my legal career. I chased down and landed a plumb job with a national non-profit. I had faith in myself to handle whatever came my way.

But Bryce changed that. At some point during our relationship, Bryce came to see me as weak. I’m not sure if it was my recurring depression or his honest assessment of my abilities, but he used to tell me that I had terrible coping mechanisms and couldn’t “handle things.” I’m also not sure why I ever allowed his opinion of me to change my own, but I did. Slowly, over time, I began to see myself as weak and incompetent. I viewed moments of evidence to the contrary of this characterization as anachronisms to my actual personality – outliers on the bell curve of who I really was.

I certainly had successes during those years I was with Bryce, but I felt that I was play-acting through them. Surely if the people around me really knew who I was and how weak I was, they would see that it was all just luck, just good fortune, that created the successes, I thought. When my small interior design business took off rapidly, I downplayed it as being “easy.” Giving myself any credit felt like false bravado.

Eventually, Bryce noticed that the bottom had fallen out of my confidence and he would make small attempts to pay me compliments, especially if others were doing so, like when I secured a big design client and my friends were so proud of me. Bryce would tell me how proud he was of me and, momentarily, my heart would fill. But quickly thereafter, criticism would follow and I’d realize that, on balance, I really wasn’t particularly special at all.

I can look back at this and see how destructive it was, and how readily I surrendered my power of self-identifying to his opinions and whims. I am not sure precisely when his opinion of me began to define my own sense of who I fundamentally was; I only know it happened.

In the brief moments that I stood in my little house’s foyer and my brain flashed through a million memories at the speed of synapses firing, I realized something: all those fearful minutes in this house had unexpectedly restored my sense of my own personal strength. I had entered this home convinced that I was incapable of being strong, and I was leaving convinced that I am incapable of being anything but strong. I am not perfect. I am not a constant work in progress. But I am absolutely, positively, most definitely strong.

And the truth is, I always was.

healing home

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the healing house

In anticipation of my upcoming move into a new home with James, I have been packing up my belongings.  On a cold afternoon recently, my friend Annie came over to help me crate my earthly possessions. As we wrapped my mother’s delicate china in newspaper and stacked books in boxes, Annie commented on how different this move was from the one that brought me to this little house.  I paused, looked around, and felt the past rush up to meet me….

In March 2009, I moved out of the house that Bryce and I had shared with our daughters and into a small townhouse a few blocks away.  I had discovered the little house a couple of weeks after deciding to end my marriage, and purchased it with the generous help of my mother.  The house closing was a blur — I sincerely don’t remember any of it, only my own numbness.  Moving day was a nightmare, truly. At the end of that long day, I slumped into a heap on my new living room floor and cried with grief and relief.

In the days since, I have painted nearly every wall in the house, imbuing it with an energy and personality that more closely matches the life I’ve created here with my daughters. I have acquired a few pieces of furniture, most notably a large orange sofa for the living room for which I had to save for many months.  I have painstakingly tended the xeriscaped back garden and the lush, flowering front courtyard.  I have hung photos and art, added rugs and curtains, and turned what was a pretty little house into a warm and loving home.

My daughters have come to prefer our little home to their dad’s much larger and more modern house, and my friends have all told me how comfortable they are here and how well my home reflects me.  These validations are gratifying, but more important has been the reality that, through the ups and downs of my separation, divorce, and subsequent dating experiences, through the parenting challenges that naturally appear, through the professional pressures and demands I endured,  I have always been glad to come home to my little house.  It has always felt good to me.  Safe.  Comforting.  Serene.  I shed more tears in this house than I could ever possibly count, and I railed at life’s unfairness all too frequently, but she has always answered back with quiet, constant reassurance.  She has granted me solace and shelter and peace from the storms raging inside and outside of me.

My sweet little house is far too small to accommodate me, James, our six children, and three dogs.   And so we have purchased a much-larger house in a neighboring town in which to create a home for our blended family.  As for my little house, we will keep her and rent her out until such time as my mother decides to move closer to us, at which time, she’ll be folded into the bosom of the house that held me safe while I healed.

I remember the day before my closing, when I walked through the house with my realtor — an acquaintance who’d become a friend.  I made an off-hand comment about growing old here, and he quickly grew serious.  “No,” he said. “This is only a stopping over place for you.  You won’t be here forever.  You’ll have another new beginning someday.”  I was very doubtful, and have never lived my life in this house as if it were anything but permanent.  And yet, once again, I was mistaken.  It was not my forever house.  Another new beginning is indeed upon me.

Annie and others have asked me if I will be sad to leave my house, but I am honestly not.  This leap with James — this wonderful, magical opportunity to create a home with a man I love more than I have known possible — this is precisely what my time in this house has been preparing me for.  All those sad and difficult times during which my little house protected me or her garden soothed me… it was all in preparation to launch me into the next chapter of my life.  I see that very clearly now.  I came here broken and fragile.  I will leave stronger and more fully myself.   This next move is a joyful one, buoyed by hope and love, and the promise of endless possibility.  How different from the move that brought me first in this front door….

The last time Annie packed my mother’s china four years ago,  she worked wordlessly in Bryce’s living room, while I shuttled boxes out of the house and into the waiting moving van and the tension around us thickened to the point of near suffocation.  This time, we packed the china together, the tunes from a favorite playlist filling the room as we chatted and laughed about our men and our children and how far we have each come since those dark days and how rich our futures look.  There was no sadness, no regret, no nostalgia.  Just friendship and gratitude and hope.

So, I shall move on with thankfulness in my heart for my time here.  The point, after all, was never to stay, but to know when to go.

IMG_1510

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was it worth it? (pt. 4)

Following my announcement to my husband Bryce that I was leaving our marriage of nearly 11 years, I had one final conversation with my then-best friend, which ended with her caustically telling me, “Well, I just hope it’s worth it, what you’re doing.  Because I really doubt it will be.”

Certain moments get frozen your mind.  Sealed for the remainder of your life in a corner of your brain where they might gather dust, but they never fade.  Crystallized, every small detail recollected with the same power and force they wielded when first experienced.  That was one such moment for me.

Her yawning question has echoed in my brain and in the hollows of my heart as the months and years since that day have passed.  It has served as a touchstone for me — a chance to check in with myself and the consequences of my fateful choice.  I have revisited the question in my writing, too:

was it worth it? (pt. 1)  (Feb. 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 2)  (May 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 3) (Jan. 2012)

Yesterday, James and I closed on a beautiful house that will become a home to us, our children, and our animals.  Afterwards, we had a romantic celebratory dinner at the restaurant we visited on our first date, in September 2010.  We had not been back since then, and the sense of having completed some imaginary circle was palpable to us.  We reminisced about our first date — where we sat, what I was wearing, what we were each thinking — and throughout dinner I sat across the table from him and tried to figure out how in the world we have landed where we are now.

I have that feeling often these days.  I will look at him and it suddenly hits me that it has happened.  I have actually found what I had been searching for since I first fell in love with Parker at age 22 and discovered what true love, mixed with destiny and fate, actually can be like.  Every single day since then, I have hoped to once again be blessed enough to find it.  There were many, many dark days and darker nights during which I wondered if perhaps I was requesting too much of the universe; I had been fortunate enough to experience true love once, perhaps it was asking too much to want it again?

But I couldn’t give up.  Or, rather, my heart wouldn’t let me.  My brain argued quite rationally and logically.  It urged me to settle for good enough and be happy with that.  It berated me for expecting so much.  It pointed out my arrogance in hoping that I was special enough to be so blessed twice.  But the pounding of my heart drowned out the rational logic of my brain.  Thump, thump, thump… like a mantra it reminded me, forced me to remember what it had once felt like to be loved so completely and purely and deeply, and to return that love equally.

And now here I am.  I feel as if I am sitting upon a beautiful mountain top, surveying a valley below lush with possibilities and promise.  The world feels wide open and full of choices, any one of which might become the next great adventure of my life.  My blessings are so many, I feel almost embarrassed by their abundance.  But then I remember my dark times and how much I have struggled to find this space of emotional security, happiness, and expansiveness.  This time is what I have been searching for, defending to my detractors, and protecting from the naysayers.  It is here and I am in it.  And it is even better, richer, deeper than it was the first time around.

But what of the others so deeply affected by my choice?  My ex-husband Bryce seems happier than I think I have ever known him to be.  His countenance is relaxed, his outlook optimistic, his relationship seemingly solid and fulfilling.  My daughters are thriving in every way and embracing our changing circumstances with greater poise and enthusiasm and trust than I could have possibly expected.  They still don’t like moving back and forth between me and their dad each week, but it is the logistics that bother them now, not the emotional aspects of so many good-byes and hellos.  I watch over them protectively, awaiting signs to indicate that I have permanently scarred them with my choice to divorce their father and dismantle their family.  But such scars have yet to appear.  We talk through feelings with compassion and patience, and I wonder if possibly they are learning that dramatic life changes do not always portend endless grief and struggle.  I wonder if they are learning how resilient they are as individuals and we are as a family….

Life is not done, of course, and oftentimes regrets sneak up on you long after you hope the final verdict has been read.  But I humbly suspect that this will not be such a case.  Bryce, our daughters, and I have turned some corner, crossed some bridge, this year.  The divorce has ceased to be the defining construct in our lives anymore.  It is merely a reality of our existence now — like living in Colorado or having two dogs.  Four years later, it no longer constrains us or informs our feelings about everything.  My once-intact family has stretched and grown beyond the pain and grief that accompanied its breakage.  We have each evolved into more fully-formed individuals, with a greater sense of our own possibilities.   We love and support each other, secure in the knowledge that our separateness has granted us hopes and dreams that were not possible in our togetherness.

I can look at the long road since that conversation with my former best friend more than 4 years ago.  I can see how many times her warning scold seemed frighteningly true.  I am aware of how easily fate could have shifted slightly and she would have been proven correct.

But that is not what happened.  She was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Because it has been worth it.  The good, the bad, the painful, the joyful.  All of it.  Absolutely, positively worth it.

chautauqua trail

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Filed under divorce, love, perfect little miracles, personal growth, relationships

intuition as faith

Last night I had a glass of Pinot Grigio with my friend “Gwen.”  Gwen is seven months into her separation and divorce proceedings, and I have watched her progress like a cheerleader on the sidelines of her life.  Gwen and I hadn’t seen each other in more than a month, and during that time, she had gracefully segued from casual match.com dating to now being in her first post-marriage exclusive relationship.

Shortly after she and her guy had the “we’re not seeing anyone else right now” conversation, he left on a weekend trip away.  And promptly fell into radio silence.  Nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds. Over the weekend, Gwen was left to wonder what had happened.  Had he gotten cold feet?  Had she made herself too available?  Was he playing some annoying power game?  Did he not really like her as much as she’d thought?  Had she been completely mistaken about the nature of their relationship??

It was the last question that nagged at her the hardest that weekend.  Gwen is a sensitive, intuitive woman with great people skills on which she has relied successfully both personally and professionally.  But as Friday turned into Saturday and Saturday gave way to Sunday, and still her guy was MIA, she began to question her gut instincts about the relationship, and, subsequently, about herself.  As it turned out, Gwen needn’t have worried — her guy finally responded late on Sunday to let her know that he’d unexpectedly been without wifi for the duration of the trip, that he was sorry, and would she like to meet up that evening?  Gwen reported feeling equal amounts of relief that he was still interested and that she hadn’t been so wrong about their budding relationship.

That nagging sense that perhaps your intuition has led you astray and so can no longer be trusted is frightening on a very primal level.  As we move from relationship to relationship and period to period in our life, the only consistent guide we really have is our own intuition.  Knowledge alone doesn’t do it, and other people can’t really do it for us.  We hold it inside and it keeps us safe.  To fear that you can’t trust it — and therefore not trust yourself — that is truly scary.  But when it’s validated, you feel empowered and less risk-averse.  You have a faith in yourself that no amount of compliments or external props can supply.

I find it interesting that this is true even when what is validated is something hurtful.  I have moved through this space recently with James as he has told me about his various feelings and actions during our on-again/off-again relationship.  Time and time again, I have had “aha!  I knew it!” moments that felt devastating in their truth, but enormously validating, too.  Feeling that you are perhaps a jealous, crazy, ridiculous girl is obviously undermining to one’s self-confidence; indeed, in my experience, it is more damaging than finding out that he did, in fact, do and feel the things I had suspected.  The relief of the validation and the return of my faith in myself far outweighed whatever pain I had from the revelations.  Because those revealed truths are all in the past; my faith in myself and my ability to read a person and situation are vital to my present and my future.

James has also been facing this personal rollercoaster of pain vs. validation.  Having been recently maliciously betrayed by a friend he loved like a brother, he is somewhat comforted by the fact that, upon first meeting that man, he knew something was “off.”  And throughout their friendship and business partnership, he could feel in his gut that something was wrong in his life, some imbalance or deception or manipulation was occurring around him, even if he couldn’t actually identify the source.  He could feel that a nasty, horrible shoe was about to drop; he just had no idea where or when.  When it finally did, he was crushed and heartsore, but remarkably unsurprised.  Because, of course, deep down, he had known…

We all ignore our intuition sometimes.  We choose to believe what we want to believe or what someone else would like us to believe.  But lurking just under the surface, sometimes even deeply in our sub-conscious, is the truth of what we know but cannot explain or defend.  And when we ignore that truth, we do so at our peril.

Gwen’s validation of her intuition came in the form of all good news — she and her guy are solid and happy right now — her fears that she’d misread the situation were unfounded.  In my case, the validation was a mixture — news that was hard to hear, but a relief at the same time — and from that validation, I can move forward more confidently now.  For James, the validation presently feels like meager consolation for what was lost.  But I suspect that, as time heals his emotional wounds, he will be increasingly comforted by the fact that he had, in fact, known what was happening, and next time he will not ignore that nagging warning in his gut.

Intuition is a tricky thing, but a rich blessing, too.  It isn’t about intelligence or education or wealth.  It doesn’t discriminate by age or sex or race.  It is there all the time, quietly watching, interpreting, and protecting us from all that might harm us.  All we have to do is be quiet and listen.

albert-einstein-intuition1

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when the student is ready…

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to just get out of our own way.  Learning a new language or a new job or how to care for a new baby or how to play a musical instrument — none of these things seems as difficult as learning how to do something we have always done, in a different way.

Or maybe that’s just me?

I tend to cling to my convictions pretty hard.  I am a red-headed only child; both nature and nurture have predisposed me to stubbornly dig in and try to fit the world to my view of of it, rather than amend my world view to accommodate new possibilities.  Almost every hour of therapy I have done in my life has been basically about trying to overcome this tendency in one arena or another, to change my view of, or response to, or persistent feelings about something in my life.

At various times, I have actively sought to push back against the paradigm that is no longer serving me.  When I left to study abroad in college, I consciously did so with the intention of becoming different, expanding my ideas about the world, seeing how other people thought and acted and re-acted.  I find that, more than 20 years later, I don’t often require such dramatic efforts; sometimes simply having a stimulating conversation with someone new is enough.  The point is that these moments — these small experiences — are expansive opportunities for growth.

Around the time I gave up battling the Year of the Dragon, I had one of my “Fine.  You win.” conversations with the universe in which I generally concede that I have a lot of learning to do and need lots of help to do it.  Then I wait.  And always, without fail, the help I need appears.

This time, my first teacher came in the form of a fellow blogger, whom I shall call “Achilles.” At times, he has been a regular commentator on my blog, but it was our off-line conversations that were really interesting.  Quite often, we approached things from differing viewpoints; my posts frequently challenged his truths and my positions could easily have offended his feelings and/or his sensibilities.  But rather than turn away from me and seek the comfort of like-minded bloggers, he kept at me — asking me probing questions and for further explanations, sharing his own reasoning without much concern for altering my own. And so began a dialogue that focused moreso on me providing my perspective to situations and concerns we had in common.

Through the course of these conversations, I gathered certain things about him that led me to believe that he was, in some very important, fundamental ways, very similar to my ex-boyfriend, James.  Despite being broken-up for the better part of a year, the late autumn found me still struggling with a fair number of unresolved questions about my relationship with James.  Questions I was too afraid to ask him, even though I could see clearly my need to.  So, I turned the tables and sought out Achilles.  I asked for his perspective, rather than his advice.  I wanted to understand his reasoning and his feelings and his motives, not to support my own tired ideas about my relationship with James, but on the off-chance that they might provide a different outlook or understanding than I’d been able to gain before.

Achilles answered my questions honestly and directly.  Some of his answers made me cringe, but even those gave me pause.  Much of what he said consisted of angles and approaches that were foreign to my way of thinking.  “Really?” was a common response of mine during that chat.  And that night I went to sleep turning over in my head the things he said, feeling comforted and wondrous at the same time.

The next month saw a veritable march of caring, unexpected souls who extended simple words of wisdom, thoughtful perspectives, or unsolicited support.  It is almost mystical to me how every single question I asked of the ether that evening after the job slipped away has now been answered.  I find myself in the happy posture of feeling grounded, and hopeful, and confident, and content.  The issues that crushed me in 2012 have not been resolved, but my faith in my ability to resolve them has returned because I no longer feel constrained by the thoughts and fears that held me captive so much of last year. I once again have confidence in my ability to adapt and consider and be present in the moment.

So often we think we need a change to make us happy.  But sometimes what we need — first and foremost — is a change of perspective.  That can be really hard to do on our own, but the teachers are all around us.  Every day.  We just need to be open and willing and available to the messages and experiences and wisdom they’re offering.   And then watch what happens…

master 2

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Filed under perfect little miracles, personal growth, relationships

the year of the dragon, revisited

The year 2012 was, for me, an “annus horribilis,” to borrow a term from Queen Elizabeth II.  When I look back on the year that just passed, I am primarily filled with a sense of relief that it is over.  Sure, there were some beautiful, precious moments that I shall cherish, but, on the whole, the year was tainted with crippling depression, professional trials, financial crises, and romantic disappointments.

But I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

In March of last year, I wrote a post I called “the year of the dragon,” in which I relayed the prophecy given to me by my dear friend, Ling, a warm Korean woman who is well-versed in the Chinese zodiac.  For those of you who don’t want to re-read the post, the short version is that the Year of the Dragon is something to be endured rather than celebrated.  It is a year that the Chinese faithful view with apprehension and resignation, a year when life as we know it is scorched by the dragon’s flaming breath, creating a rich and fallow field for rebirth and re-creation the following year.  When Ling first described this to me, I was not pleased; the idea of a “scorched” life didn’t sound particularly appealing.  And now, as I limp through the tail end of the Year of the Dragon (with the Year of the Snake solidly in view!) I can positively attest that my Year of Dragon was indeed scorching. I understand and accept that this was not true for everyone (and good for you, seriously), but it was definitely true for me.

I think the best summation of 2012 for me is this:  Not a single thing (without exception) turned out the way I had anticipated.  Not. One. Damn. Thing.

Everything I felt certain about in 2011 came crashing down or simply vanished.  Everything I worried over and stressed over came to naught.  Everything I thought I knew about relationships and friendships and love was put to the test.  My concept of myself and my world and my goals shifted dramatically.  Twenty-twelve was, for me, one long, slow kick in the ass.  And, boy, do I have the third-degree dragon burns to show for it.

On the last day of November — when the job that I had hung my entire professional future on did not materialize — I was finally and truly done fighting the dastardly dragon.  I threw down my sword, tossed my shield aside, and surrendered.  And then, miraculously, the god-awful, fire-breathing dragon tucked his tail and began his slow retreat.

So I sat in the middle of the blackened earth and examined what was left.  I am very familiar with scorched earth.  I live in a state plagued by what are quaintly called “wildfire seasons,” and I pass the barren, floral carnage of the state’s second-most destructive wildfire each day on my way to work. The destructive decimation of heat and flames is altogether too tangible to me.

But, I also have seen the restorative properties of nature that follow quickly on the heals of a destructive burn.  I have watched the small pine saplings poke through the earth and begin their journey toward the sky.  I have seen the small critters return to their habitats and adapt to the scarcity.  I have witnessed the slow greening of the underbrush, like soft baby hair upon the brown soil.  The very fire that destroyed the pre-existing flora and fauna gives birth, through its ashes, to a richer and more potent environment for future generations.  It is a natural cycle, thwarted only by man and his need to control his world.

After my career hopes were dashed that Friday, I took a deep breath and took stock of my life, and realized (as I so frequently do) that I actually have most everything I need.  True, so many of the hopes and dreams that I’d been clinging to were not going to bloom, but I have two healthy and happy children; a safe and cozy home that we love; a job in which my co-workers appreciate and rely on me; a bank account that lets me pay for our necessities and a few extras; generous and loving family and friends to care for me and support me; and a rich spiritual life to sustain me through years like the Dragon.  So I brushed myself off and opened my heart and decided to see what new flowers I could grow for 2013.

My grandma liked to say that “Bad times never last, but good people always do.”  The Year of the Dragon would seem to be a test of her conviction.  And given that I am still here, albeit slightly more bruised and burned, I would say that once again she was right.

And the only other thing I have to say to the Year of the Dragon is this:

pfft

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Filed under general musings, personal growth

the not enough place

There is a very dark place inside some of us.  I think of it as the “not enough” place.  It is a space in our psyche in which we are consistently less than adequate, always falling short of expectations, never quite good enough for the task or person we are striving toward.   This place has no light.  It is heavy, pregnant with expectations never met, people never pleased and ideals fallen away.

For some people, this place was constructed early, as part of some childhood experience — an emotionally distant or highly-critical parent, physical abandonment, or unstable family dynamics.  For others, it appeared suddenly, maybe even overnight, the result of an intensely traumatic experience that shattered their sense of personal safety and value.  Whatever the cause of its appearance, once present it is a difficult place to dismantle.

The not enough place is where all our worst personal demons are housed.  Once in the room, we are treated to a litany of our short-comings, a veritable laundry list of all the ways in which are less than we should be.  Our imperfections, in all their stark, harsh realness are on display, brightly lit for all to see who enter.  It is in this space that we are told that we are now and always will be unworthy, unlovable, not necessary, a human mistake.

Sadly, it is often those we trust most who first thrust us into this place, slamming the door behind us and subjecting us to the torment of our worst thoughts about ourselves.  Parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches, boyfriends, spouses…. The people whose esteem we value and strive for most are the very people most capable of creating the darkest corners of our psyche through their mistreatment or neglect.   Some of them constructed the not enough place intentionally, believing that it would help us to see ourselves more clearly or avoid the pitfalls of hubris or relinquish fanciful self-concepts.

Some people are blessed to travel through this life without more than a cursory visit to the not enough place.  They don’t stay long enough to absorb any of its poison, but instead are strong enough to resist its sirens’ song of denigration.  They blithely move on, secure in their self-worth and sense of place in this world.  They are the truly lucky.

But others are not so lucky.  Some fight a lifelong battle with the not enough place, boarding it up time and again only to sneak back and re-open its dark chamber once more.  Others succumb to its thrumming mantras of self-loathing, giving up entirely on their sense of self-worth and hiding fearfully behind a mask of their own making, hoping desperately that it never slips and reveals their unworthiness to the entire world.  Then there are the few, so ravaged by the beatings endured in the not enough place, that they surrender completely to the madness.  These are the Sylvia Plaths of the world, for whom no amount of external validation can convince them that they are worthy of love, or friendship, or even breath.

The holidays can be a magical time, but for many, they can also be a time of considerable stress, emotional highs and lows, and a readjustment of all kinds of expectations.  I suppose that I am publishing this tonight as an homage to those feeling let down, perhaps most of all by themselves.  If you have a not enough place in the deepest recesses of your heart, please stay away from it this season.  I guarantee you that there is at least one person in your world who believes you worthy, and lovable, and valuable, and irreplaceable to them.

I have, on my bedroom wall, a prose poem called The Desiderata, given to me by my dear friend Caitlyn some 20 years ago.  When the not enough place starts  its infernal pestering, I remember and recite these lines:

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.

The trees and stars do not have to ask if they are lovable or worthy or valuable.  And neither should we.

shooting star and tree

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Filed under personal growth, sadness