Tag Archives: healing

30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 6

Day 6:  Something you hope you never have to do.

Boy, they really don’t make these challenges easy, do they?

My rule with this challenge has been to go with whatever my first gut answer is to the Day’s question.  So, my answer today is that I hope I never have to break someone’s heart again.  That may sound shallow or self-serving, but I promise you it’s sincere.

I know that I have hurt people in my life, and those actions and their consequences truly haunt me.  I’m not talking about small offenses or the kinds of momentary hurts that we all shrug off almost immediately.  No, I am talking about the kind of pain that is life changing and heart-altering.  Indeed, my nightmares of late seem to be a catalog of apologies that I cannot possibly offer enough, wrongs that cannot be righted.  For the most part, I have not been callous or cold in my life, and I can offer arguably justifiable reasons for many of my actions that hurt others.  But in my heart I believe that we are responsible for all the pain we cause, justified or not, and that the tally of heartbreak we accrue in our lifetime will come back upon us at a later time.

Having said that, it’s not some fear of karmic retribution or hellish damnation that drives my sense of remorse.  And I don’t actually believe that anyone is anywhere in this world hating my guts or cursing my name.  I think my remorse is simply an evolving understanding of how harmful some hurts are and how difficult it is to fix them in any real sense of the word.

To the extent that I can, I have offered sincere apologies to everyone that I can. But knowing how deeply some of my own emotional injuries go, I know that I cannot erase the pain of another.  I am grateful when an apology is accepted, but I know that the past cannot be changed and the wounds still bear scars.

So, while I know I will screw up and do the wrong thing sometimes, I do most deeply hope that my screw-ups don’t ever result in true and deep heartbreak for another person.  Ever, ever again.

im-sorry

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under 30 Days of Truth Challenge

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 30 Days of Truth Challenge, personal growth

30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

authentic-self-soul-made-visible2

 

1 Comment

Filed under 30 Days of Truth Challenge

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

2 Comments

Filed under healing, personal growth

the sins of my past

In case you had any doubts, I’m here to tell you that there isn’t much good about being broke with no financial or professional prospects. It pretty much sucks just as much you might imagine.  Watching what was once an impressive career draw its last, dying breath is uncomfortable under any circumstances but horrible beyond belief when that career is your own.

Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else who has crashed and burned her own shining career, but in my case, it didn’t happen overnight.  But sometimes it sure does seem that way. One day I had a big office near the Potomac River and the next time I took a good, long look at my career, I was scraping by and teetering on the brink of being Terminally Unemployable.  I spent many, many quiet moments of panic and self-loathing, contemplating my slow reversal of fortune, and my own complicity in it.

I think that it is objectively fair to say that my career peaked when I was 27-years-old and working DC for a national non-profit. I was flying around the country, appearing on national morning news shows, and pulling in more money than before or since. From there, my career involved a series of choices that took me further from power and money and ambition, including a six-year stint as a Stay At Home Mom with a part-time small business.

When I was fired from my last full-time job in February of 2013, I found myself involuntarily unemployed for the first time in my life, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t worried. At all. Seriously.  I had never, ever had to worry about finding work. Or money, for that matter. Whenever I needed an opportunity, one had always presented itself, and, even at my youngest and poorest, I had always been able to pay my bills. I felt confident that everything would be just fine.

Well.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks gave way to months. Months somehow slid into a year, and I was not any closer to a full-time job with benefits. I tried, honestly I did. I sent out resume after resume and tried all kinds of networking groups, online and off. I wrote and rewrote my resume to tailor it for every job I was conceivably qualified to do. I considered going back to school (!) to get some kind of certification or degree that would better position me. Caving to pressure from nearly everyone around me, I seriously explored hanging out my shingle as a sole practioner of law, only to suffer a few sleepless nights that made me realize that I’d be happier as a Starbucks barista than as an attorney. I completed the online application for Target and then realized that the shifts I would be given initially would require me to hire a nanny who would be making more per hour than I would.

In almost two years, I had two interviews and no offers.

I hid my despair from nearly everyone, putting on a brave front and reassuring my friends and family that something would surely come up. But I saw my own doubts reflected back to me in their eyes, and heard the silent question echoing in the space between us: “What happened to you? You used to have so much… promise.” Some of the younger women I had mentored for years fell away, and many of my professional contacts subtly distanced themselves from me. After all, it was fine to be fired from a politically appointed position, but to be unemployed for more than a year, well, surely there must be something wrong, no?

I didn’t blame them. I had the same doubts about myself. I cobbled together some writing work and interior design projects that, along with semi-regular withdrawals from my 401(k), kept me afloat. I worked every moment I could and literally said a prayer of thanks every time I deposited a check. (I was probably quite a picture at the ATM.) On the outside, I was “being creative” and “taking initiative” and “carving out an interesting little niche for myself.” But inside, I was terrified and couldn’t even admit it to myself, except in the middle of the night as I lay in bed and imagined losing my home and everything in it.

One of the things about working for yourself is that you have lots of time alone. And I used all of it to try and answer that silent question that hung in the air. What had happened to me? Where had my promising career gone? Who would I be professionally if I wasn’t the sharp, young wiz that everyone admired and respected?

What the hell had happened to me??

And I gradually realized that, for nearly 20 years, I had been apologizing, in one form or another, for my career choices. Offering justifications and explanations and reasons to assure everyone – including myself – that I hadn’t just made one sad mistake after another. I felt foolish as I accepted the truth: the question wasn’t new at all; only my conscious awareness of it was.

And then one day, as a bitterly cold 2014 melted into a milder 2015, I found my answer.

Life. Life had happened to me. Except that it wasn’t a passive thing. It didn’t just “happen.” I had engaged my life and made my decisions to the best of my abilities at the time. Each and every one was made with the best of intentions and with the best information I had at the time. I revisited my decision to leave DC and move to Colorado, knowing now that that single move downshifted my career in very obvious and meaningful ways. I examined my decisions to hop around, trying this job and then that one, and the experiences I gained from each. I remembered the heartache and fear of having a sick toddler, and the relief at watching her get well. I noted for myself some of the friendships I made being a Stay At Home Mom and how well those friendships served me later during my divorce. But overall, what I really did was simple: I forgave myself.

I forgave myself for essentially throwing away a very expensive education to follow my fancy down other paths.

I forgave myself for sacrificing my career altogether at the altar of motherhood.

I forgave myself for not having the driving ambition to match the opportunities provided to me.

I forgave myself for getting older and surrendering the Young Crackerjack title to other, younger, less seasoned people who are just as likely to make dubious choices as I was.

And I cannot tell you how wonderful that was. I felt so free from guilt and explanation and justification and that incredibly heavy burden of “What If.”

Surely there will always be people who hear about my career and wonder, “What the hell happened to you?” but the people who seek an explanation will never truly understand, because they will always judge me by the words on my resume instead of the life I’ve created and the lessons I’ve learned. And the ones who do understand me don’t ask for or need an explanation.

Remember how I said that some of the young women I mentored drifted away slowly after my firing? Well, there were some exceptions, and one in particular inadvertently helped me reach my peace with my past. For some reason, we had become much closer as my unemployment dragged on, and I confided occasionally in her of my fears. At the last lunch we had in 2014, she said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re much more interesting and inspiring now than when you supposedly had it all together. Or at least, you are to me.”

Her words stayed with me, sitting lightly on my heart, and made me wonder if maybe there was something better than having it all together.

I don’t know for sure what I was supposed to gain from my long, terrifying journey through unemployment and self-employment, but I think it’s pretty clear that in order to find any real professional satisfaction again I was going to have to make peace with my past. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life apologizing to others and myself for choices that were not inherently wrong. I had to forgive myself for making the decisions I had and fully acknowledge the realities of the circumstances that had created those choices.

I don’t know if I’ve fully forgiven myself yet, but I have deliberately replaced my self-loathing with a renewed appreciation for what I gained from all those years. I have a job now that I love and want to do for a long time. I am not ashamed to tell people what I do, even when I see a glint of surprise or superiority in their eyes. I am grateful for the opportunity I have and the work I am given and the paycheck that accompanies it. But most of all, I am at peace with all that has gone before in my professional life. It has been a wild and unpredictable ride, but it has been my ride. And that’s really the best thing that any of us can say at the end of the day, isn’t it?

I Am

2 Comments

Filed under happy endings, parenthood, working mothers

the blessing of oblivion

My stepbrother hates me.

Or, maybe that’s not entirely accurate, since he’s not really my step-brother and I’m not sure “hates” is the optimum word.  You see, he is the natural son of my former step-father.  So what does that make him to me, exactly?  My former step-brother?  But that sounds too much like he’s dead, and he’s not. Also, hate might not be the exactly right word.  Perhaps “resents” is better.  Or “misunderstands”?  Or “begrudges”?  I guess I don’t really know, since the one conversation we had about his feelings was years ago, and true to form, was characterized by naive honesty on my part and guarded suspicion on his.  So who really knows how deeply his negative feelings for me fester.

But the fact remains that we are somehow at odds.

The situation sounds like something out of a nighttime soap opera (think Dallas or Dynasty for point of reference):  My mother was my dad’s fourth (yes, fourth) wife and I was my mom’s adoptive daughter, aged 13 at the time of marriage.  Their marriage lasted five L-O-N-G years and culminated in a nasty divorce in which my step-dad lost a significant percentage of his net worth despite a good prenuptial.  None of this was my fault; in fact, I disapproved of my mom’s marriage.  Not because I didn’t like my step-dad, but because any primate with a 50 IQ could see that they were not destined to a bright future.    Any primate, of course, except for an primate in love.

So, their marriage was  a disaster but my step-father was a terrific dad, and the only one I’d ever had, since my adoptive father died when I was 9-months-old.  Indeed, my step-dad has since told many people that he married my mom because he felt that I “deserved to have a real father.”  That’s a pretty noble undertaking, I think.

Their marriage didn’t survive, but my relationship with my step-dad, who after their divorce became just my “dad,” did.  In the 27 years since my parents’ divorce, he has done everything for me a dad does for a kid:  sent me money when I was broke, offered advice (solicited and unsolicited), invited me to family functions, visited me from out-of-state, sent presents and cards at appropriate anniversaries, and called “just to check in” on a regular, if not frequent, basis.  He has been, in every regard and every part of my heart, my dad.

And my former step-brother hates me for it.

My dad had four kids from his first wife — two girls and two boys.  The other three have mostly accepted my strange place in their dad’s life.  They seem to understand (mostly) that our relationship has brought both of us a lot of happiness and is no threat to them, so they let it be.  My oldest step-brother, however, is not so generous.  No, he views me as an interloper, a gold-digger, someone who has no right to his father’s time or love.

But he’s wrong.

My dad, Dex, and I have a deep connection that goes beyond words.  We understand each other in the way that only soul mates do.  My dad’s current wife, Meri (his 5th and last wife and true soulmate) understands this and has welcomed me with open arms from the first day I met her.  But Dex’s kids have struggled more. I think the other three have gradually realized that I am not in competition with them in anyway.  Indeed, I easily cede my position to them at any opportunity.  But Richie, my oldest step-brother, cannot abide my presence in his dad’s life.  I am threat to him that neither he nor I understands and he would like nothing better than for me to disappear forever.

I am in dad’s last will and testament.  It reads that after Meri dies, all proceeds (because she has no children of her own) shall go to Dex’s three other children and me in equal 20% measures, with Richie’s two girls receiving his share divided between them as 10% each.  This was constructed many years ago, when Richie’s obstinate insistence that my dad disavow me resulted in Dex’s cutting Richie out of his will altogether and apportioning Richie’s share to his daughters instead.  When I found out about the Will Drama, I asked my dad — twice — to rewrite the will and leave me out of it.  Both times he replied that it was “none of my business” and that he would do what he damn well pleased.  But he also knew his son and made me promise that I would respect his wishes and defend his will — in court, if necessary — after he was gone.  I reluctantly agreed.

At the time all of this was going on  (many years ago), I really had no appreciation for how intensely my step-brother disliked me.  It has only been my most recent trip to Seattle, spending time in their home and with my former step-sisters that I have fully appreciated how deeply resentful Richie is.

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Richie has been waging a war against me for many years, with both my dad and my former step-siblings as the targets.  The mere mention of my name is supposedly enough to send him into a diatribe, and his siblings have grown weary of the conflict.

When my step-mother, whom Richie also does not like, called to ask me to come help her, Richie was away in Africa on a medical missionary.  I have since learned that this was fortunate timing, because if he had been in the country, the call would have been nearly impossible for my step-mom to make as the other three siblings are so intent on avoiding the “conflict” between us that they would have likely begged her to reconsider.

I guess I am fortunate that he was on his mission and I, states away in Colorado, was oblivious to the family politics swirling around me.  Had I know,  I would have approached this trip with far more trepidation.

Richie and I are the only children who don’t live in or right outside my dad’s hometown of Seattle.  I am in Colorado, and Richie and his family live in southern Idaho.  I suppose his distance from his family gives him some cause for anxiety and me some cause for oblivion, for I have been mostly unaware of the family politics at play.

True, my dad had hinted that Richie resented me and did not respect his marriage to Meri, and he had made me promise to defend his will and protect Meri from whatever predatory interests Richie has after his death.  But the extent to which Richie had complained to his siblings was not clear to me until this trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s what I mean:

I have been here for 12 days now and in Richie’s group emails to the family about my dad’s illness, he refuses to acknowledged my existence or anything I have been doing for his father or step-mom.  To be honest, though, he basically refuses to acknowledge his step-mom at all.  Richie sends daily emails to his dad, which we have to read to him since Dex can’t operate a computer at the moment, with strong “suggestions” for his care (Richie is a doctor, and one with a “healthy” doctor ego).  I know that Richie knows that I’m here because he apparently has said various things to his sisters which they have relayed to Meri in aggravated and hushed tones, and she has related to me in annoyed and angry tones.

It is very strange to learn that you are the object of someone’s intense emotions, when they mean so little to you.

I honestly do not think of Richie but a few times a year when he comes up in conversation with my dad or step-mom.  He is completely inconsequential to me.  The fact that he does not understand why my dad stayed my dad after he divorced my mom is of no concern to me; my dad and Meri and I understand it, and, in my mind, that’s all that matters.  But I am clearly the object of much negative emotion on his part and likely have been for years.

But what I’ve come to realize over the last ten days is that my oblivion has been a blessing.  Had I fully realized the amount of tension and conflict my presence had caused in my dad’s life, I would have likely gradually receded from him, so naturally conflict-averse and prone to keeping the peace am I.  I am so averse to wanting to cause trouble for those I love that, had I known, I would have probably, gradually, but resolutely, left his life.

And what a shame that would have been!  I would have deprived myself of precious moments of parenting from a father who so sincerely wanted the job that he held onto it even after being fired by my mother.  And I would have deprived him of a daughter who knew him — dark secrets and all — and loved him completely and unconditionally and defended his character and integrity from anyone who dared to question it.

With the benefit of age and the certainty of my dad’s love, I can acknowledge that my former step-brother’s animosity is his journey to wrangle with, not mine.  My dad and I, we understand and accept our unique relationship, even if some of those around us do not.  And we are both willing to make sacrifices and defend that relationship when necessary.  Until this month, I had not realized the full nature of his sacrifice or his struggle, and he will likely never know the nature of mine, but we have both fought for and protected this relationship in ways that have cost us dearly.

But what a life lesson that has been for me.  I have not bothered to defend this relationship to others; if they do not understand it after my best effort at explanation, then I leave that as their struggle, not mine.  And I have been grateful every single day that a man with no obligation chose to be a father to a young woman who desperately needed his guidance and love and reassurance.  I am different woman for his care-taking, and I hope that he is a different man for my love and devotion.

As for my step-brother, I am determined to return to Colorado and sink back into my oblivion.  Let him emotionally rail against me.  Let him target me with all his resentment and animosity.  Let him assign all blame to me for the relationship with his father that is so much less than what I share with him.

Because I know — and my dad knows — what is true and what is real and what is right.  And my step-brother can wrestle his demons all night long, while my dad and I sleep peacefully, secure in the knowledge that a love that is pure and well-intentioned and generous is never wrong.

coelho quote

6 Comments

Filed under blended families, parenthood

the fractured family

The last time I wrote, my life was floating in an odd kind of limbo, awaiting resolution of a judge’s decision on whether James’ three young children would be sent back to their mother in Georgia — the object of an abuse and neglect investigation prompted by the kids’ therapist — or whether they would stay here with us, a family complete, a family whole.

On August 12, 2013, we went to court and showed the judge everything we had.  Professionals took the stand to lay out our case, and witnesses (including one from Georgia) substantiated the claims the children had made to their therapist.  But the judge chose to disregard all of that, and instead believed their mother, who swore under oath that the children’s claims were lies fabricated by James and me.  It was her word — and her word alone — against multiple witnesses on our side.  But she pulled it off.  And so the children were sent back to Florida.

It was a stunning, unexpected defeat.  Everyone following the case, including sitting and former judges, were shocked and amazed that Carnie, the children’s mother, had managed to convince a judge to ignore all expert testimony to the contrary.  But that’s how powerful a liar she is.

The judge’s ruling came down late in the evening after a 3 1/2 hour hearing.  I will never forget reading the verdict on my iPhone while out to dinner with James and our Georgia witness, and knowing that when I turned to show it to James, I would be delivering a crushing blow.  The children were already with Carnie, as the court had ordered parenting time for her after court adjourned, and she was to regain custody, effective immediately.  She was not even required to let the children say goodbye to us.

James texted her to ask if we could bring the children some of their things from our house, and she agreed, upon the condition that she wanted to speak to him, alone, with the children.  At first he resisted, but I convinced him to go and hear what she had to say, while I waited nearby, within sight. The meeting was wrenching to watch from the sidelines, as the kids clung to him and Carnie pleaded with James to get back together with her, going so far as to get down on one knee.  He blanched, and I honestly wondered if he was going to lose his dinner all over the pool deck, but he held it together long enough to make clear that such an idea was preposterous and to end the conversation. She didn’t want to allow the children to say goodbye to me, but James insisted. I had but seconds with each of them, time enough for a few whispered words of encouragement and endearment, before she ordered them back to her side. And then we left, hearing their whimpered tears behind us, and leaving pieces of our hearts there on the pool deck.

I don’t remember much from that night after our goodbyes.  I remember calling my girls (who were at their dad’s) to tell them the outcome, and Bryn’s anguished cry when she realized that Chelsea had been ripped away from her.  Sabrina was furious, wondering how a judge could ignore the videotaped interviews of the kids, their earnest pleas to the social workers that they be allowed to live here with us and not be returned to Florida.  My girls wanted answers, and I had none.

The next morning — and many mornings thereafter — I awoke and immediately felt the heaviness of grief press down upon me.   The first few days after the hearing were nearly unbearable.  Our house was so quiet and our pain so palatable, that James and could hardly stand to be there.  We tried to distract ourselves.  We shut the doors to their rooms — left disheveled because no one expected that they wouldn’t be coming back — and tried to block out the memories of the summer.  We got random texts from them as they made their way back to Florida.  Short phrases, pregnant with their ache and loss.  And we felt helpless.

James and I both cried a lot at first.  Small reminders would reduce one of us to tears.  I had to avoid music altogether, as it brought back too many memories of riding in the car with the kids, going here or there, with the music blasting, the windows down, and all of us singing along together.  I framed lots of the art the girls had made for us over the summer, crying each time I placed another piece between glass.

We had set up new email addresses for the two oldest, Chelsea and Jay, for them to communicate with us, and during their first two weeks back in Florida, we heard from them frequently.  They used the email portal just as we’d intended — as a small way to touch back to us, to connect and feel our love without the filters their mom tries to impose.

The allegations and evidence presented at the hearing clearly frightened Carnie.  She quit her bartending job, began spending much more time at home on the weeknights, and started trying to connect with the kids in more positive ways.  The court ordered that she be randomly tested for alcohol, and as far as we know, she is complying with that order, but we have yet to see any test results.  The court also ordered another parental evaluation, to be conducted by a licensed Child-Family Investigator (CFI).  Carnie’s attorneys tried mightily to get the court to approve a CFI in Florida, but our attorneys prevailed and a local CFI was assigned.  The CFI begins her investigation next week, which will include interviewing licensed professionals associated with the case, family, and even the children.  She’ll travel to Florida to see the circumstances there and conduct interviews, and will visit our house and us as well.  It’s an intrusive, long process, designed to overturn every stone in search of any deep and dark secrets hidden beneath.  The judge — thankfully, a different one from our earlier hearing — will likely follow the CFI’s recommendation, so the outcome of the case might ultimately hinge on this one person’s conclusion of how to serve the children’s best interests.

Whether Carnie’s new-found persona as Devoted Mother will hold up over time or even convince the CFI in the short term is anyone’s guess, but for now it is having its desired effect on the children.  They have pulled away from us, for reasons we can only guess at.  Perhaps they feel let down that we couldn’t win the case and allow them live in Colorado.  Perhaps they believe their mom that we somehow manipulated them to say awful things about her.  Perhaps they are tired of all the drama and have resigned themselves to their situation.  It’s impossible to know, and heartbreaking to wonder at.

In the meantime, our home continues to heal.  The first weekend my girls spent here without James’ kids, they cried quite a bit.  Things were solemn and we spent even more time than usual together as a family.   But they are now becoming accustomed again to the relative peace and quiet of the house, as are we.  School has started and life has fallen into its familiar rhythms again, so that sometimes I can almost forget how close we came to being a whole family.

The case will likely not be fully resolved until early Winter, but I am no longer feeling certain in the outcome.  August reminded me that even “slam-dunk” cases can be lost, and those things we count as certain, upended.  So for now, we try to find the good in the moment and pray deeply for the future. And a time when we might not be a fractured family any longer.

Snowy Owl, by Chelsea, age 10, Summer 2013

Snowy Owl, by Chelsea, age 10, Summer 2013

7 Comments

Filed under blended families, healing, parenthood, relationships, sadness

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

2 Comments

Filed under divorce, healing, personal growth

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

5 Comments

Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships

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

9 Comments

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