Tag Archives: personal growth

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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at the speed of life

If you were friends with me in real life, your head would likely be spinning right now.  You see, my life has essentially two speeds:  Stop and Go.  There really isn’t a whole lot in between.  Occasionally, I’ll do that thing that most people do in their lives in which they work steadily and diligently toward a goal with all due time and effort and decisiveness, but most times that’s not the case.  More often, it’s a matter of my life appearing to careen from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds, and then coming to a screeching halt again seconds after that.  This can be disarming and alarming to friends not used to my life, and cause them considerable concern over my general welfare and decision-making.

But my old friends are used to it.  It’s incredibly rare for any of them to be particularly ruffled or surprised by any news I share.  They’ve become accustomed to the sometimes frenetic pace with which the universe lobs new opportunities and curve balls my way.  My friend Caitlin, who has known me since our freshman year of college, pretty much takes any news from me in stride.  Almost 23 years ago, I called her on a crackly trans-Atlantic connection to say, “So, I got to England, moved to a ghetto, fell in love with my third-cousin-once-removed who moved to Australia three days later, then I sailed through my coursework, and now I’m working in the music business and decided to stay an extra 3 months.” To which she calmly replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “Of course.  When will you be coming home or are you staying for good?”  Because, honestly, you can’t stay friends with me for very  long without accepting that my life seems to operate in some kind of alternative universe in which the typical rules of time and what qualifies as a Good Idea do not apply.

This probably sounds like great fun when the speed of my life is “Go.”  But when it’s at “Stop,” it’s a whole other story.  My life gets stuck more often and for longer periods it seems than most people’s, and that reality has caused me countless sleepless nights and frustrated days.  And again, Caitlin (and my other old friends) has weathered those storms, too.  “Why?!” I have moaned to her, “Why can’t my life just be like other people’s?  I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m still stuck!  It’s so unfair!  Other people can just do these things and they move forward with their lives; I do them and nothing happens!”  Caitlin’s typical response to these pity parties is to murmur sympathetically while I whine and then firmly  say, “Oh, stop being ridiculous.  Your life doesn’t work that way, and who wants to be ordinary anyway? Just wait.  Things will change.  They always do.”  And she’s always right. Of course.

In the first week of December 2012, my life shifted from Stop to Go, and it’s been a fast and furious ride since then.  Some of my friends who haven’t known me very long are pretty white-knuckled, but my longer-term friends are shaking their heads with bemused smiles on their faces.  Because, after all, I am me and this is my life.  In the last three months, I have:

  • created a stable, loving relationship with a man I was mostly apart from the entire year of 2012 and with whom I had all but given up on the hopes of a committed relationship;
  • weathered a personal crisis of his that rivals a good crime suspense novel;
  • moved him into my very small house with me and my girls;
  • found and placed under contract a beautiful home (in a neighboring town in which I have never lived) that is ideal for our family of 2 adults, 6 children, and 3 dogs;
  • been fired from my job 4 hours after placing said house under contract;
  • salvaged the house contract, against all odds, and preserved the March 25th closing date;
  • launched an aggressive job search, including multiple informational interviews per week and dogged networking in between;
  • met with a book editor interested in getting me a publishing contract to further discuss details of the proposed book (and made a fun new friend in the process);
  • begun to prepare for move-in to our new home during the first week of April; and
  • weathered the inevitable ups and downs of merging our families, particularly the boatload of attitude that Bryn has chosen to heap upon James following his move into our house.

As I was updating my friend Rob yesterday, his response was, “I’m tired after hearing all that.  Must go nap.  But first, is your name still TPG or has that changed, too?”  (Almost all my friends are fluent in Sarcasm, by the way.)  But the truth is, and Rob has known me long enough to know this, that when I am in Go speed, it doesn’t feel too fast for me.  This is my normal.  This is how my life works. I make decisions and I follow my intuition and I ride the rollercoaster. And honestly, it’s not because I’m so good at it; it’s because I don’t really have another choice, any more than when things are stuck.  Sure, I could throw on the brakes and refuse to engage the opportunities, but I’ve learned that doing so won’t slow the pace of my life.  Those opportunities won’t slow down to the speed limit; oh no, they’ll just whiz right past me.  And I’ve never regretted grabbing those opportunities and sailing along with them; it may sound surprising, but those aren’t any of the regrets I count when I’m feeling down.  I think the truth for me (and maybe all of us?) is that I don’t get to determine the temporal speed of my life when it’s going fast anymore than I do when it’s going slowly.  My only option — in both situations — is to make the most of what’s on offer.  So I try to.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed, of course.  Just as I sometimes whine to my friends about my frustration when I am stuck in Stop, so do I sometimes complain about the stress of racing along at breakneck speed.  I mean, honestly, I am juggling so much right now that I’m not even sure how I’m managing it, but I suspect that, when hindsight appears after things have slowed to a Stop again, I will see clearly how the universe leveraged my resources and the opportunities against each other to keep me afloat.  For instance, I’m not sure I could manage all the new house and merging family issues if I were still working at my former job.  The stress level there was so high, it might have been my undoing.  So, losing that job might have been a necessary element in greasing the high-horsepower engine that is currently propelling me forward.

So, for right now, I am flying by the seat of my pants and yet feeling mostly calm about the frantic pace around me.  I can see clearly the abstract forms around me coming together to create a remarkable new life.  With awe, I am witnessing the universe as it works its magic to bring multiple dreams of mine to fruition at once.  Life is miraculous and, unlike us, the universe and the powers around us do not make any mistakes.  So, I am trusting that when my house stops spinning and I am deposited into my very own Oz, it will be exactly and precisely where I am meant to be.

tornado-rainbow

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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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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 unlikely hug

There are so many moments, post-divorce, that are nothing short of surreal.  Sometimes precious, sometimes horrible, but never anything you could have possibly imagined as you stood across from each other and spoke the vows that should have bound you together forever.  I have stopped wondering if such moments will ever stop and have come to accept them as part of the “new normal.”

Christmas Day delivered another such moment.

My official parenting plan with Bryce dictates that we take annual turns having the girls for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, then turn them over to the other parent at noon on Christmas Day.  We’ve never stuck to this mandate, however, opting instead to share Christmas morning together with our children and parents at whomever’s house the girls are at for Christmas morning, and then depositing them at the other home after lunchtime.  Last year, Bryce’s then-girlfriend joined us, which might have been awkward, but honestly wasn’t.  This year, however, neither of us had partners there.

Our Christmas morning routine has raised more than a few eyebrows among our mutual and individual friends, but we have agreed that as long as Bryn believes in Santa Claus, we will continue this tradition so that we both get to see the girls experience Christmas morning.  Those years are certainly numbered now; in fact, I suspect we just celebrated our last Christmas morning together, as I think Bryn has begun to piece together the truth about Santa.   But if this was to be the last Christmas for our original nuclear family, plus grandmothers, to celebrate together, then I shall be at peace with it, as I think we’ve achieved our mutual goal of creating mostly conflict-free holidays for our young children.

This year, Christmas morning was over at Bryce’s house.  My mom and I attended the traditional, adrenaline-filled present frenzy and returned home to the peace and quiet of a cup of tea, the sofa, and a Christmas movie on tv.  Bryce dropped the girls and their foyer-bursting haul off at the usual time.  We had a laugh about our daughters and all their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and then, as he was leaving, it happened.

We hugged.

It wasn’t a romantic hug or a long hug or a tender hug, but it was the first time we’ve touched each other that way since I announced that I was leaving almost 4 years ago.

A simple gesture, that was profound in its simplicity.

After he left, I stood in my foyer and briefly contemplated the long road that had brought us to that hug.  Yes, the hug was spontaneous, but we are long past the slips that used to happen right after our separation — the moments when one of us off-handedly used a nickname or started to utter a habitual “Love you” before hanging up the phone.  No, this was a moment of ease mixed with intent.  It was the culmination of so many small, difficult sacrifices, compromises, and acquiesces over the past few years as we sought to forge some kind of relationship that we can both live with in the future.  One that will allow us to co-parent our children — and, hopefully, grandchildren — while still accommodating our changed circumstances.

There are a lot of books about how to have a great relationship with your former spouse.  I have read none of them.  I have tried my best to stick to one goal for my relationship with Bryce — that I might, one day, truly call him a friend.  I have not been in a hurry to reach this destination.  Nor have I taken any time to define what that friendship might look like.  No, I have simply known, since the time I realized that I had to end my marriage, that Bryce and I would have been very successful friends if we had only stopped at that crossroad all those years ago.  I would not go back and alter our past, but I felt that if we had to pick a future that did not include a lovestory for us, well then, I picked friendship.

True, it isn’t a  friendship of any ordinary definition.  There will always be things about him that make me glad he is not my husband any more, just as I am sure there are moments he is deeply grateful to be rid of me as a wife.  He is a guarded, private man, and I am no longer a confidant, which I fully accept and respect, but there are also parts of his life that I understand better than anyone, and I have noticed that he still appreciates that perspective on occasion.   There are mutual hurts between us that will probably never be healed, and disappointments that can’t be overcome, and those will likely create boundaries that friendships not borne of the ashes of a marriage do not have.  But that’s okay.

There is so much on the internet and on blogs and in books about how awful divorce is and how much anger and hatred and dysfunction it visits on everyone touched by it, that I feel consistently compelled to share with you the small ways that Bryce and I are charting a different course.  I absolutely do not mean to glamorize divorce — the pain of severing a family is one I sincerely wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy — but I also do not think that it needs to become the action that forever ruins everyone involved.  There are other choices, other paths, and other ways of being divorced.  And I personally wish that each couple had the freedom and motivation to make a pattern all their own, that works best for them and their family, to move forward through the pain and regret and disappointment.

I am enormously grateful to Bryce for staying committed to this course with me and creating a present for our daughters of which they can be proud.   As more of their friends’ parents divorce, our girls are slowly realizing that our relationship is more of an exception than a rule, and I talk with them plainly about how hard it has been at times for their dad and I to keep communicating and working on this new kind of relationship.  I want them to understand that none of us can take this for granted.

Divorce is such a strange, strange journey.  I have learned so many things that I never knew I didn’t know.  I have come to want things I never imagined wanting.  And my life resembles nothing I had ever planned or hoped for.  And yet, that is all okay, too.

Maybe it’s crazy to want to be friends with my ex-husband.  Maybe it’s ridiculous to even hope for it.  But one thing that divorce has taught me is that all the things I felt so certain about for the first half of my life didn’t hold up as I expected them to.  So now I’m exploring the stuff that’s “impossible.” And if someday, somehow, we defy the odds and I am able to call Bryce a friend first and my ex-husband second, I will simply be grateful and accepting of what we were able to create.

Who knows?  Four years ago, I’ve have bet all my chips against a hug on Christmas Day….

hugging

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Filed under divorce, healing, relationships

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

give yourself a winter solstice watershed

On a snowy winter day in early 2010, I got an email from my ex-boyfriend Mike, seeking sympathy because his 26-year-old girlfriend told him on his 43rd birthday that she was leaving him and moving to Utah.  Fortunately, I was alone in the office that day, because the news struck me like a sucker punch to the gut and I spent the remainder of the afternoon fighting back tears, mostly unsuccessfully.

It wasn’t that his girlfriend was leaving him (although this was clearly the stunner for him).

It wasn’t that he was seeking sympathy from me, a woman he’d treated so poorly.

It was that he was actually over me.

In hindsight and with the benefit of intelligence unclouded by misplaced love, I can see that of course he had been over for me some time (and that’s assuming that his feelings were ever deep enough to require “getting over”).  He had been in a relationship with her almost from the day ours had ended.  Never mind that the last time I’d heard from him he’d been dismissive and patronizing when speaking of her.  He was with her, not me, and that should have screamed volumes.  But it didn’t.

Sure, I was dating and my contact with Mike was limited to the occasional text or email, usually initiated by me.  Sure, I could articulate all the reasons that he was a Grade A Jerk and why I was far too good for him.  But deep down, I kept waiting for him to be the guy I thought he could be.  I kept waiting for my Hollywood ending — you know the one! — where the guy comes to his senses and rushes to the girl to declare what a fool he’s been and how much he loves her.  Yes, somewhere, in the recesses of my heart, hidden even from my own consciousness, I was still waiting for him.

But that day changed everything.

I can’t adequately describe how I felt that day, watching as his emails kept coming with more details of their relationship and his heartbreak, as stark truth assaulted my eyes.  I felt dizzy and nauseated.  I sincerely wondered if maybe I would faint.  When the postman came into the office with our mail, I discovered I couldn’t speak.

Moving through that pain was some of the worst emotional grieving I’ve ever done.  It sounds so ridiculous to me now — that I expended so much energy on a man so unworthy of it! — but the heart is a crazy organ that doesn’t play by the rules and has no regard for common sense or practicality and no sense of proportion.  Sometimes our grieving is as much about our contextual circumstances as about the tragedy that has struck our heart, and that was the case that snowy and cold day.

The pain of Mike’s revelation opened me up.  It blew me apart in ways that went far beyond my feelings or desires for him.  It was like a catalyst that brought down a little house of cards in my psyche.  Suddenly, I was grieving not only for the loss of my dream relationship with him (indeed that pain was quickly overshadowed), but for the expectations I’d held for myself and my life post-divorce.  I had to accept that I wasn’t going to segue effortlessly from my marriage into the relationship of my dreams.  I wasn’t going to move seamlessly from owning my small business into a professional legal position that could more adequately support me and my children.  None of this was going as I had planned. Then, before I’d rummaged through that psychic junk, another wave of reality hit me — the remaining anger and disappointment and grief I felt over my marriage.  I had thought I was done with that, but here it was, bitter and sour all over again. I felt buried under my own sense of loss and confusion and foolishness.  For weeks I foundered, seeking to right myself and find some sense of equanimity.

And then it came.  And it was beautiful.

Those final tears over Mike were a crucible, forging a whole new perspective for me.  It was a watershed of feelings I’d been holding onto that weren’t serving any useful purpose and were holding me back from moving into my next potential.  In the months that followed, my life changed. Light and laughter were rediscovered in greater quantities.  New possibilities appeared.  My life began to evolve into a life that was more healthy and sustainable.  After Mike’s revelation and the subsequent tears and soul-searching, I emerged better prepared to actually have the life I wanted, rather than some Hollywood-insprired imitation.

Sometimes, the worst pain gives birth to the best new beginnings, because in passing through that suffering, we emerge completely clean and unburdened, having shed it all through the tears and grief.  Indeed, a dear friend of mine likens those moments to childbirth itself — pain so raw and powerful and grinding, that eventually yields to a softness and joy unsurpassed.

I think it is altogether too easy to lose ourselves in the darkness of temporary uncertainty, grief, insecurity, or loss.  It can be so hard to see the sunshine on the horizon of whatever storm we’re navigating.  But on this day, a solstice, a time and season of rebirth and increasing light, I am resolving to work harder next year to not lose myself in the imagined permanence of that darkness.  Whatever dark moments 2013 brings will eventually pass, just as the solstice comes in the dead of winter to begin our long, slow march toward spring.  So, today, join me in giving yourself the gift of hope and peace and light.  Let go of whatever is holding you back and imagine a life without those burdens.  Today is a chance to take one more step — no matter how small! — toward that life.  Is that not a small thing compared to the fact that our 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000-ton planet, spinning through space, will somehow shift on its axis once again?

Think on that one.

Happy Solstice. 🙂

winter solstice

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Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships