I have family in England, so on occasion I escape to what looks like a magical land to this Californian. This minute as I write, I’m sitting at a table in their garden, gazing past stone fences and heaps of lilacs and honeysuckle and beyond to a field. I came at the perfect time of year when spring is making all surfaces outside a thing of beauty.
Beautiful, serene view on my walk. I learned I shouldn’t be leaning on pasture gates….
Life here is not without trouble, of course.
There’s rain and snow and crappy jobs and people not getting along. I’m sure to those who live in the villages of England all this beauty I’m enjoying looks familiar and not so magical. They probably don’t notice the mounds of green I see spilling over walls and houses, they don’t see stone and brick houses and pasture gates as anything besides the usual. For me, it’s new every visit. The flowers and bushes and fields and even the cows speak into my soul.
So please forgive me for greedily soaking up everything around me. I hope sharing it with you has given you a moment of beauty and joy too.
Yesterday was a tough one, wasn’t it? So many feels and some of them were uncomfortable.
You felt angry and sad and like throwing a fit.
You stomped your feet and folded your arms tightly across your chest. You stuck out your lower lip, and said, “It’s not fair!” I get it. I don’t blame you. Why do the things you’re happy with have to change?
I know you love your room here. All your special things surround you–your pictures on the walls and your collections on the shelves. And your books, well, your books are everywhere. You do love your books!
This room has meant a lot to you, hasn’t it? It’s been your safe place after feeling unsafe for so long. You’ve been able to rest and trust the people around you to be kind. Your room means Calm. And Acceptance. And Home. Of course it makes your heart hurt to think about leaving it.
Here’s what I want you to know: when it feels like life and God are being mean, I’m here to hold you. When things are too hard to understand and you feel sad and mad and a thousand other things all at once, I’m here to listen. And on days you think you’ll feel unhappy forever, I’ll be here to help you remember that our feelings come and go, ebb and flow. That life changes but God doesn’t. That He loves you and is paying attention even on the hard days. He’s collecting your tears in a bottle, and that means he sees every single one.
I want you to know that I understand how unsettling it is to have people in your life come and go, and it takes time to get used to. And that doesn’t mean you won’t cry sometimes and wish things were different, but that’s okay.
I want you to know all these gazillion feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with you when you don’t feel happy. There’s nothing wrong with you when you stomp your feet or your tummy hurts or your chest is tight–it’s your body talking to you. It’s telling you something is bigger than usual and it wants you to stop and listen. You wouldn’t ignore your friend if she was talking to you, would you? Your body is your friend, and you need to learn to hear what it’s saying.
I want you to know that hope is on the other side of the hurt.
That my love is always there for you
and my arms are always waiting for you.
You are safe with me,
and together we are home.
That I am with you for our next adventure and every one after that.
Early childhood trauma leaves some of us incapable of handling our emotions in a healthy way, and those feelings can become bigger and more powerful than they need to be. We can learn to be a kind parent to that small child part of us that’s feeling overwhelmed. For me, my fears can take over when the child is in charge, and I can become disconnected. My therapist has had to teach me ways to pay attention to my body, remain present, and define what I’m feeling. I’ve come a long way, but it’s a process, and my petulant inner four-year-old can take over at times…she’s a cutie, but boy does she have a serious attitude! I’m learning how to talk to her and reassure her, and show her she’s not alone. (I do at least try to have these conversations in private….)
Today I’m having a guest post by a Twitter friend, Aaron. He and I have talked a lot about the common themes I write about here on The Lies In Our Bones–early trauma, Triggery Badness, the Lies we tell ourselves based on our early coping mechanisms, among others. Lest I make us sound like two wise and serious souls communing on The Meaning Of Life, we talk about plenty of stupid stuff too and laugh. Oh, and I mock him. Hard. A lot. (Really, I’m a good friend…mostly.)
He’s in a transitional time of life, one I remember so clearly after I left my #MarriageFromHeck 5 years ago. Everything was changing. Suddenly I was trying to shake myself from the lies I’d been telling myself for years…things like “There’s no such thing as safety” “I’m alone” “I’m worthless” and other fun stuff. My therapist kept nudging me toward becoming the keeper of my own safety, being my own friend, and telling myself the truth.
Since I could remember how tender I felt back then, it seemed only appropriate to catch Aaron tweeting about feeling sorry for himself and his situation and encourage him in my nurturing way…by telling him, “Pity Party of One, your tiny table and one wobbly chair is ready!” We ended up dubbing it “the wobbly chair” and pass it back and forth as needed. (If we both need it Aaron has to sit on the floor of Twitter.)
He’s been journaling to process what he’s learning and sharing it with the Twitterverse, and this one hit home for me. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Take it away, Aaron………
Creating a Life of Meaning
Lately I’ve been feeling alone in the world. In my mind it’s as if everyone else has a life but me. I crave connection. I crave being with someone, and I tell myself, “Life is empty and meaningless without having someone special in my life.” But is that true? Is my life meaningless without having a special someone in my life? No!It’s yet another lie I tell myself. Or maybe it’s another lie that Satan tells me. Either way, if I focus on that belief and start incorporating it into my belief system then I’m all but doomed to feel unhappy and depressed. I will undoubtedly also feel very disappointed when/if that special someone does come along because they will not infuse my life with meaning, either. That’s not their job. That’s my job.
Engage in the relationships God has placed in my life.Reach out to family and friends I haven’t talked to in a while. Go visit them. Invite them out to do something. Catch up on the phone and see how they’re doing. Don’t just sit around idle.
So then, how do I go about creating a meaningful life for myself?
Engage in the relationships God has placed in my life.Reach out to family and friends I haven’t talked to in a while. Go visit them. Invite them out to do something. Catch up on the phone and see how they’re doing. Don’t just sit around idle.
Reach out to people who are hurting or struggling or may just need someone to talk to.There are all kinds of people struggling with things in their lives. Some may be vocal about it, like on Twitter, and others may be suffering, and I don’t even know it. Whatever the case, reaching out to them and forgetting about myself for a while can make a world of difference.
Do things for myself. Engage in a new hobby. Attend a new group. Go for a walk. Find a good book to read. Clean up around the house. Do some things I’ve been putting off like going clothes shopping.
That’s pretty straightforward and simple isn’t it? It’s not complicated at all. I just have to stop sitting around on my wobbly chair feeling sorry for myself and take action to create the meaning in my life that I crave. As a bonus, these things will strengthen relationships and provide support for me when I need it. It’s a win-win situation if I put forth the effort.
And back to me, julie!
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Is there anything you’ve been sitting back and waiting for to give you a sense of worth? If so, what has held that place for you? What action could you take to move forward in your life and create your OWN best life?
I’d love it if you’d keep us off the wobbly chair and talk with us, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Remember to be kind with yourself. It’s a process.
Having been full of angsty posts of late, I’ve decided to borrow from my new blogging friend Esther’s post from yesterday and write my own version of the Dolly Mama’s Is IT Worth It?about parenting, then and now.
I had the unique gift of becoming an Insta-Mom when I married my now ex-husband. He had a 6-year-old, and I Knew Nothing about being a mom. She and I played and read together and walked to K-Mart and bought those little kits with the short pieces of yarn and the hook to make wall hangings and rugs. Every night I read Winnie the Pooh stories to her, doing all the voices, long before Disney took over and did the voices wrong. (Don’t get me started.) I tried to soothe her sad heart when she asked why her mama didn’t want her.
I had her sister, the one child who was stubborn enough to hang onto the inside of my uterus and be born of my womb. Stubborn always and funny and insightful, she had her dad figured out by age 3. He was prone to big, loud lecturing when someone displeased him. He would tell the girls that they “needed to go have a talk!” One dinner time he was being grumpy and argumentative, and a certain 3-year-old spoke up to say, “Dad, go talk to yourself!” (Here you may picture me wanting to laugh so badly that I ended up with broccoli up my nose. And you may be exactly right.) Then at 5 this little reader of mine saw a devotional in a Christian Bookstore and said “Look! We should get this for dad–‘The Men’s Emotional Bible!'”
I refuse to tell the stories of her great insights about me.
We started being foster care parents for the county, and our first baby was a bouncy, noisy, full of life little guy who later joined our family permanently. Did I say “bouncy”? I meant CONSTANTLY MOVING. Constantly finding new ways to be creative with the toothpaste when he was to be brushing his teeth. Constantly experimenting with the spatter pattern of blue ink pens on his wall….you get the picture. My neighbor’s first vision of me was seeing me holding this little love of a boy by one arm to take him away from whatever he was seeking to destroy. Only one chance to make a first impression, right? *Sigh*
Then we added our 4th, a teenager we met in the church high school youth group where we volunteered. She came potty-trained and able to dress herself, also fully capable of dressing herself in the same exact droopy navy blue running shorts–day after day after day.
The marriage in which my ex and I gathered our family died, my having stayed long past its expiration date. Things, for lack of a better way to say it, got weird. I was a traumatized mess, having lacked the ability to take care of myself emotionally in the marriage. I became a mother of very little brain. I was barely available to myself let alone my adult children. But adult children still need a mom, and mine had instead this twitchy, fragile being prone to crying.
Some of those children grew a bit distant. Some, being made of snarkier stuff, were able to just shake their heads at my craziness and know it would change in time.
NOW–my oldest, at one point my stepdaughter, still remembers all those nights reading Winnie the Pooh. We joke that we have grown up together. Some school secretaries have commented that they can see the resemblance between us (I wish! She’s beautiful and thin.)
The stubborn child of my womb, she makes me guffaw with her understated snarky comments on life. She still calls ’em like she sees ’em. She and her husband have taught me the wonders of craft beers.
That active, bouncy boy? He’s an active bouncy 30 year old who still gives this mama lovely hugs when we get together, usually for a movie and lunch. He puts up with my need to take selfies in front of the poster advertising whichever movie we’re seeing, and even mugs along with me.
The daughter of the navy running shorts has branched out, a good plan since she lives in England where it can get ridiculously cold, and wears a variety of clothes now. We visit each other and laugh ourselves silly.
Those sad, hard years after I left their dad have passed. They were awful years, crying years. Struggling years. We all were trying to figure out the shapes of our lives after the huge rending apart of what I had hoped would be a forever marriage and childhood home. I’m not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. We figure out how to deal with it, with the identity shift. I was once a wife, now I’m not. Everyone once gathered in one home, now we don’t.
That shifting part sucks. It sucks badly, the in-between, the limbo state.
But in time, with persistence and love, the pieces start finding their new places, the bonds are re-formed in different ways. There’s laughter again, sharing again. Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side.
And now there’s bonus material, because I can share the horror stories of online dating. But that’s for another post….
THE LONGER I LIVE, the more I realize how little I know. I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses.
They have inscriptions like “This is the time you allowed yourself to believe these words about yourself” or “Here lies the remains of your self-respect” or maybe “This is the time you trusted your feelings instead of your brain.” So many, many crosses.
The problem seems to be that I think I have something figured out for 5 minutes and then I move ahead. But OH here’s a bump in the highway with my next big screw-up where I didn’t remember that I am supposed to be in charge of my own safety, my own growth, my own self-care.
It’s tricky, taking care of myself after so many years of capitulating to the beliefs of others. I believed for years the words of my mother, the actions of my mother toward me, that I was A Disappointment, that there had Once Been Hope that I would be Worthy but clearly I Had Failed. I tried and tried and tried to disprove that by my own actions, my own words, to her and everyone else around me. SEE! I am THIS person! The person who loves her children! The person who still tries to have a relationship with a mother who is dismissive and mean to her! SEE! THIS IS ME!
For years I tried to prove in my marriage that I Was Good Enough. That I was loving, kind, nurturing, could put up with being yelled at and belittled by a man with clenched fists and still have a sense of humor. BUT, still I believed, a little more and a little more over time, that he must be right. The one with the loudest voice wins, the one who can roar the longest and the fiercest must be right. Therefore I am wrong.
Surviving this Psychological Warfare shit means I am now supposed to, at age sixty-freaking-five, be in charge of my own safety, my own well-being, my own sense of self. I am to Take Care of Me.
Again, for 5 minutes I think I have it figured out–Engage in Life. Walk in the sunlight, write poems and prose and pointless rhyme. Talk to friends, build friendships. Continue building the relationships with my children. Do the creative projects that feed my soul.
5 freaking minutes.
Then I add another cross to the Country of Bad Decisions. I lose being present in the moment. I forget that I’m still fragile, still healing. Still very stupid and un-self-aware. I beat myself up for making mistakes, for being human. I’m back into my head, and sometimes the inside of my head is a war zone.
Will I ever get “it” right? Will I learn to be more than human? More than full of mistakes?
No. I can’t. As long as I’m on this earth I WILL BE FULL OF MISTAKES.
I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid screwing up. Messing up was a reason to be crucified by people who were supposed to love me and want the best for me, so I learned to fear my mistakes like the devil. And what better way to avoid making mistakes? Do Nothing. Do not engage, do not join, do not risk, do not breathe. All that does is make one light-headed and lonely.
I don’t want to be frozen like I was for so long, but I don’t quite understand how to move forward and risk and still be in charge of my own safety. I don’t know how to remember to keep breathing. I don’t know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world.
Such a painful way to live!
SO–I think my self-care for today looks like this:
I will get down on my knees and look my little girl self in the eyes. I will hold her shoulders gently and say:
“I am here for you. I will always be here for you. I will have your back, no matter what happens.
“It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s how we learn. It’s part of being a human. I love you! I will always always love you with my whole heart, I will always be here when you need someone to hold you, even if it’s early in the morning and you know how much I hate morning.
“You can’t do a single thing to make me love you less.”
Then I will hug her for as long as she needs to be held.
Picture this: I’m 9. I have my dolls in front of me, Margot, the dark haired one in my right hand, Cisette, the blond, in my left. I’m kneeling on the braided rug in the living room, my two dolls having a conversation. I’m deep in my imagination and deciding what they should wear to go to their friend Jill’s party.
My father comes quietly up behind me. I don’t realize he’s kneeling on the floor until he sticks his hands up my blouse and rubs my nipples. His daughter’s nipples. Who’s 9. My shoulders hunch and I turn around and say “No” and move away from him. He gets up, never saying a word, and leaves. I feel sick. I carry this secret in shame until I meet the man I will marry. In all our fervent sharing of our 22 year old histories, I share this. He acts understanding. I feel some relief, and a tiny bit of shame falls off like dead petals from a rose.
Several years later, I’m a young married mom of my husband’s daughter, whom I love more than I thought I could love anyone. I’m a marginal cook, a worse bathroom cleaner, but I’m trying to learn. The husband I once shared my deepest, darkest, most shame-filled secret with sneaks up behind me. He reaches around me, touches my nipples through my t-shirt. I turn, the rush of shame covers me and confuses my brain. He does an “I’m so funny!” face and backs away. “You know I don’t like that!” I say. “Oh, you know I’m just teasing,” he says, and laughs. I feel confused: am I overreacting if he says he’s “just teasing”? Is it okay that my body is now flooding with the shame of that 9 year old girl I once was whose father who was supposed to love her and protect her but has instead invaded her sense of safety? Over the years I shove down the emotions that say “No! It’s not okay!” and try to learn to brush off the sensation that pumps adrenalin fear through me. I am supposed to trust my husband, right? I must misunderstand him, I must be wrong.
Even now as I write this, my shoulders hunch protectively, and I brush my hands across my breasts to wipe away the creepy sensation the memory evokes.
I am now safe. I learned I was in charge of my own safety, and that it’s okay to say “I don’t like that. Don’t do it.” And that if those who are supposed to love you keep doing it time after time no matter what you say, it’s okay to leave that situation. And five years ago I did that. I ran when I was afraid enough of his bullying and intimidation to put my safety into the hands of someone who was finally listening–me.
These wounds remain like third degree burns as long as they’re continually poked at with a stick by someone who is supposed to love you “like Christ loves the church.” Or by any ol’ asshole. I allowed that–I allowed my oozing, bleeding wounds to be stirred so they couldn’t heal. For serious decades. And that was my bad.
I must forgive, you say?
Please feel free to whisper that into the ear of the small child playing dolls in her living room, thinking she’s safe inside her home. Forgive him so he doesn’t take up space in your head, you say? Tell that to the young mom who has to experience the “I am unsafe” fight/flight/freeze adrenalin every time she’s touched again that way–go ahead, whisper that in her ear while she’s learning that even in her marriage her words, her feelings, her thoughts don’t matter. After all, he’s “just teasing.” Please, go ahead, recite a bible verse to her while every cell in her body is terrified as if she’s being chased by a bear. Go ahead.
Forgiveness? I keep that in my head–it will come. I won’t forgive as if it’s okay that either one of those men did that. I will forgive because I need my heart to stop pounding with the memories. I will forgive because it hurts to hold my breath that hard.
I will forgive so those men can no longer hurt me by the memories. But it’s a process. Know that.
I am changed forever in my trust of men, of anyone who claims to love me, because of those two. The adrenalin rushes, my thoughts scramble. How do I trust those words?
I’m working toward a sense of freedom in forgiveness. I’ve been slowly thawing and healing. But the thawing comes with great pain–as your toes burn when warming from being in freezing cold for too long, my heart, my gut, my chest, every part of me feels the burn as I slowly warm. I cry. I cuss. I get angry. I grieve.
I want to forgive, and I will. But I’m not there yet. And just because I know I want to doesn’t mean I can turn a page and Presto! be free.
* Immense thanks to the many people of Twitter who have become a healing place. Who can relate to the pain, to the burn of the thawing. To the cascade of memories as I thaw, to the cascade of realizations, the anger I feel toward myself and others. I want to especially thank Jennifer Michelle Greenberg @JennMGreenberg for a conversation we had today. She gets it. She’s been there, and she’s writing a book about it. She’s a safe place in what is a very scary world for the frightened child in me.
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you a survivor? #MeToo #ChurchToo #IHaventToldAnyoneToo? Give yourself a hug and a break. Tell your story to someone. Start the healing, and then continue it. Are you someone who wants to preach to those in process? Don’t. Ask how they are, let them cry, and listen. Be a safe place. Be part of the healing, not part of the shame.
DECADES BEFORE a Kardashian talked about cankles, I was cursing my mother’s side of the family for them. Some people missed the handing out of a sense of humor, but me, I missed the receipt of that trim bony bit that is supposed to occur between feet and calves.
Recently I heard the term Body-Positive. Having been staunchly Body Negative my entire life, the term intrigued me. I even told my friend’s daughter that she should have a Body-Positive Instagram account because she carries extra weight her doctor thinks she should lose, but this girl seriously rocks her curves. I have no idea what a Body-Positive Instagram account would even look like–pictures of women outside the “norm” (otherwise known as “the body I have always wished I had but not enough to give up ice cream for”) and maybe some cheery little encouraging memes with flowers missing a few petals or a butterfly with a wonky wing….?
I poked around the internet a bit to see what’s being said about the term. I found pretty much what I expected to–websites urging us to see the beauty of who we are and what we look like, challenging women to stop measuring against what social media decides is Right and Perfect. Most women I know have at some point chosen to either suffer to live to those standards or to embrace their own style, their own shape, their own uniqueness.
Because I’m a Jesus follower I like to see what’s being said in that culture as well. This time I was disappointed to see the Body-Positive idea being made out to be idolatry, as if being Yay, I’m Cool With My Body translates to I Love My Body More Than God. May I politely say, “Rubbish”?
While I may have been the last child in Sunday School left sitting with my nose and mouth scrunched trying to find the verse during one of those, what were they called? “Sword Drills”? I do remember that my bible says I’m to love my neighbor as myself. It also says I’m not to judge others. Even with my faulty grasp of math those seem to add up to not judging myself.
Love others like I love myself + Don’t judge others = Don’t Judge Myself.
Sadly this means I will need to find a new hobby, since I excel at self-judgment. (If you need references I can readily supply the numbers of several friends and my therapist.)
What I’m learning as I go is that I Have Imperfections. Not only physical but character-wise. (Please feel free to !!GASP!! in disbelief. Thank you.) The problem isn’t the imperfections themselves as much as it is my unwillingness to accept them, apologize when they’ve hurt someone I care about, and learn to do things differently as a result. I can get stuck for days in the self-blame mire of “I can’t believe I’m such a horrible person!” and waste precious time and energy beating myself up. Better I should say, “Yup, you’re human. How about that,” get up, brush the dirt from my hands, wipe my skinned knees, and look around for anyone I might need to say sorry to that I knocked down in my flailing. Accept. Apologize. Learn. Sounds simple, takes practice.
All that said, if I do decide to make an idol of myself, I WILL have my cankles edited out in the statue version. I appreciate immeasurably the strength of my bones, I accept the shape thereof, but I’m never gonna love my cankles.
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What do you need to learn to accept and appreciate about your own imperfections, in the physical or character trait realms?
I cried over a fountain. Yup, you heard me, a fountain.
It wasn’t just any fountain, it was the fountain in the back garden. My friend Carrie, who so perfectly had a room to rent at the very moment I needed a place to live, is moving. This means I’m moving too. She’s moving to her happy place, the mountains near Mi-Wuk where her parents already live, once her son finishes his senior year of high school June 2019. My future home is still unknown.
The funny bit is that when I found out I’d need a new place to live come summer next year I wasn’t as upset as when I found out the fountain was moving.
Carrie has been selling yard furniture and some indoor furniture in preparation for moving house. She’s downsizing from three bedrooms, a living room and a family room to a studio. Having experienced this a few years back, I know how much work it can be and how much paring down of possessions is required (I still have a storage space with items that will certainly seem new to me by the time I clear it out). So I get it. I understand the need to decide what of the chairs and couches and dressers filling the bigger spaces are extra and won’t fit into our new lives, I do understand.
But not the fountain!
I knew I’d be moving eventually, I knew at some point my living space would mean living elsewhere. I knew nothing stays the same forever, that needs change and lives change and surroundings change…I knew this–in my head.
But not the fountain!
The fountain with its burbling water has been part of this Healing Space over my past three years. The fountain has invited birds on many sunlit mornings to splash and chirp and drink, even the hummingbirds I love. The fountain, on the back patio outside Carrie’s family room, had the green dancing limbs of potted vines and Heavenly Bamboo and assorted other delights from our local Ace Hardware nursery. Carrie and I decided back at the beginning of setting up our two separate garden spaces that she chooses a more Zen vibe while I go for whimsical. Her space leans toward open branches where the summer breezes flow through the leaves of many shapes and shades of green, while mine is chock-full of colorful blossoms and garden fairies and pottery birds and a large cement turtle. Her patio chairs and tables ran to shades of a glorious desert scene in deep rusts and tans and some green, while mine surrounds me in bright tropical hues of turquoise and lime green and orange.
She had the idea to collect pallets to build our own version of a fence to carve out our own areas, pallets that are now covered by vines whose leaves are displaying fall colors as the leaves turn vibrant deep reds and browns. Three years. It’s been three years of building and shaping and turning our back gardens into joyful places of peace in our unique ways. And always the sound of the fountain playing in the background, being heard through windows and the open sliding door during bright and warm days.
Carrie had warned me that the huge, heavy cement fountain and bird bath would be leaving. Thankful that she had told me, I knew I could say goodbye the next morning.
Say goodbye to a fountain, you ask? An inanimate object? A chunk of concrete through which water flows when attached to a power source? Goodbye?
That morning I sat on Carrie’s couch watching the sun dance through leaves around the fountain, light sparkling through the water as it rose from the center. I cried remembering how healing the sounds of that water had been, hearing it in a place where I’d finally come to rest, a year and a half after I’d left a home that no longer felt safe. In that year and a half I had stayed with daughters, with friends, and finally in a shelter situation when I’d run out of places to go. But now, Home. I had a Home–a place to lay my head that was mine, a converted-garage-sized compact Home. Ikea helped furnish it and I filled it in with books upon books. The colors and textures were all of my choosing, the mismatched thrift store chairs that surrounded the Ikea table were mine.
But nothing spoke healing like that fountain. A gift of the calming sound of flowing water that drew God’s beautiful birds to it. So I sat on that last morning and breathed deeply and slowly, a final meditation, thankful for the gift of running water and birdsong.
I couldn’t help but cry when I thought of this soothing gift of nature I’d been blessed to share in–breezes, water, the green of leaves, the vivid colors of blossoms, and the splashing of birds visiting the fountain. Tears come even now as I write about it. What power nature has to soothe our souls and minister to our broken spirits. I’ve slept, I’ve prayed, I’ve read, I’ve dreamed, all to the sounds of birds and the gurgling of water. Cool spring breezes have washed over me, as well as the warm air of summer, out in the back garden. Now the crisper air of fall races through the foliage, but the water and the bathing birds are missing. I’m making peace with that.
The tears that sprang to my eyes as I watched the fountain for the last time reminded me of how deeply it had become a symbol of Rest and Healing. That even the birds had ministered to my bruised soul. That time spent in the back garden had been a living balm, especially when the hummingbirds would come close, the thrumming of their wings near my ears, asking why I was in their space. The sparrows and finches would sit in the branches above me, chirping and chatting before swooping down to their daily bath.
So that morning before the fountain would move on to another person’s back garden to be loved and used by their neighborhood birds, I watched it, I listened to it. I memorized the way the morning sun sparkled in the water. No birds came. Did they already sense the fountain was moving on?
I’m thankful for these past three years. I’ve shared space with people who haven’t judged my dark days. I’ve grown, I’ve learned, I’ve processed old hurts so I could let them go. I pray that the fountain will nurture the new owners half as much as it’s nurtured me. And then I tell myself it’s perfectly fine to shed tears at our parting.
The bring your own beverage conversation: What is one way you’ve judged yourself harshly and unnecessarily? What brings your soul healing? Plan to spend some self-care in the next few days doing whatever it is that speaks calm into you.
I failed spectacularly in the earlier portion of my life.
In marriage. In Adult-ing. In having two boundaries to rub together.
My kids love me (and forgive me) for which I am grateful, so I don’t feel I failed entirely in Mom-ing. They’ve seen me grow and change and get stronger. They’ve seen me become more honest and less fearful.
FAILING has taught me much: after tripping and launching headfirst into a tightly closed door in the dark of night with nobody else around, I can still take care of myself–or at least call 911 so somebody else can come check to make sure I’m not dead. It has taught me that the Clarity following failure often comes at the cost of comfort. That stability should mean more than owning a three bedroom home in the ‘burbs with someone who challenges my emotional health. That when it’s time to go, it’s time to go, no matter what the well-meaning misinformed may say.
I’m in this strange new place with new and different challenges, but these challenges are more of the regular variety of life–where will I live, how involved will I be with what and who…it’s the unfolding of a previously unknown world, one not determined by who I am as a mom or a wife or any other role. It’s determined simply by Who I Am.
I LOVED being a step/foster/adoptive/birth mom, more than I ever thought I would. Heck, with what I saw of my own family growing up, I had no plans of even getting married. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I could do things differently than my parents. That was my intention when I did fall in love and want to get married, to do things differently (and hopefully better) than the home where I grew up. I did manage to put my own spin on it–instead of my mother’s often cold disregard and her demand for obedience at the price of our individual identities, I instituted a total lack of boundaries, and added way more crying. Not a vast improvement.
FAILING HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT GETTING BACK UP…whether from the floor where I’ve fainted after bashing my head or from a whole lot of years of marriage with no fairy tale ending. My response to danger has always been more of a crawl-under-your-desk-and-cover-your-head one. As a child, I’d hide by reading in the closet or by running off to the swings at the park. As an adult, by losing myself in a movie, an art project, a book, or a nap. But now, in this after 60 part of my life and with the help of my Favorite Mental Health Provider (my therapist) I’m learning how to stand back up, stretch out the pain, and pinpoint what I tripped over so I don’t repeat the same Learning Moment. Now when I cry it isn’t because I keep stubbing the same toe on the same chair leg, I cry because being fully aware is often hard, letting go of old habits can be painful.
Big Realizations that are the impetus for change aren’t always the most pleasant, but they can be necessary to keep us moving forward.
I turned 65 on Sunday–sixty freakin’ five! These numbers always surprise me, because surely my 30 year old son was a toddler only yesterday, and I myself but a young thing. I used to think I would know more about life by this time, but all those years of hiding under my desk from the Truth of things kept me from learning. Now I’m catching up, and I’m okay with that.
I stayed down for years, broken by the trauma of my childhood, and by allowing others to keep the trauma alive. How? By not standing up for myself, by thinking that crouching under a desk with my arms over my head was enough protection from a nuclear event. That move wasn’t going to protect us from the fallout of bombs, and it certainly did little for me in my adult years against other kinds of fallout. So as I examine the ineffective maneuvers of my past, I’m learning to mourn those mistakes and failings, give them a decent burial, and keep walking forward. The Walking Forward represents two things to me: Self-compassion, by learning kindness and forgiveness for my mistakes and shortcomings, and the Growth that comes each time I manage to get back up from falling.
When I hid, I couldn’t learn. I couldn’t be kind to myself. I was far too busy fixating on how to stay hidden.
How I’m practicing the change to stand back up: Realizing the ways my early trauma affected my parenting, I’ve felt horrified with myself. Being well-trained in the art of Self-Judgment (I have framed certificates for it) the realization can easily turn into panic, anxiety and depression. So I pause for two minutes or twenty minutes, however long it takes, to close my eyes and breathe slow and deep until I’m calmer. I visualize letting the feelings of sadness/regret/etc. wash over me without sticking. At some point I bring up my new insight with my kids and apologize for what I now know impacted them negatively as children…
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Have there been places in your life where it seemed safer to hide from what was true than to face it? What plan can you make to practice self-compassion and growth around these?
WE ARE MORE THAN WORTH THE KINDNESS WE GIVE TO OTHERS. You’d help a friend get back up, wouldn’t you?
I’ve been writing in my head all morning. Writing essays about my frailties and how my past impacts my present in the way I think, about how I’m trying to change those thoughts. About how easily the old thoughts come.
All because I stepped in a hole.
It wasn’t a large hole, just an ordinary, dog’s-been-digging kind of hole. It was in the grass at the dog park, and not surprisingly I was looking at dogs instead of where my feet were landing. And so into the hole I went with my right foot as it scrunched in several unpleasant directions. And I’m down and staring at dirt. You know, just a typical Day In The Life sort of thing.
Out loud I say “I’m fine!” to the people nearby, and in my head I say you idiot, you’re so clumsy! If you weren’t so fat you wouldn’t be so clumsy and fall so easily!
None of this is true. I’m NOT fine, I’m in pain, and I’d be clumsy at the weight of a four-year-old when I’m inattentive. This has been demonstrated over and over in my life while tripping up stairs, falling down stairs, tripping over curbs, etcetera etcetera etcetera. I see a dog, a baby, a cat in a window, a child laughing, think of a line for a poem, you name it, and I’m distracted by the sheer pleasure of the moment. My feet have not, however, been informed of this distraction, and they continue on their not-so-merry way.
That was yesterday. Today I awoke feeling sorry for myself while simultaneously beating myself up. I felt weepy. I’ve been trying so hard to get out and walk every day, trying to take care of myself in healthy ways. I’d rather administer self-care in the form of ice cream or watching movies, but Every Health Professional Ever says it’s better for me to take a walk.
My old thoughts came to haunt me: You’re just trying to get attention. It’s no big deal. People hurt themselves all the time, and much worse. This is just a silly little injury. Why are you such a whiny baby?
The Lie in this: I’ve let people speak hurtfully to me over the years, worse yet, I kinda believed them. Like about my Fibromyalgia. Or my depression. Or about the fact that it made me sad when they spoke to me with mean words. I’ve allowed myself to believe that I’m just trying to get attention when I speak up about my hurt. I’ve allowed myself to believe that it’s safer to numb out or disappear in some way rather than make a fuss.
The Truth about this: No matter the reason I’m hurt, I need to take care of the wound properly to the best of my ability. There’s no shame in being physically/emotionally/spiritually injured, it’s up to us to see what we can do to improve the situation. Let me repeat that–I need to hear it again myself–there is no shame in being physically, emotionally or spiritually injured. Our job is to get the help we need to heal the wound. Sometimes a hot bath with Epsom Salts does the job. Sometimes we need to let a doctor check it out. Sometimes, depending on the severity of the wound, we may need 17 years (and still counting) of therapy with a Mental Health Professional who has our back. Wounds are all different, but they still boil down to being some part of us with an owie that needs healing.
Today I’m tossing as much of the old nonsense out of my head as possible. It’s only taken me half a day to work through the old crap that comes to visit when I Dare To Have A Need. Half a day is a vast improvement over what previously could have kept me trapped in indecision and self-blame and shame for days and weeks and longer, all while the wound worsened as I ignored it.
SO–in a couple of hours I’m seeing a doctor who has gone to school for years and years in order to understand ligaments and muscles and other such bodily thingies. They will know the best way to treat and heal my throbbing foot and ankle.
Now, who doesn’t love a good Action Point? (I do! I do!) Here are mine from today:
Have your feelings. They’re gonna happen anyway.
Recognize your wound. Pain tells us that something needs attention. Is the wound emotional in nature, or physical, or mental, or spiritual? In other words, don’t see a yoga instructor about a bleeding head wound.
Make a plan for healing. This might only mean planning the first step, since until the injury is assessed you won’t know whether you need an orthopedic boot or 17 years of therapy.
Live the rest of your day in a No-Shame, No-Blame kind of way, realizing that even if other people want you to feel Less-Than because you Dare To Have A Need, this is what Self Care looks like.