Learning to let go.

IT’S BEEN A ROUGH COUPLE OF WEEKS .

My dear doggy, Morris-the-Moose, Morris-the-Chocolate-Moose, my beautiful chocolate dappled dachshund, had been struggling more and more of late. Little seizure-looking neurological events when the sun got in his eyes were increasing, taking the joy out of his walks along the nearby trail. The only food of interest was either people food or doggy treats as he lost interest in his (rather spendy) kibble and canned dog food. He was stumbling more. He was asleep 90ish percent of the time, but increased his awake time exponentially when I was gone as he paced/barked/howled. Adorable little howls they might be, but the poor guy wasn’t happy. The vet and I were trying to find a protocol to ease the separation anxiety that left him unhappily awake when my friend and landlady or her son or other family were in the house but I wasn’t.

I knew it was time. Having a dog that only seems comfortable and content when he’s right next to you is difficult for both the owner and the dog. I’d used essential oils to rub him down, oils that were meant to soothe and calm. He loved the process and looked deliriously happy as he napped afterward. (See photo above)

15 years of companionship, of cuddling with me during my major depression, keeping me company as I learned to deal with the constant pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. 15 years of floppy-eared chocolate joy. 15 years of Morris’s food-driven actions, even once leaping onto the dining table from the back of the couch during a family dinner.

Over the years my emotions and the emotions of others felt too big for me to hold. In the times my depression was improving, I was learning to see them for what they were: something that comes and goes. Approaching this awful time of knowing I needed to say goodbye, to let my Morris go, I had the old familiar fleeting thought–what if I am sad forever? What if I always feel this way?

Emotions as a child were overwhelming, and being in a family where everyone was overwhelmed by their own lives didn’t teach me the truth about my feelings, so all the feelings seemed to stick to me, to absorb into my sponge-like self. Feeling like that at 5 and 6 and 7 and so on made it seem that Sad and Terrified and Alone were forever feelings. The idea of loss was incomprehensible.

Thanks to my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my therapist, I’ve learned some Balance in more recent years, so I could hold Truths about my feelings. That my pain and grief would come and go, ebb and flow, but I would live and come out the other side of the loss. I also knew that my Morris was depending on me to take care of him. The decision couldn’t be All About Me because he needed me to choose on his behalf. Yes, my feelings matter and have weight. Sure, there’s pleasure and sadness in my memories of him. But those emotions couldn’t be trusted to make this momentous choice–the growing grown-up in me had to step up.

So I fed him peanut butter toast, thinking that As He Began So Shall He End, bringing his life full circle from the naughty puppy who jumped up and grabbed the peanut butter toast my daughter Corinne was taking a bite from as she sat on the couch. I fed him chocolate, something he always wanted when I was eating it (so like pretty much every day). May my last meal be peanut butter toast and chocolate, I think I would be satisfied.

Thursday, one week after Thanksgiving, one week after he turned 15, I took him to the emergency vet to say The Big Goodbye. My friend Jeanette accompanied me to offer support and decent Kleenex, since my Big Goodbye to Barnaby-dog earlier this year had brought to light the lousy level of tissues used by the veterinary office as it dissolved and attached in tiny pieces to every nearby surface when used.

Hard doesn’t explain it. I sobbed shamelessly and sloppily, holding my sweet little buddy to me. Soon it was over, the drugs having stopped his heart. No more impending congestive heart failure, no more seizures in the sun. No more chocolate.

So it’s done. Goodbyes were said.

And I know I will be sad, but not forever. In time I will remember him with love and smiles.

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Invisible.

Today I thought I’d revisit a post from earlier in the life of The Lies In Our Bones, Invisible. If you’re feeling Invisible today I hope you know you’re not alone–I’m a recovering Invisible girl myself. 

 

I was standing beside my mother in line at the grocery store. I looked up at the full skirt of her dress.

I bet I could spin in that! Such are the thoughts of a 4 or 5 year old girl. I gazed up at the pretty brunette lady who was my mom, and my heart filled with warmth.

“I love you!” I said with happiness that she was my mommy, this beautiful lady.
No response.

I didn’t tug on her skirt that was waiting for a good spin, I didn’t poke my chubby little finger into her side. I knew better than to be a bother, so I stopped. I gave up being seen.

I knew the tightness in my chest and the ache in my tummy went with the feeling I didn’t have words for yet: Invisible. Unseen. My body was sad, and it was telling me through the sensations of pain and discomfort. And in time I learned to be glad for the times I was Seen, to save them up and hold the time that my sister told me how cute I looked, to absorb the kindness in a teacher’s eyes. I saved them, but in the long run I began to believe that Invisible was better. If I remained unseen by backing away and being quiet, and by trying to keep the peace by not bothering to even see myself and my needs, I didn’t get those troublesome feelings. Rather, I quit looking at them. I became Invisible to myself.

Our bodies are smart. While I was busy being Invisible to myself and realizing that with some people trying to be Visible brought more roaring and more pain, my body was trying to get my attention, to again become Visible. It was yanking on my skirt, poking me repeatedly in the side. And I kept ignoring it.

One day my body said “Enough!” and BOOM. Fibromyalgia. Constant pain and fatigue that could put me in bed, unable to cope with my regular day. BOOM. Terrible sleep became my companion, leaving me feeling like it was always 2 in the morning and I should be asleep. BOOM. Burning in my body, the feel of fire coursing through my extremities, and aching and more aching in my back, my shoulders, my torso. Simply getting out of bed in the morning was a massive act of my will.

I had to pay attention.

My flaws and frailties, my inability to stand up for myself, had landed firmly in my lap in the shape of a physical disability.

What will  I do for myself today? I will listen to my body. I will risk being Visible. I will stand up for myself.

As of today, October 12, 2017, I can add one more thing I’ve learned: what’s the point of spending time with those who don’t want to see me or hear me anyway? The energy of both brain and body is a precious commodity–let’s spend it where we get the most value for currency, in relationships that build us up.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Can you think of places in your life where you feel unheard and unseen? What about ones where you feel built up and encouraged to be the person you want to be? Which should get more time and energy?

Growing Up.

“As a child I was molested by a man who was really hairy,” she told me. Now a middle-aged woman she went on to say of her husband, “I make him shave his body.”

“Oh!” I said, filing this startling fact away in my brain for later perusal.

Today I understand why her actions were unsettling to me: she was still living in that place of early trauma rather than working to heal and move away from it.  Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible neighborhood to buy a house.

I’m happy to be identified in a myriad of ways–as the woman who laughs at her own jokes (I can’t help it, I crack myself up!) As a creative soul. Someone who listens. Someone who keeps growing and learning to be a better human on this planet, the best one I can be this side of heaven. Remember me as someone trying to get her foot out of her mouth. As someone with far too many hobbies, far too many books. Someone who forgets the occasional appointment, and who walked 50 feet away from the four-year-old at Disneyland forgetting for a moment she was there.

I don’t want to be identified by my early trauma, like I remember the woman from the beginning of this post: “Oh the things that poor dear went through, no wonder she makes her husband shave his armpits.”

Being a slow learner, I definitely took my time to begin the healing process from the Triggery Badness of my childhood. But I’m getting there. For me that’s the goal–to move out of that neighborhood. Become a grown-up in all ways. No longer a traumatized seedling, but a well-watered and mature tree. (Perhaps you’ll also think of me as a woman with mad metaphor mixing skilz. With a Z.)

Some of the steps I’ve taken toward that goal (with the help of my favorite Mental Health Provider, my therapist) have been:

  • Looking at the Truth of my experiences
  • Admitting to myself what is true of those years and what were the Lies I told myself to keep the pain of those events at a distance
  • Allowing myself to grieve over what were very real hurts and losses
  • Making a practice of staying aware of my emotions and their messages
  • Learning to pay attention in my life, to be present.

These sound like wonderfully psycho-babbly steps, but what does any of that look like?

As a child I coped by hiding from what terrified me by literally closing myself in my bedroom closet with my books and toys. Sometimes I disappeared by running off to the swings at the park–anything that would silence the loud, mean voices of my parents arguing, the shoving of furniture and too often of each other.

I felt responsible for how I was treated–for being touched inappropriately by my father, for not being as interesting as my older brother and his friends. I turned off my instincts and stopped listening to my emotions and pain because I didn’t like what they were telling me, that life wasn’t so positive. The truth of what I went through? Not nice. Not nurturing. Lie #1, No Mistakes, only Goodness and Getting Along.

As a child my home never felt safe. When was the next explosion or long cold spell coming? I couldn’t know, so fear started making a lot of my decisions. Fear’s kind of safety for me looked a lot like hiding, staying out of harm’s way. Stay Under the Radar and Don’t Have a Differing Opinion joined No Mistakes as firm (but not helpful) beliefs I carried into adulthood. Let me just say here: the coping mechanisms of a five-year-old child do not serve one well in the six and over age bracket.

Disentangling lies like those from how I move about in the world changes things drastically. What? I can go out into the world and be mindful for my own safety? It’s okay if people don’t like me? I can have my own ideas even if someone doesn’t agree?  Staying aware in my life helps keep me safe and lets me wander farther afield, a good thing since this is a big old world.

Coming to terms with the Truth that I cannot be perfect sounds so simple, but those early Lies run deep in us, they etch themselves in our bones. It takes awareness and practice to heal them and learn better, truer ways of thinking and acting. What is my body saying to me? What emotion am I feeling? What is my pain saying?

Grief is probably nobody’s idea of a good time. But without grief there’s no closure. One thing I had to recognize as true was that I would never have the kind of mother I yearned for–someone who appreciated me simply for being me, who’d want to call me up to ask how my day had gone and was there anything new with the kids? I felt ripped off and I felt guilty for feeling ripped off. I judged myself as Bad and shoved that pain into a box and into a dark corner of the garage. Unfortunately, that box and the next box and the next box just weighed me down and kept me living in the house of that old trauma neighborhood. Few of us really want to clean out the garage, but sorting through those dog-eared boxes? I felt relief. Acceptance. Moving day was coming!

My hope for what I share of my story is that you’ll be encouraged to see that even at 63 I’m learning, growing, changing. And any of us can if we want to–we can trade those old, unhelpful Lies for Truth. We may have to sort through some boxes of junk to get there, but we can. We can accept what’s true about the garbage we’ve been storing, and then we can send those boxes to the dump.

My mind is so much more at rest these days. Next week I’ll share one of the tools that has helped me learn to let go of some of what was never mine to store in the first place.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What ways did you learn to cope with difficulties when you were young that don’t serve you so well anymore? Did you develop certain beliefs about people or life that don’t make much sense for you now if you’re honest about it?

 

 

 

 

 

Standing up in the ocean.

 

WHAT do you suppose happens when on a hot day in Roatan you struggle to manage the ocean, to change its properties, to avoid yielding to the water’s warm, salty invitation to relax in its arms, to be the only one on this earth allowed to remain upright and still snorkel? It says, Oh no, honey, that’s not how it works! Just accept my invitation…give in, loosen up, enjoy.

Sure, I may have perjured myself when I checked YES next to Can Swim on the entry form to the beach in Honduras. I mean, academically speaking I do know HOW to swim. I know where the arms go, what the feet should be doing, and that bit where you turn your head from side to side and remember to breathe only during the above-water segment. But when I’m actually IN water?? All sense of calm and, well, sense take a hike and I start trying to manage the ocean.

I believe my feeling about oceans and lakes and the deep end of a swimming pool is what people like to call a Phobia. As if my fear is irrational! There IS something just waiting to SUCK-ME-TO-THE-BOTTOM-FOREVER-YOU-KNOW-I’M-RIGHT-GAAAAAHHHHH!

Okay. Perhaps a tad irrational.

I’m a struggler. I’m a long time try-er. I have believed that if I flex and tense my muscles and muster enough of my own effort I can manage anything–even change the minds and individual properties of people or situations. Shove myself into being Healed and Triumphant Over the Troubles of My Life on my terms and in my time. All simply by my own striving.

Finally at 63 I’m learning to relax, to give in bit by bit to this process called Life. To tell the Lie that says I have enough power to manage the ocean that it has permission to take a long walk off a short dock. I’m learning to let go of the belief that I alone will be allowed to stand in the depths of the ocean and keep my head above water.

Fortunately I had a kind and loving friend with me at that gorgeous beach. She understands the whole relaxing-into-the-arms-of-the ocean thing, and yet she also understands my overwhelming-desire-to-remain-upright in the water. She helped me understand my snorkel gear, guided me to find the calm breathing I know but couldn’t locate. She helped me relax and float and breathe and see fish and sea creatures–but in water close enough to the shore that I could stand when I needed to. She let me hold her hand, for crying out loud, and never once mocked me for my fears. (Thank you, Susy!)

She helped me access the abilities that lay dormant within me to settle into the water and accept its invitation to rest in its salty arms while still breathing air. It was amazing! And a huge step forward in conquering my fear, demonstrated by my daughter Cori’s response to my telling her what I’d done with the exclamation of “You SNORKELED? In WATER??”

My experience was much the same as Life altogether: learning to accept, learning to move forward, relaxing my own stubborn will. Step by step I’m learning to give in to the reality of things–to know I can’t change the ocean, to see the sea for what it is. I couldn’t enjoy Roatan’s clear waters and schools of fish dashing about until I made peace with the actual character of the water. Once I did that I could embrace the truth that the beauty beneath was revealed only when I stopped striving to remain vertical.

The bring your own beverage conversation: Is there some belief you’ve held onto that’s kept you from moving forward in your life? One of mine has been that I have enough power to change people and situations I have no actual control over. Do you like me try to manage oceans? If not, what’s one of yours?  What truth do you need to start seeing and accepting in order to unstick? Think of friends or family who are willing to help you take baby steps into positive change, and if you don’t have some, GET SOME!

AND BE KIND TO YOURSELF THIS WEEK.

#lessstrivingmoreacceptance

 

Unseen and Unheard

LATELY I’ve been on, let’s just call it an Unintentional Hiatus.

I’ve been plagued by a couple of things: Fibromyalgia has not been my friend the past few months, and the Lie that loves me the most has been in residence–even though unwelcome.

To address the first one, I’ve been in what is called a relapse of my Fibro for several months now. When your Flare decides to overstay its welcome its name becomes Relapse. The pain and fatigue have been hanging all over my body and brain, rendering me both whiney AND bitchy. If I could take a vacation from myself I would.

And now, the second, the Boogeyman, the Lie That Loved Me, Casino Lie-ale, Live and Let Lie…. I wanted to make this blog as a safe place for others who deal with their own Lies. To maybe feel they aren’t alone and realize we all struggle. But my most deeply etched Lie, that my voice doesn’t matter, has been a pretty constant companion lately, rendering me mute.

When I was a child I felt it was better NOT to have a voice, NOT to draw attention. Because, say the wrong thing and dire consequences would follow. I watched this over and over with my parents and older siblings, and with some serious mother vs father action. Better I should play in my room, go to the park, or hide in my closet. Unseen and Unheard was safest.

In my post-childhood years I have done a lot of shoot-myself-in-the-foot things like dumb myself down to let other people feel smarter, let other people tell me how I should think, believe that everybody else’s voice was more important than mine, that my voice/my thoughts/my beliefs were inconsequential.

And yet, I have loved to express myself in writing since I was small. I’ve known that the God who created me gave me my own particular voice, often sappy, often snarky, and a unique view of the life I’ve lived. How can I know that Truth, and yet believe the ever-present like-flies-at-a-picnic, like-dirt-on-my-car, like-failed-deodorant Lie that WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY BE THINKING THAT I HAVE ANYTHING WORTH SAYING??!?

Whew.

I think what I’ve just described is what’s referred to as Cognitive Dissonance. By definition, that means the mental stress and discomfort experienced by someone who has two completely opposing beliefs. I believe I have something worth saying, yet I believe just as strongly that I have nothing worth saying. Well no WONDER I’m tired!

And this is the power of the Lies In Our Bones.

So even if I end up only talking to myself I need to keep writing. To defy that Lie. To put myself out there though flawed and tired and possibly repetitive and maybe even boring some days. To put myself out there when I feel ugly and stupid and needy and simultaneously whiney and bitchy. I mean, don’t we all feel something of the sort sometimes?

Yes–even though I know God loves me without condition (even some of my friends and family do, more’s the wonder) my bones are still in the process of healing from the deeply carved Lies of past early experience. I’m a struggler. If you’re a struggler too, please join me.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE.

The good about giving up. 

I want to be one of those patient and dedicated slow-pour coffee types, I really do.

I admire anyone who can take  precious extra minutes waiting for their fine, fresh brew. I even bought one of those tiny one cup pour-over cone shaped thingies since I drink alone in the mornings. And I tried, I did. I attempted a bleary-eyed dribbling of the hot water kettle into the cone of grounds–for about 5 seconds before I said “oh poop” and poured enough water to fill the cone and drip into my large mug. Morning is not my friend, and Slow applies to me in the hours before 10 a.m. but it dare not apply to my coffee. (And I use a paper filter to make it easy to clean up! Sacrilege, right?)

My friend Susy (author of the marvelous blog Animalia) and I laughed over this the other day. Her son is one of those who is gifted in Slow-Pouredness. I on the other hand know exactly how many times I can fill the paper cone of grounds with fast-pour kettle water for each mug I own. Oddly, I am okay with this. I accept there are many things that I will never be gifted in.

I will never be: naturally thin, naturally tidy, naturally energetic. I will never naturally feel my age. BUT I will always: laugh–often at embarrassingly inappropriate times–and believe the best in others, and love my family and friends ferociously.

The Lies in my bones have often told me I should Fail In Nothing. The Lies in my bones have said that who I am will Never be Enough. Oddly and unexpectedly, I am slowly learning that I quite like the imperfect and complicated person I am. That I can choose to grow or choose to be stagnant (by the way, I choose Grow. It’s more interesting.)

So what if I’m never thin? What if I can never be a successful slow-pourer, or even be desirous of becoming one? We all have our strengths and weaknesses, the things we feel passionate about and the things that we strive to succeed at that don’t really matter.

Today I will: celebrate what makes me unique–my passion for words, love of laughter, and ferocious love of those God has brought into my life for good and growth. I will celebrate the crazy and colorful (and possibly untidy) collage of books and dishes and art that surrounds me in my space and makes me smile.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What success are you striving for that honestly doesn’t make that big a difference in your life and you could quit wasting that time? What will you celebrate about yourself today/this week/this month that the world may look at as Less Than? What might happen if you saw your reflection and smiled instead of judged?

Till next time!

Sisters

January 18th, Cary Grant’s birthday. Also my sister’s birthday, and I’m much more sad about her not being around to celebrate. 

She didn’t make movies, she didn’t have a cute accent. She didn’t feel the need to marry several times in search of happiness, my brother-in-law adored her. 

The best bit though, accent or no accent, was that she was my big sister. She protected me in my childhood as best she could from the craziness we grew up in. She gave me compliments in a household better known for tearing us down. And maybe it’s silly, but I can still remember the time I had my hair on the enormous juice-can size rollers we used back then and she said “You even look pretty in those! You could be a model or in a commercial!” My heart glowed with her words, and that feeling comes back whenever I remember. 

She was the biggest recipient of the craziness in that house, physical, emotional, sexual. I’m thankful our parents were apathetic by the time I came along–mostly I only had to deal with utter emotional neglect. 

I know only part of the lies my childhood etched into my bones, and I can only imagine what lies were etched into my sister’s. But throughout her life she loved me and supported me and laughed with me as we pulled the ridiculous from our lives, humor making many aspects of the darkness and divisiveness of our family more bearable. We accepted the differences in our outlooks and beliefs because being two girls who survived those early years and still loved each other was more important. 

To my big sister Patti, gone now for nearly 5 years, Cary may have made my heart flutter, but your love and laughter and kindnesses to me FILLED my heart. Thank you for that. I miss you every day. 

Conversations

I was sitting across from my mother at her kitchen table.

“B-but Mom,” I said quietly and quizzically, “you know what it was like to live there, we’ve talked about this…” I faded off.

We were talking about when my sister, brother and I were growing up in Portland and she was still married to our father. It seemed that again her version of the facts of that life had been altered in her mind.

“Mom, remember when we talked about how dad had touched me in a way he shouldn’t have? You know that. You know how much you guys fought? How crazy it was there?”

Somehow she could tell bitter stories of how awful our father’s behavior had been if it showed how badly she had been treated, but when it reflected badly on her as a mother who hadn’t protected us? Suddenly her words became wounded and sad and she would say “how could you say those things?”

Our dad had done much more to my sister from a young age, things my sister had tried to tell our mom for years. As an adult my sister confronted our mother about not protecting her, and suddenly Mom acted like it was all news to her.

I don’t bring this up to vilify my parents, though they surely could have made many better choices. I’m bringing it up for two reasons: the effect on relationship when we tell ourselves Lies about the facts staring us in the face, and the effect on a child’s psyche when they aren’t believed or protected.

What happened to any potential my sister and I had to have a healthy relationship with our mother who couldn’t face the truth of the facts of our childhood? Needing those Lies to uphold her view of herself as a parent meant there could never be any “Mistakes were made and I’m sorry for the pain you dealt with” conversations. Any opportunity for repairing the relationship was cut off before it could start.

As the mother of 4 grown children I’ve become more aware of how imperfectly I parented, how many needs I missed, how many times I was too wrapped up in my own misery to see that of my children. It happens. It’s the human factor. But being unwilling to admit it will only get in the way of relationship–we need to be willing to say “I didn’t realize” and “I’m sorry,” to keep dealings with each other clean.

And when a child isn’t heard, believed, or protected, apparently we can grow up to believe there is no safety in the world, and that we don’t have value, because if we did, wouldn’t we have been worth protecting? The great thing–it’s never too late to learn what are Lies and replace them with Truth.

What will I do for myself this week? I think I’ll remind myself as often as needed (plentiful still at 63) that there’s nobody else just like me, and simply because I’m on the planet I have worth.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: For starters, my beverages of the day have been hot tea and hot chocolate. Sense the theme? I’M COLD! At this time of year with Christmas and New Year’s and the matching set of Samsonite luggage most of us generally bring into the season, what are you struggling with? What message of truth and kindness can you shower on yourself?

 

Acceptance and the gift of THERE-ness

I leaned over the hospital bed and whispered “Please be okay–I’m running out of fathers” and kissed my father-in-law on the forehead. He was going in for a biopsy of a spot on his lung, and I was afraid.

My own father had died, my step-father had died, but in all honesty my father-in-law would be the hardest personal loss. He had always loved me and accepted me, right from the beginning of my relationship with his son. I could feel his appreciation of me shine out of his pores, and it was an amazing feeling.

When I had a miscarriage he sat with me after I got home from the emergency room. Just sat. Stayed in the same space with me as I cried quiet tears he pretended not to notice. But I could feel his love. I don’t know how to explain it, but his there-ness spoke loudly to my aching heart.

Mostly in my life I’d had people who were too busy with their own problems to just be with me, too critical to see the person I thought I was, and I had believed those people’s lack of there-ness was somehow my own fault. If only I were more this, less that, thinner, then I’d be lovable. THEN I’d be deserving of someone’s time and attention. But here he was, this father-in-law of mine, not making my pain about him, not judging my reactions, not telling me how to be over it, not doing anything but making me feel loved and Visible by the sweet gift of his presence.

He’s been gone for years now, nearly 2 decades, but I can still feel that love-without-condition for me and see the warmth in his face and the twinkle in his eye when I think of him.

I’m still struggling to get to that same place with myself, where I can remember and acknowledge the person I am–the one with flaws and frailties and a good heart–without letting the harshness of others bring me down. But I know how important an honest assessment of myself is since it’s the receptacle of balance.

Today I feel like I need to turn this post around from its usual position of “what will I do for myself.” Today, especially after the venom of this year’s presidential election, I want us to look at it this way:

What will I do for the people in my life today?  Today and every day, I will extend the there-ness I crave to anyone who is hurting. I will choose to live by the passions of my own heart and mind to accept and love people of all sizes/shapes/ethnicities/lifestyles/beliefs. The same God who made me made them.

The BringYourOwnBeverage Conversation: Have you craved the accepting presence of someone? Who gave you that gift of themselves? Who can you give it to today?