Divorce Sucks (& other news)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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 momShe 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.

It was a rough few years.

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. Click To Tweet

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….

Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm--you will come out the other side. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you in a limbo state of some kind, with your kids or your relationships? If so, how can you be kind to yourself in the changing weather of it all?

I’d love to hear what you’ve done for yourself in this sort of situation!

Full Disclosure: I’m a Christian and I haven’t forgiven everyone who’s hurt me.

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

Are you horrified?

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 as long as they're continually poked at with a stick by someone who is supposed to love you. Or by any ol' asshole. Click To Tweet

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.

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. Click To Tweet

New Definitions

When I was a young wife and mom I thought I’d be a proper grown-up when I had extra blankets in the closet like my grandma did. A quilt or two, maybe one of those fuzzy thermal ones, something to casually pull out when my guest needed warming.

My grandma was my model for everything good–she was sweet, and kind, and hugged me, and holidays at her house were the best when I was a kid. The noise, the food, the people scattered across couches and in the kitchen, and setting up platters and bowls of deliciousness on the dining room table. That hubbub was what I saw as the Perfect Holiday.

As my own children grew and had spouses and families of their own, those holidays together at my house or their houses were my drug of choice. All the craziness of making lists, buying ingredients, planning the meal, all that was worth it to get to the point where we were making jokes about my kitchen being only a two-butt kitchen as four bodies tried to fit and reach and stir in the small space. Any frustration was worth the decorated table and laughter and chattering voices asking for gravy.

Watching my kids and then grandkids grow, trying different recipes and always ending up with too many pies, that was my wife/mama/grandma jam.

When I ran away from home and became a divorced person, I hoped the family meals could go on in some way, some semblance of those times before. But the fractures in the family were too big, to the point we all would have needed lobotomies to be in the same room.

Life, eh?

So I find myself in this curious re-defining stage. What does Thanksgiving look like? How about Christmas? Who can be together? Who can’t? Who am I when my house is no longer a hub? When I no longer have a house? Add in moves a state or a country away and it gets more complicated, not less.

My whole life I’ve lost myself in books, stories of other people’s lives. And movies–I love a movie with a happy ending, the broken, dysfunctional family that reunites and manages to find the central love that binds them together after all. There’s always a decent amount of snarky humor and minimum of one curmudgeon. Eventually there’s a food fight or a dance scene, and credits roll on one-big-happy-family.

I wanted that to be my life. I tried to make that my life. Tried to find a way to make the hard stuff, the big disagreements, the unreconcilable pain, into simply a difficult side story with a soundtrack that lets you know things will eventually be okay. Turns out there are some things that can’t be made adorable, no matter who plays them or how they’re written. Sometimes there’s no redemptive meal around the family table.

I’ve felt a bit lost in these years between the then and now. I’ve done a bit of licking my wounds, made a skittish appearance or two at the homes of my children. I’m looking for a rhythm, as I suppose they all are too. What’s the new normal? It keeps shifting.

I could have joined friends for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving as I have these past few years, but instead I asked my son if he’d like to get together to watch movies and eat Chinese food. Why not? I did make a pecan pie since that’s his favorite. He’s bringing his dog, and I’m looking forward to time with her. Plus this son of mine, he always makes me laugh. And he still always hugs me, even at 30.

I’ll arrange times to see everyone around Christmas, as individual families instead of the whole group. I’ll fly to stay with my daughter and son-in-law in Portland, Oregon, where I’ll half hope for and half against a possible snowy Christmas morning. I’ll talk to the rest of the kids and grandkids throughout the day in California and England.

It’s different but it’s the same. The jam looks different, but it’s still about the people. If the only thing I accomplish is giving those I love a picture of being loved and important, then the definition of family won’t be so different, even when it’s a different shape. Hopefully the definition of me will be something like my grandma was for me, the picture of comfort and love.

 

Enjoy your day, whatever you find yourself doing!

Failing

 

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.

Failure has taught me much: that the Clarity following failure often comes at the cost of comfort Click To Tweet

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…

…and then I keep walking forward.

Big Realizations that are the impetus for change aren't always the most pleasant, but they can be necessary to keep us moving forward. Click To Tweet

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?

Comparison kills.

Lately I’ve been binge-watching the TV show My 600 Pound Life.

My entire life, though at the much lower weight of (mumblemumble) has been about weight. How much I’ve gained, how much I’ve lost, who’s happy with it, who’s not, and the massive helpings of guilt surrounding it.

One of the episodes I watched was about two brothers. The younger one, weighing in at 500 pounds, felt he was still okay because he was 200 pounds less than his sibling. At either weight one’s heart can only handle the extra workload so long. Comparison can kill. Literally.

I know I’ve had a sort of weight-blindness in darker periods of my life when using food as a coping mechanism. I felt like I’d wake up one morning with 40 extra (and surprising) pounds. How and when had that happened?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of things: by our human coping mechanisms, by the ways we can lie to ourselves so convincingly in our willingness to be blind to the truth.

I’m my most handy subject of course, since me-myself-and-I spend a lot of time together. I know the strength of the desire to lie to myself, and how easily I can excuse myself from harmful things I do because of what I don’t do. I spent decades using the phrase “At Least” followed by whatever comparison made me feel better about my life. I thought I was simply looking for the best in others or looking for the bright side of my situation. BUT–I wasn’t looking at my situation or the person, I was looking at the comparison.

I was the 500 pound brother.

If I’m happy with the view I see of myself next to my 700 pound brother, nothing changes. But if I look at the view of myself only, I can see whether or not my choices and decisions are having a negative impact on my own life and those I love. I can see if I’ve limited myself by making those choices. In the same way that having weight-blindness eventually limits one’s ability to move about in the world, choosing to have emotional-blindness and not face our own pain can limit us from having fulfilling relationships and working toward our dreams.

My Favorite Mental Health Professional calls it “being awake in my life.” Being aware of my own issues, my own health, my own situation. Comparisons can kill when they’re a distraction from facing what’s True and Real. If I compare I can always find someone who weighs more or weighs less, has less money, more money, has a better relationship or a worse relationship, is more ill or less ill…you get where I’m going, right?

Comparisons can kill. Comparisons can limit. Choosing blindness to the challenging areas of our lives can also kill and limit. I can’t promise a pain-free journey to Awake, but in time you arrive at Freedom.

 

The bring your own beverage conversation: What part of your life do you compare to other people? How does that distract you from the true heart of your struggle? In what areas do you choose to be blind?

 

Daring to have a need, and wilder yet, meeting it!

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:

  1. Have your feelings. They’re gonna happen anyway.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

THE END. 

Talk amongst yourselves.

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.

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?