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?

 

 

 

 

 

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Trains, pains (but no automobiles)

“Does it hurt there?” my doctor asked as she pressed on the inside of my knee.

“HOly!” I said.

She pressed on my outer knee. “Barely,” I said. She pressed on my inner knee again. “HOly!” I exclaimed, clenching my teeth.

Just as I had been congratulating myself on making it to 63 without the knee problems several friends had already faced a decade ago, I had started having problems. So not cool. 

Diagnosing by poking to find where I have pain is complicated by my fibromyalgia, since it carries some extremely tender points of its own–namely the place on my inner knee the doctor kept pressing. But given the totality of the symptoms involving my kneecaps and the fact they hurt most when using stairs, she thought I likely had “runner’s knee.”

GUFFAW!

One thing I often tell my dog on walks is “Mama don’t run.” He really wants to, even at 14 1/2. Even in my much smaller college days I hated jogging, which I guess is what you call slow running. There was too much jiggle and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and jog simultaneously. It was an annoying gym class. I was not a fan. And now decades later, my opinion hadn’t changed for the better. Running was for those blessed with long and lanky genes and definitely not for short, heavier me…and so went my train of thought–derailing somewhere about the point the train hits the crossing called Everything Is My Fault Because Somehow I’ve Done It Wrong.

Lies derail me. Instead of “okay, what can I do now?” I get hung up in the spider-webbed space of all the words I use to judge myself. Every direction I look I see a negative message and I wind myself more firmly into the web. I get stuck.

I somehow believe I should be able to be Faultless.

I somehow believe I Should Have Known how to avoid whatever problem I’m facing at the moment.

The Truth is, I’ve made each choice, each decision, based on what I knew/didn’t know/payed attention to/didn’t pay attention to IN THAT MOMENT. Given the experiences and circumstances leading up to then I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I would have made the same good/bad/shoot myself in the foot choices, because I was exactly who I was at that time. All the coulda-shoulda-if only thoughts tightly packed into that derailed train simply weigh my thoughts down and waste my energy.

Current example: rather than telling myself I Could Have Avoided having (not really a) Runner’s Knee by listing fifteen things I Should have done differently in the previous 62 years, instead I take a deep breath and do the exercises given me by the physical therapist. Recognizing the muscle fatigue of fibromyalgia may mean I can’t complete all the sets. I think my new math equation looks something like this:

available energy (minus) wasted self-flagellation energy (equals) higher quality energy to discern how I can best move forward. 

Okay, I know it’s silly math, but it’s math I can understand, math I at least know how to use. By lightening the energy load on my train of thought by dumping the thought patterns that overload and derail, I’m left with better, clearer energy to stay on the track of learning and moving ahead.

The Bring Your Own Beverage conversation: Final math equation of this post– Available energy minus (what thinking do you need to unload?) equals higher quality energy to move forward. Solve for (what thinking do you need to unload?)

Class dismissed. Now go be kind to yourself.

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!

The F Word: Frailty

 

I’m just coming through another one of the times that tries my soul: a Fibromyalgia flare. If you’re not familiar with Fibromyalgia, it’s a chronic pain and fatigue condition allegedly caused by an overactive/oversensitive Central Nervous System. It can be managed to some extent on a daily basis, but the owner of the aforementioned Frailty doesn’t know from day to day whether it will be a good day or a bad day, a normal pain and fatigue day or an F word day (er, of course I meant Frailty there…..)

A few weeks ago I hit the perfect storm for a flare–the decision to have my 14 1/2 year old dog euthanized, the 5th anniversary of my sister’s death, among other things. Even weather changes seem to contribute. A bad day turned into bad weeks. It seemed like sleeping and trying to ease the extreme pain of this unwelcome flare were the only goals I could work toward. I had no extra brain cells to use.

I hate this scenario, one that I revisit on an unexpected basis, though it feels more like it drops in on me like a surprise guest–“Here I am! Hope you don’t mind if I drop in unexpectedly to stay awhile and change every plan you’ve made for what is as yet an undetermined amount of time!”

It’s brutal.

And how I tend to treat myself during this state of Frailty is brutal too. I tell myself I’m useless. I tell myself it’s my fault, I must not be doing something right or this wouldn’t happen to my brain and body. I get angry. I get sad. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself, and that makes me sad. It’s a real party of one.

This particular flare was so bad that the friend I rent from told me she actually came in to see if I was still breathing. (And here my imagination goes a little TV Fabulous and sees her leaning across my curled body with a tiny makeup mirror to see if I have breath to fog it or is it necessary to call 911, at which point she looks around at the shoes, books, and electronic devices tumbled by my bed that the paramedics would need to navigate and decides it’s better to just close the door and let nature take its course.)

Frailty. It’s a big bad word to me that begins to define my worth and take me to a dark place of Not Good Enough and Worthless and Too Weak. And–dare I say it–UNPRODUCTIVE. (GASP!!)

Once I realize the party is headed for StinkTown, one thing I do is to allow the words of self-flagellation to fly at me but simply glance off. To recognize that while this Frailty may derail me for a time it won’t shut down the railway altogether–I have a temporary Out Of Service sticker on my forehead, but in time it will lose its sticky and the train of my body and brain will begin to run again.

A couple of things I like to do for myself in these times: I’m a fan of visualizing. Whatever makes sense to you will be the best, but for me I actually visualize myself with big pieces of crumpled paper being blown at me like I’m in a storm, and on those papers  are the negative words and phrases written in large, dark print. They hit me but then continue on in the wind past me. They don’t stick. I also love to listen to affirmations. My favorite at the moment is from Belleruth Naparstek, “Healing Trauma.” Her CDs usually have an intro, a guided imagery segment, and then an affirmations segment. The affirmations in her voice are deeply soothing to my mean-spirited brain, and help me treat myself more gently.

IMPORTANT: all this takes practice. When you try to change your thinking be gentle with yourself–it won’t change at once.

The BringYourOwnBeverageConversation: What do you see as your frailties? What frailties cause you to belittle yourself? I saw as I wrote this post just how big of a deal being Nonproductive is for me, and how little grace I give myself when I need it.

Hope to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

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?