LIVING LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE


the other side

“The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.”  ― Oprah Winfrey

It’s been nearly two months since I started my cleanse. And, almost exactly one month since it ended. I have been living in this newly-designed life for a bit now and it is finally feeling like my new normal. Remarkably, so much has changed since before the cleanse when I set this unofficial line of demarcation. It turned out to be a truly distinct moment in time when life as I knew it became altered. Without question, I’ve shifted, as I have so many times before, moving along my own personal continuum to achieve some level of personal success and satisfaction. We all make the journey through life, seeking fulfillment and pleasure and, for some, it comes in big bursts and for others, like me, it sneaks up on your subtly without you really noticing it until, suddenly, it is there and you can’t avoid recognizing the alteration. If you’re like me, that feeling is like crack – you want more and more, constantly seeking out personal growth and enlightenment. And, the further along the continuum I travel, the deeper the chasm that exists between my life now and my life before.

Now, I’m living life on the other side. My life feels oddly new and different and yet I know I am just a more improved version of the same person I have always been. My cleanse – both the emotional and the physical – allowed me to distance myself from the elements in my life that were no longer working. Gone are the inconsequential relationships that sucked up my time but provided no meaning to my life. Thankfully, I am no longer a slave to Facebook, constantly seeking some type of validation or creating an artificial sense of belonging. In fact, I have had countless experiences over the past few months where people commented to me about the goings-on of acquaintances on Facebook and I have felt an incredible sense of satisfaction that I was no longer in the know. I am not privy to all the status updates and, while I miss seeing some of the photos and have definitely missed way too many birthdays, my peace of mind is far more important and I feel liberated from the monotony of scrolling through posts in order to reinforce to myself how much better everyone else’s life is than mine. The other day, I was texting with a girlfriend and commented that I am missing so much by not being on Facebook and she generously retorted by saying that I am missing nothing. Those who I need to be talking to, I am – case in point my friend with whom I was having a lovely text exchange. I can count on two (maybe even one) hand the number of people I regularly communicate with in contrast to the dozens and dozens I would banter endlessly with or force myself to create relationships with “offline” and I am certain my interactions have taken on a much higher quality now. That means everything to me.

The most important element of how I am living my life is how I look at myself, overall. I’ve recently had to confront my challenges with being happy and accepting contentment. Being an eternal seeker, I am endlessly looking at the ways in which I can better my life and, while I am not naturally a negative person, I do tend to focus, personally, on my weaknesses as a tool in which to measure my requirements for growth. Sure, I am hard on myself and tend to have perfectionist tendencies, but I wholeheartedly appreciate my process for raising my own performance standards. And, most significantly, I do not impose any of my standards on anyone else. This drive for improvement is absolutely an internal process. As a result of this, there is always a sense of incompleteness to my life. Just as I can reach above the bar, I raise it, quickly forcing a new goal and setting a new standard. I recognize that this limits my ability to bask in my success and appreciate my accomplishments so it is something I am working hard to improve upon – without, of course, forcing myself into yet another competition with myself to make advancements without acknowledging my progress.

Just this past week, I received some great news about some financial matters I was dealing with and the outcome was relieving a huge burden off my shoulders. Something that I had been struggling with for nearly two years was coming to a resolution and I was able to exhale a gigantic sigh of relief. The elation from the news – the exact solution I was hoping for – was short-lived. Within a few days, I felt a nagging sense of anxiety growing within me but I could not place the source. This has become uncharacteristic for me because, since the cleanse, I have been very in touch with my feelings and emotions and have not allowed myself to run away from my feelings. The removal of food as a distraction from my stress or anxiety has been enormously beneficial as I am constantly present and working through whatever is causing me difficulty. In fact, in complete contrast, lately I have had an unusual sense of calm about me and have made my peace with a lot of the aspects of my life about which I am typically uneasy. It took me by surprise to feel this sense of deflation and to experience this overwhelming stress. What quickly came to mind is that I was manufacturing my own duress. Like many times before in my life, I was a filling a void and keeping myself in what felt like a safe and familiar bunker. Something needed to replace the worry that had been ever-present in my life for the past several years. In contrast, peace and solitude are unfamiliar to me so it is not all that surprising that I would create something to help me comfortably stay in the familiar state of discomfort. When the reality sunk in about what was happening, I felt defeated. All the hard work I had put in – not just in the past few months – but in last decade, seemed worthless. My bad behaviors were rearing their ugly heads once more.

Alas, fret not. This story has a positive outcome. I took my struggle to the place where it belongs – therapy. I dissected the hell out of it and woke up to a new dawn. Simply being able to understand what was happening was a dramatic improvement (admitting you have a problem is the first step…). There was no running away or hiding out from what I was feeling or experiencing. Instead, I had confronted, head-on, my own foibles. I recognized, regrettably, how I had simply replaced one ailment for another and was now able to dig deeper.

Wearing our skills is the hardest part of personal development. We can intellectually absorb what needs to be done differently and study the new behaviors required to live more happily, authentically and successfully. However, when it comes time to demonstrate what we have learned, many, like me, struggle. It is like performing the dance for which you have learned all the different elements but have not put them all together at once. Within me, there is a deep belief in how I need to operate in order to achieve my own personal satisfaction. Plus, I have all the information and knowledge required to accomplish my tasks. I simply have never truly taken my desire, married it with my knowledge and put the pieces together to execute. And I kind of understand why – I have been afraid to fail. I have internalized some kind of idea or expectation that once I arrived at my destination, I would be good to go. I’d fire on all cylinders and there would be no looking back. But, as I have heard more clearly over the past few weeks, life is not about arriving at a destination, it is about the journey. There is no pass or fail – it is a series of trial and error and, hopefully, learning from errors to have fewer as time goes on. I get that. I can do that.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu

This is what my life looks on this side:

I am living a healthy lifestyle. My eating is not perfect but it is greatly improved from where it was and I feel really comfortable with my choices. I have a different relationship with food and I have a strong sense of willpower to make the right choices. I have not re-introduced sugar or caffeine into my life and wheat is pretty much on the outs as well. Dairy makes a rare appearance and only in the form of the occasional cheese in a salad or a sprinkle of parmesan on a recipe. Plus eggs. I love eggs. I hardboil them and pop those suckers into my mouth for a quick protein fix after the gym. They make me happy. I have learned to enjoy cooking and have found recipes that reinforce that I can eat delicious food while still avoiding those items that cause me difficulty. I survived Easter and the presence of two growing boys who have a nonstop parade of cookies and ice cream with grace and, remarkably, little difficulty. I open my freezer regularly and see those familiar demons – pints of Talenti gelato – and it causes me no dismay. I will eat dessert again, when I choose to. I get to decide when and what. It does not choose me.

Working out has become a regular way of life for me.  Most weeks I am at the gym 4-5 times, if not more. I simply love it. I have found some great new classes, including spinning, that keep me engaged and enthusiastic, and I also enjoy my hour on the elliptical many mornings during the week. It is my time for me and I treasure it. I have learned how to prioritize myself and ensure that I get what I need to feed my soul in the most important ways. And, of course, the results feel wonderful! While I have not lost as much weight as I had hoped to by this point, I am on a steady path of progress. There is no more doing battle with my closet. Everything fits and I get to choose, happily, what to wear each day. What used to be a shaming session in the morning is now a blissful romp through my wardrobe of old favorites. I am re-establishing my relationship with lots of clothes that were tucked in the back of my closet in order for me to avoid remembering how they “used to look.” I feel like a fit person and, even this morning, as I was pumping through my spin class, I kept checking myself out in the mirror, acknowledging that I still have a long way to go. What’s different is now I have a great sense of acceptance for who I am. The reflection that stares back at me is a beautiful one that I am proud to look at. I accept my mission and will do my best to achieve my goals but, even if I stop exactly where I am, as long as I live my life in such a way that makes me feel satisfied with my efforts, I believe I will be ok.

The past is behind me. This was the important lesson I learned in the last week. I have talked so much about wanting to reframe my picture and cut out the elements that no longer fit. I am finally ready to do this authentically and sincerely. I no longer want to look backwards. The past, for me, simply doesn’t resonate any longer. Sure, it informs who I am today but there is less and less to be learned from that and, more importantly, I need to spend my time focusing on who I want to become. I am taking stock in what I have created and there is great pride to be derived from architecting a life all on my own. The survivor moniker doesn’t fit me but I can’t avoid acknowledging that I have managed to get myself to a place – with an awesome amount of hard work – where I am really strong, really confident and really amazing. I am so proud of who I am today and, without question, I am living the life I am supposed to be living. Everything in my life is within my control. There is no longer anyone who can disrupt me in the way my family and others have done so in the past. So, I can leave all that behind me because it served its purpose and I have drawn the last vials of blood left in that body. Now, I am ready to move forward.

My relationships are wonderful. I have always sought to have a large group of friends to compensate for all that was lacking from my family. There has been an insatiable need within me that, no matter how many friends I had around me, was never satisfied. Of course, no one could fill that whole. I had to learn how to do it myself. Now, I am much more content with just a few close friends, a couple of acquaintances and my wee but mighty family. I really need nothing else. Those with whom I want to spend time, I do. I choose how and when I spend my time and I am extremely selective about those with whom I give a part of myself. Partly this is because I don’t have a lot of time or emotion to spare and also because I think it is a gift to give of one’s self. We should all be very discerning about who we let into our lives and how we share pieces of ourselves. I have the most amazing circle of trusted companions, led off by MVP, my best friend. Our relationship has flourished in this new era and I am grateful for all the time and effort he has put in to help chaperone me on this path. Without question, my family is my rock – my husband and kids continually giving me a sense of peace and provide a home base for me. They have shown me that family can be a wonderful thing and I work hard every day to be a better partner and be the best mother I can be to my children, allowing them to realize their potential and their dreams in a loving and nurturing environment.

I am happy. I don’t necessarily feel it every day and I get moody and frustrated but, at the end of it all, I am happy with where I am and what I have accomplished. I am putting out a better version of me into the world and that is undeniably the best feeling ever.

So, now I am signing off for a while. This blog has served me well for many years. It has helped me traverse the jungles of my mind and the valleys of darkness that have scared and challenged me. The purpose was originally to position myself professionally and, as the wind blew me off course, I found a whole new destination of finding myself personally. I am grateful to everyone who has read this and shared their feedback, rooted me on and offered such meaningful and valuable words of encouragement. It is time for a new chapter and I will certainly start anew with a new blog to reflect my life today rather than to focus on yesterday. I am happily walking through this door.

DAY SIXTEEN


take chances

I cannot believe how close to the end I am.  Just six more days and my new journey begins. Usually when I am doing an extreme program like this, by this point, I am counting down the minutes until the end. With this one, I am coasting to the finish line, not really looking forward to it being over. The restrictions offer me clear boundaries with far fewer decisions to make. The real challenge for me will come when the guardrails come down and I have to make difficult choices. I have gotten really comfortable with this lifestyle as it is and, while I’m cautiously optimistic that I have the strength and willpower to stay the course, I cannot say that I am not a bit nervous about life after the cleanse. But, it’s getting closer!

What I consumed:

  • Cleanse Shake with strawberries, bananas and pineapple
  • 5 dates
  • 20 carrots
  • Lentil soup
  • Salmon with mustard, lemon, dill and basil
  • Quinoa
  • Steamed cauliflower
  • 19 gigantic supplement capsules
  • 64 oz water

How I felt:

Last night, to combat my recent bout of sleeplessness, I took two ambien. Worked like a charm and I slept solidly until my son woke me at 6am. I’m continuing to feel great. My knee pain, which has been debilitating, has subsided a bit with the combination of some anti-inflammatory drugs and the ease on my joints that comes from not eating wheat.

Physical Activity:

I did a 5K on the elliptical in about 45 minutes. I am trying to mix it up a bit. I then did a 1000m row on the rowing machine. That was a nice change of pace and worked my shoulders and back in all kinds of wonderful ways. I also did some core work on the mats using a medicine ball. My abs are going to be screaming tomorrow!

I found this great quote today:

“Do not be afraid to color outside the lines. Take risks and do not be afraid to fail. Know that when the world knocks you down, the best revenge is to get up and continue forging ahead. Do not be afraid to be different or to stand up for what’s right. Never quiet your voice to make someone else feel comfortable. No one remembers the person that fits in. It’s the one who stands out that people will not be able to forget.”
― Nancy Arroyo Ruffin, Letters to My Daughter: A Collection of Short Stories and Poems about Love, Pride, and Identity

I love this quote for a lot of reasons. First, it made me think about how many years I desperately tried to blend into the wallpaper, never wanting anyone to see what made me different. Between looking different, having a different type of family and just feeling like an oddball, I wanted anything but to stand out. It also made me think about my children who as a teen and preteen are deep in the struggle of trying to find their own identities while still trying to fit in. For me, I have circled the sun enough times to be comfortable with who I am and I can confidently live out loud. For my kids, it pains me to see how much time and energy is put into wearing the right clothes, going to the right parties, thinking the right thoughts. Even though they are both fairly confident and independent minded, they get sucked up into the group think that is characteristic of middle school.

When I was in middle school, I didn’t have a fraction of the confidence that my children have and, as a result, I hid. Even as an adult, because of my lack of upbringing and lack of sophistication, I gingerly stepped through life, watching what others were doing around me to ensure that I was making the right moves. But, as is said, with age comes wisdom and now I can make my own choices and not care about how others view me. As long as my decisions do not hurt anyone else, I am free to live my life in any way that makes sense for me. And, I love that about myself. I am not afraid to color outside the lines, step out of the boundaries, be different, think different. I am quietly rebellious. I don’t want to look like everyone else and I definitely don’t want to think like everyone else because I believe that my quirkiness is what makes me special and interesting.

But how do you teach that to an 11 year-old or a 14 year-old who are in the throes of peer pressure? When my teenager shared with us his commitment to not smoke or do drugs, I beamed. And I prayed that he could maintain the ability to resist the unending temptation coming his way. My younger son, who regularly proclaims his disdain for the boys who all have to wear the same sneakers, will undoubtedly be dragging us to the store to buy the latest and greatest by the time he hits 7th grade. i’ve come to learn it’s the rite of passage.

I often think about how, after I am gone, people will eulogize me. What will they say to describe me? What will be the one characteristic that will universally recalled? About six years ago, I participated in a workshop where we had to choose two words to describe our personal brand. Back then, the best I could come up with was funny and smart. When I finished the workshop, the words I strived for were courageous and inspiring. It set me on a path of intention. I no longer needed to be seen as the funny girl or the smart one. I wanted my legacy to be someone who took risks and lived life bravely. Even though I struggle to accept it when people call me brave, I recognize that I have fulfilled my objective. I fearlessly navigate my life, knowing that the best rewards come from taking the greatest risks. Maybe it is easier for me because I never had the luxury of getting too comfortable (although we can even find comfort in constantly being uncomfortable) but I’ll give myself more credit. I really am not afraid to raise my hand and step forward and share my truth. I am usually the first to volunteer and the last to concur. I’ll share my secrets and be unforgiving in my relentless for my passions. I don’t need to follow the crowd for I am perfectly comfortable walking all alone. All of this makes me really happy. And really damn proud of myself.

When I look at my kids, I get pretty pumped up too. Sure, they are products of us and embody all the love and nurturing we offer them but they are fierce in their own right. I have never worried about my children being wallflowers. I have never feared that they would get lost in the pack. They have two very distinctive voices and, in the way that suits them, they make themselves heard. I look forward to seeing who they are and how they show up in their lives once they get past the horrible years of adolescence. I am inspired by them as I see them guiding me, never feeling hamstrung or fearful of pushing boundaries. Our job is to continue to teach them how to respectfully stand apart and be the amazing and unforgettable people they are.

DAY FOURTEEN


parenting

Wow!  Two weeks down and just one more to go. If it were not for this blog, I think I would have lost count of the days. I’m experiencing a new normal and am finding it easier and easier to adapt to this lifestyle. That’s not to say that I am not getting tested regularly like today when I was at Target and walking through the food section, wanting to buy nuts and chips and ice cream and all kinds of other tempting goodies. And then when I picked my son up from lunch with his friends and he got into the car with his leftover pizza. And again when we ordered Chinese food for dinner and I happily ate my steamed chicken and vegetables but longingly eyed up the fried rice and egg rolls that sat on the table. But I endured and, at the end of today, I will continue to feel really good about my choices.

What I consumed:

  • Cleanse Shake with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
  • Lentil soup
  • 20 carrots
  • 2 clementines
  • Steamed chicken and vegetables
  • 19 gigantic supplement capsules
  • 64 oz water

How I felt:

I’m having some new sleep challenges. I seem to be dreaming a lot more and am waking up in the middle of the night, startled from sleep. I continue to take Ambien to sleep at night and am wondering if it is time to take a break for a while and see what my natural sleep pattern is. As a result, I am getting a bit more tired during the day and, today, I fell asleep at 5pm after struggling to keep my eyes open. It is not normal for me to take a nap during the day but my sleep pattern is leaving me a bit weary during the day. Otherwise, I feel great. Physically, I feel one million times better than I did just two weeks ago. Apparently, the cleanse is having some really positive side effects. I went to get my haircut today and when my hair stylist touched my hair she asked me if I am doing something different. I had been noticing that the texture of my hair was changing from its typical fine and flyaway to a little more dense and textured. It was great to have her reinforce the positive changes I have made with my health!

Physical Activity:

45 minutes on the elliptical. I had a short window of time to get to the gym this morning so I was able to squeeze in an abbreviated workout. I guess something is better than nothing. I feel like I ended the day in the plus column.

If I had to pick a theme for today, it would be parenthood. Certainly one of the defining aspects of my life is my role as a mother. Some days I get caught up in all the drama around my own angst and the stresses of work that I forget about my role as a parent. Even though I am parenting every day, I am not always as present and intentional as I would like. I definitely get distracted. Then I have days like today where my skills are put to the test. I have been the parent of a teenager for two years now and I can attest to the fact that this is the hardest job I have ever had and probably ever will have. Managing the delicate balancing act of trying to allow my son to gain his freedom and making sure he is safe and healthy is tremendously difficult and often quite scary.

I love being a parent and am grateful for the opportunity to raise two sons. I learned very quickly what my mother never caught on to, which is that your children have the power to fill you with more happiness and contentment than anything else you could ever experience. There is nothing that parallels the depth of joy that comes from loving your children. As much as I fantasize about the freedom that comes with being childless, there is not a universe in which I would trade being a parent for any other lifestyle. And, at the same time, I recognize that parenthood raises the stakes on everything else in my life. Every challenge I face is exacerbated by the fact that I have children to consider when making decisions. I cannot be impulsive and I always have to factor in the impact of my life choices on my children. My job is to raise happy, well-adjusted and healthy children and nothing can trump that.

Today, after my haircut, my son asked if he could go with me to Target with some of his friends. I agreed, grateful for some face time with him and some exposure to his friends. Despite the fact that we live in the same house and sit down to dinner nearly every night together, I don’t get to spend a great deal of time with my son. When he is home, he is either in the basement playing xbox or, more frequently, in his room with his door closed, skyping with his friends or listening to music. I grab any opportunity I can to spend time with him and observe him. At 14, I recognize that there is a lot going through his maturing mind and it is rare that he divulges his deeper thoughts. Whereas my 11 year-old son will come and sit with me and still share some of his musings,my teenager is locked down and strategically chooses what he shares. I feel fortunate because he is sharing anything with me and I credit me and my husband for our steadfast commitment to forcing an open line of communication.

My son usually only texts me when he needs something and today was no exception. While I was at the hair salon, my phone was constantly buzzing with requests for money, pick up times, additions to his gaggle of pals joining us on our Target excursion. Nowhere to be found was a please or thank you – just a lot of entitlement. Of course, when I needed to communicate with him, I got radio silence in return. As I was circling the block several times while waiting for him and his friends to finish up with their lunch, I wondered if I am too accommodating to my son and if I should be less agreeable to his requests. Here again, it is a fine balance as I don’t want to be the parent who is always saying no but I also don’t want to be the parent who is always saying YES. Setting boundaries with your kids is critical and extremely complicated. My son happens to be a child who always required structure and guardrails to help him navigate through his life so I am particularly sensitive to make sure that I do not give him too much latitude. He gets uncomfortable when he sees his friends behaving badly because their parents are too liberal with the rules. He asserted his need for rules and regulations as a preschooler when he regularly reported the class offenders and was labeled “class cop.” I adore this about my son and, simultaneously, struggle to make sure I am parenting him appropriately. Since I don’t have any kinds of role models when it comes to being a parent, everything needs to be learned. Of course, all parents, no matter how much support or guidance they might receive, have to learn for themselves how to be an effective parent for their own children (no, they do not come with manuals). For me, I lacked a lot of instincts and tend to question myself a lot more than I would prefer. I’m never quite sure if my approach is right but I tend to just go with it and hope for the best outcome.

After chauffeuring my son and his friends and managing to keep an appropriate distance while shopping at Target, I dropped the group at one of the other kids’ homes and left him there for the afternoon. Later, when he returned home and we were eating dinner, I could tell he was frustrated. We poked and prodded a bit and he confessed that he was getting a lot of pressure from his friends to smoke pot but was staying true to his commitment to not do so. I could tell how disheartened he was and, while he was resolute in his decision, he was feeling worn down and turned off by the growing number of friends succumbing. I am no longer shocked when my son talks about his friends smoking pot because it has been going on for a while and I know it’s become very commonplace amongst some middle schoolers and lots of kids in the high school. He has been very candid with us about his feelings around smoking of any kind and, because we have agreed to not intervene with the other kids, he has felt comfortable sharing who the offenders are. And, here again I am tested because I need to maintain my son’s trust so he will continue to share with us but I wonder if I should be sharing what I know with the other children’s parents. My commitment needs to be to my child and I also feel like I have a responsibility to the community of parents.

After the pot discussion, my son shared a video that the older brother of one his friends made. It was a rap video strewn with girls’ naked asses, kids smoking pot, drinking and making vulgar references to women. I am, by no means, a prude and still I was outraged and offended. My husband and I sat at the dinner table after the kids left the kitchen and just stared at each other with our mouths agape. The boy who made the video is a senior in high school and, even though I know they are pretty much adults at that point and that he was creating what might be considered art, I could not wrap my brain around the fact that he and his friends would create something so offensive or that his parents were ok with that. We wondered if their parents even knew about it. And I pondered what I would do if my son had created something so disgusting. In that moment, the reality of what types of influences my children are exposed to completely overwhelmed me. We work so hard to keep our kids safe and instill the right values in them and then they go out into the world and continually run into kids whose parents approach things very differently than we do. And there is nothing we can do about it but keep staying the course.

When I was a teenager I remember my mother saying to me that no matter what you do, you can’t guarantee a positive outcome for your kids. Her comment stuck with me because I perceived it, at the time, as a copout. She was making herself feel better when she saw kids that came from good upbringings become substance abusers because it seemed to minimize the less than stellar results of her own children. She unburdened herself of any guilt she might have felt with the consolation that, even if she had been a better parent, the outcomes might have been the same. I called bullshit on that back then and I call bullshit on it today. There is no question that some kids get derailed no matter how much love, guidance and support you provide. We only have so much control over what happens to our kids. However, I believe that sometimes we cannot deal with what is happening right before our eyes so we have to turn away and then we rationalize and minimize. And, with that, I pray that I am tuned in enough to be able to catch wind of my kids going astray.

Suddenly, all my other distress seems just a bit trite and irrelevant. Another reason why being a parent is so amazing- it is the perfect antidote for self-indulgence.

THICKER THAN BLOOD


Friendship

“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.” ~Edith Wharton

I am the survivor of a very complicated childhood, devoid of the critical elements necessary for healthy maturation. Because of this, I grew up, harboring lots of vacancies within me. I’ve always sought ways to fill the voids, attempting to make myself whole and bridge my gaps. Some of my methods were not ideal and resulted in poor and destructive behavior. Others were far more productive and occurred courtesy of some deep and meaningful friendships that I managed to develop over the years. Despite what I was lacking, I found it easy to attach myself to others, securing anchors along the pathway of my life that prevented me from drifting too far away. Before marriage and children – which finally enabled me the opportunity to build my own family from the ground up and, hopefully, heal some of the painful wounds that lingered – my friends were my salvation from orphancy. Marriage and the birth of my kids were a positive disruption on my journey and created critical and powerful connection points along with a new foundation from which to build. Unfortunately, I slowly learned that even they could not replace the deep chasm that still lingered because of the absence of those early familial relations. So, I continued to seek out relationships that would serve as a patch, masking over the holes and offering opportunities to plant seeds that might grow into deep roots that might ultimately feel like a real family tree.

When I was 42 years old, well into my expedition and still struggling to make sense of the ever-present voids that lay deeply within me, I received a gift. There was no gift wrap or bow and no card to indicate why it was coming my way. It simply showed up on my proverbial doorstep. The gift was my best friend. Only, I had no idea at the time what lay in store for me. I have written previously about My Gay Best Friend, highlighting the distinctiveness of our special relationship. Yet, no matter how deep I dig to try to evoke my most elemental feelings about this friendship, when I write about it, I tend to focus more clinically on the exceptionality of our connection. It is strangely difficult to convey, in the context of my own personal experience, how powerful this relationship is and how humbled I am by its presence in my life. But, today, I am going to try.

I am not a fan of the term “best friend” when referring to our friendship. It seems immature and feels like it trivializes the intensity and complexity of our relationship. I joke, instead, that he is “my brother from another mother” as this more adequately paints the picture. The way I usually process my feelings towards him and the nature of our relationship is more closely akin to that of a family member. Ultimately, there is not a common construct that applies to us, which makes perfect sense because it reinforces the uniqueness and singularity of our attachment.

But, in fact, he is my best friend. He is a friend above all others – the first rung on my friendship ladder. He is at the top of my pyramid. He is the one I trust above all my other comrades. This does not denigrate my other friendships – several of which are quite intimate and trusting – it just highlights how close we actually are. We have a symbiosis that often exists with twins. We can sense when each other is suffering and have an understanding between us on how to support one another. It is implied. It is implicit. It is fundamental. When we are trying to refer to each other and express the magnitude of our relationship, we pull out the “best friend” moniker to be clear of the relevancy in each other’s life. We are able to categorize our relationship (my need, typically) and ensure that it is tended to with intention and given the respect it deserves. Both of us acknowledge, like Edith Wharton suggests, that our relationship is singular and rare and meant to be adored.

In previous writings, I have referred to my relationship with my best friend as a marriage, of sorts. What makes our association so individual yet complex is that we share many of the deep intimacies that marital partners share but they are funneled through a very different lens. We don’t have the traditional burdens of households, bills, and kids. We don’t have to engage in the complexities of romance and sex that, while incredibly meaningful in a union, also create complications that platonic, loving friendships do not have to withstand. On the other hand, we have to balance the intensity of our bond with the other relationships in our lives, particularly husbands and kids. Because there is emotional intimacy, the boundaries become blurred and, admittedly, my friend does a far better job of managing that than me. At different intervals, we have to realign ourselves and readjust expectations. Plus, we live far apart and, while our work offers us many opportunities to spend time together, we are challenged by the geographical gap that prevents us from the typical interactions that friends share over coffee or drinks. We have to work hard to schedule our personal time and, for me, this causes stress and frustration and I have to continually remind myself that there is simply nothing traditional about our friendship. While I love that, at the same time, I am challenged by it over and over again.

My friend and I met five years ago on a cold February day in New York City. I had just joined a small consulting firm, where he was employed. On this day, I was attending an offsite meeting where I would be introduced to the whole team, flown in from all over the country. As the newbie, I felt nervous and intimidated because this was my first foray into consulting and I had a limited understanding of the business. As is often the case for me, I worried that expectations would be high and that I would not stack up.

When I entered the offices where we were meeting, I fortified myself by putting on my best game face and committed myself to winning them over. I knew I had some tools up my sleeve and planned to do whatever it took to be taken seriously. There was a lounge area outside of the conference room where we were set to meet and, while I waited for us to get started, I set my bags down on a stool at one of the high-top tables and sat down. I waited patiently for my boss to arrive so she could introduce me to the others.  Because we were at a client site, I was not able to identify my new colleagues as the lounge was filled with a mixture of people including the client’s employees. I was not prepared to start walking up to people and introducing myself. On the other hand, my future best friend, had a different strategy. While I don’t recall much before he came over to me, I do remember every detail that followed. Everything about our first interaction, through today’s lens, was authentic and represented our individual characteristics. He spotted me and figured I was the new one on the team. And he did what I have seen him do dozens of time since. He made his way over to me and, with a big bright smile, introduced himself and asked if he could sit down and join me.

Sometimes you meet someone, and it’s so clear that the two of you, on some level belong together. As lovers, or as friends, or as family, or as something entirely different. You just work, whether you understand one another or you’re in love or you’re partners in crime. You meet these people throughout your life, out of nowhere, under the strangest circumstances, and they help you feel alive. I don’t know if that makes me believe in coincidence, or fate, or sheer blind luck, but it definitely makes me believe in something. – Unknown

When you know someone as well as I know my friend, it is hard to reflect back on when you were strangers. Nowadays, I cannot imagine the absence of our daily text banter. He is imprinted on me in so many aspects of my life that it would feel unnatural to not know him. Yet, of course, that was not always the case. On the day we met, it was as if I received a gentle tap on the shoulder, encouraging me to pay attention and remember the details of everything that followed. In fact, as I write this, I can still see his smiling face when he sat down and opened up his egg sandwich, all neatly wrapped in wax paper. Clearly in my mind’s eye I can see him dig into the sandwich, wiping the corners of his mouth after each bite. It is tattooed on my brain – like so many important moments we have shared.

We launched into a friendly conversation and used our respective skills to interrogate each other, trying to learn as much as we could in a short period of time. I discovered that he had hoped to relocate to New York from the midwest and I excitedly volunteered to help him out when the time came (he never moved, by the way). I have no idea what he learned about me (and knowing my friend, he probably doesn’t remember either as I maintain the role of documentarian in our friendship). Most importantly, what I recall is how he put me at ease and how grateful I felt. Even our superficial connection helped to start the day off well. My friend has a unique gift of knowing what people need when they need it and this, in my opinion, was no exception. My deep belief is that he was brought to me that day – and I was brought to him. There were so many opportunities for the initial meeting to have not occurred. It was New York, after all.  My train could have been late and I would not have arrived early to the meeting. Or, he could have been held up buying his breakfast and he would have showed up without time to stop and eat in the lounge. And, perhaps, we would have missed that essential opportunity to connect.But it wouldn’t have mattered.  We would have found each other. I am sure of this because my most penetrating recollection of that day – something that remains compelling even now – is me continually searching for his eyes throughout the day and the reassurance and kindness that were returned each time I found them. I still search for those eyes now, in the most intense of situations, and the exact same sentiment comes across when I find them.

My friend will tell you that he did not authentically feel the connection with me that day. It was a bit more artificial for him because he was working and ingratiating himself with a new colleague. Knowing him as well as I do all these years later, I suspect this is true. And, I also would submit that something was activated in him that took longer for him to recognize. I have a profound belief in the power of the universe and the force of inertia over which we have very little control. I adhere to the philosophy that the occurrences in our lives are almost always influenced by the signs we read or choose to ignore. In my life, I struggle to pay attention to the signals but I can mark only a handful of instances where I truly followed my gut because I felt an intense gravitational pull. One was when I met my husband. Another was when I met my best friend. Those are not coincidences.

Despite our upbeat initial meeting and the quick bond that followed, our relationship has endured many challenges. Those vacancy signs within me still light up frequently, causing me to feel needy and creating moments of co-dependency. These disruptions force to me to make adjustments, re-balancing my friend’s role in my life. That symbiosis is a double-edged sword. I sometimes lose perspective and need to step back and administer those boundaries. Sometimes he has to force the boundaries on me. I have to proceed with caution, carefully managing my needs and expectations while continuously searching for ways to plug the holes that still leak out from within me. Co-dependency comes easily for us because our lives have become so intertwined, balancing our friendship and our working relationship and our endless desire to support each other. My friend is so skilled at nurturing me and administering first aid and TLC. Plus, as we are all amalgamations of our childhood experiences, I struggle with abandonment issues that rear their ugly head time and again. Because of our geographical distance, my triggers are sometimes activated when we are apart and I have work to address them with my adult brain rather than my juvenile psyche . I work hard to be respectful of his marriage and his personal life while also maintaining my own relationships at home. I force myself to remember that we are friends and only elements of each other’s tapestries. For both of us, it would be easy to get lost inside of our relationship. Personally, I become intoxicated by the rawness and purity of my feelings when I am with him. Like a child, I dance along the edge, indulging myself and allowing my vulnerability to show. And, while my spouse is my regular confidant and my primary source of support, my friend offers a tenderness that so uniquely matches my imagined sense of what I would have received in my childhood had my family been functional. The absence of that with my own family makes this relationship so enticing and so curative. So, I contemplate it. And when I get really close to the edge, fearful that I will slip off into the abyss of dependency, I run from it, looking for ways to diminish its importance from my life. I am textbook. I act out the drama that unfolded in my early life, trying to destroy any possibility of emotional injury. I create complications and challenges that are acutely tied to the past. But, of course, my wonderful friend is not like the family I grew up with. He is part of my new family and he patiently and adeptly works through this aspect of my life with me. What has resulted from these dynamics is one of the most authentic and mature relationships of my life. You see, with my friend, there really is no place to run, no place to hide. No matter how hard I might try to distance myself in fear that I am getting lost in my neediness, he finds me. He has a remarkable ability to pierce those he cares most about and inserts a tracking device that allows him to be intensely aware of your every move and mood. He feels it. Ordinarily, this would make me feel naked and exposed, crowded and suffocated. But, with him, I love it. I rely upon it. It is not foolproof, of course, and sometimes he misses the signals and fails to deliver. And I fail too. And we fight. And we forgive each other. And we move on. We’re best friends, after all. We’re family.

When you encounter close friends who’ve know each other for a long time, you’ll find many who share a common language and a private code that is imperceptible to outsiders. Friends, like long-married couples, tend to blend together, adopting each other’s characteristics. My friend and I are no exception and I appreciate how much we have been role models for each other. Early on, he introduced an expectation of behavior that I was unaccustomed to. Over time, the clarity of his intentions and his approaches to behavior helped me to shift my own style and expectations. I am spoiled by what we have created and I try to apply our dynamic to other relationships.  I’m only minimally successful because (a) I am trying to replicate something that is really authentically his and (b) the ability to operate in this fashion is so unique and is befitting our relationship because we both show up willing to do the work. I am grateful for the impact my friend has had on me and, when I observe others as they interact with us, I am buoyed. Most recognize the intensity and authenticity of our dynamic. Those who are not threatened by it, succumb to the force and fall right into step alongside us. Others that find it discomforting tend to back away and, there too, I am thankful.

“This is how it works. I love the people in my life, and I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forgot who you are and how much you’re loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn’t any kind of burden for me, because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure.” James Lecesne

I’ve been very open with my friend about the part he plays in my life, how much he means to me and the commitment I have to continually improve and build upon our important relationship. I am thankful that he willingly accepts his role and embraces it wholeheartedly. He doesn’t share my turmoil but he respects and honors it, ceaselessly challenging my reference points and offering a new framework and a new definition of family. He has invited me into his paradigm, helping me open doors that seemed forever locked inside me. And I know that is one of the elements of our friendship that he is most proud of and what makes him smile the most. One of his key purposes in life is to help others tap into their potential and discover components of themselves that seemed otherwise unreachable. And I am so grateful to be the beneficiary of his gifts. I know that I get to enjoy facets of his composition that he reserves for only the most special and deserved and I am appreciative of his generosity. Throughout my life, I have been drawn to too many people who resembled my family and failed to offer honesty and authenticity. My friend is a fresh face drawn from sincerity and filled with depth and insightfulness. And, for that and many more reasons, he is my very best friend. Some people surround themselves with friends who make them laugh, some seek out friends who have common interests, some search for soul mates who have their back as they trek through the muck. My best friend is all of those wrapped in one. And, admittedly, I am rather picky about those I let into my life, especially into my tight inner circle. My friend is more than deserving. He respects his place and never takes it for granted.

Every day I am aware of my friend’s impact on my life and the slow dimming of those vacancy lights. Some days, when I am in dark places, I struggle to understand why I was chosen to endure the pain that has been present throughout my life. If part of the purpose was that it would open me up to appreciate the gifts of my friend, then I have found a lovely silver lining. And I am grateful. I sure do love my brother from another mother.

DUALITY


duality“I walk on for a while and reach a round sort of clearing. Surrounded by tall trees, it looks like the bottom of a gigantic well. Sunlight shoots down through the branches like a spotlight illuminating the grounds at my feet. The place feels special, somehow. I sit down in the sunlight and let the faint warmth wash over me, taking out a chocolate bar from my pocket and enjoying the sweet taste. Realizing all over again how important sunlight is to human beings, I appreciate each second of that precious light. The intense loneliness and helplessness I felt under those millions of stars has vanished. But as time passes, the sun’s angle shifts and light disappears. I stand up and retrace the path back to the cabin.”  – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

After spending nearly half a century in this life, I still marvel at the duality that occurs before me each and every day. The darkness that gives way to light, the silver linings that provide a sugar coating to even the most acerbic morsels. It is the yin and yang that provides some sort of karmic balance to life – the rushing in and recession of the tides, the endings that lead to beginnings balancing out the beginnings that ungratefully lead to endings.

And, while I know this duality appears before me daily, it is only on rare occasions that I stop to take notice. It is like a gentle tap on my shoulder reminding me to pay attention, letting me know that an important plot point is about to revealed. A gentle nudge as I doze off in the classroom that is my life, reminding me to take note for this will be on the final exam. This week, I was jolted awake as I sat on an airplane heading out on yet another journey. As I leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes to rest for a few moments as I normally do when the plane is racing down the runway, pushing the engines to launch the giant tin can into the air, I was reminded of the significance of the day. That day was my mother’s birthday. My mother, who has been dead for 2 years now.  Or, is it 3? I have lost count.  I could probably stop for a moment and try to remember if it was 2012 or 2013 when she finally departed but the time elapsed is meaningless. For, I did not mark the months with remembrances. I did not light a candle each year. I did not grieve as so many of my friends have, deeply mourning the loss of their beloved moms. Their supporters, their nurturers, the presidents of their fan clubs, their best friends. I don’t recall exactly which day she died and I was not there with her when she took her last breath. I did not go through the rite of passage that children are meant to experience when their parents take their journey to next life. I did not hold her hand or stroke her brow, reminding her how much I loved her or how we would all go on without her, missing her every day and feeling the void of her presence. I have no idea what the end of my mother’s life was like. I don’t know what she looked like, I don’t know if she suffered or passed with ease, relieved to have unburdened herself of the weight that she carried so deeply inside her. I don’t know if anyone stood by her side or if she drifted off alone and bewildered. And, frankly, I don’t care.

My mother’s birthday is also the day my oldest son was conceived. I know this because he was conceived at a fertility clinic. I remember the day, back in 2000, when I lay in the darkened room, after having been inseminated turkey-baster style, laying with my knees in the air for the suggested 30 minutes in hope that just one of my husband’s sperm would find its way to my lone egg that sat alone, hoping for some attention. Despite the efforts to pump up my hormones that would generate many follicles from which many eggs would spring, I produced one and my doctors, in their reassuring way, left me with the optimistic hope of “there’s always next month.” But, always the overachiever, I would not fail. I was confident that my solitary egg would find its partner and we would produce a healthy bundle of joy. And we did. And it all began on my mother’s birthday.

My mother died just days before her birthday. She never was honest about what year she was born so I suspect she was around 82 or 83 or 84, or something like that, when she died.  I can’t remember the last birthday I celebrated with her but it was a long time before her departure. My mother left me emotionally and spiritually long before her body ceased to function. My mother forced me to remove her from my life to finally escape a lifetime of mental and emotional abuse. I believed that the day I shut that door for the last time, even though I may not have realized it had been closed for good, that I was releasing the toxins from my body. It felt like the beginning of the journey to recovery and that I was providing myself with the space and freedom to explore my pain and heal myself. I don’t remember how many years ago that was anymore. I try not to think about it. I suppose, as survivors, we are supposed to have psychic calendar notations that are engraved in our minds but, for me – someone who memorializes everything – these dates are fuzzy. The ink has bled and I can no longer make out the dates or the numbers. I simply don’t want to mark the passing of time. I guess I just don’t want to preserve them with the same significance as I do the milestones of my or my children’s lives. I want them to be erased over time. I want them to cease to exist. Perhaps this way it might all be less real.

It is not at all ironic to me that my motherhood began on my mother’s birthday. In fact, it is symbolically appropriate. It is the duality of my life. The beginning of this new chapter, the creation of my first child, was the denouncement of my victimization by my mother. It made sense. I would never forget the day and the two would be inextricably intertwined. Because they are and they should be. While my own mother tortured me, motherhood freed me. Motherhood saved me from my mother. Motherhood, over time, reaffirmed what, deep inside, I always knew to be true. Children are not supposed to be treated the way I was. I deserved to be loved and nurtured and cared for and respected and adored and cherished and encouraged to reach my full potential. I was not meant to be demeaned and demoralized and undermined and sideswiped and beaten and marginalized and penalized and tormented and hurt. I needed to see for myself that the natural order of things was that parents love their children – no matter what. I had to experience, first hand, that it is not a natural occurrence that, with frustration and anxiety, comes abuse. I could not survive unless I realized that I would not be the monster that I experienced my own mother to be. And my son, conceived on that cold day in February in Millburn, NJ, the same day my mother enjoyed another spin around the sun, and then my other son just three short years later, liberated me from the fear that I could never break the cycle of abuse and that perhaps, in fact, I deserved just what I got.

After my flight that morning was reaching cruising altitude, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.  The realization that today was that day, the mother of all dualities, I stopped thinking and decided to turn on my iPad an enjoy the remainder of my short flight listening to an audiobook. I had been waiting to listen to Not My Father’s Son by one of my favorite actors, Alan Cumming. There had been a resistance in me to start the book because I knew enough about the story to feel a sense of dread. Alan was telling his own story of abuse. He was sharing the outcomes of his journey towards healing and, without question, I knew I would experience disruption and dismay. But, today, it made sense. Today was the day that I needed to take this on. Sometimes you just know. It seemed fitting.

February is now this odd month for me. As a child, I worshipped my mother. I would lay by her feet and love on her endlessly. I would spend my weekends sitting in our kitchen, in our little row house in Queens, playing Rummy 500 with her. She never let me win but I didn’t care. I treasured those hours because she was peaceful and we were together, far away from the yelling and screaming, the hitting, the painful words, the outbursts, the overdosing. Those afternoons were quiet and calm and predictable and reassuring, filled with hope that my mommy really loved me and would soon stop being so angry with me. Every year I waited with anticipation for her birthday because I wanted to shower her with cards and gifts to show her how much I loved her. I felt certain that if I made her feel special that she would reciprocate, returning my affection with kindness of her own. But, just two days after her birthday was my parents’ wedding anniversary – a day that ultimately left my mother filled with sadness after she and my father divorced. It was a constant reminder to her of failure and loss and it often overshadowed the joyousness of her special day. And, like a sponge, I absorbed her duality and struggled to balance her yin and yang. I adopted her pain as my own. And February became a month of quiet conflict. Atop the normal mountain of malaise that many of experience in the period that lay between the holidays and the first chirpy songs of birds signifying the onset of spring, I navigated my own way through the murky waters of my mother’s disdain and disappointment. I fought her battle. And she never shielded me from the shrapnel that pierced my skin after each and every explosion.

I finished the book before I landed on my return flight home the following night. I couldn’t stop listening.  In the gym, I lost myself in his story, so different in his homeland of Scotland than mine in New York, far across the pond. Yet, his words resonated with me. I felt the pain as he shared every blow he endured from his father who battled his own demons, releasing onto his children the pain that he could not process. On the plane ride home, I stared out the window, holding back deep sobs as I listened to him recount his indignities, recognizing, perhaps for the first time, that I was not alone. Hearing him describe his deep wounds, I instinctively felt my own scars and they nearly ripped apart, revealing the gaping holes that still lie opened inside of me.

The duality this week began benignly – almost with a hint of joy. The reminder of that day I sat in the darkened room filled me with joy. Seemingly a lifetime ago before I understood the restorative power that motherhood would offer me. Before I laid eyes on the beautiful boy who would grow into a tall, handsome young adult, all attitude and confidence and humor mixed with the expected level of obnoxiousness we have come to expect from teenagers. Before I understood that I was not meant to live inside a prison forever and would be set free to experience the euphoria of unconditional love towards and from my own children. As a child who grew up feeling alone and out-of-place, never truly belonging to a family or having an assigned seat at the table, the luxuriousness of looking at my children and knowing they were mine and I was theirs – that we were a family, with bonds that need not be broken – cascaded me into a sense of peace and serenity that never seemed a reality when looking at my life from the other side. The counterbalance of that day – the marking of my mother’s birthday also seemed benign as I have healed so many wounds and have forgiven her for all that she took from me and all that pain she bestowed upon me that was never meant to be mine. Yet, unbeknownst to me, this year, the duality would be marked differently. There are no coincidences and no accidents. Life takes us places that we sometimes don’t want to go and forces us, often begrudgingly, to accept those things we would rather ignore or reject. The duality for me this year was not the lightness and dark or the beginning and end. This year, the duality was the denial and acceptance.

I have accepted so much about the pain I have endured in my life and I have learned to nurture myself in replacement. Through no choice of my own, I became extremely proficient at tending to my needs and ensuring that I was able to move from one day to the next, as best I possibly could. I learned, regrettably, that I would have to care for myself because there was not going to be anyone else around who would take on that responsibility. For as far back as my memory will allow me to go, it has been me – all alone in the world – navigating the pathways and hoping for a positive outcome. That, in itself, has its own duality for it has made me strong and it has caused weakness in my foundation. I am closed and withdrawn at times, protective and defensive, fearful of intimacy that might cause me to drop my guard and stop protecting my fortress of solitude. And I have resilience and strength and power that allows me to sit on the front lines, sipping a cocktail and awaiting the next round of fire with ease and assurance that my line is protected. Yet, while I have accepted my fate and processed through the pain and disappointment of never having had the opportunity to be loved in a way that was my birthright, I have also spent a great deal of my life in denial. I struggle to accept how deep my wounds are, how painful the burn is, how limiting my existence can be. I force myself to look away when I am confronted with the loneliness and alienation and abandonment that resulted from ongoing and erosive abuse. Being told I am worthless and not a good enough person to be loved again and again finally sinks into your cells and it becomes part of your hard-wiring that no amount of therapy or medication or restorative affection can ever heal. Never having felt the safety and security that allows a child to mature into adulthood and endure the obstacles that are assuredly blocking your path with dignity and grace, creates a perpetuating stream of anxiety and self-loathing that requires a virtual exorcism to eradicate. One that I have yet to perform. By the end of that flight, after the last word was read and I was left to ponder my own experience, I knew, of course, the timing was pre-determined and the context was appropriately set. The scabs needed to be ripped off and I was meant to be catapulted back into space. It was time to embark on the next leg of this mission.

I am alone and I am frightened and, at the same time, I am secure in my ability to navigate my course. I hope that there is a day, some day in February in some year before me that I will look back and remember the day that I started to stop feeling so isolated and solitary and overwhelmed and insecure. And, I know that it may never be that way. For it is, perhaps, my destiny to live this life and endure these struggles for a purpose far greater than I will ever know. And the duality of my life is to enjoy the beauty that lies right beside the pain.

HAPPIEST NEW YEAR


happy new year

I think most people I know are sharing the same sentiment today – “Where did this year go?” How, possibly, could it be the last day of 2014? It is remarkable how quickly the year slips by once we say goodbye to summer. It is like the first half of the year marches along at regular speed and then, the moment the kids return to school and the temperatures begins to drop, the calendar pages turn at a more rapid clip and the days begin to dwindle down. And then it is December 31.

As with most years, I am not making resolutions.  Instead, I am reflecting and learning and continuing to set intentions for my life. This year is noticeably different for me because I am saying goodbye to the year without regrets, without disdain for the burdens that challenged me along the way and without any signs of dismay. I am pleasantly looking back and optimistically looking forward. It is ironic because this year presented many more dramatic challenges than any year prior and I had to confront some of my most perilous demons. And I did this with grace and wisdom. Calmly and wisely. I recognized that, at this point in my life, nothing will really break me and everything is simply another speed bump that will only injure me if I drive too fast. If I slow down and focus on the bump, ensuring that I am careful and measured, I will move over it and continue on my way without damage.

This was the year that my children evolved into fully formed people.  My older son turned 14, towered over me significantly and gave me a sign that, perhaps, we did something right. Our relationship became more three-dimensional and no longer simply focused on me parenting him but shifted to him beginning to teach me about the world he lives in. It is a magical experience to see your child through this new lens and to be able to exist in this new, mature state. While the teenage years can test your resolve and make you sometimes question your decision to become a parent in the first place, it is also a transitional period where you begin to form this adult relationship with your children. While we are not friends, per se, we have a camaraderie and rapport that is unlike any other in my life. I cherish it and am thankful that we have transitioned to this place. It is one of the best gifts this year has brought and has helped me immeasurably. Knowing that my son understands more of the complexities of life forces me to process my own experiences differently and causes me to behave more thoughtfully. As parents, we always know our children are watching but we also recognize that their innocence often blinds them from the more serious matters that we address. As they get older, our children develop a sophistication that forces us to protect them while respecting their maturity and understanding. And, again, my children help me in ways they will never understand and in ways I never imagined. I don’t burden them with my challenges but they quietly and unknowingly make them so much easier to bear.

My younger son also provided me with a perspective that took me by surprise. At 11, he is so unlike my older boy. He has a sensitivity that is deep and penetrating and he empathizes and finds compassion for even the most hopeless souls. While he, too, is maturing rapidly and evolving into a more sophisticated being, he’s still my baby boy and still reveals to me the innocence and neediness for love and comfort that has been a trademark since infancy. He will still cuddle or tackle me with hugs when I return from trips, embracing me with a grip so tight and powerful that I am certain he can hug away all the pain and suffering I have endured in my life. His squeeze is like a panacea for every discomfort and an aloe for my wounds. He is pure healing and teaches me, continually, how to be a better parent and a more loving and evolved human.

This year also marked the 20th anniversary of my marriage. It hardly seems like two decades have evaporated and it is remarkable to me, given my history, that I could manage to maintain a loving relationship for so long. I am always quick to point out that my marriage (like everyone’s, frankly) is flawed and complicated but I have a new respect for the dynamics that make my marriage work and have employed new tools to ensure that I do my best to navigate this relationship intentionally and meaningfully. A switch went off in my head this year, without warning and without provocation, reminding me that, with its imperfections, my marriage is, without question, the most substantial and important relationship in my life and one that provides me with comfort and security in between all the discomfort and insecurity. When the final assessment comes to bear, it is a source of strength and empowerment and my husband and I, together, create a multiplier much greater than we do as individuals.

I continue to learn so much about myself through all the incredible relationships in my life. I have, over the past many years, become much more selective about who I share my life with and how I include others in my life. I have always felt a sense of obligation to provide my friends and loved ones with more of myself than perhaps I should be willing to offer up. My tendency has been to over-deliver and not reserve a portion of myself for me, resulting in an emptiness inside of myself that those on the outside could never fill because I had given up so many parts of me without tending to or nurturing my own needs. Perhaps it was one too many betrayals or disappointments or maybe I have just reached a level of maturity in my life, understanding what my boundaries need to be, but I have arrived at a very comfortable place where I have lowered the expectations on myself and, by association, on others. I still have incredibly powerful relationships that reverberate in my life, providing wisdom, insight, comfort, pleasure, connection, validation, joy and love.  And, I have a clear sense of my needs from my relationships and what I can offer to them. My friends have taught me how to be a better friend. My very best friend has provided a mirror in which I can see myself so differently than I ever did before and his influence has seeped into every aspect of my life, providing me with a deeper level of understanding of myself and a framework to operate more purposefully and reflectively. With the foundation that was established by my family, I have often feared that I would never be capable of dropping my guard or shedding the thin layer of protection that I have wrapped myself in for so many years to ensure that no one could penetrate or violate my vulnerabilities. Through lots of hard work, thoughtfulness and the good fortune of surrounding myself with an incredible set of people, I have managed to emerge from my past and live a life filed with love. I am able to walk through life without my shield and have learned – sometimes in difficult ways – how to trust and who is deemed trustworthy. I have learned to respect my own instincts and believe in what I know to be true. I feel confident and resolved.

As I get older, I experience what many others before me have which includes a deepening sense of the impermanence of our lives. I recognize that I likely have less time left than I have already spent living this life. I have fewer and fewer opportunities to impact those around me and create the indentation I want to leave on the world. It becomes so much more obvious to me how critical it is to choose wisely and be thoughtful about the life that I continue to create for myself. There is no end to the learning and the need for growth and change, despite how much of my life is behind me. And, my ability to adapt and enlarge my field of vision is directly correlated with my level of happiness and contentment.

So, once again, I will make the transition from one year to the next, resolving not to make resolutions but, instead to make the journey with wisdom and reflection and appreciation for the interconnectivity of all that touch our lives and all of our actions and behaviors. I will continue to be overly grateful, no matter how trite it may seem, because I am confident that gratitude trumps discontent every single time. No clever quotes are necessary to recognize that if I can focus on all that is hopeful and joyful in my life while respecting the challenges and disappointments, I will continue to find gratitude in each and every facet of my being. And I will have the strength and courage to take on any challenge I am presented with. Yes, nothing has the power to break me – only I do.

It will be a happy new year and I wish that to all of those who share this life with me, in any form. There are many who I have never met who provide quiet comfort and compassion and solidarity. There are those who are so ever-present in my life who fill my heart with so much love that I often feel like I don’t have the capacity to contain it. No matter where we intersect, I offer the blessing of good health, happiness and peace in 2015. We all have the opportunity to shine.

CHOSEN


friends as family

 

 

 

It has been many years since I have shared a holiday with the family I grew up with. At this point, probably more than 10 years. And, despite the memories of turbulent encounters, I have often fondly reflected on those rare moments when we sat around a table, connected by our shared DNA, our resilience that allowed us to still break bread and our eagerness to put aside the turmoil that characterized our family.

But those experiences were rare and, more typically, the holidays have been a complicated mixture of disappointment over unrealized expectations combined with a genuine desire to create new traditions and overcome the loss that had so unfortunately become intertwined and associated with the season. So, each year, as the leaves start to turn and fall wistfully to the ground, piling up as a mounting reminder of the changes ahead, I walk with trepidation through the days and weeks that lead up to the holiday season. As I have grown older, I have learned how to check in with myself, adept at identifying any pangs of anxiety or sadness that might overshadow the opportunities to be merry and enjoy what others find to be the most joyous time of the year. I gingerly step through the dropping temperatures, donning my warmer clothes to blanket myself from the potential blizzard of emotions that might disrupt my homeostasis and send me into a free fall that ends the day the Christmas tree is kicked to the curb.

When I am being reflective, I tend to think that I was chosen for this life. I imagine that my ethereal soul, as it floated through the universe, looking for a suitable host, was hand selected for the job of spending eighty or so years in my body, living my life, enduring my personal journey. I sometimes imagine that at the casting call, my soulful being showed strength and a capacity for endurance that outweighed the competition and landed me in the starring role in this life. I believe that I was chosen because I am special. Because I am capable. Because I am wise and bold and robust and I can endure all that comes my way. I am certain that I was the exact right one for the part.

Despite some of the complexities and the disruptions, I know how to navigate this life. Strange as it sounds, it makes complete sense to me. What I find foreign and disorienting is the normalcy that so many around me experience. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time worrying that if I ended up spending my life with someone who came from a stable and healthy family that I would stick out like a sore thumb. There would be no way for me to hide my damage, blend into the wallpaper and cover up my inability to exist in their well-adjusted and peaceful world. My rough edges, cracks and imperfections would be highlighted with bright neon lights showcasing them all. Instead, perhaps by intention or simply divine intervention, I found someone like me. Someone who had been broken down and wanted a chance at a fresh start, an opportunity to fix what went wrong. We thought that together we might prove that two wrongs do, in fact, make a right. Maybe our science experiment would be award-worthy or, rather, we would ultimately combust. So far, so good. Maybe we broke the curse.


As this year’s holiday approached, for the first time in as many years as I could remember, I felt no heaviness. There was no dread, no worry, no anticipatory disappointment. This came as a great surprise because, of all years, this would be one that should be mired in darkness and dismay. After all, this year has been heavy and daunting and overwhelming. Roadblocks and obstacles were strewn along the course, proving my journey difficult and, sometimes, seemingly impassable. I believed, more frequently than not, that this year I would finally break and nothing would be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There would be no glue to repair the complicated mosaic of my life. Yet, to my surprise most of all, I endured and, remarkably, found myself looking at the leaf piles, feeling the wind on my cheeks and wrapping my scarf tightly around my neck, not to protect myself from those familiar elements but to simply to seek comfort in the warmth radiating from inside of me. I bundled myself up, snuggled in the knowledge that I was ok. As I stared down the last weeks of this year, I felt proud that I had walked through yet another pit of fire and came out just a little charred. And maybe, even a little bit stronger than how I entered.

The dread that encompasses me as the summer turns to fall, as Halloween descends, as the turkeys appear in the market, as the Christmas decorations overtake the stores is noticeably absent this year. I am light and airy and feeling as free as that same ethereal being that floated around 47 years ago before it found its way to my small body, giving it life and a heart and a mind. I am peaceful and hopeful of the road ahead knowing that, while our burdens have not been lifted (in fact, they are as great as they have ever been), we are a strong unit, working together and grateful for what we have created. We are sad because we had to say goodbye to a four-legged family member, marking Thanksgiving week as a forever remembrance of our last hugs with our beloved pet. We have large hills to climb and challenges that will test our mettle and we are hopeful and optimistic and choosing to live and let go of everything non-essential. We are leaving behind those that choose not to row with us and are filling our boat with a crew committed to making us stronger and successful.

I am humbled by the people who have chosen – not by my request but by their own desire – to swaddle me and my family in a blanket of love. No, we do not have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who share our lives with us. We are a small unit of four and we create a magnificent tapestry compiled of strangers who have become friends who have become our family. We can laugh and cry and share our hearts, our joy, our sadness, our most important moments with others who make us feel like we are connected to the universe. Who remind us that we will not float away because we have anchors who keep us tethered. Sometimes I forget they are there because they don’t look like me and didn’t come from the same family tree but then, when the road gets messiest and I am careening towards a ditch, I am suddenly rescued and usually from the most unlikely saviors.

This holiday I am not sad. I am not anxious. I am not overwhelmed at the thought of trying to manufacture an experience for my children that will fill the holes left inside me. No, this holiday, I am filled with abundance. I am joyful and grateful to continue to show my children how the fabric of our lives is created. Sure, for some, it is simple. They have deep-woven blends that keep them warm through the coldest months and the toughest of times. For us, we have designed a quilt that fits us perfectly and gives us just the warmth we need.