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.

WEATHERING THE STORM


storm“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami

Earlier this week I was trying to download an app to my iPhone and I received the dreaded message that my phone was out of storage. It is my practice to keep as much data off my phone as possible by downloading and deleting photos and removing unnecessary emails and apps fairly regularly. However, when I saw the message, it really was no mystery to me what was clogging up my system. I knew what was incapacitating my phone. And I knew it was time to free up some space.

Metaphorically speaking, I had a blockage in my heart. I had been hanging on to text messages from my friend. From my best friend. There were quite a few. In fact, a whole lot.

19,901 to be exact.

Over 790 days.

And, if you’re doing the math, that is approximately 25 texts per day.  I had given my teenage son a run for his money by this magnitude of texting and that reflected only the past two years of our relationship. Knowing that the volume was mounting, I had many moments over those 790 days where I was tempted to just swipe my finger across the most recent text and watch them all disappear. Sometimes because I felt foolish for holding on to them. Sometimes because I was angry when my feelings had been hurt about something. Sometimes because I simply wanted to free up some space – both on my phone and in my head. But, each time the urge came over me, I resisted. I feared that deleting these messages would negate so much of our relationship. The messages, which spanned an array of time in our lives and also reflected a broad range of emotions and experiences, felt like the connective tissue that affirmed the reality of my relationship. You see, my friend and I have a unique, challenging and, mostly, extraordinary relationship. We live 1100 miles apart so seeing each other regularly is rarely possible. We have to maintain our connection while operating at a distance. We also own a company together and have to navigate the associated challenges of not always seeing eye-to-eye, power struggles, disagreements, hurt feelings and trying to balance the personal and professional. Plus, we have the added bonus of having a third partner who needs to manage through all of our muck while introducing his own. Overall, it is complicated. Ironically, the text messages (which only represent a smaller portion of the time we have been friends) chronicle our relationship from the time we started our company. And, for some reason, that seems symbolic to me. It does not seem coincidental that I started saving them right around the time we began our adventures in this business. It seems so incredibly appropriate that I would have, as he would say, “memorialized” this journey through the text exchanges that have been a defining element of our relationship. Like love letters, they embody the highs and lows, the depths of our story. And I have simply not been ready to let that go.

I found myself at a crossroads that day earlier this week. I looked at the congestion caused by the text messages and recognized that I had to make a choice. I was not prepared to go out and invest in a phone with a bigger capacity for memory and I was not prepared to delete my history. I paused for a bit to think about my conundrum. Why couldn’t I let them go? Why did I need to keep them? Was it simply to have a record of this period of time? Or, was it something more. It did not take a lot of digging to locate my truth.

The text messages are a lifeline of sorts for me. My fear is born in the notion that deleting them might annihilate the relationship. In reality, I never look back and read them. It’s not like I spend lazy afternoons reminiscing over the laughter and tears, the adoration and the anger. But I just love knowing that they are right there, should I need them. I appreciate the concretization of a relationship that, otherwise, seems distant and whose image slowly evaporates in my mind when we go for long stretches without seeing each other or having time to talk. These words provide evidence of a component of my life that has always seemed so far out of reach yet incredibly pervasive and magnificent. Because our relationship has been put to the test over the past year with the challenges of building the business while trying to maintain the integrity of our personal relationship, the texts hold even more weight to me. They are a reminder of how deeply committed we have been to preserving our strong bond even as we struggled to set boundaries and define new rules of engagement. There are many texts that begin with “Hey friend” indicating that we were switching into personal mode. I have worried, over the course of the past year, that we would become a statistic reinforcing the notion that you should never go into business with friends or family. Despite the thousands (literally, thousands!) of messages declaring our love and adoration for one another, it appeared that we might not be able to survive the surging tide that was destined to wash away all the foundations we had built in our special relationship. Our symbiosis that people marveled at, wondering if we did, indeed, share one brain, felt, to me, like it was dividing. Where we once exchanged dozens of texts daily, it had become the new normal to go weeks without talking and even longer without texting anything but banal business matters like “what number should I call you on?” or “did you get a chance to look at that email I sent?” Long gone were the morning greetings, checking to see how things were going. It seemed like months has passed since I had sent a silly photo or had engaged him in my mayhem after having too much to drink with my friends. It no longer felt necessary to include him in my activities in order to bridge the divide that regularly kept us apart. My efforts to keep him close at hand in replacement for the wishful impromptu coffees or drinks that never were a part of our lives diminished and I began to envision a new world without him playing a central role. It felt off and disorienting but I pushed through because it seemed like a foregone conclusion.

I have endured dismantled relationships throughout my life, including those with my closest family members. And, I know how to manage the aftermath of the break. In this case, however, I did not have the luxury of stepping away because he was still my business partner and continued to be a regular part of my life. And, this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of it all and the part for which I am most grateful. I have had to employ a new set of skills to navigate, ensuring that my personal feelings and emotions did not interfere with the need to work together productively. And, while I have not managed this without challenges, I have evolved to a place where I can meaningfully compartmentalize. And, thankfully, where I would have normally bailed out, I have had to find a way to hang on and weather the storm.

The process of doing this has liberated me. I have had no choice but to change my behavior and my thinking. In fact, I have had to stop thinking and just move forward, trusting that the universe would guide me. I went from stubbornly trying to squeeze myself into an outfit that no longer fit to standing naked while I searched for a more appropriate new wardrobe.

So, this week when I confronted the decision that I could no longer put off, realizing that the technology Gods had forced my hand, I decided to opt for Plan B. Just as I managed my feelings and behavior, I could have a compromise where my phone would be liberated and my memories would be preserved. I scoured the web, found a tool and got to the task of downloading the 19,901 messages and free up some space on my phone. And, in doing so, the real reason of why I saved them revealed itself to me.

Well, actually, I already knew this but my thinking was confirmed.

After I downloaded the messages, I started scrolling through the 1800-page PDF document housing the last two years of my relationship with my friend. I steered clear of the emotionally charged drama and focused on the sweetest and most poignant exchanges.  As I read them, I had a surreal experience. I was transported back, remembering, in vivid color, the experiences surrounding the messages, physically feeling the emotional intensity. And, at times, it felt like I was watching a movie with two characters that were vaguely familiar. My friend and I often joke that we have invested so much time and energy into our relationship and that it has been so intense and so powerful that it feels like dog years. And, as I read the texts, I suddenly felt like those two chronicled years were more like 14. Some of the memories seemed like a lifetime ago. So much had changed.

And then, to my surprise, I wept. Like a flash flood, the tears burst from my eyes and I held my head in my hands just letting the emotions wash over me. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling – sadness and loss or simply nostalgia. And, naturally, this was a clear indication that the exercise of doing this was important and necessary.

As I sat at my desk, unburdening my phone of the excess baggage and, simultaneously, breaking down from the emotions at play, I did what felt absolutely natural – I shared it all with my friend. And, of course, I sent him a text. I candidly, summoning up all the vulnerability I could muster, shared my experience. I told him about the messages (knowing full well that he had long ago deleted his collection and secretly thinking that he did so with the confidence that I had saved them for both of us) and conveyed my reaction to seeing them and sorting through them. He fell right in step with me and knew, without me having to explain, how powerful this was. He might have even felt some of the emotion himself. He wouldn’t reveal that me but that is no surprise as he is far more private than I am and processes his feelings far differently than I do.  The whole exchange felt appropriate and familiar but disjointed from our current state and I simply stepped away to let it marinate.  This would sort itself out. It didn’t require any intervention from me.

This week, after two long months of not seeing my friend, we were drawn together for work. We have been settling into this undeclared new state of being so seeing him was different. He looked different – thinner, tanner, well-rested. And, I had to wonder if he was still the same friend I loved and cherished or if we had really shifted into a completely new gear. Would he still throw his head back and let out his loud guffaw so earnestly and brilliantly when I did something so absurdly stupid that seemed so genuinely hilarious to him? Would he still hug me and give me the patented arm squeeze that informed me that all was ok in a gesture to let me know that he loved me in a way that only he and I could understand? Would I look at him from across the room and, in a simple glance, give him a message as long as the Gettysburg Address and get a wink or a smirk in return, assuring me that he got it and was in sync with me? Would we be us? Two friends who stumbled upon each other one late winter morning in a meeting in NYC. On that day, we met and chatted like old friends, me magnetically drawn to him and him working his charm. Unbeknownst to me, I was also working my charm which actually drew him to me in ways that even surprised him. Was that uncanny connection, that bond that neither of could understand or describe all that well, still there or had the storm weathered us so badly that the energy that so tangibly coursed through us when were together, fizzled out and we were now just two colleagues on a job, respectfully and cordially working together?

I had no answers and, while I would normally seek them out, I simply waited to see what transpired. And, on the second day, with so many different thoughts and feelings in my mind, I found myself sitting next to my colleague and looked over at him and saw my friend. My mind was suddenly blank and my heart was open. It didn’t matter how much we had struggled and how many hurtful things we had said or done to one another in the course of our journey to find our way. Nothing was in focus except that my friend was sitting next me and, rather than wait for him to give me a sign, I gave him one, assuring him that we may have drifted off in the ocean current but we were only an arm’s length away and we simply just needed to reach out and extend a hand.

I have tucked away the document with the text messages and joked with my friend that one day I will probably write a book telling the story of this special friendship. The story is nowhere near over and I have no idea what the next chapter looks like. What I do know is this: when you are brave enough to stand up through the wind and rain and weather the storm, you will emerge stronger and bolder. I never let go but I also consciously surrendered, allowing the winds to pull me wherever I needed to go.  And, because the Wizard of Oz is always my metaphor for life, I recognize that, like Dorothy, who got tossed around in the twister, I have always had the power to click my heels and find my way home and that is where I am headed, continuing to memorialize my journey, every step of the way.

TWO WEEKS LATER


glass wallMy friend bravely extended his poker across the phone line, stretching it the 1,193 miles that spanned between us that day.  He gingerly pressed it into my flesh, waiting to see if I would react.  A flinch, a sigh, an ache of pain.  I felt it push at me but knew this was not pain.  This was pressure that I had asked for.  I gave him instructions a long time ago, permitting him to push me outside my comfort zone. He knew that when the moment was right, he had my approval, my encouragement, my desire for him to reach across the distance and poke. After the first jab I was still comfortable.  I wasn’t sure how far he would go but, thankfully he pushed further, again waiting for a reaction.  I needed to hold my breath this time because it was starting to hurt.  I was feeling the pressure and, while it was buffered with love and support, it was noticeable.  I still refrained from reacting because I had committed myself to settling in with discomfort.  I needed him to still go just a little bit further. He had my instructions, I gave him the map.  I told him exactly where to aim.  He may not have been sure of what he would find when he found the spot marked with an X but he was boldly willing to go there with me.  And, one last time, he pushed and I could no longer hold it back.  I exhaled and he knew he was in.

It was nearly two weeks ago that my best friend called me under the ruse of friendly chitchat.  “Let’s catch up.”  I’m smarter than that.  I know that’s a code.  We catch up via text.  A phone call is unnecessary.  A phone call means we need to dig into some stuff.  I played along, all the well knowing that something was coming.  And it did.  And I was grateful.  When he bravely intervened he was doing it under the guise of some friendly advice. He never expected he would pull a lever, switch a switch, turn on the lights, break down a wall, open an unlocked room.  He had no idea where exactly we would land but the moment was right, the timing was exact.  This was just what I needed, what I wanted, what was so remarkably necessary right at that very moment.

I feel like I have spent a huge portion of my life living behind a glass wall. I could observe everything going on in front of me and even portray that I was participating but, in fact, I have been hiding.  I have shielded myself from truly being a part of my own life.  Cloaked in the security blanket of my past, using my trauma as an escape and excuse for my inability to jump in and live this life, I hid in plain sight behind my glass wall. That day, that fateful call crashed my shield.  The glass shattered yet no shards penetrated my skin.  Unbelievably, there was no bloodshed.  Instead, the glass crumbled to the ground, making way for me to step outside.  Giving me the room to move beyond.  It opened a passageway out.  That day, my friend suggested that the photograph of my life was so large, so massive, so beautiful and encouraged me to move my frame just a mere six inches to the right to gain a new perspective.  Look at some new faces.  See things a bit differently.  It all seems so simple now.  So obvious.  It’s incredibly silly that I could not see this before. Surely, I had the ability to shift my lens. I always have.  It was always in my power.  I had the tools to smash that glass.  I simply was afraid.  I had no idea what would happen when my force field was destroyed.  I worried about who I might be, how I might exist.  Fear dominated everything.  It ruled me.

It’s been nearly two weeks.  Just 13 days.  Tomorrow we will tick off another day.  Another 24 hours that I am free.  14 straight days that I have used my eyes differently.  That I have breathed in my life, inhaling deeply and holding it until my chest feels like it cannot contract any further.  Then, so effortlessly, I gently open my mouth and exhale and out goes the old.  I release the toxins from within.  They serve me no purpose any longer.  They simply are waste, clogging my pores, blocking my pipes.  I can see, for the first time – maybe ever – what my life can be.  I am no longer an observer.  I am a participant.  I am a driver.  I am leading the way, guiding myself and others.  I worry not of my recklessness because I have guideposts and markers and guardian angels who protect me.  I have love all around me, blanketing me, comforting me, cherishing me.

Two weeks later.  I am peaceful.

2,500 WORDS


2500 wordsSo, last night I wrote 2,500 words.  I sat on my bed and furiously typed out 2,500 brilliant, meaningful, heartfelt, deeply emotional words.  I had been struck by an article a friend sent me to read about abuse and, as a result, out of me leaked years worth of pain and struggle.  I positioned myself in my comfort zone and told my story as it relates to my family and the abuse I endured.  I let it all out.  Then I closed my laptop and put it to rest until today.  I would revisit it, I decided, and refine the message, pretty it up and then publish it so I could share my story with others.  Others who might have experienced the same pain.

Then, in walks my pesky best friend.  You know, the one I always talk about who loves to provoke me to think differently.  Well, he was up to his usual tricks again today.  Last night, right before I sat down to write my blog, he texted me asking me if I had some time to catch up today.  “Sure,” I said.  I always enjoy a good chat with my pal.  It was about time for us to trade stories about our holidays, the weekend, all the highs and lows.  We talk almost everyday for work but have to work hard to commit to personal time when we don’t see each other.  I was looking forward to some light-hearted banter.  After all these years, I should know better.

We scheduled some time this afternoon to talk and it started out all hysterical laughter.  We swapped funny stories for a little bit and then he said, “Let’s talk about your recent blog post.”

Uh oh.

I adore my best friend.  He is one of the most honest and sincere people I know.  He is not afraid to tell me where it’s at (albeit in his own trademark style) and he is fully committed to helping me be a better person.  Next to my husband, he is my main confidant and I trust him implicitly.  I rely upon his perspectives and his prompts to help me move forward with my life.  Today, he abandoned all pretense, ignored any boundaries that might still exist between us and stepped right over the line into my space.  He delicately, with the force of several mack trucks, pushed me right out of my comfort zone…

…and I kinda liked it.

We had what I would call an intervention.  And, as a result, I shelved my 2,500 words and decided to write these instead.  And, I dedicate this to my friend because he definitely inspired them.

I’d like to introduce you to me.

My name is Tammy.

I am 46 years old.

I am an extraordinary person.

I have survived a childhood filled with dysfunction and abuse and managed to create a beautiful life for myself.  It is not a perfect life, by any means, but I love it.  I have been married to just one man and he is, without a doubt, the love of my life.  We met when I was still broken and bruised and he has worked tirelessly to help put me back together, despite his own pain and struggles.  He committed his life to me and our children and, for that, I will be forever grateful.  We do not have the most perfect marriage but it is one that works for us and we have learned, over time, to never try to compare ourselves to others because our lives are completely unique. We have trudged through swamps together, finding our way out of histories that never represented the lives we wanted to be living.  We have battled our own personal demons and collectively struggled emotionally, financially and in every way imaginable yet we still find our way back to each other – our home bases.  Part of the reason why I am the person I am today is because of him.

We have two amazing sons who know nothing of our histories except the small fragments we have shared with them.  When they are old enough and mature enough to understand, perhaps we will share our stories with them but only if they express an interest.  I don’t believe this information is pertinent as it really is not part of their story and, frankly, it is not so much part of ours anymore either.  However, I understand that at some point, they may want to get clarity about what happened in our past that prevented them from having extended families.  We make a great effort to not allow the complications of our childhoods seep into their lives.  While we cannot relate to our children’s lives, we do our best to not let our experience inform how we guide them.

Our lives are centered around our children simply because we made a commitment to ourselves and each other that we would break the cycles of abuse that existed in our families and allow our children to have a different experience and, hopefully, a different outcome.  We are centrally focused on that ideal and know that, despite our best efforts, we are not the best parents.  We probably over-indulge our children a bit because we are overcompensating.  We have a lot of on-the-job training and don’t have a lot of reference points.  We have no familial village to rely upon but we have surrounded ourselves with people who also shower our children with love so they never feel like they are missing anything.  And, I know that is mostly our issue, not theirs.

Amazingly, both of us have a strong moral compass and, even more amazingly, we both have strong cores.  Somewhere along the line, we built a foundation together that made us each so much stronger yet sometimes we forget about that.  We neglect to reaffirm this aspect of our lives and find ourselves falling, with arms flailing before we realize that there is someone there to catch us or simply lend a hand to pull us back up.  It is the influence of our dysfunction that gets in our way of being functional. Our greatest moments as a family are when the four of us are together – eating dinner, lounging on the couch, traveling somewhere in the car.  We all laugh, we sometimes fight, we are fiercely sarcastic and we love each other so much it sometimes hurts.  It is hard for me to process sometimes because it seems so unreal, but this family – this life – is what anchors me.  Is it what allows me to be the person I am in the rest of my life.  My home is my safe space.  Despite the mess – sometimes extraordinary mess – and the chaos that swirls around us with schedules, financial matters, work, personal challenges, we find peace.  And, again, I am grateful.

I am incredibly intelligent and really, really good at what I do.  I cannot explain to you what it is that I do because it encompasses a multitude of things.  I have transformed myself from a career in licensing in publishing to a workplace consultant, helping companies improve their workforce through training and coaching.  I tapped into skills that I never believed I had and embraced my entrepreneurial spirit almost 5 years ago when I decided to give up my corporate career and brave a new path for myself.  I underestimate the courage it took for me to leap off the ledge and do this and, trust me, it was not a smooth ride.  I have tripped and fallen so many times and, just as quickly got back up and restarted myself.  Just today my husband reminded me of what a driven and focused professional I was when I was working my corporate job and how he watched as I struggled through my life as an entrepreneur, encountering individuals who tried to kill my mojo and made me question my strengths and abilities.  I am rebuilding that and am breathless with anticipation about my latest work with my best friend and our third partner in an exciting tech start-up.  Often people tell me how courageous they think I am because I take risks in life.  They are right.  I am very courageous but I don’t always see it that way because it is just the way I have always been.  I am a survivor.  We tend to take more chances because we do what we have to in order to make things work.  We think outside the box.  I guess it is one of the perks of having lived my life.  My own silver lining.

I am absolutely passionate about my work and love every second of it, even some of the more dramatic and difficult moments because it helps me to grow.  I bring everything I have to my work and love to be inventive and find ways to change people’s lives.  I am moved by seeing others shift.  I am learning to find that same passion in shifting myself.  I am determined to continually grow and move beyond the traumas that held me back for so long.  I’m committed to changing my approach and acknowledging that the only thing that can hold me back now is me.  And, that awareness is liberating.

If I were not seeing my friend’s face in my head, challenging every word I choose to share here, I would suggest that I am a complicated person.  Instead, I am going to suggest what he might say which is that I am actually more simple and straightforward than I give myself credit for.  I absolutely have complexities and I certainly make my life more complicated than it needs to be but I don’t have to.  My needs are very basic.  I want to give love and to be loved.  Nothing much else matters.  I thrive on the human connection.  People move me.  I am fascinated by people and, those that I have a strong connection with, fill me up in ways that are indescribable.  I am fiercely loyal and will cut you if you dare to hurt someone I love.  I have a little nest, a cocoon of sorts, where I keep my peeps and I live to protect them.  I love to laugh and enjoy lighthearted fun.  Yet, I am a deep thinker and continually contemplate the world and how I fit into it.  I am fascinated by the human experience and love to write to help peel back layers of my own onion as well as help others to peel away their own.

If I wrote this yesterday, I would tell you that I am a product of my abusive childhood and I live with shadows of my past haunting me.  However, today, I choose not to share that about myself because it is time to put that on a shelf.  It is ready to be archived as a former version of me.  It is definitely part of my past and informs how I see the world but it is not a reality for me any longer.  I have grown and learned so much about myself and my challenges that I am no longer a victim of my past.  I am the architect of my future and, included in that blueprint is not the story of my abuse.  I cannot erase that aspect of my life and I will never forget what I have overcome.  I am so proud of where I have come to, sad about where I have come from and am committed to only looking forward.  I have spent many years looking backwards as a way to compensate for my shortcomings and I am choosing to let go of that.  Difficult as it might be, I am reframing my picture.  My landscape is shifting.

In the end, I have only one real fear in life.

Not being loved.

I crave love, as many of us do, and it influences everything I do.  Love is my guiding force and, when I love, I love hard.  My love is all-consuming.  Both giving love and receiving love heals me.  Love is the antidote to anything bad that ever happened to me.  While I was not loved as a child and did not come from a loving family, I created one.  As a result of the life I have created for myself and with my husband, I have lots of love.  And, perhaps for the first time in my 46 years, I am ready to receive it all.  I am ready to love myself.  Actually, I already do.  I just forget sometimes.

I shared in my blog several days ago what a difficult year 2013 was for me and I have reconsidered some of my thoughts around that.  I will not refute a lot of my reflections on my battles with myself because they did exist but, upon re-examination I realized that, with every word I wrote in that piece, I was begging myself to take a fresh look, to try something new on for size.  Through my words, I was telling myself to stop fighting.  I no longer need to swim upstream.  I am ready to see a reflection in the mirror that resembles what everyone else sees.  I am willing to accept this person for who she is today.

So, in order to share a little bit more about me, I will tell you about my year – a transformative one in my life.

I tackled a lot of demons this year.  I let them out of their cages and let them run rampant.  I waged a war against myself because part of me was desperately trying to let go out the past and another part was hanging on for dear life because I was traveling through murky waters and it was scary.  So, I hung on to ideas about myself that were familiar and resembled what I looked like when I was most scared.  I bravely traveled down unpaved paths, turning corners where I did not know what I would find and I survived.  I tripped, I fell, I got back up, I fell again and I got back up again.  I learned that I can count on people to be there for me even in the toughest times.  I learned that forgiveness can happen and that fences can be mended.  I learned that I can trust people and that I can trust myself.  I can believe in myself.  I can count on myself.  I learned that the worst case scenario is not the only option and that, sometimes, things actually work out better than you might expect.  I discovered that I do not have a black cloud hanging over my head and the only reason why it is not there is because I allowed it to move past.  I discovered I have a sandbox in which to play and learn about myself that is safe and secure and that there are certain people in your life who will have infinite patience and unwavering love for you despite your own best efforts to push them away.

2013 was an amazing year and, while I might want to go back and revisit it with a different lens, I know that everything that happened was an opportunity to propel me forward.  Should I choose not to take advantage of that, it’s on me.

So, there is my revised 2,500 words.  2,500 to help let you know who I am and where I am headed.  When we meet again in 2014, our work is about moving forward.  It is about new learnings.  It is about the highs and lows of this new framework.  It is about looking at the world through my new glasses.  I don’t pretend that it will be easy and I know I will have to keep checking myself to ensure that I am not falling into old patterns of behavior or relying upon outdated benchmarks to measure my life.  I will share my foibles, as I always do and I will know that I am surrounded by love to help me make my way through.