OCEAN VIEWS


IMG_3683“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini

I just took a walk on the beach – a pretty uncommon occurrence for me in February. Fortunately, I have been swept away to Florida for work for the weekend and had the luxury of spending an hour to take a leisurely walk along the ocean, feeling the sand nestling between my toes and listening to the serene sounds of the smashing waves along the sea shelled shore. I often forget the effects the beach has on me. In fact, while I have known I was coming down here for a few months, I gave no thought to packing a bathing suit or even setting aside time to relax on the beach. I looked for excuses to not do anything relaxing and focus the time away on the work that I am here for and any other work I could sneak in with 2 uninterrupted days to myself. It’s odd when I think about it now – why wouldn’t I have focused on the beach, the pool, the spa or some other indulgences for myself? I am staying at the Ritz Carlton – there is an unending array of options for me to pamper myself and, yet, I focused solely on the amount of work I could accomplish while here. I really did not pack a bathing suit and I kept checking the weather hoping for rain.

Yet, once I got here, I could not escape the majesty of the ocean. From the balcony of my room, I immediately felt ensconced in the warmth of the sea air and calmed by the lull of the ocean tide. Peace and calm took over. As I walked along the ocean today, I marveled at how blissful I was and how my brain so easily shut itself down. Of course, being me, I pondered this and, for the first time in a really, really long time, I did not have much to think about except watching the seagulls and breathing in concert with the waves.

The beach has always been a significant part of my life. Perhaps it is because I am a cancer and, as a water sign, feel very connected to the ocean. Perhaps it is because some of my best memories of childhood took place at the beach. Perhaps it is because you simply cannot be stressed when you sit and watch the ocean and become mesmerized by the ebbs and flows of the tide. The calming that comes over you is difficult to be disrupted. When I was very young, my family spent lots of time in Montauk, NY because my father’s parents owned a home there. After coming over from Italy and settling in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants landed, my grandparents decided to truly move out to the country and settled in what was, at the time, a very undeveloped area – a simple fishing village – at the very tip of Long Island. Back in the 60’s when they retired out there, everyone built little cape cod houses on giant pieces of property that remained untouched. My grandparents carved out a piece of their land to develop a vegetable garden that rivaled some produce farms. They replicated the gardens they had grown up with in Sicily and, from their crops, produced some of the most aromatic, magnificent food I have ever tasted. You could not walk into my grandparents’ home without a pot of gravy on the stove or a fresh pizza in the oven. My little 5′ grandmother Annie could cook up a feast for dozens and managed to smack a few fannies with her wooden spoon as the children ran through her house.

In the days when my parents were still living their idyllic life, we would venture out to Montauk several times a year, especially in the summer, and experience some of the most tranquil moments of my lifetime. My grandfather, who always seemed like a little old Italian man (despite his great height and stature), would bounce me on his lap and play with all his grandchildren as we ran around their spacious front yard or ride our bikes along the gravelly, windy roads in their neighborhood. My grandmother would yell at us in Italian if we even dared to step foot near her garden. I was not a particularly adventurous or disobedient child but, sometimes, the curiosity simply took over and I would go down deep into the property to see what all the fuss was about. It was spectacular. In my lifetime I have never seen such elegant eggplants or bright, luscious tomatoes. There were peppers and cucumbers and cauliflower and broccoli. I never had any interest in the actual vegetables but I was fascinated by the magnitude of it all. I would peek my nose over the small fencing around the garden and, without fail, my grandmother chided me and I quickly dashed off to avoid her wrath.

I remember climbing the dunes only to find the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. After my little body made the climb up the steep sand hills, I would just exhale when I saw the waves breaking. I could not wait to run down and tempt my fate, praying not to get swept under. Needless to say, the tide often pulled me in and I emerged laughing and with a bathing suit filled with wet sand. My mother hated the water and, frankly, hated the idea of putting on a bathing suit even more, so she usually sat under an umbrella watching from a distance, smoking a cigarette or reading a book. She never played in the ocean with us but my father, if he was with us, usually came running in to rescue his kids. It was glorious. It is all still so perfectly vivid in my mind. They are precious moments – a short blink of time – that left such impenetrable marks on my soul. The memories represent bliss, serenity, calm, peace, happiness, joy. I pray that I never lose my memory because these are possessions that I cannot safely lock away in a vault to be pulled out and admired. They exist only in my mind. No photographs, no videos, no one left to talk about it with. They are mine and exist only in me. My grandparents’ house has long since been bulldozed – the property developed by the new inhabitants of Montauk. Now it is filled with wealthy weekenders who have moved past the Hampton’s and, while they love the charm of the upgraded fishing community, still want to have their creature comforts – their McMansions, their gourmet kitchens, their in ground pools.

The last time I went back to Montauk was around 1990. I was single and decided to take a weekend for myself. It was an unusual move for me at the ripe old age of 23. My life was all about my friends, my job, dating and having fun. But the quiet, introverted part of me desperately needed to be alone, to recapture the memories of my childhood, to ponder my reality. It was probably the beginning of my journey right there because it was painful and difficult to find peace on that trip. I was confronted with the realities of my life. The idyllic scene I had so masterfully captured and framed in my mind was now being disrupted by the truth of my life. It was infiltrated by divorce, abuse, death, misery, disconnection. The rays of sunlight that shined in my memories were masked by dark clouds and thunderous noise that did not at all resemble the calm and peaceful waves. Suddenly, I was confronting everything that went wrong. Going back to that joyful place made me sad. It brought me pain. I had a journal and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my sadness onto pages as I sat by the water. I cried. I rode a bike around the village and visited all of my favorite haunts. I went back into White’s Drugstore where I had wandered as a child, buying bubbles, coloring books, postcards to send home to my friends. Everything looked similar but it was all different. I was all different. I was broken and I was first beginning to learn just how broken and was trying to find my way to a repair shop.

I have never been back and, remarkably, have never been there with my husband. I discovered a new happy place with my family – the Jersey Shore. I adopted my husband’s fond memories from his childhood and created new memories with my own family. Our children spent weeks during the summer on Long Beach Island. We take them to Asbury Park. We visited Jenkinson’s Aquarium and played the games on the boardwalk. And, the beach still brings me peace. I still feel the calm. I have managed to push past the sadness of that part of my life and illuminate with the soft glow of distance and understanding. It was just a sliver of my life – just a flicker, a gust of wind – but it also shaped me. It made me who I am today, even if in some small way. I had a glimpse into what life could be and it helped provide me with a simple sketch of what I might want my life to look like. It helped me understand that it is not all bad. Nothing ever is. There is always a silver lining. I am disappointed I don’t have more memories of that family, that house, that beach, that life. Yet, I am grateful it was real, even if just for a split second.

One day I will return to Montauk to try to recall the precious memories with this new mind, with a healed heart. But, for today, I walked on the beach in Florida and succumbed to the pure pleasure that the ocean brings. I was peaceful, I was happy, and I remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

KINDNESS


kindnessToday, I simply need to give a shout out to my good friend Claire who has committed herself to spreading kindness in every way possible.  She started a wonderful blog in January, setting her intention for spreading kindness throughout the year.  She’s gaining some traction and I can feel the impact.  I have found myself reflecting on my own actions and behaviors, using her stories and her efforts as a barometer of sorts.  I am inspired by her passion and commitment to create a society of kinder, gentler people.

One of my great pleasures in life comes from helping others as  I am so moved when I can connect with another human being and provide them with something – even if just a nugget – to help them propel themselves forward.  My passion for giving back and supporting causes that resonate with me is part of what brings me joy and satisfaction.  But, kindness is much simpler and far more complicated than that.  Kindness is a core value.  It is a deep-rooted commitment to shifting behavior and focusing on putting good into the world.  It is about the small stuff.  It is about courtesy and consideration.  It is about selflessness.  It is hard to sustain.  Listen, I am a hardcore New Yorker – cynical, snarky, sarcastic and sometimes down right obnoxious.  Most of the people in my life love that about me and, frankly, so do I.  Nonetheless,  my intentions and behavior are all about goodness, kindness, sincerity and integrity.  It is all about balance and sometimes that is not easy to maintain.  But I make the effort every.single.day.  It requires hard work and effort because life is challenging and our daily struggles often disrupt our intentions.

Ultimately, I simply love the concept of paying it forward and this blog post today is intended to do just that.  Yesterday, I wrote a very personal and very honest post about my own struggles with trust and forgiveness.  In response to it, a good friend complimented me and supported me in an extremely kind and generous way which nourished me and propelled me forward.   And that right there is kindness in action as I was inspired to do the same for someone else.  The act of writing and putting your thoughts and feelings out in the world for others to read can be very risky.  People interpret things through their own lenses and they don’t always understand your intended meaning behind the words.  But, I guess, that is often the beauty of writing.  It allows the reader to travel with you but on their own voyage and bring their own perspectives into play.  The connection you can develop through finding commonalities, regardless how remote, can be powerful and extraordinary.  For me, the ability to write and share my history and, often, the pain that has accompanied my journey is an act of kindness for me as I try to share these experiences to reinforce that we are never alone.  There is always someone else on the road with you – sometimes a bit further ahead, sometimes much farther behind.  We are all alike in many ways.  As different as we may look or as varied as our backgrounds might be, we are still a bunch of cells that have formed to create our unique DNA.  There are overlaps in so many ways.

So, today, I hope I can inspire and encourage you to find a way to spread some kindness.  I am going to continue my quest to do so because, in the end, it feels really, really good!

LOVE


Today’s post is short and to the point.  We’re talking about love.  Something that is scarce yet abundant.  Something that is colorful yet black and white.  The idea of love is something that I wonder about frequently because I continually challenge the notion when it comes to my relationships.  My brain has been working hard on this recently as I have been reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly – the type of book filled with powerful messages that roam around in your mind for days and days after you’ve read them.  I find myself highlighting passage after passage and going back and re-reading to make sure I understand the import of what she is saying.  Ultimately, this book is forcing me to think very deeply about the relationship I have with myself and the ones I share with others in my life. Today I read a poignant passage on love:

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.  Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Those are some big, strong, meaningful words.  Words that swim around in my head and make me think about every person in my life.  I wonder about the vocabulary I use to describe how I feel about them.  I am not one to throw the love word around that much.  In fact, I tell very few people that I love them because when I say it, I want to be certain I mean it.  I use it mostly with my husband and kids.  Because, with them, I am sure.  When I measure love against Brene’s yardstick, I know that I love them fully and completely.

I remember, as a kid, my mother used to tell me “I love you but I do not like you.”  They were hurtful words meant to invoke her disdain for my behavior or something about my personality that she did not enjoy while still ensuring her underlying implicit love for me as my mother.  As a child and then as a young adult, my whole body tightened up when I heard those words because of the sting of the blow.  And I found them hard to process.  In my mind, the one clearly negated the other. Of course, she could be angry with me about something or be displeased with my behavior but she should not have stopped liking me in the process.

I do not believe I can love someone whom I do not like.

I do not believe I can love someone with whom I have not shared a deep personal connection.  

I do not believe I have the capacity to love anyone when I am feeling lost and not able to find the strength or courage to look at myself and love myself.

When I think about my mother’s words today, I recognize the impact they had on me and the impact the continue to have on me.  How can I possibly like myself if my mother does not like me?  How can I possibly love myself if I do not like myself?  I struggle every day to rid myself of those words and to not identify her pain with me.  Yet, on my darkest days, those words are an oasis that allows me to reinforce why I feel badly about myself and offer me a hole to climb into so I can run away from the hard work of being present and vulnerable.

I know when I love someone because I can physically feel the emotion that comes from my connection to them.  I can feel the trust and the comfort that comes from being vulnerable and open.  At the same time, I also know that I can abuse this love because I feel safe and secure.  And, naturally, they can abuse me as well.  It’s risky.  And, while we certainly don’t set out to hurt those we love, sometimes it just happens.  What this means is that we have to work harder to take better care to ensure that we choose the right words, we express our love for each other openly and honestly and we protect those most fragile and significant relationships.

I have a lot of wonderful people in my life and lots of people who I truly adore and have strong feelings for.  However, when I look at Brene’s words and I put them to the test, I recognize that my loved ones are very few and far between.  It’s hard work to get to love and stay at love and I am just fine with that.

MISSING


“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown

I am currently working on a very meaningful project – coaching someone to help them uncover their story.  I love this for so many reasons but mainly because I am helping them find their story to authentically and passionately share with others the importance of the work that they are doing.  It is an exciting journey for them because they are being pushed to explore aspects of themselves in ways they may not have before and it is interesting for me because I am challenging myself to be present on their ride and partake in the same activities.  Part of my role is to provide journal prompts each day to encourage them to write.  The prompts are often benign and are intended to simply get them to explore some thoughts and put them down on paper.  I’m not particularly interested in what they write.  I simply want them to write.  But, of course, the mere exploration of thought creates pathways to information and the act of scribing creates further connections and suddenly stories are unfolding right in front of you.

Yesterday, I offered up a prompt to write about someone that you miss, dead or alive.  I put no parameters around this topic because I wanted them to explore on their own who they missed and why and, perhaps, what it meant to miss someone.  Do you miss someone because they are no longer part of your life?  Do you miss someone because they have passed on?  Do you miss someone at that very moment even if you are going to see them the very next day?  The exercise was intended to allow them to journey along all those lines.  As I am trying to parallel the exercises and simultaneously write on the very same topics, I commissioned myself to tackle the same subject…and fell short.  With each journal prompt, I also ask that we write about something that we are grateful for and/or something we are disappointed about from our day and, last night, I got really hung up on the first part.  I focused on my lack of gratitude, which was, conversely, a source of disappointment for myself.

Ironically enough, I am not someone who enjoys journaling because, for me, it sometimes seems forced and I am often harshly critical of what I write.  Because I typically write with the intention of having others read it, I am extremely focused on my choice of words, the deeper messages and having compelling content.  And, of course, that is exactly what journaling is not and exactly why I should spend more time on that activity.  Journaling is most powerful as a tool to allow for a free stream of thought to enable you to find those pathways to your inner voices.  I recognize that it’s nuts that I resist it and, as a result, I am forcing myself to take advantage of this opportunity to embrace the art of journaling if only to have some connection and authenticity with this project.  What comes from it will only be the icing on the cake.

Last night when I set out to write about someone I miss, I struggled.  I could not really come up with anyone that I missed so much that I wanted to write about it.  There are a lot of people that have been a part of my life that I do not have any connection with anymore because of life circumstances.  I do miss some of them and, sometimes I feel badly about the role I played in our disconnection.  I miss what they used to mean to me and I feel sad about the fact that, in many cases, I allowed the person to slip out of my life.  There are also certainly people who are currently a part of my life who I do not see very often and I surely miss them.  In truth, some of the people that I am closest to live at a great distance from me so I am constantly missing them but that has become a regular, ordinary characteristic of my life.  I don’t like to write about it because it frustrates me and also makes me very sad.  So, ultimately, I avoided the topic entirely and I ended up spending my time writing about my own disappointment in myself for not feeling more grateful and for letting myself continually get caught up in malaise rather than focusing on the positive aspects of my life.  The subconscious thoughts about how missing people makes me feel bad surely inspired a whole lot of negativity towards myself and was a perfect platform to display my deep levels of disappointment in myself.

This morning, as often happens when I am returning from dropping my kids off at school, I took a few minutes for some self-reflection and started thinking about the exercise again (yes, this is how this stuff works.  A simple little prompt can permeate your thinking and just sit with you for days.  It’s pretty awesome).  With a somewhat clear head, the loud and resounding noise was that the person I missed most right now was me.

I’ve gone away.  I have allowed myself to get caught up with the messiness in my life.  I focus on all the things wrong and nothing that is right.  I have become blind to the beauty around me like the rich fall colors and the fragrant aromas of the season that so often make me feel whole and connected.  I feel disappointment in myself in regards to many areas of my life.  I am harshly judging myself and critical of my thinking and endeavors. I am, as the brilliant Brene Brown would say, caught up in a shame spiral.   She says that “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  That is a potent message and, when I reflect on my life right now, it truly represents how I feel and why I miss myself.  I miss the person who rises above and feels tremendous gratitude for all the richness and texture that makes up my life.  I miss the strength that I typically exhibit to work through the clutter and chaos and the pride I feel for having muddled through and come out the other end feeling confident and powerful.  I miss waking up every day looking forward to the challenges before me and going to bed at night feeling tired but inspired and excited about what comes next.

I miss me.

The good news, I suppose, is that I can see myself in the distance and know that I am not far away.  And, chances are, it will likely not be too long before I return.  However, in the spirit of honoring this exercise, I will recognize that the person I miss is me and I will pine for myself and encourage myself to find my way back.  I will, like any good friend, extend a hand to help myself back up the hill, shout out directions as I traverse the rocks and catch myself if I slip.  And, until my return, I will keep on missing me and will remember another passage from Brene:

“Shame resilience [is] the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it.”

She says, “shame derives its power from being unspeakable…language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”  So, I guess this little exercise, this benign journal prompt is exactly what I need to help myself as only I can.

MY GAY BEST FRIEND


I have a gay best friend.

Apparently, it has become something of a chic accessory to have one.  Teen Vogue called GBF’s the hottest fashion accessory of 2010.  GBFs are listed in the Urban Dictionary as  every guy’s gateway to getting a hot girl.  However, for me, not being all that trendy and definitely too old to be “of the moment”, my GBF is by no means an accessory.  Instead, he is a blessing for which I am very grateful.

Truth be told, I might consider myself something of a magnet for gay men.  I never gave it much thought until recently because it all seemed pretty normal to me. I have always been surrounded by a fair number of gay men –  I grew up and have lived most of my life in the vicinity of New York City and I have worked in creative industries. I was a theater geek in  high school and college and, as a result of growing up in a complicated, dysfunctional and broken family, I was always searching for acceptance in many of the same ways that my gay male friends were as they were embarking on their journey of sexual identity.

Over the past year, my own attraction to gay men and their innate attraction to me, has become abundantly obvious to not only me but also those around me.  I have sort of developed a rep for being the chick with all the gay friends.  I kind of love that because I adore and cherish my guys.  But, being me, it is simply not in my nature to accept things without first understanding the underlying meaning and, therefore, have spent some time inquiring about this phenomenon.  I’ve asked a number of my gay friends, particularly my gay bestie, to explain what the attraction is and I’ve gotten quite a few interesting responses that intrigue me.

Aside from being snarky and bitchy, which stereotypically makes for a great gal pal for any gay man, I seem to have a “quality” that draws these guys to me.  I have fancied myself a fag hag but, after considerable research and much discussion, I have learned that this is not at all a positive label and does not fit the bill for me.  As a married woman with a family, I immediately fall out of the category as I am not likely to fall in love or desire any of my gay friends.  The appeal and the dynamic is completely different for me.  While I love that my guys all have pretty great fashion sense and typically enjoy going shopping with me, the depth of the relationships are what makes them meaningful to me.  And, especially with my GBF, I feel like I can wear my worts and be accepted in a non-judgmental, non-competitive way.  And, I suspect, the appeal for them is similar.  There is no drama and we all simply go with the flow.

This all makes perfect sense understanding where I come from.  The female dynamic in my family was very triangulated with my mother and sister constantly competing with me and my mother pitting us against each other.  My early experiences with women were complicated and challenging and it resulted in my tendencies to gravitate towards the boys because they were easy.  I was also bullied severely as a young girl.  I was frequently taunted by other children because I was chubby, insecure, wore glasses and didn’t know how to fit in.  I was an easy target for the kids because I was painfully shy and overtly sad and, with everything going on in my home, I didn’t have the skills or confidence to stand up for myself.  The bullying was shameful and I hid it until I was beaten badly by another girl in 4th grade.  Suddenly we were in the principal’s office with my mother and hers and everyone knew what I had endured.  My mother’s own shame over being so disconnected from what was happening to her child rendered her incapable of doing much but feeling guilty. Back in the 70s, they didn’t have resources for kids who were bullied so I continued to tolerate the abuse until I got older, developed a bit more confidence and, thankfully, by high school I was able to tap into my natural ability to build rapport with others and finally found a safe space for myself.  Not surprisingly, I also found myself surrounded by a bunch of guys who were painfully confused by their sexuality.  They knew then, as they know now that I am someone who implicitly understands their experience and offers complete acceptance.  I suspect it is a part of the fabric of our beings, part of the signals that we give off, that we find instant connection.  As my GBF will tell you, Like likes Like.  We get each other.

Looking back at the various gay men that have played a central part of my life, one interesting trend has emerged.  In my younger years, most of the gay men with whom I was close were deeply in the closet.  They all came out to me many years into our relationship and typically after the intensity had faded a bit.  I’ve wondered why they were not able to share their truth with me and realized that it was primarily because they were struggling to be honest with themselves.  What I offered them was the space to be whomever they needed to be without labeling them or challenging them.  As a teen and young adult, the dynamics sometimes got confusing to me because I never truly understood the unspoken boundaries of our relationships.  Not having the sophistication that I have as an adult, I did not understand that these men were, in fact, bonding with me like a port in a storm.  I was a safe haven because I never put any pressure on them to see me as a romantic partner because I, myself, was struggling with my own self-worth and did have any romantic expectations.  Our parallel struggles made us extraordinary emotional counterparts.  However, I would be lying if I did not admit that, sometimes, I wondered what was wrong with me that the relationships never evolved into more.  And, relying upon my strong self-deprecating capabilities, I always assumed that it must have been me.  I never even considered the alternative.

For sure, these relationships worked for me because of my need for emotional intimacy – something that was so lacking in my life growing up and was being more than satisfied with these men.  I felt loved and nurtured.  Unconsciously I was seeking unconditional love and it was coming at me in abundance.  As I got older and my need to combine emotional intimacy with physical intimacy increased, it became more challenging for me.  Because of my relationships with my gay friends, I was often emotionally unavailable to men that I dated.  No one I dated understood or connected with me in the way my gay friends did and, frankly, I was not even open to letting them try.  What I didn’t know then but later learned is that my situation was not as unique as I believed it to be.  This dynamic existed in many gay men/straight women relationships with each filling very unique and powerful needs in the other.

Everything changed when I met my husband.  He was the first man that I had met who was able to provide me with a complete and fulfilling relationship.  I found myself, for the first time, being able to connect together a powerful emotional intimacy with strong physical intimacy and so began my 20-year love affair.  The relationship with my husband and the arrival of my children quickly changed the dynamics in my life and, for years I did not have any close relationships with gay men – most likely because I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to devote to them.  Nonetheless, my innate attraction to gay men and theirs to me continued and, living in a community with a large gay population, they continued to flock to me and I slowly grew my herd.

I recently read a great article about the power of relationships between gay men and straight women.  The article quotes John R. Ballew, a professional counselor from Atlanta who suggests that “from the perspective of gay men, women offer intimate friendship that is generally free from the complications of sexual interest.  For straight women, gay men offer male friendship that’s free from game playing. Women can relax and be themselves with gay men in a way that’s usually not possible with hetero men.”  There is a real phenomenon between some gay men and some straight women that is unlike any other relationship.  It allows for a level of emotional intimacy that often gets marred in a physical relationship.  For me, there are many unique aspects that I think lends to the strength of these bonds I have, particularly with my GBF.

My GBF appeared in my life several years ago when I started a new job.  We met at a work function and had, what I believed was, an immediate chemistry.  Of course, knowing my GBF as I do now, he was playing me a bit and I fell for it.  He’ll tell you that he didn’t feel the same powerful connection right away but was intrigued enough and motivated enough to get to know me better – but that is the hallmark of our relationship.  I’m impulsive and he’s strategic.  We are ying and yang.

When I met my GBF, I was at a crossroads in my life.  I was changing careers, my kids were a little older and my marriage was well into its second decade. Unlike when I was younger, I was not necessarily seeking out a deep emotional connection.  I just needed allies on my journey and, for whatever reason, I knew, instinctively, that he would be an important player.  Plus, he made me laugh.  I had no intention of becoming close friends with him, never expected that our relationship would stretch much beyond work pals and certainly never expected that he would essentially become part of my family.  Given my history, it was rare that I would let anyone get that close to me.  And, since he lived 1000 miles away and only came to NYC once every few months at best, it would have been difficult to bridge that gap over random cocktails or dinners after client meetings.  Yet, we did.

Whatever the reasons, whatever the connections, what I know is this:  To quote my friend Tom Fiffer, who wrote in his blog this week “Blessings come in the form of people.”  I have been blessed with many spectacular people – men and women – and my life is better because of those I share it with.  And no matter how rough the road is, some people, particularly my GBF, make it extraordinary.

BLIND SPOTS


“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene Brown

This week I was, thanks to a fortuitous blog post from a friend, reminded of some of the powerful words of Brene Brown.  Her research, talks and writing on vulnerability have inspired me over the past year as I have embarked upon what has been a very painful journey to find the courage to be more vulnerable and, ultimately, find peace in my life.

My story began so many months ago after the death of my mother.  She and I had been estranged for many years after a lifetime of emotional abuse that resulted in me becoming hardened, cynical and judgmental.  I steeled myself with the belief that surrounding myself with love, going to therapy and practicing different behaviors would ensure that I could protect myself from the long-term effects of both the abuse from my mother and the scars left from my alcoholic father (who had also passed away just months prior to my mother).  It took a while but I did, ultimately, realize that this plan was not going to work.  Shoving all my feelings into a locker inside me and trying to forget the combination would not prevent the leakage of all the pain and abuse that I endured.  It is insidious.  It permeates our cells.  It comes out in every place we least expect it to and at the times we least want it to.

On Leap Day – February 29 – I shared in a blog post that my mother had passed and it was the first time anyone, except for a very close few, had heard the news.  It was not something that I shared publicly because it was only noteworthy in that I felt a bit freed from the grasp of her will.  Even at her advanced age, even as she suffered from cancer, she continued to try to torment me and I continued to play into her hand, allowing myself to question everything, doubt my feelings and resort to behaving like a petulant child.  Once I learned of her passing, I felt a sense of relief and, consequently, a sense of guilt at not feeling the appropriate grief that one feels when their parent dies.  There was no practical way for me to explain this to most of my friends who have not previously been dragged through the muck that comprised my relationship with my mother.  I simply commented on it and expected that some might take note but did not anticipate that the result would inspire a whole new level of self-examination.

Sometimes I underestimate my impact on others – both positively and negatively.  I frequently find myself surprised to learn that someone is thinking about me or has been inquiring about me outside of my presence.  It sounds silly but is deeply rooted in wounds from my childhood and makes perfect sense to me.  Similarly, I do not always realize how widespread the impact of my negative actions can be.  I assume they go unnoticed by most because who would be paying attention to me – and, of course, that is a giant underestimation of its impact.  It is like the opposite of narcissism but, sometimes, equally dangerous.  Despite my deep level of self-awareness resulting from careful analysis of my feelings, actions and behaviors, I have a unique ability to blindside myself with my actions and behaviors.

In my work, we use a tool called Johari Window to help people understand the concept of blind spots when giving feedback in a corporate setting.  Every one of us has blind spots and they reside in the window of what people know about us but we do not know about ourselves.  And, while I generally believe that is a very small window for me, I also recognize that I can be a bit more clueless than I imagine myself to me.  My inability to recognize how others view me or that they even spend the time to think about me sits squarely in my blind spot.  When I wrote that blog post, I was standing in my blind spot.  I never anticipated that anyone would actually pay attention to the information about my mother dying and react with such support.  The outpouring of love and positive messaging was unexpected and I was both grateful and uncomfortable because I had revealed something very personal and I did not appreciate or recognize its significance because of my blindness.  One of the very valuable and powerful outcomes was the gift given to me by my closest friend, an expert in the field of blind spots, who utilized his craft on me to help reveal to me what I was so painfully missing.  By revealing my blind spot , he helped to thrust me into a place where I needed to search for answers and my first stop on the journey was vulnerability.  And so, it became a huge focus for me this year.  What I knew then about vulnerability is that I dreaded it, I loathed it and, what I have come to know for certain is that it is the only pathway to freedom, love and happiness.  Brene Brown says, in one of her TED talks:  “And I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, and creativity, of belong, of love.”

Another valuable outcome of the revelation of my blind spot, is that I am someone who values connections.  I need to feel connected – to be part of something.  Growing up without a strong sense of family and no formalized religion, I found myself drifting through life, often feeling like a misfit.  I never really belonged anywhere.  Lots of parents of friends would take me in and care for me over small periods of time but I always knew that I did not belong. The result was that I felt even more disconnected rather than being able to accept their offer of love and belonging.  I didn’t fall in love until i met my husband at the age of 24 so, until that time, I was a floater, seeking out personal and romantic connections. And even with him, it took years for me to shed my armor and truly connect.  Nearly 21 years later, I am still working on being raw and honest with him and finding a way to truly trust.  The wounds are deep and they show up nearly every day, with or without my notice.

The tragic reality of me is that, throughout my life, despite my desperate effort to make connections, I was always hiding.  I was hiding behind my vulnerability, afraid that if anyone really saw me, they would patently reject me.  I denied the fact that, in order to truly have a connection, you must be authentic.  You must bring your full and real self to the table.  Instead, I became masterful at matching other people’s behaviors and building artificial rapport in order to try to fit.  I never had to reveal anything to anyone that I didn’t want them to know because I was so adept at becoming whomever I needed to be in order to fit in.  I borrowed from other people’s personalities and adopted them as my own so I looked like I belonged.  I made superficial connections which, not surprisingly, did not have much strength and could not last beyond a little wear and tear.  As a result, many of my relationships were transient.

When I wrote my post in February, I truly believed that I was well on my way to becoming my authentic self.  And, to a great degree, that was true.  I had made some very meaningful connections and was allowing myself to be seen for who I truly was.  A little more naked than ever before.  But it was hard and took its toll on me.  And, what is also true is that, much like maintaining our bodies, we must also maintain our minds.  There is no final destination – it is always all about the journey.  If we spend months or years to build and tone our muscles and then suddenly stop working at it, our bodies will soften – and rather quickly.  When we are intentional about our beliefs and behaviors and feed ourselves positive thoughts and allow ourselves the time and space to accept ourselves, we tone our emotional muscles.  As soon as we take our eyes off the road and put our psyches on auto-pilot, we quickly return to unconscious negative input and easily sabotage our hard-earned efforts.  That is what is happening to me now.  I have lost focus and am straying far away trying to find my way back to my path.

I had a laser focus on what I wanted in my life and who I wanted to be.  Authenticity and vulnerability were priority #1 for me because I knew, without a doubt, that it was a passageway to freedom for me.  It was the route that most certainly ended in happiness.  So, how is it that I have felt so unhappy lately?  I have manufactured an environment surrounded by the people who I believe bring out the best in me.  I have consciously pushed away the influences that I believe are destructive and detrimental to my journey.  I have set intentions to be honest, authentic, loving and vulnerable so I can allow those who I want and need to be close to me get and stay close to me.  What I have not planned for is the reality of life and the bumps and hurts that come along.  Those who love us most also sometimes hurt us most.  And we also hurt them.  I have also not accounted for the leakage of my pain locker that has yet to be emptied.  Inside of it still resides years of residue that adds toxicity, even more fervently when I am in a weakened state.  When this occurs, I immediately retreat to a place where I can protect myself from feeling the pain until, all at once, the earth shudders a little too hard and the cracks spread and the walls collapse and I get sucked right into the floor, crushed under a pile of bricks.

Suffice it to say, I know that everything good and bad is only temporary and, as my husband often says “the difference between your best day and your worst day is your state of mind.”  I say with all authenticity and all vulnerability that I have stumbled.  I tripped over myself because I lost sight of my path.  I lost faith in myself and allowed the demons to take over.  I wish I could just will myself back into step but I know it is part of the journey to learn how to use the tools I have to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep moving forward.  Lately, I haven’t felt so motivated to move forward and thought perhaps my journey was futile.  But I had a moment, in between the raindrops of tears and anguish, when I realized that perhaps I had, in fact, made a major step forward because, if nothing else, I am feeling quite vulnerable and am just sitting with those feelings no matter how painful they may be right here and now.  With that, I know, at least, the road I am looking for is the right one and once I resume my journey I will do so, hopefully, without too many blind spots.

UNINSPIRED


I have been suffering from the worst case of writer’s block for more than a month. I feel uninspired and have not been able to pull a few sentences together to develop a meaningful, interesting blog post. It’s not as if I have not had interesting things going on in my life but I have struggled with connecting the words to the experiences. I am not one of those people who jot down a few sentences and post them to maintain their connection to their blog. I must tell a story – with a beginning, middle and end – and provide some poignant insights that help to move my readers in some way or another. I pressure myself to not be redundant and I try not to be corny or trite. Ultimately, it has left me sitting with a burning passion to put pen to paper without a proper connection from my brain to my hand.

I ultimately decided, after this unwelcome hiatus, that I needed to simply write and let the chips fall where they may. I have done this long enough to know that sometimes that is where the magic comes from. Sometimes allowing myself the freedom of being unstructured without pressuring myself to tie my writing to a meaningful plot, yields some surprising and, often, inspired results.

It has been an interesting few months. I turned 45 a few weeks ago and that was certainly momentous. While I embraced turning 40 with open arms, 45 came with a bit less of a friendly welcome. I began to experience a surprising anxiety about my own mortality. Suddenly the reality that more of my life was behind me than ahead of me became clear and scared me. I started thinking about all of the things that I could have done in my life and the paths I had chosen and wondered, trying not to focus on regret, if I could have made better choices and if I would be able to look back and feel good about the life I had created for myself.

Several years ago I went to a conference and had the pleasure of attending a workshop featuring John Izzo, the author of The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. He shared stories of the individuals he interviewed, all of whom were at the very late stages of their lives, and tried to boil down their wisdom into five key themes. One of the stories he shared with us has stuck with me after many years. He talked about a woman who was well into her 80s who said that when she was in her midlife she developed a guiding principle to help navigate the choices she made in her life. Her barometer was whether or not she could sit in her rocking chair on her porch when she was near the end of her life and look back on her younger self feeling proud and satisfied with the decisions she made. Throughout her life she would channel her older self and imagine how she would evaluate each of the major milestones in her life. If she felt that she would look back with satisfaction, she assured herself it was the right move. If she was afraid of doing something, she would ask herself is she would look back with regret that she chose not to do it. Over the years, I have thought about this woman and tried to apply some of her thinking to my own life. Of course, it is impossible to have the foresight that she suggested but it is an interesting exercise to imagine how your older self, with all its wisdom and insight, might reflect on the pathway you take, with all its winding ways.

As my 45th birthday approached, I was actually pretty excited because I decided to celebrate what was likely the turn of midlife (let’s hope that I have 45 more years!) and embrace it thoroughly. The last time I threw myself a birthday party was when I was 40 and I really did not want to have to wait until I turned 50 to celebrate again so I decided, months ago, to throw myself a party and invite all of the people I love to come and celebrate with me. The anticipation of the party definitely softened the blow of the reality of my age – the fact that I really was entering a new phase of life and only 5 years away from an AARP membership. It distracted me from the fact that most of the adults I knew growing up were now dead and that some of my own peers were nearing the point where illnesses and disease were beginning to impact their lives. It made it easier for me to look around at my friends and see how our children were all reaching adolescence or beyond and that we were no longer young parents with babies whose lives were still balls of clay that needed to be molded. Suddenly we had children with distinct personalities, their own personal challenges, raging hormones, and who were beginning to embark on their own journeys to navigate through the struggles of nearing adulthood. It seemed hard to believe that all of this could have happened in the short time I was alive but, in fact, nearly a half century had passed since I took my first breath. Time was marching on and I was not ready to absorb that.

I decided to host a Hawaiian luau because I wanted to do something fun and different and I knew that my group of friends always enjoy a good theme party and will do everything they can to embrace it and push it right over the top. And, they did not let me down. The 50 or so friends that came to celebrate with me all have a special place in my heart which made the party enormously fun and poignant. Each and every attendee has touched me in some meaningful way which is why I asked them to be a part of it. One of my friends, days after the party, reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed the party and said that it felt like a big love fest. What more could I have asked for? I was showered with love and surprises. While I made the decision to host the party, my husband and several very dear friends jumped in and took care of everything, showing me love in ways that I would never have imagined. Not only did it take the pain out of turning 45, it made me realize that when I am old and looking back on my life, I will have a lot of beautiful memories that will warm my heart. There is a saying that I cannot recall clearly but it is something about how the people around you are a direct reflection of what you put into the world. What I interpret that to mean is that you will be surrounded by people who give to you what you put out into the world. I hope that I am actually giving out as much love as is coming back at me because I feel loved and that feels great.

It’s been an interesting few years for me and with each passing day, week, month and year, I continue to reflect on where I have come from and try to carve out a clear path of where I am heading. I am trying to be present and enjoy each moment rather than anticipate what’s around the corner (that is certainly a challenge for me and a discipline that needs some development) so that I can be sure that my older self will not wince and sit in her rocker wishing that I had spent a bit more time soaking in the happiness and joy rather than worrying about the pain and sadness that will inevitably arrive. I want her to feel like she left even a small legacy and was able to see it and appreciate it and feel the power of it. I want her to have deep laugh lines around her eyes because she has laughed through tears and smiled big. I want her heart to be filled and bursting because there has been so much love in her life that it is almost more than she can accommodate. I want her to look at her children and see that they have grown into beautiful men who have love in their joyful, meaningful lives. I want her to reminisce on the love affair with her husband that never waned. I want her to know that, no matter when she leaves the earth, that she lived, loved, was loved and had an extraordinary life that touched many. I want her to feel fulfilled and at peace. I want her to be surrounded by others who have shared the journey with her and can smile and laugh with her as they remember the highs and the lows, the joy and the pain, all of which made up their deeply textured, meaningful lives.

And, hopefully, she won’t remember the days that were uninspired.